The UPL emerges from the cocoon of the early spring international break this week as the second half of the season officially kicks off! It’s a delayed start to the 23rd round with Ukrainian Presidential Elections taking precedent over the weekend, aiming to get more people out to the polling booths! With a second round on the cards we may see another shift of fixtures in a few game weeks time too, in order to accommodate that! If the first half was a caterpillar, then the second half should be a butterfly, with the more Ukrainian El Classicos, more top table clashes and the bottom sides exclusively battling relegation, right? Metaphors aside, the large majority of fans know that this is no way to play a league, with the convoluting of big game fixtures to the point where derbies are played so often they’re now rendered meaningless to seeing the bottom six play each other for a 7th place trophy. But as it is the current system, it may as well be persevered with for one more season, before the league returns to all of its 16 team glory!
Ahead of the league round up and previews, it’s certainly worth touching upon Ukraine and their largely positive start to Euro 2020 qualifying! On a warm and humid evening in Lisbon last Friday, the Yellow and Blues began their campaign away to current holders Portugal. In what was largely a one sided game, with Portugal constantly on the front foot and Ukraine holding the likes of Ronaldo off for 90 minutes, Ukraine left the Estadio Da Luz with a well deserved point after an entertaining and eventful 0-0 draw! Andriy Pyatov will take the plaudits for keeping his side in it on multiple occasions. He looks like a man possessed, when playing for the National team in recent years! His vital stops and some dogged and determined defending from a youthful back line were enough to keep the Ukrainian fans in the top tier singing into the night and the fans at home looking forward to more positive results to come! One thing that was lacking against the Navigators was any sort of threat in the final third! Bar one chance at the end, that Junior Moraes was beaten to with the goal gaping, Ukraine looked short on ideas and ability when being anywhere near the opposition box.
This was even more apparent when Ukraine went to Luxembourg 3 days later and saw out a narrow 2-1 win thanks to a last minute own goal from Gerson Fernandes, the hosts’ best player! Ukraine were actually outplayed for certain swathes of the game as the former minnows they were up against played with next to no fear! They almost took the lead earlier than they had done and it was once against Pyatov who was there with his reflexes to keep them out twice with a stunning double save. A hash clearance attempt from Butko, gifted Luxembourg their opener, one they had however deserved. Fortunately, the one bright spark of the night for Ukraine, Tsyhankov, deputizing for the injured Marlos and Yarmolenko, touched down a world class pass from Zinchenko and slotted through the keeper’s legs. The second half also saw Ukraine unable to muster a clear chance on goal, with free kicks flying anywhere but on target. Yaremchuk came on to play with Moraes up top but with two target man tap in types on the pitch, it didn’t change the game. 
It was down to Malinovskyi in the final minutes of stoppage time to whip in an inviting in-swinger from the dead ball where Ukraine’s good fortune shone on them once again. The fans behind the goal erupted, with somewhat delayed and slightly subdued fashion as they left for their hotels with 4 points from 2 games! As many have been saying, whilst the performances have been far from magnificent, Ukraine come away top of the group after two matches with two away games ticked off the list. 
With Serbia at the Lviv Arena next up in June, you can’t but help feel that the Ukraine could jam their way to Wembley in July 2020… that is however before a UEFA disciplinary panel oversees complaints from both of the Zbirna’s opponents regarding the ‘eligibility’ of Junior Moraes! Both football federations want to know whether the former Brazilian had the right to play for the National team when he moved to China for 4 months, and thus not meeting the 5 year consecutive living criteria needed for a passport! However, the FFU remain confident that this will become a non event, as the passport qualification rules are largely tangible and Moraes’ citizenship was likely granted thanks to direct government involvement. Hence, nothing to worry about it that regard… yet!
So now it’s time to gravitate back to the UPL narrative! Due to the Presidential elections, the Matchdya 23 fixtures have been spread out across the week; starting on Tuesday and the final fixture ending on Saturday!
What’s at stake now that we head into the first Matchday of the split Championship & Relegation Group format?
Well for starters in the Championship Group it is the usual suspects vying for the title. Shakhtar remain in pole position to retain the league as Dynamo still trail by 7 points. Even with two El Classico’s to come and the chance to take 6 points off the leaders, unless Shakhtar slip up against weaker opposition, which they seldom do, the UPL is currently there’s to lose. 
Dynamo are comfortably in 2ndplace with Oleksandriya drifting since the turn of the year and now trail the Kyiv club by 9 points in 3rd. However, it is highly likely that they will get a European spot as themselves as they lead Zorya in 4thby a 9 point margin themselves. 
FC Lviv and Mariupol make up the top six and are both still in with a massive chance of getting a crack at the Europa League qualifiers both level on 30 points and only trailing Zorya by 2! And depending on the winners of the Ukrainian Cup, in which the lower clubs will be backing one of the top two to do the business, as an extra Europa League spot may become available as a result of the cup antics!

Meanwhile, in the relegation group its extremely tight at the bottom. Granted Arsenal Kyiv look down and out with 12 points, with equally poor Chornomorets in 11thjust four points ahead of them. Ahead of the start of matchday 23, Olimpik Donetsk occupy the final ‘relegation play off’ spot alongside the Odesa club. Whoever ends up in 10thor 11thwill find themselves facing the 2ndand 3rdplaced sides in the Persha Liha! Karpaty are not out of danger yet either. They sit a point above the relegation play offs and will be wanting to not get sucked into another relegation scrap and great escape as has been the case for a good few years now. 
Unfortunate Desna sit in 8thon 28 points, only a point behind newly manager less Vorskla who have been seriously woeful this season, that they parted company with Vasyl Sachko who was unable to draw a goal out of his side when most needed. Desna and Vorskla are currently the favourites to pick up the ‘Best of the rest Trophy’ with the ‘prestigious’ prize being reserved to the 7thplace runner up or winner of the relegation group!
A correct result (WIN / DRAW/ DEFEAT) is worth 10 points. The exact score earns an extra 40 points.

Karpaty Lviv v Vorskla Poltava
Todos’ prediction: This fixture has already been played out this year and with devastating results for Vorskla. It was a true reflection of their defensive capitulation this season, combined with their serious lack of ability to score a goal. 
Maryan Shved was the star of the show that day as he picked up a hat-trick. Can we see a similar result today, it’s unlikely that Karpaty can harm their opponents 4-0 again, but as it’s a weird midweek, early 5pm KO, we can see this being a largely forgettable affair. Both teams aren’t stable enough at the back and as a result, the Lions will penetrate Shust’s goal but Vorskla will get the ball rolling under new manager Kosovskiy with a goal and a point. 1-1


Oleksandriya v Shakhtar Donetsk
Todos’ prediction: As three points go, this was not a guaranteed for Shakhtar earlier in the season but as Oleksandriya have begun to tread with slightly less fight since the new year, it looks more certain than ever that Shakhtar will breeze to victory in this one. Junior Moraes returns after his controversial debut for Ukraine and will look to grab another goal for his currently league top scoring campaign. Oleksandriya will certainly give it a go and hold out for as long as they can but it’s more the inevitable question of ‘when’ Shakhtar will score. Pankiv just won’t have enough to keep them out. 0-2
Zorya Luhansk v Dynamo Kyiv
Todos’ prediction: This match ended in surprising fashion back at the Olympiyskiy in the debut Dynamo UPL game for 2019. The away side this week but the hosts on that occasion swept aside a hapless Zorya, who couldn’t defend to save their lives. Shaparenko and Verbic ran the show and led their side to a 5-0 win. It’s likely to be different this time round, with Zorya playing at ‘home’ and wanting to make amends for that humiliation.
It’s unlikely captain, Karavayev will play after picking up a serious looking injury vs Luxembourg whist on International Duty,so it will be down to ex Dynamo player Hromov to inspire Zorya to an unlikely victory. Dynamo will be looking to keep the pace with Shakhtar and will expect to get all three points. Verbic looks to be fit enough to return from injury after making his comeback for Slovenia. A repeat of his double? Potentially. This one will have goals as it usually does, but less than the previous encounter.  1-3
FC Lviv v Mariupol
Todos’ prediction: The showdown for the final Europa League spot will begin in Lviv, as Mariupol travel from the Azov to face their level on points league challengers. 
Goals will be at a premium here, with FC Lviv seriously struggling to create, but relying on their steadfast defence and keeper to maintain they come away from games with minimum a point in tact. 1-1
Olimpik Donetsk v Desna Chernihiv
Todos’ prediction: Olimpik Donetsk’s season has been relatively poor from their perspective. They’ve been unable to play well in front of either their own or their opponents’ goal. Shevchuk has not been able to instil any defensive stability in the team, and whilst Olimpik look to have quite an array of interesting forwards, they are all out of form. 
Desna will look to put their disappointment of missing out on the top six in their debut top flight season behind them as they aim to get the best of the rest trophy and get some ‘silverware’ into the cabinet. Desna have not been scoring much either of late but it seems they are overdue some goals. They’re likely to edge this. 1-2
Chornomorets Odesa v Arsenal Kyiv 
Todos’ prediction: The bottom two meet in this Saturday affair. Hardly a blockbuster affair. Arsenal have a chance to move within a point of their hosts. They’ve improved since the return of the UPL in February whilst not getting the results that their performances have deserved. Meanwhile, Chornomorets have trundled along, losing narrowly but not really looking like a threat at any end of the pitch. This one will be forgettable.0-0

Total scores after week 22
Todos v Guests
D2  L5

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