The UPL continues to tick down toward the end of the 19/20 campaign after resuming action last weekend!

However, there will be a notable exception. Karpaty Lviv’s match against Mariupol was postponed last week, after three players had initially tested positive for Covid-19 the day before the game. In further tests the following Monday, this number had increased to 26 members of playing and coaching staff – forcing the entire to go back into self-isolation for the next two weeks.

This means that Karpaty’s subsequent fixtures against Vorskla and Dnipro-1 have also been called off – with the club unable to fulfil the fixtures for health and safety reasons. As of yet, Karpaty remain as the only club that has been directly affected by the pandemic in such a way – with the other 11 UPL clubs yet to confirm a positive case amongst playing staff in recent weeks.

The remainder of the Relegation Group played out as was to be expected. Low scoring Vorskla and Lviv battled it out for a draw with the game finishing one a-piece. Lviv were rather fortunate to scrape a point after converting a last minute penalty. Meanwhile, Dnipro-1 who sit rather comfortably at the top of the mini league, steamrolled past Olimpik 3-1.

None of the sides, including that of Olimpik Donetsk will be too worried about relegation now. As Karpaty remain rooted to the bottom of the table – with their current situation, there is every possibility that if they are unable to fulfil fixtures beyond the 3 matches they have / going to need to move – forfeits may be actioned. This is something that new Karpaty part owner Oleh Smaylichuk has confirmed the club will not be appealing should they be sanctioned.

With the Relegation Group, showcasing dead rubbers for the remainder of the season – it’s fortunate that the Championship Group is the most exciting it has been for years! This comes with the disclaimer that the league title is as good as won, after Shakhtar dismantled Dynamo Kyiv at the Olympiyskyi in Matchday 24 – moving 16 points clear at the top with 8 games to go.

The real excitement remains in the race for SILVER! The Champions League 3rd Qualifying Round slot is delicately poised with three sides (Zorya, Desna and Dynamo) on the same amount of points, with just H2H separating them – whilst a resurgent, under the radar Oleksandriya creep just three points behind. What makes this medal run in all the more stimulating is that the sides have only got each other to play along with the Championship Group ‘Joker’, Kolos there to complicate proceedings – although they are well and truly out of an sort of charge for those places.

There is also the question of Shakhtar. Realistically, they only need to win two of their last eight remaining fixtures to secure that title – and have Kolos to play twice – where victory would be highly expected. As such their performances against the chasing pack clubs will prove ever the more pivotal as to how this race plays out.

THE MATCH PREVIEW ZONE

Championship Group = (CG) | Relegation Group = (RG)

SATURDAY

Zorya Luhansk v Kolos Kovalivka (15:00 BST / 17:00 KYIV) (CG)

As mentioned last week, the Championship Group is not going to be kind on Kolos. They’re already almost certain to finish sixth with their current points barring some sort of miracle where any of the sides above them lose their remaining games whilst simultaneously Kolos win all eight. However, they have signed a new forward in the week to try and boost their goalscoring exploits which have been on the wane since the league split in two. The first ever African to play for the village side – Mamadou Danfa will be looking to make himself known as the 19/20 campaign winds down.

On the other side of the pitch, the hosts have it all to play for! Zorya, rather fortuitously, still sit in second by the skin of their teeth. Their surprising loss to Oleksandriya (as a result of a last minute penalty) had the possibility of derailing their medal charge. However, thanks to results elsewhere, they stay put and must win to ensure their nearest competitors remain a fingernail’s distance behind them. Oleksandriya were predictably difficult to breakdown in matchday 24, with Lednev, Perovic and Kabaev limited to long shots and half chances. 

One of their players of the season, full back Mykhaylychenko was sent off in that game and rather fortunately misses probably the easiest tie Zorya have remaining. So his loss shouldn’t be too impactful. It remains to be seen whether Zorya can get back into the rhythm of things but under Skrypnyk’s charge it should only be a matter of time. Difficult to see Zorya not winning this tie and if they fail to, then they don’t deserve a place in the UCL Qualifying rounds . 2-0

Shakhtar Donetsk v Desna Chernihiv (15:00 BST / 17:00 KYIV) (CG)

The Game of the Week title could have easily been handed to this match up but for reasons explained in a later fixture – this game will have to settle for second place.

Shakhtar go into this tie without any pressure. They defeated Dynamo Kyiv last weekend, without as much as breaking a sweat to solidify the pretence that they are head and shoulders above the rest of the league – and even the gulf between themselves and their Klasychne rivals is substantial. It took them a while to get into the game, and a concede goal before they clicked into gear – but once that occurred it was already too late for their opposition.

With such a large gap having appeared between first and second, Shakhtar need to win just two more games to have mathematically sealed the title and eight games to get those victories in. They are essentially ‘King Makers’ or silver medal makers in this respect; with results against them meaning a lot more to their opponents than themselves as the season winds down. As such it makes interesting viewing to see with how much intensity Shakhtar play in their following matches.

Desna, go into this game in a tense scenario. They’re sandwiched between Zorya and Dynamo in third and know that any points dropped as the campaign comes to its conclusion could see their automatic chances of a European qualifying spot snatched. In this rather unprecedented campaign, the northern Ukrainian side have continued to amaze; playing attractive and attacking football all the whilst pulling out some impressive defensive displays. It’s no surprise in that case they share the best defensive record in the division with their Matchday 25 counterparts.

This showdown promises to be entertaining with not only the best defences coming up against one another but also the league’s best attackers. Moraes and Filippov are first and second in the scoring charts respectively; whilst Moraes, Taison and Desna’s Kartushov sit on seven assists apiece at the top of that table. Many expect this to be routine for Shakhtar – although the last three fixtures have been extremely close, Shakhtar winning all of them 1-0. There is every opportunity for Desna to finally break the duct this time round, although a win would be pushing it . 1-1

SUNDAY

Olimpik Donetsk v Mariupol (12:00 BST14:00 KYIV) (RG)

Olimpik returned to UPL action last week similarly to how they left it in mid-March. Completely woeful. To nobody’s bewilderment, the Donetsk side were comfortably beaten by Dnipro-1 but were able to garner a strand of respect after a last minute penalty ensured the most minimal of consolations. They remain five points clear of the drop thanks to Karpaty’s inactivity and look likely to stay there for a few weeks regardless of results. The quicker these games are over the better for this side as they really aren’t bringing much to the league in terms of footballing competition.

Mariupol’s UPL restart was pushed back to Matchday 25 after the COVID-19 outbreak in Lviv prevented their fixture with Karpaty from taking place. As mentioned in their preview last week – Mariupol have substantially declined in the league this season after their shock fourth place finish last time out. They proved that they just don’t have the squad quality to match the league’s bigger sides this campaign. Shakhtar’s loanee handouts  can only stretch so far. 

Mariupol’s primary aim as this season pans out will be the Ukrainian Cup. They’re still not too far off the UEL play-off spot but having already lost to Dnipro-1 in the first post-split round, they’ll need to pick up some momentum in the league if they are to challenge their new arch rivals. 

Mariupol’s POTY Dmytro Mishnyov looks to be the main outlet for anything creative in the side. He’ll need to convert as many of the limited chances Mariupol create if they are to muster some kind of achievement out of their league season this year.

As bad as both sides have been in 19/20 – Olimpik have been markedly worse. As such the Seagulls should return to action with a win and anything but would be extremely astonishing. 0-2

Dynamo Kyiv v Oleksandriya (15:00 BST / 17:00 KYIV) (CG)

The Game of the Week sees fourth and fifth in the league table take on one another. 

After the disappointment of leading Shakhtar in Matchday 24 to go on and lose 3-1 without as much of a whimper of a retaliation, Dynamo will be eager to get their silver medal charge back on course. They’re locked down in a battle with three other teams and come up against one of those in Matchday 25!

For all their promise in the opening 40 minutes against The Miners; most notably the inclusion and impact of young Gio Tsitaishvili, the same old problems reared their heads as Dynamo’s undynamic central midfield trio faded into obscurity and lapses in defensive judgement allowed Shakhtar’s half paced counters to reach maximum output. Verbic and Mykolenko also looked like a dangerous duo down the left before they too lost their influence v Shakhtar.

With Viktor Tsyhankov still not 100% ready to return to action, the fans (from their armchairs) will get another glimpse into the future as Tsitaishvili is expected to play once more. Dynamo have a good record against their opponents, although the games themselves are hardly ever as straight forward. Denys Popov misses out due to a yellow card accumulated suspension; meaning that it may very well be possible to see Kadiri ( defensive midfielder) deputise in his absence.

Oleksandriya will be aiming to move level with at least of their closest medal contenders should they get a win against Dynamo in Kyiv. They got an unlikely victory against current silver front runners Zorya at The Nika last week which has allowed them to move closer into the fold of an automatic European qualifying place. Volodymyr Sharan’s men once again showed how well drilled and defensively organised they can be – neutering Zorya’s usually prominent attacking force.

Whilst going forward themselves, they show less potency with the midfield relied upon to provide the main source of goals – which for the likes of Hrechyshkyn (from the spot), Kovalets and Tretyakov has not been too problematic. Whether Dynamo’s porous spine can handle them is another matter. This will be a close affair and with Oleksandriya’s strong performance last week – should be able to take some more points off of those above them once more. 1-1

Lviv v Dnipro-1  (17:30 BST / 19:30KYIV) (RG)

This game will be taking place in Dnipro despite Lviv being the hosts. Following a large spike in Covid-19 cases in the western Ukrainian city – it was decided that this game would be moved to the Dnipro Arena with home advantage at a minimum due to no fans being allowed into the stadium. Albeit neither of these clubs have a substantial following as it is. Lviv scraped a lucky draw against Vorskla last time out and have been rather steady since the turn of the year but have a lot less to play for than their opponents who are looking to solidify their seventh place spot.

Dnipro-1 predictably tore Olimpik last week before a host of substitutions reduced the pace and quality of the game allowing Donetsk a consolation. They’re on course to carry on with their impressive form of late and see a number of key men return to the squad – most notably Vladyslav Supryaha who could very well spur a late charge in the golden boot challenge – albeit to finish second realistically with Moraes’ tally looking unrealistic with the amount of games remaining. A home game played away from home at your opponent’s stadium? Dnipro-1 are the favourites here, to capitalise on the logistical mayhem. 1-3

Vorskla Poltava v Karpaty Lviv (POSTPONED) (RG)

Cancelled due to Karpaty’s Covid-19 outbreak. No date yet scheduled for the relay of this and could it all seriousness be given as a forfeited 3-0 win to the hosts – should the situation at Lviv not improve as the season winds down. P-P

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