Seven games to go! The UPL ticks down towards the end of the season with Matchday 26 and the fight for the automatic European spots finely poised!
Over the past week there, the fate of Ukraine’s other professional leagues’ 19/20 seasons were also decide. Ukraine’s second tier – The Persha Liha will resume on 24th June 2020. After a PFL meeting featuring representatives of all 16 clubs – the majority decision backed by eleven of those sides was to complete the season on sporting terms. This was then confirmed and permitted by the UAF.
Meanwhile in the Druha Liha – things have ended as they stand after each side had already completed each other twice. This was as a result of majority decision by the clubs in the division and means that the top two clubs in Group A & B have been promoted. Nyva Ternopil, Polissya, VPK Agro and Krystal Kherson will all take part in the expanded 20 team Persha Liha during 20/21 season.
In Ukraine National Team news, Andriy Shevchenko and his coaching staff penned a new 2.5 year contract extension which will take them through until the 2022 Winter World Cup in Qatar. The manager was in attendance as Shakhtar beat Desna 3-2.
Back in the UPL and Matchday 25 saw the majority of matches play out with few surprises – largely backing the status quo.
In the Relegation Group – Dnipro-1 extended their lead in seventh to 8 points after a comeback victory versus Lviv, who played out the game as hosts but in the Dnipro Arena. Khoblenko’s goal off the bench was enough to edge it 2-1 after China’s opener and Tsurikov’s equalizer.
Mariupol, who sit closest to Dnipro-1 in the table, eight points behind with a game in hand; returned to action after their first game with Karpaty was postponed. Instead they ended their lockdown with a rather underwhelming 2-2 draw with Olimpik in Kyiv.
Whilst Karpaty and Vorskla sat this game week out; with the Lviv side being in its first week of mandatory self-isolation following a huge breakout of COVID-19 just before Matchday 24.
In the Championship Group, things temporarily went back to normal. Shakhtar defeated Desna in a thrilling 3-2 finish at the Olympiyskyi – moving ever closer to their title! Meanwhile, Zorya narrowly overcame Kolos 1-0 and Dynamo dismantled Oleksandriya 5-1 to ensure the two clubs go into their own showdown neck and neck!
THE MATCH PREVIEW ZONE
Championship Group = (CG) | Relegation Group = (RG)
Mariupol v Vorskla Poltava (12:00 BST / 14:00 KYIV) (RG)
Six years to the day since Ukrainian soldiers liberated Mariupol from Russian aggressors – Mariupol host Vorskla in the UPL in their own city within Donbas. Whilst it may be a day of celebration off of the pitch, this game is practically a dead rubber on it. Both sides have fairly limited chances of overtaking Dnipro-1 in top spot in the Relegation Group whilst neither are at risk from the drop either. Following Mariupol’s surprising draw with Olimpik last time out, which many could attribute to their first bit of competitive in months, it’s going to be a difficult game against a revigorated Vorskla.
Poltava did miss out on last week’s round due to their opponents Karpaty being unable to play – but nonetheless, Maksymov’s side look much improved from when he first took over. Their defensive framework looks properly structured and their attacks look a lot more coherent than in recent seasons – although they still do lack a killer game changing forward which is why they remain with the league’s least goals. It wouldn’t be too surprising were either side to win this one by a narrow margin, but equally with the lack of defensive structure in Mariupol’s team paired with Vorskla’s minimal chance conversion; a low score draw sounds the most plausible . 1-1
Karpaty Lviv v Dnipro-1 (POSTPONED)(RG)
Karpaty enter the end of their second week of mandatory self-isolation following 26 positive Covid tests. This means that their scheduled game versus Dnipro-1 will not take place. Following further testing at the start of next week; it will be decided whether Karpaty are able to return to action in Matchday 27 – however the fate of their missed games still remains undecided. P-P
Zorya Luhansk v Dynamo Kyiv (15:00 BST / 17:00 KYIV) (CG)
The GAME OF THE WEEK comes nice and early in Matchday 26. There’s a lot resting on this one, with both sides looking to make a concerted break from their rivals on the road to silver!
Hosts Zorya Luhansk were in the news this week with rumours circulating that should the club not make the Europa League Group Stage next year, there is heighted possibility that the team may fold. Other conflicting reports have dismissed this ultimatum, claiming that Zorya is in a much more stable trajectory and European qualification is not a matter of life or death. Nevertheless, Zorya enter the final few games of the season as a heavy favourite in finishing within a medal berth with a potentially guaranteed Europa League group stage berth depending on how the Cup pans out.
On loan Dynamo Kyiv man and Zorya’s POTS so far, Bohdan Lednev will sit out of this one due to picking up his fifth yellow of the season, in what will be a creative blow for Luhansk. Other Dynamo loanee, Oleksandr Tymchyk is expected to play, having done so in the previous fixtures against his parent club this season. Zorya have already beaten Dynamo once this season and they’ll be looking to do so once more in Zaporizhya.
Meanwhile Dynamo enter this game with more positive news. Viktor Tsyhankov returns to the first team squad following an injury he picked up in the early stages of post lockdown training. However, he would not be expected to start – regardless of how important this game is for his side – with Tsitaishvili seriously impressing after stepping into the red haired winger’s place and the fact that Tsyhankov has had no first team practice since early March.
Oleksandriya were battered by this side, but this result should not cast illusions that all is well at Dynamo. Problems in transition from defence to attack and primarily a very flat midfield are still eminent problems which Mykhaylychenko seems to be incapable of addressing. As such, it would not be surprising to see the visitors succumb to their opponents due to their own lack of vision and direction.
However as has been the case this season, it’s very difficult to separate these two sides and this will once again be the case on Saturday. Zorya have shown they can defeat Dynamo once already this season so they might be able to do it again. 1-0
Olimpik Donetsk v Lviv (17:30 BST / 19:30 KYIV) (RG)
Olimpik sprung a bit of a shock last week as they took two leads against Mariupol, only to end up drawing 2-2. Lviv on the other hand were unlucky to leave Dnipro without at least a point after another disciplined defensive display. This game has all the hallmarks of ‘not a classic.’
The four most recent meetings in the league have seen two score draws and then a 1-0 win to each side – both of which took place in the league this season before the split. As such, this won’t be a game of many chances and of even less quality. With not too much to fight for either, a goalless draw looks to rather favourable on the face of things. 0-0
Kolos Kovalivka v Shakhtar Donetsk (15:00 BST / 17:00 KYIV) (CG)
As if it wasn’t clear already, Shakhtar have been Champions Elect for a while now. Should Dynamo and Zorya play out a draw, Shakhtar would require a win to all but mathematically lift the trophy with 6 games to go. Such has been their season, that they have lost a couple games and they still are head and shoulders above the rest. Some of their other performances have resulted in close shaves such as last week’s game versus Desna and the final before the split match versus Kolos which ended 4-3.
Shakhtar have proven that they don’t need to be at their constant best for the full 90 minutes, especially since the return from lockdown; they just need 3 or 4 chances a game and they’ll take every single one. Marcos Antonio sits this one out after accumulating too many yellows – whilst more changes can be expected for The Miners matchup versus the weakest team in the top six.
Kolos are drifting by now, having lost 1-0 to Zorya last time out, they’re just waiting for the end of the season, when they will get a shot at a Europa League spot in the play offs. With the lower intensity and lack of crowd, it’s difficult to see Kolos come anywhere close to their 3 goal tally versus Shakhtar last time out when their own top six fate was in the balance. As such it’s likely to be a routine victory for the visitors as they look move to within a point of the title . 0-4
Oleksandriya v Desna Chernihiv (17:30 BST / 19:30 KYIV) (CG)
The extended automatic European spot showdown takes place at the Nika this weekend. Both sides were given setbacks in their own pushes for medals thanks to defeats at the hands of Dynamo and Shakhtar respectively. A win for either side could push them back into it.
Desna will be more favoured to play out a consistent finish to the season, following their performances so far. Their narrow defeat versus Shakhtar showed that they’re able to go toe to toe if required – but as is the same case with the rest of the league, Shakhtar’s resources are just too difficult to overcome.
Captain Denys Favorov has been in inspired form since the return from lockdown and he will look to lead his side to another victory against close behind rivals Oleksandriya. Oleksandr Filippov is yet to add to his handsome goal tally since the quarantine lift but will be aiming to break that duct in this one.
Oleksandriya, on the other hand, will be brushing themselves down after being humiliated against Dynamo last week. They are without their key centre back, Kaspars Dubra due to the red card he picked up in that game which led to the eventual capitulation.
However, the goalscoring has also seemed to be impacted since Oleksandriya returned from quarantine. Hrechyshkyn is their most likely goalscorer at the moment, only due to the fact that he takes their penalties. Converting chances need to be improved should Oleksandriya hope to emulate or even equal their historic bronze medal last year. This does look unrealistic looking at the opposition above them.
This game against Desna will prove to be the decider in who will be in a more favourable position in challenging Dynamo. At this current moment and looking back on the season’s performances so far, you would expect that to be Desna. Hence an away win should be on the cards. 1-2