Shakhtar's 'title-winning machine' ready for more

FC Shakhtar Donetsk "have become a title-winning machine" according to coach Mircea Lucescu as he prepares his team to begin their defence of the Ukrainian Premier League on Sunday.

Mircea Lucescu's Shakhtar are primed to defend their Ukrainian title
Mircea Lucescu's Shakhtar are primed to defend their Ukrainian title ©Getty Images

FC Dynamo Kyiv may have 13 titles to their name since the inception of the Ukrainian Premier League in 1992, but the pendulum has swung firmly in FC Shakhtar Donetsk's direction in recent years.

The Pitmen have made the capital club's dominance a thing of the past by lifting the title in four of the last five seasons, and they are primed to maintain their place at the top of the pile, starting with Sunday's season opener against FC Arsenal Kyiv.

Mircea Lucescu's side laid down an earlier marker on Tuesday when they beat FC Metalurh Donetsk 2-0 to lift the Ukrainian Super Cup and claim their third trophy in 2012. It was Lucescu's 15th piece of silverware during his eight years at the Shakhtar helm and the 66-year-old believes he has all the right components to add to that tally.

"Strangely enough, every year it gets easier and easier for us," said Ukraine's coach of the year. "That's because the team has been progressing all these years and have become a title-winning machine."

Shakhtar have also had Dynamo's number in the Ukrainian Cup, having eliminated them in each of the past five editions, and although Marko Dević has been the only player to join the club in the close season after signing from FC Metalist Kharkiv, Lucescu sees no reason why they should not be able to push on in Europe.

"There's just one goal for the team, which is to win trophies, but now I'm more interested in the UEFA Champions League rather the domestic league," said the coach, who guided Shakhtar to UEFA Cup success in 2009.

"Shakhtar are confident of their strength and play attractive football. We have changed the squad several times, reducing the average age of the team, and it hasn't affected our displays. We have experienced players like Darijo Srna, Olexandr Kucher and Răzvan Raț, but we have a lot of youngsters who probably wouldn't have played at other clubs, but are a part of the starting XI at Shakhtar."

The last time Dynamo went four successive seasons without a title was during the 1960s and fear of a repeat has spurred Bilo-Syni into action in the transfer market. Croatian and Portuguese internationals Niko Kranjčar and Miguel Veloso have come in to strengthen the squad, with Ukraine Under-21 midfielder Andriy Bogdanov and 2009 UEFA European Under-19 Championship winner Vitaliy Kaverin also joining.

Dynamo are not the only ones looking to knock Shakhtar off their perch, with Metalist and FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, who have Ukrainian player of the year Yevhen Konoplyanka in their squad, ready to challenge. "I am sure the title race will be very tight," added Lucescu.

"I believe Dynamo, Metalist and Dnipro intend to fight for the championship. All of them have the goal of defeating us, so we will need to play at a high level from the very beginning."