Two home losses in a row, with their hold on the English Premier League title, which they won so comfortably last season, slipping quicker than a kangaroo on skates during a landslide, Manchester United have no more places left to hide; the bunker they have buried themselves in this season has reached its deep end.
The Champions League has been the salvation for David Moyes and his United side in a season to forget so far - which got worse thanks to twin defeat to Everton and Newcastle. A win over Shakhtar Donetsk and United will top Group A, and with it hopefully avoid a big team in the last 16 of the Champions League.
However, there is a bit more than finishing their group at the top of the pile at stake - if United were to lose against Shakhtar Donetsk, a team capable of beating any side on their day, at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, then Moyes will have the considerable dishonour of being the manager to oversee three straight United home defeats for the first time since 1962 - Moyes wasn't even born then.
"It's important to give ourselves the best possible chance in the next round but the big job was to make sure that we qualify from the group," the Scot, who took over from compatriot Sir Alex Ferguson at the beginning of the season, said. "That part is done and hopefully we can finish off the group unbeaten. And if we do that then that will see us through.
"We've been inconsistent at times. We've played very well in some of the games in the Champions League, not so well in the Premier League games -- albeit we've lacked a little bit of the good fortune in one or two of the games which might have made the difference."
United, who drew with Shakhtar 1-1 in the reverse fixture a couple of months back, lead Group A with 11 points from five games, and their last Champions League outing was an impressive 5-0 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen in Germany. The Champions League form has been quite different from their domestic form, and Moyes, who took full responsibility for his side's recent results, will be hoping the Champions League United show up at Old Trafford on Tuesday, rather than the rather poorer Premier League cousin.
"I think there's a bit of everything [that we] could do with getting better. We'd like to generally play better but we'd like to pass it better, we'd like to create more chances," he added. "We'd like to defend better when those moments arise. I don't think it's any one thing.
"I think it's all round that we are trying to improve. But it was only a few weeks ago when we had beaten Arsenal here and we had beaten Leverkusen, and we were talking very well about the team.
"I take complete responsibility for the results. Fortunately, they've been good in the Champions League but they've not been good in the Premier League, so I take responsibility for them as well, and I would like them to be much better - and I've got no doubt they will be."
Shakhtar Donetsk players during a training session at Old Trafford, December 9. Reuters
For Shakhtar, who are now on a winter break until March, the math is quite simple - win at Old Trafford and they join Manchester United in the last 16; draw or lose, and they depend on the result of the other Group A game between Leverkusen, one point behind the Ukrainian side, and Real Sociedad, who are out of the running having picked up just one point from five matches.
"For Manchester United it is a must-win match as they want to win so they can top the group and for our part we are going to play our best as it is important for us to progress as well," Shakhtar manager Mircea Lucescu said.
"Even though they are not playing well, these are two different competitions and you can't really compare them. In the Premier League, the English teams know each other and the teams they are playing, but with the Champions League it is a totally different situation."
Team news: Manchester United: Moyes is sweating on the fitness of defenders Chris Smalling, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, while Michael Carrick remains ruled out. Shinji Kagawa is expected to feature despite being ill over the past week, with Moyes mum on whether he plans to rest some of his big players. Wayne Rooney, though, is available after missing the Premier League loss to Newcastle through suspension.
Shakhtar Donetsk: Lucescu goes into the game with a fully-fit squad looking to pile further misery on the Premier League giants.
Key men: Manchester United: Scoring goals has been a problem for United this season, albeit not so much in the Champions League. However, the onus will be on the strikers - be that Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Javier Hernandez or Danny Welbeck - to find the back of the net.
Shakhtar Donetsk: Lucescu's side ended their campaign for the time being with a 1-0 victory over Chornomorets Odesa with Luiz Adriano scoring the only goal, and the Brazilian striker will again be danger man for United.
Where to Watch Live
The game is scheduled for a 1.15 am IST start on early Wednesday morning with live coverage on Ten Action. You can live stream the match by clicking HERE. Viewers in the U.S. can catch the action via live streaming HERE. To watch the match in the U.K., click HERE. Viewers in North Africa and the Middle East click HERE.
Expected lineups: Manchester United: De Gea, Rafael, Evans, Ferdinand, Buttner, Fellaini, Giggs, Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa, Hernandez.
Shakhtar Donetsk: Pyatov, Srna, Kucher, Shevchuk, Rakitskiy, Fred, Stepanenko, Costa, Taison, Eduardo, Adriano.
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