THE UKRAINIAN FOOTBALL ROUND UP:

As one of the major European leagues, The English Premier League, kicks off its season this weekend, the newly rebranded FAVBET LIHA(Ukrainian Premier League) enters the third game week of proceedings!

Yes, you read that correctly, the UPL has a new sponsor and it is serial UPL club shirt feature bookmaker ‘Favorit Bet’ who have become the new name of Ukraine’s top flight! 

However, it is the updated UPL logo that has received a rather negative reception as well on social media, with many, including ourselves immediately seeing the similarities between this design and that of Bayern Munich’s crest! 

It will likely be a grower. Our initial thoughts are rather indifferent. The original ball in itself was quite boring, so a revamp is needed for that before any serious calls can be made regarding official league branding.

Moving away from the marketing sphere, Matchday 2was fairly routine, with no real shocks. Mariupol opened the weekend, preparing for their key Europa League qualifier in midweek, with a morale boosting 2-1 win over Oleksandriya. 

Last season’s 3rd placed side lost their second game in a row but it really is too early to call as to whether Oleksandriya are regressing after overachieving last year or if they just haven’t hit full gear yet. We would like to think it is the latter, with the odds being stacked against them anyway in their first game versus Shakhtar.

Mariupol impressed with goals from Fomin and Vakula. Unfortunately, for their midweek fixture against AZ Alkmaar, their main goal outlet, Ruslan Fomin was unavailable and as such the result showed this weakness. Mariupol held their Dutch opponents to a goalless draw. However, Mariupol were resolute at the back with Rustam Khudzhamov securing his side a vital goalless draw at home, meaning any goals scored in Holland next week will be a huge advantage, with Alkmaar being shut out of any away goals.

Elsewhere, Desna made sure to put their opening day loss to FC Lviv behind them as they welcomed a Vorsklaside tipped to seriously struggle this season. The performances from both sides were as expected. Vorskla, were flat and unable to create any real openings, large in part to their lack of any goal scoring threat. Desna showcased a display that was reminiscent of many a game they played last season. The customary Denys Favorov goal opened the score line before Fillipov sealed the three points with a 2-0 win at the Gagarin stadium.

Dynamo visited Lviv for the second time in a week, to play the city’s other side, FC Lviv. Dynamo won the game with ease; Sydorchuk decided to embody Pirlo, with a commanding display in midfield and his assist, a lofted ball over the back line from near the half way line that allowed Buyalskyi to turn into RVP- lite and score a beautiful looping header. Buyalskyi added another and De Pena completed the 3-0 rout. 

However, whilst many would have expected this to be perfect preparation for Dynamo’s game versus Club Brugge in the Champions League qualifying. The line up was seriously uninspiring for a UCL game; Besiedin up top on his own, Harmash behind him and Karavayev playing on the wing instead of Tsyhankov. Khatskevich, once more highlighting that he is rather clueless when it comes to game management and has close to no footballing philosophy that he aims to instil in his players. ‘Pep he ain’t!’

The first half was a difficult watch, Club Brugge were nothing special but Dynamo were so uninspiring going forward that it never looked like they would get a shot in, let alone a goal. Besiedin squandered a huge opportunity, hitting it straight at Mignolet. Then just before half time, Karavayev’s UCL debut went from bad to worse as he aimlessly took out a Brugge player just inside the box and a stonewall penalty was awarded. Vanaken converted to make it 1-0. 

At half time, Khatskevich brought on new signing Gerson Rodrigues for his club debut in place of the negative impact force that was Besiedin. Tsyhankov was also drafted in for the sorry Karavayev. Dynamo looked markedly improved in the second half with Rodrigues looking lively, just giving a lot more energy compared to the tree stump that started the game.

Many on social media were quick to berate Rodrigues for looking slightly chaotic and technically inept; however, for a debut where you’re thrown upfront on your own and with a manager who doesn’t know how to coach, he did well and will likely improve as he beds in with the team. The game ended 1-0 and now its an all or nothing game next Wednesday at the Olympiyskyi. However, if last season’s must win second leg play off against Ajax is anything to go by, Dynamo fans wont be full of confidence. 

On Sunday, Kolos Kovalivka’s dream honeymoon period continued. They visited Olimpik Donetsk, who are our tips for the drop this season, and Kolos duly saw off their opponents. Olimpik’s new kit, featuring their new crest, brought no luck as Julio Cesar’s managerial career in Ukraine persists in matching low expectations. A penalty brought Kolos the 1-0 win that sees them maintain their 100% record.

Zorya Luhansk were provided with their first real challenge of the season as they welcomed Dnipro-1 to Zaporizhya. Dnipro-1 dominated the first half and were rightly rewarded with a goal on the stroke of half time. A wonderfully pinpoint and soon becoming a characteristically taken corner, from Serhiy Buletsa found the forehead of Ihor Kohut at the back post to head it past Mykyta Shevchenko. 

Zorya were evidently given a talking to by Skripnyk in the changing rooms, as they came out with a lot more intent. They began to turn the game in their favour and Kocherhin’s shot from the edge of the area found its way in. The game ended 1-1 and ended Skripnyk’s 100% record as Zorya manager. 

Zorya were in further action in midweek as they travelled to Bulgaria to face CSKA Sofia. The side was missing Hromov and it was evident with the lack of attacking prowess that was exhibited in the first half. Zorya went 1-0 down inside 15 minutes, but a Yurchenko penalty just before the half time whistle ensure the Luhansk side got their crucial away goal. 

Nazariy Rusyn, on loan from Dynamo, made his debut in the second half and looked lively. With Skripnyk in charge, we anticipate to see improvements in the loanee’s game. Zorya now need a goalless draw to see themselves through to the UEL play off rounds next week in Ukraine.

The final game of last weekend was played in Kharkiv. Shakhtar welcomed a Karpaty side, who have been unlucky with the fixture list early on this season. First Dynamo, then Shakhtar. Routinely, Shakhtar did not hesitate to comfortably secure a 3-0 victory over the visitors, but it is worthy to note that Karpaty look markedly improved from last season. Once the team get some more favourable fixtures, it’s likely that these improvements will become more obvious to see. Goals from Marlos, Junior Moraes and Alan Patrick rounded off the matchday and saw Shakhtar remain at the top of the table on goal difference. Nothing new to see there!

PREDICTION TIME

SATURDAY

DYNAMO KYIV V SHAKHTAR DONETSK

The weekend kicks off with the BIGGEST game of the UPL calendar! It’s the first (of many) El Clasicos this season in the league. Yes, these sides only met a mere two weekends ago in the Super Cup but now they will be battling for a different piece of silverware entirely.

Whereas the Super Cup was very much the sprint; this game comes at the very start of a bumper marathon!

Dynamo go into this fixture on the back of a very disappointing and flat performance in the Champions League qualifiers. With a 1-0 loss being taken back to the capital ahead of next week’s second leg at the Olympiyskiy, it is likely that the team’s true focus will be greater in regards to that tie rather than the derby! 

That being said, rather than an easy game versus one of the league’s minnows, this fixture could actually present the perfect preparation for Club Brugge. Shakhtar are definitely the best side in the league and such a high caliber of opponent, will in no doubt assist in letting Khatskevich play the starting XI that he intends to use in midweek, especially as up until now, his lineups so far this season have been considerably below full strength.

Over seventy minutes for Tsyhankov, Rodrigues and even Sol will do the players well, rather than just drafting them in on Wednesday. The result of this derby, even though it is still so early in the season, is likely to have larger implications in the title race as Shakhtar aim to grab a foothold domestically whilst their own European exploits are yet to begin. Shakhtar’s habit of not dropping points lower down the league is currently what edges them over Dynamo, so winning this fixture will if anything give them a further advantage.

Dynamo won the Super Cup, but in hardly a convincing fashion. As such, now that Luis Castro has had a few games to understand the UPL for what it is, his team will likely have drawn up a better game plan that eventually fell flat in Odesa a few weeks ago. 

They are likely to dominate the midfield, and with Taras Stepanenko marking his 30thBirthday on Thursday, he will be looking to transfer this onto the pitch in terms of birthday luck! Some will call this bullshit, but football always works in mysterious ways when it comes to players reaching milestones.

Goals should be expected in this one. Dynamo have been light upfront so far, relying largely on Vitaliy Buyalskyi, but with Tsyhankov, Rodrigues, Verbic and Sol at Khatskevich disposal, Dynamo should at least trouble Pyatov on a number of occasions. 

Likewise, with Shakhtar, Moraes will be out to shock the Dynamo Ultras, who will be giving him a hostile reception as usual; whilst Marlos, Taison and Alan Patrick will be ready to contribute when called upon as well. This has the markings to be a good one, but in all likeliness that may be a bit much wishful thinking! 2-2

OLEKSANDRIYA V OLIMPIK DONETSK

It has been a disappointing start to the season for both of these teams. Oleksandriya should be the less worried of the two, having put in a decent first half performance versus Shakhtar, but were ultimately poor against Mariupol last time out. Blips happen. 

They host an Olimpik side, who have also lost their opening two games but look to be in a much more dangerous position than their hosts. Julio Cesar’s team, as mentioned last week, looks to already be following a similar trajectory as to that of Arsenal Kyiv. A number of consecutive losses before ultimately, the foreign and highly inexperienced manager packs his bags either through his own choice or due to an executive decision. The number of new signings and outgoings has seemed to unsettled the squad and in this instance, the manager doesn’t seem to have a plan in place that adequately addresses the strengths and weaknesses in the team. 

Oleksandriya are also waiting on some of their own new boys to fully integrate into the side, but in the large part, the core of the bronze medal winning side has remained the same. Oleksandriya playing at home and with an experienced manager in their dugout should get their first win of the season in this one. 2-0

VORSKLA POLTAVA V FC LVIV

Vorskla Poltava signed a Brazilian from FC Porto this week and that was very much the hype around the club’s media pages. However their own rather negative start to the start should not go amiss. Vorskla, as has been mentioned in these previews for almost 8 months, still do not have a forward and this will continue to hinder their results.

FC Lviv go to the Oleksiy Butovsky with a much more stable squad of players. The Brazilians populate most of the key areas bar defence, and the side boasts a number of influential players who can score goals. 

Bruno Duarte is still looking for his first of the season and has struggled to return to the heights of his UPL form during the start of last season. However, against a Vorskla side who currently look very uninspiring going forward and somewhat lackadaisical at the back, this could be Lviv’s for the taking. 0-1

SUNDAY

DNIPRO-1 V DESNA CHERNIHIV

Dnipro-1 face Desna in the first of Sunday’s games. Dnipro-1’s first few weeks in the top flight have lived up to expectation. Their positive results against Olimpik and Zorya, has seen them comfortably display all the markings of a top six UPL side. If they are to continue this push and maintain it, they will need to beat sides such as their opponents in this fixture, who are similarly sniffing around for place in the top half.

The youthful attack that Dnipro-1 possesses will improve game on game as the players gain further UPL, and in some cases first team, experience.

Kohut, who was tipped by many pundits as one to watch, got his first goal last week and with Buletsa contributing too, it looks like goals won’t be hard to come by for this side.

Desna, equally are not shy when it comes to scoring goals. They have danger men across the pitch and will be threatening at set pieces. One thing both sides aren’t the most pronounced at, is being solid at the back. If pressed enough, they’re both prone to capitulating.

Expecting goals in this one for certain and set pieces being an outlet for the majority of chances.2-1

KOLOS KOVALIVKA V ZORYA LUHANSK

How long can Kolos keep up their unbeatable form for? The small village side is certainly punching above its weight with the big boys. This fixture will be the first real test for the top flight novices as they face a regular top 4 contender in that of Zorya Luhansk.

Viktor Skripnyk’s men showed real resolve last week to comeback against Dnipro-1 and also got a good enough result in their midweek Europa League fixture.

This is a tie that many will expect to see the visitors conquer. However, with a resolute, well organised defence, and a healthy crowd expected at the Obolon Arena, many may come in for a shock.

This will be a tight encounter. Depending on whether Hromov returns to action, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this one end goalless. With distractions coming in the form of the Europa League, this could play well in favour of Kolos. 0-0

KARPATY LVIV V MARIUPOL

Karpaty’s season really starts, now! It may be Matchday 3 but with opening fixtures against Dynamo and Shakhtar for the Lviv side, it was always going to be difficult to pick up points against that top two. 

Despite losing those first couple of games, Oleksandr Chyzhevskyi’s men, including a whole host new recruits have looked A LOT better on the ball than they have had in previous seasons. A new forward has arrived from Brazil, Joao Diogo this week, so time will tell on his adaptation to the UPL. Karpaty should have a slight advantage in this one. They will be feeling a lot fresher. 

Mariupol, who secured a hard fought 0-0 versus AZ in the Europa on Thursday have the potential to suffer a UEL hangover. This is mainly in part due to the fact that it took 10 hours one way to travel to Odesa from Mariupol. With further travel to the other side of the country and the fact the return leg in AZ is so much more important; Oleksandr Babych has the potential to rest a few players. 

Karpaty to edge this one, exploiting the changes in Mariupol’s set up and lack of focus on the task at hand with distractions being caused by the fixture in midweek.    2-1

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