Getting into the ‘business’ end of the season means the fixtures come thick and fast ahead of the UPL Split taking place once Matchday 22 concludes on Sunday.

As a result, Matchday 21 takes place midweek with all 12 teams back in action just a number of days after a weekend of some earth trembling shocks and surprises!

The Week in Review

Dynamo started Matchday 20 off for everyone, travelling south to Dnipro to take on the -1 club there!

Little did people expect that it would be a night of footballing degradation for the visitors as they were embarrassed by one of their OWN players!

VAR was in action in this fixture and referee Kateryna Mozul was very much amongst the headlines herself because of it.

Just 3 minutes into the game, a studs up challenge from Buyalskyy saw her consult the new technology and then proceed to use the pitchside monitor. A yellow had initially been brandished. Whilst it likely wasn’t malicious, it certainly was reckless and as such a red card was shown after replay consultation. The right decision on the whole BUT it took close to 3 minutes to resolve the situation.

Dynamo would now need to face Dnipro-1 with 10 men for at least 84 minutes. Despite the disadvantage, Dynamo seemed rather comfortable in quelling their hosts’ attack. They were awarded a penalty on the stroke of half time after some further VAR commotion. This time Rusyn had initially been judged to have dived, but following the tip to take another look; Mozul rescinded the booking and gave a penalty. Another correct decision but once again taking way too long to get there (granted it’s still early days).

Following half time the game turned into a entirely different story. Dynamo were starting to feel their man disadvantage as their attacks dwindled and their opponents stepped up a gear. The introduction of Dynamo loanee Supryaha in 63rd minute changed the game.

He grabbed the equaliser, finishing off a nice break which only needed a tap in at the far post. Poloviy was then sent off to even up the numbers – once again following some VAR action – this incident being the most debatable of the evening.

However, this didn’t seem to diminish Dnipro-1’s growing ascendency as Supryaha scored again – this time picking up a header from a corner almost unchallenged.

The U20 WC winner then showed off his speed and strength as he raced clear from his own box on an electric counter (thanks in no small part to the outmuscling of Sydorchuk) to slot past Bushchan. He raised his hands to show respect to his parent club following each goal of his eventual hat trick – but deep down he was in no doubt showing the Dynamo coaching staff a big two fingers!

Lviv then entertained Oleksandriya at Stadion Ukraina. Both sides played out a rather dull score draw, in a result which confirmed Lviv’s participation in the Relegation Group for the season’s remainder. Albeit the point helped the club move seven points clear of their city rivals. Meanwhile Oleksandriya showed how much they miss the injured Kovalets and a potent striker as they suffered a setback in the medal race!

Elsewhere, Desna won to try and retake some of the ground they have lost on Dynamo and Zorya in recent game weeks. They hosted a toothless Mariupol side and assuringly defeated the Azov side by 4 goals to nil.

Kolos were next up, hoping to give themselves another win boost and a further foot into the top six with just a couple of games to go. Luckily for them, they came up against woeful Karpaty. There’s a reason this side is bottom of the table and it showed.

No shape, urgency or cohesion on the pitch allowed Kolos to comfortably take a two goal lead before dropping off towards the end – allowing the Karpaty side score (something they’re not too bad at) rather it’s their inability to take control of a game and take the ascendency which has been their main issue.

Kolos remain sixth after that result and sit four points clear ahead of Mariupol and Dnipro-1. The race looks to be heading into the final Matchday before the split on the weekend due to the way the schedule has panned out!

Zorya made good use of Dynamo’s misfortunes as they leapfrogged the Kyiv team to go a point clear in second. Their narrow lead in the silver medal spot mirrors how tight this game was as they faced Olimpik. It was a hard slog and was certainly not the most entertaining.

Zorya eventually broke down the dogged Olimpik defence as Kabaev volleyed in from a yard out following a corner. This result consigned Olimpik to the bottom half of the table for yet another season!

Finally, it was Vorskla’s turn to take on Champions elect Shakhtar! The day before Liverpool ended their unbeaten run in the Premier League after second bottom Watford defeated them 3-0 on the road.

Just a day later and no doubt inspired by the Hornets’ efforts – Vorskla repeated the feat by ending Shakhtar’s 48 game unbeaten league run thanks to a 1-0 win. French centre back Alioune has really impressed for Vorskla against the top 2 as has new striker Stepanyuk! It should be noted that Shakhtar made 8 changes ahead of this game with a number of key players missing entirely – but the sense of achievement should not be downplayed.

UPL MD 21 PREVIEW

Dynamo Kyiv v Kolos Kovalivka

Dynamo look to bounce back with a win after their complete capitulation at the hands of Dnipro-1 or more precisely their own loaned out forward Supryaha! Buyalskyy is banned for this game after his straight red last time out as Dynamo return to the Olympiyskyi for the first time this year.

As has become customary for Dynamo sides under Mykhaylychenko and his predecessor Khatskevich, is that the players don’t have any kind of tactical gameplan once on the pitch. There aren’t any choreographed pieces of play – rather everything seems to be very much in the moment.

Rather surprisingly Dynamo enjoyed more possession against Dnipro-1 despite being a man down for over 69 minutes more than their opponents. However, Dnipro-1 still dominated the key chances and shots – showing that whilst the man less may have been a hinderance; the main issue was creativity.

Even then, Tsyhankov made his first appearance of any kind in 2020, deep into the game and was unable to bring about any kind of difference. Prior to this fixture, you would have expected Dynamo, not to exactly steamroll their remaining opponents until the split but edge them out eventually. However, they have since defeated Vorskla by the skin of their teeth, were humiliated by Dnipro-1 and now face a Kolos side who are on the cusp of securing a top six spot in their debut top flight season!

The only hurdle for Kolos is that they face Dynamo and then Shakhtar in these remaining games. Stranger things have happened and the past match day proved that neither side is untouchable – more so Dynamo who were defeated with a more or less full strength line up! Kolos are on a two game win streak with their winter signings impressing thus far.

Kyrylo Petrov got a debut goal on the weekend, whilst Yevhen Smyrnyi has been pivotal too. However, Smyrnyi is a Dynamo loanee and is not expected to feature against his parent club.

This will be an interesting game nonetheless, with both sides needing a victory to keep both of their season’s alive by their own respective standards. Tsyhankov may be thrust in from the off to try and inject some spark into the uninspired team – but even still Kolos just look to be men on a mission. Sixth place needs confirmation. 2-1

Mariupol v Vorskla Poltava

Mariupol go into this fixture on the back of two defeats since the resumption of the campaign. They have been poor in both games and just look to be lacking any kind of motivation despite the fact that they have the ‘easiest’ run in for sixth place out of the remaining challengers.

Vorskla may have beaten Shakhtar on the weekend, but the fact that The Miners played a reserve side flattered matters greatly. That shouldn’t take away the grandeur of the victory for Poltava, they dominated the entire game but it should not over-inflate their ability to perform well against mid table opposition.

The result will instil confidence in a side which looked to be playing on borrowed time in the first half of the season. But it looks like Yury Maxymov has finally implemented his coaching style on his players whilst also recruiting rather astutely during the winter to strengthen areas the side has been extremely weak in. Stepanyuk has been a revelation so far – a forward who actually score goals – whilst the return of Kulach has added much needed energy to the attacking line up.

Mariupol look to be the least deserving of the three sides still vying to make the top six due to their rather lack of any potency up front. They have had a tendency to draw a large number of games this season – taking advantage of their opponents when they seem to get a bit too comfortable.

Encounters between the two sides have been extremely narrow affairs in recent seasons and matches; drawing 1-1 earlier in the reverse fixture. As such more of the same can be expected at a suspected poorly attended 2pm (Wednesday) Kick off. 1-1

Olimpik Donetsk v Desna Chernihiv

Olimpik’s defeat to Zorya last time out confirmed their participation in the relegation group for the remainder of the season. There is little surprise in this, with Olimpik rather disappointing to watch throughout the early stages of the season; before Gomez arrived to add some defensive rigidity and ensure the Donetsk club’s spine were more organised.

Unfortunately, organisation doesn’t win games on its own. Stretching back from the end of 2019 – Olimpik are on a five game run of losses and that doesn’t look to end in this match up.

Desna are chasing the pack as it stands. They have proven this season, that they can better the lower half of the table with ease and on a number of occasions exceed three goals a game. For a side that only got promoted last season, that is highly impressive.

Desna sit just 3 points behind Dynamo and will be wanting to narrow that gap down at every opportunity. Consistency is key at this stage and goals coming from winter signings (Totovytsky) coupled with stalwarts performing on top (Captain Favorov, ever-present so far) whilst forward Fillipov is joint second in the top scoring charts.

Desna look set on a European qualifying place at least this season and it’s the least they deserve. They should have more than what it takes to dispose of Olimpik. 0-3

Zorya Luhansk v Lviv

Every game for Zorya is now a must win. They lead Dynamo Kyiv in second by a single point and it’s their on loan Dynamo man who can be thanked for it. Even when he is not on the scoresheet, Bohdan Lednev is pulling the strings as the tip of midfield.

Luhansk were slightly under the boil against their Donbas neighbours, Olimpik, on the weekend – allowing the visitors more attempts on goal and lacking their own killer instinct in front of the net to match.

They come up against a Lviv side, rejuvenated in recent times after talk of the club folding at the end of the season, towards the end of last year. Stable draws and victories in recent fixtures have ensured that the ‘other’ Lviv club are seven points ahead of their main rivals and well away from relegation for the time being.

Their draw with Oleksandriya ensured that they will spend the second half of the UPL season in the Relegation Group and as such are under less immediate pressure than their counterparts.

Zorya need to step up a gear if they want to maintain their advantage over Dynamo Kyiv and as such need to start winning games with greater ease in order to release the pressure that seems to have arisen from the tightness in the table.

This should be a perfect fixture, playing against a side with no serious aims in their nearest future; and thus need to take maximum points from games against lower half opposition that they will no longer be privy to from next week onwards. The game should be more comfortable for the hosts than it has been in recent games. 2-0

Shakhtar Donetsk v Dnipro-1

After the reserves proved that they are unable to be relied upon when it comes to stepping in for their teammates, a return to a more familiar and stronger line up can be expected by Castro in this fixture. Moraes and Taison are more than likely to return as the former looks to add to his goals tally against a lower ranked side whilst the opportunity is still available.

Their lead was cut to 13 points at the weekend but even still this is unlikely to bother the orange and black side, who are notorious for winning games in the UPL in recent seasons. Their unbeaten run will look to recommence from zero as they step out against Dynamo killers – Dnipro-1.

After his hat trick, Vladislav Supryaha will be expected to start from the beginning; after only coming on with 25 minutes to go against his parent club last Friday. Mykhaylenko’s men will look toward Vorskla for inspiration. However, they will be wary. It would be very easy to get carried away from the Dynamo performance – taking into account the context of the sendings off and a general underwhelming performance from their counterparts – allowed Dnipro-1 to take advantage of lax defending and pouncing on some poor decision making from Dynamo’s midfield.

Shakhtar seem to have diminished in their focus towards the league already due to their lead and their primary motivation of performing in Europe. This week they don’t have that distraction and as such, may turn the dial back up to 10, to remind people that they haven’t gone anywhere too far! Dnipro-1 will have inflated confidence and it will all look to unravel after half an hour or so – granted that Shakhtar play a regular side. 3-0

Karpaty Lviv v Oleksandriya

This match can be classed as a bit of a dead rubber. Karpaty are rooted to the bottom of the table; now 5 points adrift of safety. Whilst any game would be a priority when in such a state; the fact that Oleksandriya arrive from their perch in the top six; Karpaty will already be wanting to reserve energy for the big fixtures against their more closer rivals – such as arch rivals Lviv on the weekend!

Oleksandriya have not had the best start to the calendar year. A loss and a draw so far in 2020, have opened up an ever increasing gap between themselves and their position to be able to retain their bronze medal for a second consecutive season. As such, in order to try and peg back some much needed points, a showdown against bottom of the league should be the perfect head to head to do so.

Karpaty look uninspired and a side playing without any direction. They’ve been able to score a few goals but apart from that; their sieve-like defence needs recalibrating if they are to have any chance of saving themselves from the Persha Liha and the very existence of the club itself.

Oleksandriya have struggled for goals and are less than prolific when it comes to converting chances; relying on midfielders to put their own shifts in to assist any wayward forwards – Oleksandriya could be seen as a glorified Vorskla. Rather they tend to have more astute players at their disposal who are reliable, younger and able to turn on some quality from the middle of the park when called upon. They are really missing Kovalets in that central attacking role.

Nonetheless, Oleksandriya should have just about enough to ensure that their journey back to Kirovorhrad Oblast is a sweet one! 1-2

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