Ukrainian football round up

As 2019 winds down there was still time for a number of big results in the UPL and some serious disappointment in Europe for Ukrainian clubs!

Shakhtar kicked Matchday 17 off with a comfortable 3-0 win over Olimpik before preparing for their crucial cup final-esque tie with Atalanta in the Champions League. All they had to do was not lose and it was more than likely that they would be through.

Alas, some very dubious refereeing decisions and a lack of coherent judgement from VAR meant that going into the final 30 minutes it was still 0-0. However, Dodo was sent off, the reasoning behind of which many are still uncertain of. Then it all fell in on itself.

Atalanta got a goal after VAR ruled that Gomez was onside by a stud, then Pyatov let a free kick go straight in before they completed the rout in added time to make it 3-0. They now drop into the Europa League, where they could face another big European side due to the fact they are not seeded in the round of 32 draw!

Next in the UPL were Oleksandriya. They warmed up for their final Europa League group stage game with a resounding victory over Vorskla. As a result, the Poltava club remained bottom of the division.

Oleksandriya then made the journey over to Belgium to face the Ukrainian trio who play for Gent. With nothing to play for, Gent took control of the game and got two quick goals thanks to Roman Bezus assists. His performance was rewarded with a spot in the UEL Team of the Week too.

However, the visitors did not capitulate or embarrass themselves as other clubs have done, rather they rallied back and narrowed the scoreline thanks to a Miroshnichenko thunderbolt to end their debut campaign with dignity!

Back to league and it was Kolos who would turn on the magic as they hosted Dnipro-1. They’ve turned the Obolon Arena into a rather formidable home and thanks to the help of new super signing Arni Vilhjalmsson routed their opponents 4-0 with the former scoring a brace! This has moved them into the Championship Group spots for now!

Desna like to play against the lower sides in the league and took the opportunity to inflict more pain on a sorry Karpaty. They defeated the green and whites 6-2 in Lviv! Manager Ryabokon said that even he was feeling sorry for Karpaty once the sixth went in! Chernihiv move level on points with Dynamo and just a point off Zorya in second!

Mariupol saw Lviv come to the Azov coast in what would have been a good win against a lower ranked side deep in its own crisis. However, Mariupol’s lack of a consistent goalscorer coupled with a slight rejuvenation in the Lviv defensive abilities, ensured a dull 0-0. The less said about this the better.

Dynamo began their important final week of 2019 as they meant to go on by the looks of it. Zorya were in the capital and without some of their best players. But this didn’t stop them from getting a resounding 2-1 victory over their hosts to move above them in the table! The Skrypnyk revolution strolls on! Dynamo, as they have been for most of this season, were well below par showing no sort of game plan or strategy and paid the price.

If only that was the end of their misery for 2019. It hardly scraped the surface. Coming up to 9pm Kyiv time on Thursday, Dynamo were OUT of Europe at the group stages after failing to beat a side that had already no chances of making the next round. They went behind on the stroke of half time, Harmash came on in the 80th minute to no avail. Even Tsyhankov’s nicely worked goal came too little too late.

He spared the blushes of another loss but the fact of the matter is, Dynamo were woeful and had no idea what to do. Mykhaylychenko is on his last legs. Whether he goes now or in the summer doesn’t make to much difference as Dynamo’s season is as good as over already!

PREDICTION TIME

Lviv v Kolos Kovalivka

Lviv plays host to the opener of the final UPL Matchday of 2019! Kolos need a win to guarantee that they remain in the final Championship Group spot over the winter break with three other sides breathing down their necks.

It was a fantastic victory over one of those rivals Dnipro-1 last week that puts them in the ascendency for battling it out for a European spot next year. However there are a number of fixtures left to play in this cycle and Kolos need to maintain momentum. They don’t travel very well on the road and were beaten by bottom side Vorskla in their last trip away from the Obolon.

However, this Kolos side has a weapon that none of the other clubs below them have. Arni Vilhjalmsson – goal scoring extraordinaire! He’s got 3 goals in 3 and already looks to be showing the league the kind of form he enjoyed for Chornomorets last season!

Lviv got an attractive point against Mariupol, to move a point ahead of their relegation rivals. However even though, the side does seem to be regaining a bit of credibility in defence, the attack remains toothless.

As such, the collective family like nature of Kolos and the fact they have Arni and the club’s past two seasons’ top scorer Bondarenko back from injury should mean Kolos have enough to get the win in Western Ukraine. 0-2

Zorya Luhansk v Shakhtar Donetsk

There can be no doubts about this fixture being the Game of the Week. High flying Zorya who sit in second face up against their Donbas rivals Shakhtar.

Both sides will want to end the year on a high, Zorya laying to rest their 18/19 5th place finish demons whilst Shakhtar will still be feeling distraught following their early exit in the Champions League this midweek.

After defeating Dynamo in Kyiv last time round, with a weakened squad, Skrypnyk can welcome back the ineligible Rusyn and Lednev for this tie. Zorya may still sit 13 points off the summit despite defeating Dynamo, but it’s their remaining 3 minimum ties against Shakhtar that could end up being pivotal in an unlikely capitulation of the reigning champions and current table toppers.

The youth and attacking vigour with which Skrypnyk’s men play is a breath of fresh air in a league where the likes of Dynamo find it difficult to string a coherent attack together. The technical quality the side possesses also helps matters. Rusyn is a natural finisher whilst Lednev is the playmaker through whom all things are created from. Meanwhile Ivansenia adopts a Stepanenko Lite role infront of the back line, providing crunching tackles and passes which set moves going forward.

With Shakhtar’s tough to take defeat on Wednesday still fresh in the memory, many of the Donetsk club’s players may already be dreaming of the winter sun that they will be jetting it off to, no doubt shortly after full time. However, they still have a job to do and if they do drop points against a surging Zorya, it may serve as a precedent that Shakhtar are not as guaranteed of the title as it so seems.

Marlos would be expected to return to the starting XI after making two substitute appearances in the past week as he returns to match fitness. Meanwhile a strong line up would reinforce the fact that Castro has not already declared that his side have won the league. After all, a two month rest is on its way so to leave first team personnel out of this one would show an element of disrespect to the competition.

Regardless, this match up is guaranteed to be entertaining with the fixture earlier this season seeing SEVEN goals, and Shakhtar winning 4-3 with the final kick of the game. Any repeat of that and it’s a good send off to 2019 for the UPL. However, being realistic, Zorya look to be driven at the moment and face a rather vulnerable Shakhtar. So much so a draw is a realistic result that can be foreseen. 2-2

Olimpik Donetsk v Mariupol

This match is finely poised between two teams who are a point apart in the league and hoping to grab that final Championship Group spot before the UPL split shortly into the new year.

Mariupol have been on a drawing run of late and will be disappointed to have drawn with lowly Lviv at home. Their lack of goals has been a problem when it comes to securing three points.

At the back they’re well organised and have a decent keeper at their disposal too but the attack just lacks potency. Could Danilo Sikan join on loan in January to try and solve this problem? It is also the last game of Vakula, who signed with Shakhtar in the summer and remained on loan until the break. It wouldn’t be too implausible to see him return to the Azov coast on loan again before that window closes.

Olimpik on the other hand have done rather well to sit in the position they occupy currently. For the first seven or so fixtures, it looked like Donetsk’s other side would be resigned to a repeat of Arsenal Kyiv’s season last year – flirting with the bottom spot all year round before ultimately getting relegated.

That is not the case anymore. A revival under Gomez looks to have instilled clarity and vision in Olimpik’s play. Whilst they’re far from being world beaters, they look markedly better than the sides below them. They also just need a forward who can be relied upon consistently to get goals.

As such, this looks to be a rather dry match up on paper and if a game had ever screamed out a draw it would be this one. Hopefully they can muster some goals from somewhere otherwise Mariupol will be onto their goalless draw in a row. Optimistic outlook. 1-1

Desna Chernihiv v Dynamo Kyiv

Dynamo players are likely going into this game hoping the year had to come an end on Thursday evening and that they could just slip away into the night before returning in February and having a cup run. But no, there looks to be one final twist in the tale. They need to face Desna who sit above them in the league on head to head before 2019 is up and closed shut.

Desna are back on a roll after a difficult spate of results in mid November. They humiliated Karpaty 6-2 last week, and also got the better of their other close rivals Oleksandriya to remain rightfully in contention for a medal place. It should be noted that they have been helped out by Dynamo’s own slip ups but for a club that was only promoted last season, shows that you can’t just live off of past success.

Dynamo were woeful at home against Lugano and crashed out of Europe, rather justifiably after the dismal performances they played out through the group stage face. This creates an added dimension for this fixture with all eyes on Mykhaylychenko in the dugout. Will this be his last game in charge or will he astonishingly survive until the end of the season?

It’s finely poised this one and hopefully will be as memorable for what happens on the pitch as much as what is happening on the touchline. Desna won this one in Kyiv earlier in the campaign and with a strong crowd cheering them on at home, they really could provide the final nail in Mykhaylychenko’s coffin. 2-1

Vorskla Poltava v Karpaty Lviv

The magnitude of important fixtures keep on being churned out this weekend. Here’s yet another game where the stakes are on an elevated high!

Both clubs are in free fall and in the midst of serious crises both on and off the pitch. The decline has been slowly coming for both sides over the course of the past few seasons. Poltava face an uncertain future after their owner Zhevago is under investigation for corruption charges, whilst the Karpaty hierarchy look to have no clear ambitions on the actual pitch.

What this has resulted in are hollow squads showcasing an amalgamation of transition and just mediocrity. Vorskla have an ageing squad with no sign of capable reinforcements on the horizon and no goalscorer in the team.

Meanwhile, Karpaty are in limbo, with a highly mixed number of nationalities in their squad, picked off from random B teams across Europe and a manager who looks to be unable to do anything with the tools at his disposal.

Maxymov was inflicted his second defeat in three games since he became manager as Vorskla were soundly beaten by Oleksandriya. It’s difficult to see what more he can do with this tired and outdated looking team. Karpaty were likewise humiliated by Desna but they still seem to be able to find goals.

Both teams will be pleased to see the back of the year. Even though this is a potentially huge fixture in future hindsight, an entertaining game should not be expected. A draw would seem the most plausible result, but this really could go any way. 0-0

Dnipro-1 v Oleksandriya

The UPL’s final game of the year aptly sees a side for whom 2019 will long go down in the club’s history close it off. If anything, Oleksandriya may very well be closing their ‘everyone’s favourite second club’ chapter as the year rounds out.

Their highly commendable debut European group campaign was something to enjoy, showing the more established clubs how to play against sides in which you are the underdog. Ultimately there just wasn’t enough quality in the team but they very much gave it all they had.

They might not be reaching the same heights as they had done at this stage last season (second in the league) but they’re still competing and remain within an outside chance of a consecutive medal finish.

Dnipro-1 have been yo-yoing in their results after a long winless streak. However, after one of their key men Korkishko was sent off last week, it looks like a hard task for Mykhailenko’s men to get past a tough to break down Oleksandriya. A Europa League hangover may be a possibility for the visitors but due to the fact that the game in midweek was more or less a glorified friendly, overexertions shouldn’t be really be a problem.

Oleksandriya to get a win on the road to cap off the club’s most successful year would just complete the fairytale of 2019 for the Kirovohrad oblast club. 0-2

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