Football journalist and FIFA fan Darren Cross reveals why FC Shakhtar are great for Seasons mode, and looks at how to set them up to get the best from their squad…
If you're still looking for your new favourite team in FIFA 14's Seasons mode, then head over to the Rest of World section and pick four-star FC Shakhtar next time you're online. They're my team of choice right now and if you like to play fast, attacking football then you’re going to like them too.
Shakhtar sold some big-name stars over the summer, Fernandinho joined Man. City and Henrikh Mkhitaryan moved to Borussia Dortmund, but they bought really well and now have a squad packed with attacking players that can really make a difference at four-star level.
In this week's Backpage we're going to look at why I think they're so good and how I set them up.
Strengths and Weaknesses
FC Shakhtar have a lot of players that are good on the ball and very quick, so if you like dominating possession, playing clever passes, taking opponents on with dribbling or using blistering speed to get past your marker, they are a cracking team to use.
As you'll see when we take a closer look at my recommended line-up below, you really are spoilt for choice when it comes to creative attacking players, so you should find making chances for your strikers that bit easier compared to many other teams at this level. This helps to balance one of their weaknesses; Shakhtar's strikers aren't especially clinical so creating loads of chances should mean your frontmen will at least stick one or two away during the 90 minutes.
They're also not a particularly big or physical side, so playing against teams like Everton – who I seem to face a lot when I’m using Shakhtar – can be tough, especially when defending set pieces. You can combat that to some extent with team selection, but keep in mind that Shakhtar may not be the perfect fit for you if you like to play a crossing game with wingers, or rely on whipping balls in from free-kicks and corners for big strikers to nod in – they just don't have enough height or strength.
Don't let those weaknesses put you off though, because as well as being a lot of fun to use when you play to their strengths, they're also very effective. In nearly three seasons of playing with them
I've lost one game, drawn three and won the rest – and I blame the loss on the fact it was raining! Anyway…
Formation and Playing Style
Their default formation is 4-2-3-1, but I'm not a big fan of using a lone striker with this team. Luiz Adriano doesn't have the speed or dribbling to really worry defenders when he's up there on his own, while the much faster Wellington Nem doesn't have a great deal of physical presence, so holding the ball up while waiting for support can be a struggle.
It's a shame as I'm really enjoying the attacking version of the 4-5-1 in FIFA 14 and planned to use that, but I just couldn't get going with it when in Seasons as FC Shakhtar. Instead I go back to the good old 442 Diamond Wide with them – aka the 4-1-2-1-2 – which seems to be the best in terms of balance, and both Adriano and Nem benefit from being in a partnership.
Although I don't cross very often with this team, I still prefer the wide 442 over the narrow one as it seems to stretch the game a bit more, forcing the opposition midfielders to pick up my wingers, which helps create gaps elsewhere. Again, because of their lack of physicality, I find it better to avoid crowded spaces in the middle. So my style of play with Shakhtar is to move the ball around my team with quick passes in the opponents' half, looking out for opportunities to play into the spaces being created by my team-mates' movement. The CAM sees a lot of the ball as he plays a big role in making space for my forwards, often enticing a centre-back out to press the ball, leaving one of Adriano or Nem unmarked.
Defensively I make every effort to prevent crosses and corners, and I prefer to drop deep rather than play a high line. FC Shakhtar's centre-backs aren't slow but don't have bags of pace either, so if they get caught too high up the pitch they're probably not going to catch a quicker striker. I find playing deeper, being patient and waiting for a good chance to win the ball back is the best way to defend with them.
Andriy Pyatov * 76 OVR
FC Shakhtar have three keepers in their squad and Pyatov is comfortably the best of them for me. His main strength is his GK Diving of 80 – he does make some excellent diving saves from time to time – and he’s tall at 6ft 3in, which I think makes a difference. He’s right-footed so keep that in mind when you look to pass or clear with him.
Darijo Srna * 80 OVR
Right-back and captain Srna is one of FC Shakhtar’s best players, so he’s easily the first choice in this position. He’s a very solid defender who makes a lot of tackles and interceptions for me, thanks to good ratings for those attributes, and he’s great going forward too. Srna has fantastic Vision, excellent Short and Long Pass and he’s by far the squad’s best free-kick taker, with an FK Acc stat of 86. If you do want to whip the ball in he is a very good crosser, so I have him take corners from both sides.
Dmytro Chygrynskyi * 73 OVR
If you’re not familiar with Shakhtar in real life the name Dmytro Chygrynskyi may still ring a bell, he joined Barcelona for a big transfer fee in 2009, but only played one season for them before returning to Shakhtar. In FIFA 14 I think he’s a key player in this side because he brings some much-needed physical presence. Chygrynskyi is 6ft 3in tall and very strong, so he’s vital for defending balls into the box and scores the odd goal from corners at the other end. Although he’s not fast – he has 64 Acceleration and 62 Sprint Speed – I find his lack of pace is usually cancelled out by his physical power.
Tomas Hubschman * 74 OVR
Hubschman plays in midfield these days and is a CDM in FIFA 14, but he is experienced at centre-back so has good attributes in many of the key defensive areas. Although he’s a little shorter than I’d like for someone in the CB position, he’s still pretty good in the air and brings more speed than the other centre-backs in the squad. You could shoehorn left-back Vyacheslav Shevchuk into LCB instead of Hubschman if you wanted simply to pick the fastest defender with enough height to play there, but I don’t feel his extra pace is an advantage verses Hubschman’s all-round quality.
Ismaily * 71 OVR
Brazilian left-back Ismaily has a slightly lower Overall rating than Shevchuk, but I feel his attributes are more balanced. There’s almost no difference between the two players defensively, and Ismaily adds a bit more to the attack as he feels better in possession. Generally I don’t try to do too much on the ball with either full-back, but it’s good to know I can dribble with them effectively if I need to.
Fernando * 76 OVR
Although FC Shakhtar have three CDMs to choose from, there’s not really any competition for the starting spot in my opinion; Fernando is definitely my first choice. He’s quick, can run all day, he’s excellent at making interceptions and can hit pretty good shots from range. His one weakness is in the air – at 5ft 9in he tends to lose out a lot when competing for headers, especially from opposing goal kicks.
Taison * 79 OVR
There’s a tough choice to make at RM… Taison or Alex Teixeira. Winger Taison is a lot faster and a little more skilful, while Teixeira offers more defensively, which can be useful when up against a team that like to attack out wide. Generally speaking I start with Taison then bring Teixeira on late game, or if I’m struggling to stop my opponents’ attacks. Ilsinho is also a capable right-winger, but not quite as useful as the other two for me.
Douglas Costa * 78 OVR
If you found choosing an RM tough, wait until you switch over to the left – here you’ll need to pick between Douglas Costa or Fred. I usually start with Costa because he seems slightly more effective in the final third thanks to his passing and four-star skills, but there’s not much between them. Fred is quick and very sharp on the ball so again I like to use him as a late sub when the other team are getting tired.
Bernard * 80 OVR
Advanced playmaker Bernard is one of my favourite FC Shakhtar players, because he feels so good on the ball and can change direction very quickly, which makes him difficult to stop in and around the penalty area. He’s got five-star skills, 86 Dribbling, 85 Ball Control, 94 Balance, 93 Agility, 92 Acceleration and 90 Sprint Speed, so you can see why he’s so effective in possession. Unfortunately he suffers from the same weakness as many of his team-mates in that he lacks height and power, but his positives massively outweigh the negatives as long as you play to his strengths and stay away from physical battles.
Luiz Adriano * 75 OVR
Although he only has a Strength rating of 59, Adriano is 6ft tall and still feels like he brings some physical presence to the attack – he rarely gets pushed off the ball for me. That, combined with decent ratings for attributes like Acceleration, Sprint Speed, Att Position, and Shot Power are why I select him in this role over Anton Shynder, even though he’s taller and much stronger.
Wellington Nem * 72 OVR
Nem has a lower Overall rating than team-mate and former Arsenal striker Eduardo, but I select him as Adriano’s partner simply because he’s far quicker and has much better Stamina, so he can make run after run without tiring too quickly. That’s important in this position because he is the player I try to play in behind the defence as often as possible. I mentioned earlier that my strike partnership aren’t the best goalscorers, and Wellington Nem has the lowest Finishing stat of the two with just 69, but as a combination they seem to compliment each other well and are certainly my favourite front two when I’m playing as Shakhtar.
So that’s why I think FC Shakhtar are so good in Seasons and how I like to use them. If they sound like the kind of club that would suit the way you like to play then give them a go, and please comment below or tweet me @darren_cross – it’d be great to know how you get on.
As always, thanks for reading and I hope to see you back here next week.