Shakhtar Donetsk coach Mircea Lucescu underlined the importance of Brazilian winger Taison to his side ahead of the Europa League quarterfinal second leg against Braga.
Lucescu's men lead the tie after goals from Yaroslav Rakitskiy and Facundo Ferreyra helped them to a 2-1 first leg victory in Portugal, but the coach believes 28-year-old Taison is the man to watch as he seeks a strong end to the season.
Taison has been linked with a move away from Donbass Arena, with Chelsea said to be chasing his signature. Lucescu admitted he could understand the speculation, but hopes Taison will continue to blossom in Donetsk, telling the club’s official website: "I do not think he wants to leave Ukraine and Shakhtar.
"Maybe he has just reached a certain level, which allows him to think of a stronger league. The last players to have left have been playing for top clubs. If he gets a good offer and the club agrees to it, then why can a player not dream of playing in a stronger league?
"Moreover, he has already reached the age of 28. Everyone wants to play in a strong premiership , not in the likes of the current Ukrainian championship. Everyone wants something better. Unfortunately, our Ukrainian championship is not progressing, rolling back instead.
"Taison is our best player these days. With each match, he is increasingly becoming the leader of Shakhtar’s attacking performance."
He added: "I would like him to retain this shape until the end of the season. We will be playing every two or three days, so a lot will depend on his form."
Taison is expected to be fit for the second leg against Braga, but Lucescu will be without Marcio Azevedo due to a knee injury. Defender Rakitskiy is suspended and Vyacheslav Shevchuk is struggling to be fit, while midfielder Fred is serving his doping ban.
Braga coach Paulo Fonseca is without injured wingers Josue (hamstring) and Alan (muscle strain) for the game, and he has problems in attack with Rui Fonte and Crislan both struggling with thigh injuries.
Shakhtar followed the win in Braga with a disappointing 3-3 draw against Stal Dniprodzerzhynsk, conceding a 93rd-minute equaliser to allow victory to slip away, along with two crucial points in its Ukrainian Premier League title challenge.
Lucescu warned his players against making similar mistakes against Braga, saying: "We could easily control the ball and the game. Instead, we played somewhat nervously. I did not expect this from my players.
"The players who have such experience, cannot get that much complacent at the end of the match, with us conceding goals.
"But if we don’t have good organisation of the game, we’ll find it difficult against Braga. There should not be any room for complacency."
Key Opta stats:
- This will be the f ourth competitive meeting between these two clubs – Shakhtar have won the previous three (both in the 2010-11 Champions League group stages and the first leg of this tie).
- The Ukrainian side has won its last four European matches; its best run in Europe since March 2011 (five wins).
- Braga has failed to score in three of its last four Europa League away matches.
- Shakhtar will be looking to win consecutive European home matches for the first time since October 2012.
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