On October 22 the German sports portal reported that Eden Hazard could be on his way from Chelsea FC to Real Madrid next summer. The French paper L’Equipe meanwhile reported that Hazard has told several teammates that he no longer feels comfortable in London, and that he doesn’t feel that his development would benefit from staying in the Premier League.

Hazard’s current market value is €70 million, and a potential transfer could lead to the sort of blockbuster deal that has become so commonplace when Real Madrid are involved.

Hence, while a Hazard transfer would certainly satisfy the cravings of Real Madrid fans—who have become accustomed to their team signing the biggest names in world football—Chelsea will have to find a replacement for what would be a huge lose in their creativity department.

Last week, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho was invited by Shakhtar Donetsk’s CEO Sergei Palkin to visit Ukraine’s qualification match against Spain. This led to speculations that Mourinho was scouting the match for potential winter transfer signings. The Ukrainian football news twitter account @FutbolUkraine suggested that Mourinho could be taking a look at signing Yaroslav Rakitskiy as Mourinho had failed to sign John Stones from Everton in the summer, and John Terry is increasingly showing signs of slowing down.

Another possibility is that Mourinho was scouting a possible replacement for Hazard. The recent rumours of Hazard’s imminent departure make it probable that Mourinho was looking at offensive players rather than defenders, especially given the fact that Chelsea will make another attempt at Stones before looking for alternatives.

The fact that Shakhtar Donetsk hosted Mourinho suggests that Hazard’s replacement could be found at the club. One player who comes to mind is Shakhtar’s Brazilian attacking midfielder Alex Teixeira, who is currently on pace to break the Ukrainian Premier League goal scoring record—currently held by Borussia Dortmund’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Teixeira, however, did not participate in the match that Mourinho attended. So, while Teixeira is certainly on Mourinho’s radar, it can be expected that Chelsea’s manager was scouting a player on the pitch, and that he used Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s close connection to Shakhtar Donetsk owner Rinat Akhmetov to visit the match.

This means that Mourinho was most likely in the Ukrainian capital to scout either Sevilla’s Yevhen Konoplyanka or Dynamo Kyiv’s attacking winger Andriy Yarmolenko. Yarmolenko’s contract was set to expire next summer—the winger was already prepared to leave his boyhood club last summer following a dispute with Dynamo’s ownership over broken promises regarding a potential transfer in the 2015 summer break. Dynamo, however, remained firm, and Yarmolenko remained at the club and has since signed a new five-year contract.

But at the same time, Yarmolenko has also stated that he only signed the new contract to guarantee that Dynamo Kyiv would receive a decent compensation for him, and he is still determined to leave Ukraine next summer. Yarmolenko would be an intriguing possibility indeed for Chelsea, however, he is a very different player than Eden Hazard, and therefore might be more suited as an addition to the playmaker rather than as a replacement.

This shifts the focus to Yevhen Konoplyanka, who seems more creative than Yarmolenko—he relies more on his physical attributes. Konoplyanka made the step to a European top league last summer when he moved from Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk to the La Liga team Sevilla FC. Konoplyanka has made six appearances in La Liga so far—all of them from the bench—and with an average rating of only 6.43 he has yet to prove that he can make a lasting impact at Sevilla. His score in the Champions League, however, has been more impressive—here gave him an average score 7.04—which indicates that it will be only a matter of time before Konoplyanka moves up a step in the domestic competition as well.

One thing is certain: neither player alone would be enough to replace the likes of Eden Hazard, and consequently Mourinho could decide to sign several players to soften the impact that a Hazard departure would have on Chelsea. The trip to Kyiv suggests that Mourinho was there not only to scout both Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko, but also to speak to Shakhtar Donetsk about the possibility of signing Alex Teixeira. Given the links of Chelsea’s ownership to the post-Soviet space and especially to Shakhtar Donetsk, such a scenario is very possible.

About the author – Manuel Veth

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and Editor in Chief @FutbolgradLive and writes about the economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football. You can find his work at

twitter: @homosovieticus


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The 2015/16 Champions League – the 61st edition of Europe’s foremost continental club competition – gets under way next midweek, with 32 sides all dreaming of a successful campaign on the biggest stage of all.

Many believe that the Champions League now represents the pinnacle of the modern game, with the concentration of quality and talent having surpassed the more glamorous World Cup.

Here are five players worth keeping an eye on from outside the major leagues of England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France.

Hector Herrera, Porto

Porto have a habit of signing talented youngsters from the Americas before selling them on for a hefty profit, and Herrera could be the next in line. The Mexican midfielder has gone from strength to strength since moving to Portugal from Pachuca in his homeland, and is expected to be one of the key members of Julen Lopetegui’s side this term.

An all-round, box-to-box midfielder, Herrera is just as likely to put in a crunching tackle as play an incisive through-ball. His energy and drive in the engine room will be vital to Porto in the Champions League, starting with Wednesday’s trip to Dynamo Kiev.

Bernard, Shakhtar Donetsk

Even 14 months on, Brazil’s 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany on home soil in the semi-final of the World Cup remains as astonishing as it was at the time.

Bernard made his first start of the tournament in that fateful encounter, replacing the injured Neymar in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s XI. The 23-year-old winger has not represented his country since.

Nevertheless, Bernard remains a fantastic prospect who will be desperate to show what he can do for Shakhtar Donetsk in 2015/16. A right-footer who tends to play on the left and cut inside, the Brazilian is out to prove his doubters wrong.

Seydou Doumbia, CSKA Moscow

Sometimes – and the reasons are often unclear – a player only really fulfils his potential at a particular club. Doumbia could be one such example: signed by Roma for £10 million in January, he is now back at CSKA Moscow on loan, the team he represented for five years between 2010 and 2015. The Ivory Coast international recently claimed to have rejected Premier League offers in order to return to the Russian capital when Roma agreed to let him go on a temporary basis this summer.

A glance at his goal scoring record for CSKA makes it easy to see why Doumbia feels so at home there: he has hit the back of the net 87 times in  134 appearances in all competitions, including three strikes against Sporting Lisbon in the qualifying play-off for this year’s Champions League. More goals in the tournament proper would confirm that Doumbia and CSKA Moscow is a match made in heaven.

Jeffrey Bruma, PSV Eindhoven

The former Chelsea centre-back is now in his third season in Eindhoven after joining the Dutch outfit in 2013. He was virtually an ever-present as PSV won the Eredivisie last term, and will now be looking to take his domestic form onto the continental stage.

Strong in the air and comfortable with the ball at his feet, Bruma will know that a move to one of Europe’s giants could be in reach if he performs well in the Champions League over the next few months.

Nicolas Gaitan, Benfica

Gaitan was far from alone in being linked with a move to Manchester United this summer, but rumored interest from one of the biggest clubs in the world shows that the 27-year-old is a very good footballer.

Capable of playing out wide or in a central role, the former Boca Juniors forward is quick and tricky dribbler who also possesses excellent vision. Were it not for his country’s incredible depth of attacking options, Gaitan would surely have significantly more than 10 Argentina caps to his name.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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Not everyone will have sat down and watched Bayern Munich’s comfortable 3-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday evening, but many will nevertheless have seen a six-second snippet from the game.

With the Bavarians cruising with just nine minutes to go, winger Douglas Costa rainbow flicked the ball over the head of the unsuspecting Julian Brandt, producing a piece of outrageous skill to cap another superb all-round performance.

It has not taken Costa long to settle in Munich following his £21.8 million move from Shakhtar Donetsk earlier this summer. A return of one goal and two assists in his first three appearances for Bayern represents an excellent start, with the Brazil international already having made an impact on Pep Guardiola’s side.

Bayern struggled in the second half of last term when Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery were sidelined with injuries, a lack of pace and width often causing their play to become congested in the middle of the park.

With Ribery still out with an ongoing ankle problem that could see him miss the rest of 2015, Costa has help to fill a void in the side with his speed and direct running. Deployed on the left flank, the 24-year-old has helped to stretch the play – both horizontally and vertically – by looking to beat his full-back on the outside and sprint in behind the opposition’s backline; his forward-thinking attitude adds an injection of pace to Bayern’s attacking moves, moreover, with his ability to quicken the tempo in an instant likely to be vital for Guardiola’s men this campaign.

Costa usually played on the right at Shakhtar, with the focus on cutting infield onto his stronger left peg and whipping crosses towards the back post or taking shots at goal. The fact that Robben is also left-footed means that Costa has been deployed on the opposite side at Bayern, something that has worked to the team’s advantage so far: against Leverkusen, for example, Costa constantly hugged the left touchline, holding his position out wide and in turn opening up space inside for the likes of Thiago, Arturo Vidal and Thomas Muller to work in.

Costa’s assist for Muller’s goal was evidence of what he brings to the table. After a period of patient Bayern possession, Xabi Alonso fired an accurate diagonal towards the winger, who used his first touch to push the ball beyond the hapless right-back Roberto Hilbert and his second to fire a delivery towards Muller in the middle of the box.

Crossfield balls from Alonso to Costa will likely be a feature of Bayern’s play this season: Costa’s preference for staying wide out on the left at almost all times means he is able to isolate his full-back when the ball is on the opposite side of the pitch, with a quick switch of play likely to leave him one-on-one with his direct opponent.

Costa hit the angle of post and bar soon after, showing his willingness to arrive at the back stick when the ball is on the opposite flank and guiding a controlled effort onto the woodwork.

It is still early days for Costa at Bayern, but he has already added an extra dimension to Guardiola’s outfit with his acceleration, directness and penetration. At this stage, £21.8 million looks like a bargain.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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The game was level 2-2 between Shakhtar Donestsk and Rapid Wien at the Arena Lvivwith only 6 minutes left when Rapid’s striker, Robert Beri?, missed a header into goal from two meters. Then with just seconds to go Rapid missed another chance when Pyatov fumbled, the ball fell right to Philip Prosenik’s feet but heonly managed to hit the post from about one meter out.

Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu later admitted that he had never seen this much luck before. At the press conference after the game he made the following statement: “I want to admit that in my entire football career, i’ve never had the kind of luck as they enjoyed in the dying seconds today. Surprisingly, Beri? failed to head it home from six-meter range. And then there was a moment when Andriy palmed off the ball in front of him and Rapid players just hit the post. Pyatov must have been nervous in that episode which is inexcusable for his level.”

But the 2-2 draw meant that Shakhtar advanced to the UEFA Champions League group stage for the sixth time in a row, as Shakhtar had won the first leg of the playoff match in Vienna a week earlier.

Shakhtar are still playing in exile in the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv as the unstable situation in the East of the country still makes it impossible for them to return to their home in Donetsk. This has meant that the club has taken a big finanical hit, as the large crowds at the Donbass Arena meant that the club was one of the very few clubs in the post-Soviet space that actually generated decent revenue through ticket sales.

At the beginning of last season Shakhtar was positively received at the city of Lviv, and despite playing 600 miles away from home, Shakhtar was able to attract more fans to their games than their current city rival Karpaty Lviv (8,417 vs. 6,300).

Yet club CEO Sergei Palkin has been clear that playing in the Arena Lviv, even in front of a full-capacity crowd, in the Champions League, has cost the club money. This is due to the fact that the rental costs of the Arena Lviv are higher than what the club can generate in terms of tickets sales, especially as Shakhtar has sold tickets in Lviv below market value. But according to Palkin Shakhtar is willing to take the financial hit as they view it as a social responsibility to give away tickets for cheaper prices in order to make it possible for people all over Ukraine to afford match tickets. But after Shakhtar dropped out of the Champions League last season Lvivians stopped attending matches.

While Shakhtar enjoyed a full stadium against Rapid the reality has been very different in the Ukrainian Premier League where the Shakhtar rarely was able to attract more than a few thousand visitors to the Arena Lviv. Some officials at Shakhtar are now considering moving the team elsewhere, and even last weekend’s home game against Dnipro was played in Odessa rather than Lviv. Yet it is unlikely that UEFA would permit Shakhtar to re-settle permanently in Odessa, and it is therefore a certainty that Shakhtar will remain in Lviv for Champions League matches.

But because of Shakhtar’s difficult financial situation—caused by its exile to Lviv—the club has been forced to sell some of its brightest talents. Defensive midfielder Fernando moved to UC Sampdoria Genoa, striker Luiz Adriano left for AC Milan, and winger Douglas Costa was transferred to Bayern Munich (for €30 million), and Shakhtar in return has been quiet on the transfer market, and has only brought back the 32-year-old striker Eduardo da Silva.

With this in mind Shakhtar’s qualification to the Champions League was a financial necessity; the club’s ticket to the group stage not only secures financial stability, but is also a huge morality boost for many Ukrainians who have turned to football as a distraction from events that are taking place in the eastern parts of the country. Hence, Shakhtar group game matches against Paris Saint-Germain, Malmö, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid will be a wonderful respite for a club, and its country, from a bleak political reality.

About the author:
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and Editor in Chief @FutbolgradLive and writes about the economics and politics of Soviet and post-Soviet football. You can find his work at



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