UEFA Nations League Preview – Czech Republic v Ukraine

UEFA Nations League Preview

UEFA’s new continental international competition kicks off on Thursday amid rejoice and confusion across Europe. Some are excited that this new concept will reinvigorate the international scene by offering more competitive games and decreasing the amount of friendlies. Others are generally just confused as to what the Nations League is all about. So here’s a simple and concise explanation of the latest football tournament to grace Europe:
The inaugural Nations League group stage round will run from September to November 2018. There are 4 leagues: A, B, C and D. Within each league there are 4 groups consisting of either 3 or 4 national teams. All the sides from the same group will play each other over home and away. Each side that tops their group will be promoted to the league above them, whilst the team that finishes bottom will be relegated to the league below. In League A, the four top sides progress to a final knock out tournament, which will be held next summer, to decide the Nations League champion. 

Whilst UEFA constructed this new concept in the hope of eradicating meaningless friendlies, as a result of some groups consisting of 3 teams, this means certain sides will still play friendlies to fill the gap in their calendars when the other two sides in their NL group battle it out. Despite that, as the Nations League does have a trophy to be won and a guaranteed qualifying place at EURO 2020 up for grabs from each League, traditionally weaker sides will have a greater incentive and a genuine chance to reach a major tournament.

UEFA explaining the Nations League format
Ukraine’s new Joma Kits

Ukraine are in League B and will face the Czech Republic and Slovakia for a chance to gain promotion to League A. They kick off against the Czechs on 6thSeptember in a small town called Uherske Hradiste. 

Ukraine go into the tournament on the back of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup (and not wanting to) last autumn whilst they more recently won the world renowned and prestigious Kirin Cup against Japan in March! In addition, a few days prior to the game kicking off, the Football Federation of Ukraine revealed the new 2018/19 Joma kits. For the first time ever Ukraine was given a third ‘white’ kit. Whilst it is unlikely that we will see it in use, it certainly stands out! The home and away kits are relatively simplistic but with a subtle ‘Tryzub and traditional Ukrainian embroidery’ design on the abdomen and sides, alongside ‘Glory to Ukraine’ text featuring on the back of the collar, it still oozes class, despite the usual reputation of the Joma brand name being cheap and unattractive . 

The Squad

Ukraine’s 23 man squad:

Andriy Pyatov, Denys Boyko, Andriy Lunin
Yevhen Khacheridi, Yaroslav Rakitskiy, Oleksandr Karavaev, Mykola Mativenko, Serhiy Kryvstov, Yevhen Makarenko, Mykyta Burda, Oleh Danchenko, Andriy Tsurikov, Vasyl Kravets (Injured)
Andriy Yarmolenko, Yevhen Konoplyanka, Taras Stepanenko, Serhiy Sydorchuk, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ruslan Malinovskyi, Marlos, Viktor Tsyhankov, Vitaliy Buyalskyi
Yevhen Seleznyov, Roman Yaremchuk
Members of the Ukraine squad have had a mixed start to the season. The likes of Ruslan Malinovskyi and Roman Yaremchuk have been highly instrumental for their club sides in Belgium so far whilst Marlos has been impressive pulling the strings for Shakhtar as has debutant Andriy Tsurikov, playing on the left, for the high flying Oleksandriya. 

However, others have not had the best of beginnings. Andriy Yarmolenko has yet to secure a starting spot at West Ham, having completed just one 90-minute game since January and Viktor Tsyhankov has yet to reach the electric form of last season as was seen in Dynamo’s underwhelming performances against Ajax in the UCL play offs. Despite this, Yarmolenko is prolific for the national team and it is more than likely that he will step up to the occasion during the Nations League as he chases down Andriy Shevchenko’s goal scoring record from the right flank. 

Andriy Lunin at CD Leganes
Young goalkeeper, Andriy Lunin impressed during his friendly appearances for Real Madrid and has since joined Leganes on loan but has not made an appearance yet. It’s unclear if Shevchenko will experiment with the goalkeeping position despite the fact that Andriy Pyatov and Denys Boyko cannot be relied upon consistently as they always seem to have a mistake in them which has cost their club sides results already this season. 

Overall the squad looks strong in both the defensive and midfield areas but the forward position still lacks consistency and experience. Artem Biesedin, pulled out early last week due to injury, and he himself is far from the quality desired for a national team striker. Yevhen Seleznyov has replaced him but apart from scoring tap ins, he is getting on at 33, and is not the long term solution needed to complete an optimum Ukraine national team starting line up. 

Tactics

Predicted Ukraine Starting XI
Shevchenko has played the same formation throughout his tenure. He has largely followed his predecessor in playing 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfielders, two wingers and a CAM. 

It is highly likely that Shevchenko will start Malinovksyi in one of the holding positions alongside Stepanenko with Marlos in front of them. Zinchenko has started in recent fixtures but his lack of playing time and the better form of other players will surely force Shevchenko to leave him on the bench. Oleh Danchenko will most likely make his debut at right back, taking over from Bohdan Butko, who has not been called up on this occasion. 

Ukraine will look to play on the counter attack, aiming to utilise the pace and ability of Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka down the flanks providing the link up play for the lone striker, Yaremchuk, up top. The main problem will be goals. Ukraine look quite solid at the back but it will depend on whether Malinovskyi and Marlos can transfer their club form to the national team, which they as of yet have been unable to do when playing for Ukraine. 

Key Men

Ruslan Malinovskyi

Ruslan  Malinovskyi is the most in-form Ukrainian player at the moment. Plying his trade in the Jupiler Belgian League, he has become KRC Genk’s key man as they sit second in the table. He has scored 4 goals and provided 3 assists in the league and scored 3 goals in the Europa League qualifiers, helping his side to the group stages. His set pieces and passes are on par with a peak Andrea Pirlo, consistently scoring free kicks and providing pin point crosses and through balls for his team mates. He also recently disclosed that the likes of Celta Vigo and other top European sides were after his services in the summer transfer window but he ultimately stayed at Genk and has since signed a new bumper contract.

Roman Yaremchuk

Roman Yaremchuk scored 9 goals last season for Gent and has scored 3 so far this season. He largely plays out wide for his club, but is a centre forward by trade. Whilst he has yet to make his Ukraine debut, Roman will most probably start up front on his own for Shevchenko’s side. With a bit of pace, a tall build and an eye for goal from anywhere inside the box, he may be the solution to Ukraine’s long winded striker problem that has stretched on since the day, Andriy Shevchenko retired in 2012.

Marlos

Marlos will look to finally get a goal for the national team after 7 appearances without one. He is instrumental for his club side Shakhtar, where he provides countless assists and goals, but he has not been able to carry this form over into his international performances. Usually playing on the right for Shakhtar, he will be made to play through the middle for Shevchenko which is he more than capable of doing, having experience of this free roam at Shakhtar. Whilst some do not like the fact he is being chosen for the squad due to him being Brazilian by birth, as he is a player of such quality and a regular starter for his club, Shevchenko should continue to select him. However, if he continues to underperform for the national side, questions will start to arise as to whether he is as integral to the side as Shevchenko sees him to be.

Zorya Londonsk’s Nations League CZE V UKR Score Prediction: 0-2

Background on the Czech Republic National Team 

By Guest Writer: Czech Football expert – Chris Boothroyd 

Ahead of this week’s Nations League game against the Czech Republic, we have teamed up with Chris Boothroyd from @CzeFootball and AmongSkyscrapers.co.uk, who has provided his analysis on the Czech side. He’ll be letting us know who is in the Czech squad, what their tactics are likely to be and what Ukraine will need to look out for when they step out in front of the sell out crowd at the Městský fotbalový stadion Miroslava Valenty.

Chris Boothroyd:

‘The Czech Republic enter the Nations League in limbo. After a disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign, UEFA’s newest competition will allow the Czechs to continue rebuilding, though to what blueprint everybody will follow nobody seems to know.
Admittedly, head coach Karel Jarolím has been dealt a bad hand in terms of fitness, form and worryingly, consistency. But even with those barriers, there is a feeling that Jarolím has not yet settled on a system, let alone who would comprise his first XI. 
His relatively recent contract renewal spoke more of a lack of available alternatives than it did his own achievements at international level.
But, the Nations League offers a second chance. Not just for the coach, but for some relatively high-profile players too. For others, it is an opportunity to cement their place and catch the eye of curious onlookers.’

The Squad

‘Jarolím’s first competitive squad for almost a year has already undergone some radical changes. 
Within a few days of the nominations being announced, Antonín Barák (Sampdoria), Bořek Dočkal (Philadelphia Union), Jan Kopic (Viktoria Plzeň), Jiří Pavlenka (Werder Bremen) all withdrew due to a mixture of illness and injury. Almost immediately after Slavia Prague’s dominant 4-0 win over title rivals Viktoria Plzeň, Jarolím announced that the Vršovice trio of Ondřej Kolář, Stanislav Tecl and Jaromír Zmrhal would take their places.
Taking an actual look at the squad itself, there appears to be an evident lack of depth at centre-back, with only Jakub Brabec and Tomáš Kalas the only recognised central defenders called up by Jarolím. Worryingly for the Czechs (but a positive for Ukraine) these two have only played five games of football between them this season. However, Jarolím has used Filip Novák as a left-sided centre-back before, though the Trabzonspor man is normally a swashbuckling fullback-come-wingback by trade.
Elsewhere, Nürnberg’s Ondřej Petrák is the only newcomer to the squad and is in line to win his maiden international appearance after a solid start to the Bundesliga season.’

The System

‘Karel Jarolím has switched between a back three and a back four in recent games and the jury’s still out as to which system he’ll use. The lack of recognised centre-backs hints that he’ll revert to a back four, though you can’t discount the 62-year-old fielding Novák on the left, or dropping either Petrák into the back line.
My gut is that Jarolím will go with a 4-3-3, or a variation thereof. Look for expansive play down the wings as for all their central defensive woes, the Czechs are laden with proven quality at fullback, especially so down the right.’ 

Ones to watch

Patrik Schick

‘The obvious name to mention would be that of Patrik Schick, with the forward being the poster boy for the future of Czech football. But the Roma man plays second fiddle at international level to the prolific Michael Krmenčík.

Michael Krmenčík

Meant in the nicest way possible, Krmenčík is the archetypal Championship striker but with quality to burn and plenty of potential yet to realise. 

At 6ft 2in he’s got the size and strength to bully and harass opposition defenders and his record in front of goal for club and country is second to none. But where he comes into his own is in his hold-up play and gamesmanship. It’s little surprise that a host of European clubs have been linked with him recently, with Club Brugge and most recently Bordeaux believed to have enquired about his availability. 

Tomáš Souček

The most in-form Czech heading into the Nations League tie is Tomáš Souček. A target for Fiorentina, the gangly 23-year-old is a do-it-all central midfielder and although he normally given a primarily defensive responsibility, he has quite the knack for finding the back of the net, as he two goals for Slavia at the weekend demonstrate.

Souček has had his growing pains and was infamously dropped after a breakout season in 2015-16 in favour of more high-profile signings when Slavia started splashing the cash post-takeover. But the academy graduate has matured into one of the most tactically astute, likeable and reliable footballers in the Czech league and is one of the first names on the team sheet for both club and country. 
As noted earlier, the Czechs are well stocked at fullback, with Bundesliga stalwarts Theo Gebre Selassie and Pavel Kadeřábek squabbling over who’ll start on the right. Kadeřábek is the archetypal modern fullback; equally comfortable going forward as he is defensively and like many modern fullbacks, he’s a converted winger. The Czechs are equally strong in goal, with Tomáš Koubek and Tomáš Vaclík set to do battle for the number one shirt.’ 

Chris’ Nations League CZE V UKR Score Prediction: 2-1

We would like to thank Chris for taking the time to contribute to this Inaugural Nations League preview and would ask you give his social media pages and website a look for more interesting and insightful content including but not restricted to Czech football via the links below:

⚽️Czefootball on Twitter

⚽️Chris’ website 


Czech Logistics and Czech Republic NT camp info with Ondrej Zlamal 

We have also been in touch with Ondrej Zlamal who works for Czech 4 Sport and UEFA.com to give us an insight into the logistical situation as to why the match is being played in such a small town and stadium alongside asking for a perceptive on how the Czech management side view the new Nations League tournament as a concept. 

ZL: What’s the story behind the match being held in Uherské Hradiště? What is the reasoning behind such a move for a National Team game? Is this a regular occurrence or a new initiative, especially as the stadium size is under 10,000 in a relatively small town?
Městský fotbalový stadion Miroslava Valenty
Ondrej Zlamal:“The stadium in Uherske Hradiste was recently reconstructed for UEFA EURO 2015 held in the Czech Republic. It is a cosy, nice stadium and the fans in Uherské Hradiště are likely to fill it up to the capacity as they did not have many international games in town. 

Czech coach Karel Jarolím was a coach of local club Slovácko and he likes the site. I think it is a good decision, the game will have a good atmosphere, better than in Prague where a lot of games are held and the fans are a bit spoilt.”
ZL: What is the state of the current Czech national team?
Ondrej Zlamal:“The team is under a transition period after Rosický, Baroš, Čech, Lafata, Plašil and other older players ended their international careers. Players like Darida, Barák, Jankto or Vaclík are taking the role of the leaders. The team is suffering from a number of injuries with the likes of Pavlenka, Suchý, Darida, Dočkal, Kopic and Barák being injured and most of them would have been likely to start.”
ZL: Are the Czech team confident going into this new UEFA tournament? What are the coaching staff hoping to get out of this new concept? 
Ondrej Zlamal:“The Czechs need good results and good displays after missing out on the last FIFA World Cup. They definitely need to avoid relegation as this would cause problems with qualifying pots.”


Ondrej’s Nations League CZE V UKR Score Prediction: 1-1


We would also like to thank Ondrej for taking the time out of his busy football reporting schedule to reply to our budding questions about the Czech approach to the Nations League game against Ukraine. We kindly ask you to give his social media pages a follow for more interesting and insightful content about Czech football via the links below:

⚽️Ondrej on Twitter (English)

⚽️Ondrej on Twitter (Czech)

⚽️Czech 4 Sport Website

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