International football has now officially declared itself over until the end of next March. Whilst it’s a sad time for all involved with Ukraine, who likely wish 2019 will never end, the UPL and European competitions don’t go into hibernation for another few weeks! So strap yourselves in as Ukrainian sides aim to see out the year in positive fashion and ensure that there is still something to play for in the spring!

UKRAINIAN FOOTBALL ROUND UP

The UPL returns two weeks after it found itself in worldwide news for all the wrong reasons.

The main game of Matchday 14 was the Kharkiv hosted version of the Ukrainian Clasico. In what was largely an uneventful game, which saw Shakhtar contain Dynamo rather comfortably; Dynamo’s Ultras weren’t going to let it end without incident.

In the 75th minute, Taison was through on goal and was brought down just inside the final third. As he got up, he heard what sounded like monkey chants coming from the Dynamo away end and acted angrily by showing the group a middle finger and then kicking the ball into the stand.

The referee shortly paused the game whilst an announcement was read out, as is according to UEFA protocol in the stadium. After 5 minutes the sides returned to the pitch whilst Taison was shown a red card for his gesture. This decision was met with derision across the world but the referee was following the laws of the game.

The UAF has since revealed the punishments for all parties involved. Taison will face a one game suspension for the middle finger whilst Dynamo are forced to hold one game behind closed doors and pay £16,000. A real shame that it’s the negatives that propel the UPL into the rare international spotlight.

Shakhtar ended up winning that game 1-0 thanks to a Kryvstov header and this means The Miners now sit 12 points clear a the top whilst Dynamo fall into fourth; 13 points away…

Elsewhere Mariupol and Karpaty held an entertaining game in the Donetsk Oblast. Mariupol took a dreaded two goal lead but found out the hard way as to how dangerous of a scoreline it is, as a Egor Nazaryna brace, including a last minute penalty ensure that there was a share of the spoils.

Desna’s recent winning streak hit a stumbling block as they were held at home to Dnipro-1. Albeit, as results elsewhere went their way, they remain only a point away from Zorya who sit in second.

Lviv got their first win in weeks as they won the ‘six pointer’ 2-0 against Vorskla, succumbing the latter side to another week at the bottom of the table. So much so that Vorskla parted ways with manager Kosovsky as the club look to have crisis point! Rapid change needs to be afoot under new manager Maximov if any improvements are to be seen.

Zorya then took advantage of the teams around them failing to win, by picking up their fourth consecutive league victory to move into the silver medal spot for the first time this campaign. They beat Kolos 2-0.

Viktor Skripnyk’s young side are doing everything right at the moment. They’re beating the teams in front of them and playing attractive football on top! However will inexperience price detrimental or can they maintain this for the remainder of the season…

Olimpik then closed the UPL off ahead of that final international break, getting a deserved draw against Oleksandriya. The visitors looked to have been suffering from a Europa League hangover after putting in so much effort and energy in their 2-2 draw against St Etienne. The UPL tie ended goalless.

Following these exciting fixtures, Ukraine were then in action for their final fixtures of the 2019 calendar year, aiming to end it unbeaten for the first time in their history… and they DID IT!

Ukraine began with a friendly against Estonia in Zaporizhya. This game was a chance for Shevchenko to experiment with some of the fringe players. Whilst Ukraine dominated the game, the end product was lacking. Fortunately a very late deflected Roman Bezus free kick ensured that the debut fixture in the city of the Kozaks, went down as a victory in the record books!

Next up came Serbia. It was the first time Ukraine would be playing their Southern Slavic counterparts in the Balkans. A hostile atmosphere was expected with Serbian Ultras notorious for being aggressive and highly energetic when it comes to support. However on the day of the day game this wasn’t the case. It turns out the fans are disillusioned with the current national team set up and the famous Delije end of the Maracana was overwhelmingly empty.

Ukraine went behind twice as the influence of missing midfield duo of Zinchenko and Stepanenko was plain to see. However as has been the case on many occasions this year, Sheva’s men did not give up. They got themselves back in it once and then equalised again in the 93rd minute to ensure that the Zbirna remained invincible in 2019!

Keep your eyes peeled on Zorya Londonsk over the next week for an in-depth analysis of Ukraine’s record breaking year and what can be expected from 2020 for Shevchenko’s Kozaks!

PREDICTION TIME

Shakhtar Donetsk v Lviv

It’s yet another Friday fixture for Shakhtar this season as they restart the UPL after the international break with a match up against Lviv.

This will be Shakhtar’s first game since the Ukrainian Clasico and the unsavoury events that marred that game and projected the UPL into the worldwide spotlight for all the wrong reasons. No investigative findings have been published yet and as of yet no punishments have been handed out and Taison’s red has not been rescinded either.

Whilst they may miss their key man, Shakhtar still have more than enough talent to see off a Lviv side experiencing a so far brief new manager bounce. Shakhtar sit 12 points ahead of their closest rivals, whilst Lviv sit second bottom. The gulf in class is enormous.

This won’t be the most challenging of ‘warm ups’ ahead of travelling to Manchester to face Zinchenko’s City on Tuesday and it wouldn’t be surprising to see yet another reserve side have a run out in Kharkiv.

Lviv may have shocked in Matchday 14 when they defeated an even poorer Vorskla but they really have underwhelmed this season. No giant killing on the cards here. With a weakened Shakhtar side taking to the pitch, it will be closer but still extremely one sided. 4-0

Oleksandriya v Zorya Luhansk

Fifth take on a surprising (but deserved) second placed in the Tie of the Round!

Oleksandriya ready themselves for their vital Europa League fixture with Wolfsburg with a matchup against the high flying Zorya.

The hosts will be wanting to get back to winning ways after a disappointing goalless draw against Olimpik last time out. Whilst they’re still very much in contention for second place alongside the three teams above them, this game could prove vital as to whether they start to fall behind the chasing pack.

On the other hand, Zorya are not only in form but they’re also out for revenge. Just under a month ago, Oleksandriya came out victorious on penalties in a repeat of this fixture in the cup.

Rusyn continued his fine development in the international break, scoring twice for the U21s whilst Lednev also impressed. Zorya need to maintain their winning run if they are to continue edging out the close Desna and Dynamo, with Oleksandriya not too far behind either.

It’s all well and good battering the likes of Vorskla and Dnipro-1 but the real test comes against the top half sides. It’s going to be tight and it looks difficult to separate these two. 1-1

Dnipro-1 v Vorskla Poltava

This game has a lot more intrigue to it than it would have done a few weeks ago. Vorskla, bronze medalists just two seasons ago have continued their steep decline and now sit bottom of the UPL. Vitaliy Kosovosky left his post as manager during the domestic hiatus and was replaced by another Dynamo Kyiv star of the late 90s – Yuri Maximov.

The problem is, Maximov is hardly a stellar name when it comes to coaching with mediocre spells at Metalruh Donetsk and a few Kazakh clubs in the past. He’s hardly got a track record as a survival specialist but he should be allowed to be given a chance. Vorskla aren’t down and out by any stretch and can leave the automatic drop zone with just a couple positive results.

However, the real interest will come from whether any consistency can be created under the new coach and whether the squad of players are able to reincarnate themselves into something that is the opposite of tired, ageing and uninspired as they have looked throughout the season so far.

Dnipro-1 are also not in the greatest of circumstances at this current moment. They may have somewhat shocked followers when they picked some points off of Desna but the campaign up to this point has been far from impressive.

They have the perfect opportunity to distance themselves from any sort of impending relegation scrap by getting a win at home this weekend. The distance between themselves and the final top six spot is not that great but it will require winning games to re-enter the challenge for it.

As has been noted on numerous occasions during these weekly previews, the exciting youngsters have stagnated in their progress, following an explosive start. Paired up with a porous defence, confidence needs to be restored in some way or another.

Vorskla have the ‘new manager bounce’ card to play with here. It could well prove pivotal that a new manager with fresh ideas has been able to spend over a week with his squad but the fact that Maximov’s reputation is not that evoking and paired with an underwhelming squad, Dnipro-1 have a chance to get a rare win. 2-0

Kolos Kovalivka v Desna Chernihiv

The international break was probably welcome respite for Kolos Kovalivka who have been having a seriously tough time of late. Their UPL honeymoon period seems to be over and some routine losses have become more common place.

Coupled with the fact that they have lost their two best players to injury for the foreseeable future, things do not look to be on the way up soon.

They welcome a Desna side who will have had time to reflect over the minor break, giving them a chance to regroup and plan on how to get back to winning ways after dropping points against Dnipro-1 last time out and scraping a win against lowly Vorskla.

Goals need to return and maybe the reintroduction of Fillipov alongside Khlyobas could help assist this. Kolos aren’t pushovers but can have the game taken to them, especially when being countered against.

It’s not going to be straightforward for Ryabokon’s travelling men but they should have enough to get the victory based on the consistency of their performances so far and the fact that they are so dangerous from set pieces, should help them get this win over the line.

Whilst Kolos are the side everyone does hold a touch of sympathy for due to their injury misfortunes, football can be unforgiving sometimes. With a lack of depth in quality due to the size of the club, it would be impressive if they were to get anything out of this one. That being said, it’s highly unlikely. 0-2

Karpaty Lviv v Olimpik Donetsk

This fixture doesn’t look the most glamorous on paper but it’s provided some of the most entertaining UPL games in recent times. Many have been as a result of Karpaty taking leads and screwing games up from winning positions.

However, earlier this season, whilst Olimpik were in their ‘total collapse’ phase and looking to be beyond all help, even at that early stage, Karpaty finally got three points against what has become a rather enthralling rivalry. This was before Vicente Gomez arrived at Olimpik and revolutionised the Donetsk’s club tactics and mentality.

Meanwhile Chyzhevskyi was seemingly instilling his own style of play on his Lviv squad. Whilst not particularly underachieving at the time, the Karpaty man was abruptly replaced by former Olimpik head coach Roman Sanzhar. This is his first meeting against his old side since leaving Donetsk’s second club.

It will undoubtably be an intriguing affair, especially with Olimpik trying to chase down Mariupol for the final Championship group spot, whilst Karpaty will want to increase the gap between themselves and the bottom and ensure city rivals Lviv remain below them. With questions continuing to be asked of Sanzhar’s capabilities, results need to start picking up soon or else Karpaty will be onto their third manager of 19/20 before the winter break.

Both teams drew their respective fixtures last time out and this tie is always a difficult one to predict. Another high scoring draw would not seem too far fetched. 2-2

Dynamo Kyiv v Mariupol

The finale to the weekend takes place in Kyiv. Dynamo have had a tumultuous past couple of weeks after their fans aimed monkey chants at Shakhtar’s players. They now face a £16,000 fine and a guaranteed one game spectator ban. Whether that match will be this one has not been decided yet.

Regardless if there is a crowd or not, Dynamo need to win if they want to keep themselves in the running for second place. They sit in fourth, just a point off the silver medal place seat warmers, Zorya. However they’re 13 points off of the top now after that defeat in the Clasico.

The title charge is as good as over so striving for second and a big run in the cup and Europa League need to be made the priorities. With European football on the cards in midweek, Dynamo may take a slightly relaxed approach to this one, rather wanting to reserve their energy for a big fixture in Malmo on Thursday.

Mariupol are no walkovers and certainly will try to make things difficult for the hosts if they can. However, as is with most of the sides trying to make that final Championship group spot, inconsistency is their regular downfall.

The Azov Seagulls are from being in great form at the moment and Dynamo regularly do get themselves over the line in fixtures against this particular side.

It’s likely to be a difficult watch, with action in the final third being scarce but Dynamo will get there in the end. 1-0

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