THE UKRAINIAN FOOTBALL ROUND UP:

What a start to the season we have had so far! The UPL is well and truly BACK IN TOWN!

Over the past week, we have been gifted with some entertaining footballing spectacles and to think not one game ended in a draw!

The season kicked off with Zorya taking on Vorskla in Poltava. This fixture was given the Sunday lunchtime slot in order for Zorya to have enough time in between their Europa League 2nd Qualifying round ties. 

Viktor Skripnyk’s men followed up their opening 3-1 win in Europe the week before, with a slender 1-0 victory against last season’s Best of the Rest (7thplace) trophy holders, thanks to Bohdan Liednev’s early strike.

Skripnyk’s 100% competitive record remained in tact with two from two before the third victory came in, just a few days ago. It was another rather strained win beating Buducnost only 1-0 despite the visitors having nine men for over 50 minutes in the game.

Later that Sunday, the traditional season curtain raiser took to the stage. The ‘first’ Ukrainian El Clasico of the season got underway in a battle for the Super Cup! In what was an entertaining game, which Shakhtar largely dominated. 

In typical fashion, when the stakes are relatively low and mickey mouse trophies are up for grabs, do Dynamo get both luck on their side and start putting chances away. Kyiv went behind on the stroke of half time after some pinball in the box that Ismaily duly finished, before Dynamo astonishingly waived the pressure and turned the tie on its head in the second. 

Shakhtar v Karpaty
‘Harmash on fire’

Goals from Buyalskyi and Harmash (his teammates rather cringingly and 3 years late gave him a rendition of ‘Harmash is on fire’) sent their side up the steps to lift the first piece of silverware for the upcoming season. However, if omens are anything to go by; over 60% of the last 10 Super Cup winners have not won the following Championship… it doesn’t look too good for Dynamo! That brought an end to weekend action before action or more precisely ‘The UPL’ resumed in midweek to round off Matchday One. 

On Tuesday, Desna welcomed FC Lviv to Chernihiv. The hosts got off to a positive start with mega defender and captain Denys Favorov, once again showing how pivotal he is at both ends of the pitch. He got the opener. However, capitulation ensued in the second half and Brazilians (who else) Pernambuco and Leo Tavares were on hand to give Lviv an unlikely victory. A top six challenge has once again got off to a good start.

Elsewhere, at the Obolon Arena, Kolos entertained Mariupol in their historic, first ever UPL game. In what was quite a full main stand despite this not being a true home tie for the hosts (UPL regulation forbids stadiums under 5,000 in capacity – Kovalivka’s population is only 1500). 

They got off to a bad start as Mariupol came to ruin the party with an early Fomin goal to get the ball rolling. However, Dynamo loanee, Yevheniy Smyrnyi was on hand with a great finish to bring it level. It was then left to another goalscoring defender and captain Havrysh to get the winner and send Kolos ecstatic. A perfect start for the top flight newcomers. 

Onto Wednesday and this featured all the big names in action. Shakhtar managed to resuscitate themselves from a shock opening day defeat against Oleksdanriya and get new boss, Luis Castro, an all important first competitive win in charge against last season’s bronze medallists. 

Yuri Pankiv saved his 14thcareer UPL penalty as he shut out Marlos, before new signing Tretyakov opened the scoring for the home side. Shakhtar woke up after half time and caught the Oleksandriya defence napping, as Bukhal scored an own goal before a slick passing move allowed Taison to get the second before Dentinho came off the bench to secure the three points in the dying embers.

Dnipro-1’s debut performance in the UPL was probably the most eye catching of the matchday. They beat Olimpik Donetsk 2-0 after two goals inside the opening ten minutes. On loan, U-20 World Cup winners, Serhiy Buletsa and Vladyslav Supryaha were pivotal, by scoring both goals with other youngsters Nazarenko and Kohut also impressing. This side is certainly top heavy in terms of attack and it will be interesting to see how they fare against a more effective forward line. Olimpik, as expected failed to impress and Julio Cesar’s men showcased why they are the favourites for the drop this season.

Finally, Dynamo got their league challenge underway in Lviv against Karpaty. In a game which had more excitement and entertainment off the pitch (the Karpaty Ultra’s pyro show) it was unsurprising that Dynamo won courtesy of an own goal and a penalty. 

Khatskevich’s men once more, failing to evoke any sense of game plan or collective direction. However, that didn’t come to hurt them on this occassion as Karpaty were just more inept. Maybe the massive squad exodus and the bargain bin ‘Fulham-esque’ transfer policy had something to do with it. No need to fear though Karpaty fans. Oleksandr ‘Phil Jones’ Kucher has signed to save the day! Noting quite like a 36-year-old centre back, whose reputation precedes him (mistakes, red cards and own goals galore incoming).

PREDICTION TIME

SATURDAY

MARIUPOL V OLEKSANDRIYA

Mariupol begin their Europa League qualifying campaign this midweek and as such will likely be prioritising those fixtures over the league, whilst they are still in the competition. However, Oleksandr Babych’s men will also be wanting to register some points on the board to prevent an early relegation looking situation. 

Vakula will be expected to pull the strings and create the chances for veteran Fomin. It is still uncertain whether the U20 World Cup loanees, that arrived from Shakhtar in the summer will feature anytime soon. As has been seen with Dnipro-1, these youngsters are capable of making an impact already despite their lack of top flight experience.

Likewise, Oleksandriya are able to focus solely on the league for the time being, with their own European campaign commencing in September. With a few of their new signings impressing last time out versus Shakhtar, it is the games like these that are must wins if Oleksandriya hope to replicate anything to close to their third placed finish of last year. 

Second half capitulation versus Shakhtar aside, Oleksandriya are still rather strong and organized defensively but time will tell whether a consistent goalscorer is amongst their ranks either in the form of their wide players or in new signing, Bezborodko, who started the last fixture on the bench. Will the forward be able to make an impact against one of his former clubs in Mariupol? This is likely to be a tight and cagey affair. Not too much in it.1-1

RESULT: TBC

DESNA CHERNIHIV V VORSKLA POLTAVA

After rather disappointing results in Matchday One for both of these sides, the teams will be raring to register their first points of the season. Desna were in the ascendency versus FC Lviv, before falling away in the second half, however they look to have recruited well in the summer and they should be given a bit of time to integrate everyone into the team. 

Goals can come from every area of the pitch, so there shouldn’t necessarily be worries on that front. However, defensively, there does seem to be a general lack of quality that ends up rearing its head from time to time. 

Fortunately for Desna, they face a hapless attacking outfit this weekend, in the form of Vorskla. Kolomoyets, still starts up front for the visitors, despite the fact that the one cap Ukraine international, only managed to find the back of the net twice in 33 appearances in the last campaign. 

There are serious questions being raised as to whether this Poltava side will ever recruit a forward or midfielder than can consistently contribute to both chance creation and goal scoring. Vorskla are and always have been a solid defensive outfit, however with a few retirees over the summer, it is not yet certain whether the disciplined backline and new first choice keeper are able to cope with the rigors of the UPL. 

Desna are more balanced across the pitch. Vorskla to shoot blanks once again.  2-0

RESULT: TBC

FC LVIV V DYNAMO KYIV

FC Lviv reminded everyone why and how they made it into the top 6 last season. They held off a Desna storm in Chernihiv and turned their fixture around in impressive fashion thanks to their Brazilian attacking contingent proving pivotal once again. The ‘Shakhtar of the West’ due to their South American recruitment drive, which has continued this summer, welcome Dynamo Kyiv. During their first season in the UPL, they proved to be somewhat of a bogey team for the capital side. 

Notoriously difficult to breakdown their Ukrainian core, Lviv shocked Dynamo in Kyiv with a win at the Olympiyskyi. In the other fixtures, they ended up losing narrowly in all three by a margin of just one goal. More of the same is expected in this one. Whilst FC Lviv are able to pull off a shock, the positive nature of Dynamo’s opening results, should be enough to signify that they have the ability to see of their hosts. However, it won’t be easy. 

Gerson Rodrigues, who signed for Dynamo on Friday, will not be ready to play a part in this game, with his debut on hold. Dynamo have a Champions League qualifier versus Club Brugge on Tuesday and as such may have their focus slightly obscured with that game taking greater priority. Dynamo to get the three points over the line. Just. However, don’t rule out a draw in this one. Would be a typical Khatskevich result. 0-1

RESULT: TBC

SUNDAY

OLIMPIK DONETSK V KOLOS KOVALIVKA

Kolos Kovalivka are well and truly in the honeymoon period since gaining promotion. Winning their debut UPL fixture and even thrashing a relatively strong Dynamo Kyiv side in pre season. This club really believe the UPL is their oyster at the moment. Representing the 1500 strong village of Kovalivka, the fact that they have even made it to the top flight should be looked at as a massive achievement in itself. Their summer signings have already made serious impacts, with Dynamo loanee Smyrnyi impressing. They have every opportunity to make it two wins from two in this fixture against a weak Olimpik side. 

The hosts have decided to take the unproven route of hiring a foreign coach, with no real pedigree in coaching. Arsenal Kyiv did the same last year by appointing Ravanelli, who was drafted in due to his name and history as a player overlooking his inexperience in management. That didn’t last long and it is likely this marriage between Julio Cesar and Olimpik won’t either. 

The side have retained a few of their key goal scorers from the last campaign in the form of the Pasich brothers and Matar Dieye and have brought in over ten new players, but this just seems to be another convoluted transfer policy. Integration will likely prove difficult and Julio Cesar’s language barrier will also be a hindrance to getting his ‘tactics,’ if he has any, across. 

Kovalivka have their obvious weaknesses but the unbeaten streak looks to continue against the side most heavily tipped to go down to the First League at the end of the season. 0-1

RESULT: TBC

SHAKHTAR DONETSK V KARPATY LVIV

Karpaty’s opening two fixtures have not been kind to them at all. After losing to last season’s runners up, Dynamo in the first gameweek, they travel to Kharkiv to face the Champions, Shakhtar. Their recent record against their Donbas opponents has not been great to say the least. The aggregate score line in the home and away legs of this fixture last season saw Shakhtar win 11 (ELEVEN) – 1. 

The omens are not good for the Lviv team. A lackluster performance versus Dynamo will be put into perspective today as they face a more pronounced and focused side, who are able to enact an attractive and at times devastating style of play. Goals will not come at a premium in this one. However, they will do if you play for Karpaty.

Shakhtar seem to still be in pre season gear in their first two competitive fixtures of the season. Luis Castro, has yet to adapt to the fact that he will be facing sides that are going to have 10 men behind the ball for the majority of games and as such, will need to work a solution for this. It’s unlikely this will be too much of a problem today as Karpaty are not the most organised team in the world and with a whole raft of new signings, cohesion and telepathy is something that they are surely yet to master.

Junior Moraes has been quiet so far, so expect him to get off the mark as is Marlos, who will be wanting to avenge his penalty miss versus Oleksandriya with some key contributions in this one. 4-0

RESULT: TBC

ZORYA LUHANSK V DNIPRO-1

This is an interesting fixture. It’s a showdown between our picks for third and fourth in the league come the end of the season. Both have had strong starts to their respective campaigns. Zorya, with their extra Europa League games, have the risk of experiencing a hangover. They have won all of their competitive games so far with Skripnyk at the helm but not in the most convincing of fashion. 

They welcome a Dnipro-1 side who will be invigorated and full of confidence after their opening victory. The attack that Dnipro-1 coach Mykhailenko has at his disposal is devastating. His wide players are electrically quick, and able to find that final ball for the forwards, who are game changers in themselves (Supryaha and Buletsa). 

Due to the focus on Europa League for the home side, with CSKA Sofia on the horizon, this may be where the unbeaten streak for Skripnyk comes to an end. Zorya may have been cruising 4-1 on aggregate, but they were unable to break down a poor Buducnost side who down to 9 men. 

Goals come at a premium with Zorya, who are heavily reliant on Hromov, with Ukraine’s U21 all time top goalscorer, Pylyp Budkivsky never living up to the hype. He’s now 28 and risks slipping down the route of a Kolomoyets. There won’t be a lot in this but Dnipro edge Zorya up top, so they’ll be the ones to take advantage when it comes to any defensive lapses in concentration, with Zorya’s motivation lying in gaining a Europa League group stage spot.   0-1

RESULT: TBC

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