KEEP CUP & WASH YOUR HANDS – Ukrainian Cup Quarter Final Preview

IT’S DOWN TO THE LAST EIGHT IN THE UKRAINIAN CUP!

Ukraine’s premier cup competition returns from hiatus for the first time since the winter break!

Despite taking place during a period of footballing uncertainty due to a global pandemic, Kubok Ukraini will be allowing spectators! However, due to both the timings and scheduling of fixtures (midweek) – large crowds aren’t actually expected anyway…

Third tier (Druha Liha) side FC Alliance make their first ever appearance at this stage of the competition as they take on an out of form Mariupol. They’ll be playing this at the fantasic but seldom used Sumy Stadium!

This is followed by a Persha Liha (Second tier) showdown as Kopolovets and Kobin’s Minaj aim to reach the semi finals for the first time as they host last year’s losing finalists Inhulets!

Dynamo then meet with Oleksandriya for the second time in five days – having knocked out Shakhtar in the last round, this is a huge opportunity for Dynamo to win some silverware with their biggest rivals out of the remaining draw!

On Thursday, Desna look to carry on their electric form in the league into the cup as they take on the rejuvenated Vorskla. With an automatic Europa League Group Stage berth at stake to the winner of this competition – these side’s will give it a good go!

Who’s making the SEMI FINALS???

How many CUPSETS are we expecting to see???

Can FC Alliance reach the LAST FOUR???

THE SPLIT FOR SIXTH – UPL MD 22 PREVIEW

The UPL will break into two parts following the conclusion of Sunday’s fixtures this weekend where the top flight’s clubs will battle it out for two different prizes.

Relegation and ’The Best of the Rest Cup’ awaits for those finishing in the bottom half of the table whilst those in sixth and above have the privilege of fighting for a European place for next season with Shakhtar heavily favoured to pick up another domestic title!

UPL MD 21 ROUND UP

A rather rare midweek set of fixtures saw no fresh upsets akin to that of game-week 20.

Dynamo Kyiv got back onto their horse with a 2-0 win over Kolos, putting their capitulation to Dnipro-1 behind them. Viktor Tsyhankov’s return to the starting XI showed how important the young wide man is in terms of creating goalscoring chances and in converting some of those himself. His Yarmolenko-esque left footed rocket into the opposite top corner once again confirmed the quality the star man has.

However, barring his performance, Dynamo were extremely flat in the first half and were lucky not to go behind. A red card for Kolos just before half time ensured an easier second half for Kyiv with an instinctive finish from Sol in the first half adding to Tsyhankov’s stunner.

Kolos remained in sixth place BUT saw their lead cut down to ONE point with just a game to go!

Mariupol, their main rivals for the final Championship group spot hosted Vorskla, who fresh from their historic win over Shakhtar. The endorphins must have failed to replenish ahead of this one with Mariupol taking the Poltava team apart. It ended 3-0 on the day, with the game being marred by a number of dubious refereeing decisions.

VAR was not involved in this game – had it been it may have ruled out Topalov’s goal for an offside whilst a ghost foul on Slava Tankovskyi saw Ibrahim Kane given a yellow despite being at least 2 feet away from the player. Nonetheless, Mariupol now look to be in the strongest position to stroll into the ‘Fight for Europe’ group as they sit just one point behind Kolos and require just a point to overtake them due to having a better H2H record!

Desna survived a scare in Kyiv as they came back against a sturdy Olimpik Donetsk to win 2-1 and maintain their three point deficit against Dynamo Kyiv in third.

Dehtaryov opened the scoring for the Donetsk outfit, against the side he is on loan from before Filippov got his eleventh of the season to equalise for Chernihiv. Arlevadze then got his first goal since returning to his former club from Zorya during the winter to ensure all three points.

Zorya beat Lviv to leapfrog Dynamo back into the silver medal spot. Luhansk got a 2-0 win thanks to their two men on hot form – Kabaev grabbed himself a second goal in 2 games whilst Lednev scored another free kick. Although despite conceding twice, the hero of the game was Lviv keeper Sarnavskyi, who ended up saving two penalties; one from Hromov and another from Lednev.

Shakhtar got back to winning ways and started a new ‘unbeaten’ run for themselves with a more assured and recognisable performance against Dnipro-1.

The first teamers returned and swept Dnipro-1 away inside 25 minutes as they went 4-0 up thanks to goals from Kryvstov, Moraes, Konoplyanka and Taison. Surpyaha ensured he got a consolation late on from the spot but the result means Dnipro-1 will spend the remainder of their debut UPL season in the relegation group.

Oleksandriya closed the midweek set of games with an assured 3 points overly a sorry Karpaty. Volodymyr Sharan’s men were were unforgiving and won 4-0 on the night. A brace from Tretyakov and further finishes from Sitalo and Banada means Oleksandriya remain just two points behind Desna and five off of the bronze medal place. Karpaty remain five points clear of safety.

UPL MD 22 PREVIEW:

Vorskla Poltava v Olimpik Donetsk

Vorskla look to regain some momentum in their battle to escape the drop and move further away from the automatic spot as they play their direct table rivals Olimpik. Olimpik are currently holders of the worst form in the league and do not seem to be showing too much on the pitch that would suggest this is misrepresentative.

In front of a home crowd, Vorskla are likely to be more motivated in this one, taking advantage of the fact that they are technically starting their relegation group fixtures a match early. This has all the hallmarks of a goalless draw regardless of the recent uplift in goals by Poltava. 0-0

Desna Chernihiv v Zorya Luhansk

This is the tie of the round! Fourth place Desna take on second place Zorya. The latter is keen to keep their 2020 winning momentum going whilst solidifying their silver medal berth. On the other hand, Desna equally need to win to ensure the gap between themselves and their rivals doesn’t enter unassailable territory.

Both have impressed defensively and in attack – with goalscoring being at a highly impressive standard across the two squads. Filippov for the hosts has been in electric form whilst Lednev for Luhansk sits level with his opponent on 11 goals each. This will be an exciting game and neither will go down without throwing the kitchen sink – so goals look to be guaranteed. 2-2

Oleksandriya v Dynamo Kyiv

Oleksandriya will feel reassured that they got back to winning ways in midweek after a difficult start to the year. Albeit a 4-0 victory over Karpaty doesn’t say too much about the real quality of a side at the moment, it will give confidence back to the players. Games with Dynamo are always tight affairs, narrow victories for the visitors has been the norm on the past couple of occasions whilst the hosts picked up a famous victory over the White blues last season.

With Tsyhankov back, Dynamo have that extra bit of quality in their ranks that on many an occasion can end up being the game changer. But elsewhere in the side, Dynamo look far from robust and stable, traits still lingering from Khatskevich that Mykhaylychenko doesn’t look to be shaking off either.

Rusyn just doesn’t look like he fits in with the way this side plays; without structure when in attack and lack of passing combinations and rhythm. However, if he is given another starting chance, he needs to start taking it – as he is yet to score since his return to the parent club.

This game looks like it will once again be won or lost by the finest of margins. Low scoring with a lot of defending on display – aimed at breaking up the rhythm of play. The question is, who will end up being better on the counter. They will be the ones who end up winning this game. 0-1

Lviv v Karpaty Lviv

It’s the Lviv Derby! No love lost from the fans in this one as the Karpaty Ultras will undoubtably make their opinions known on what they think of their city’s other club. The usual excitement and entertainment during this derby takes place off the field in the stands. Toilet paper and pyro are the unmistakable ingredients for the atmosphere but once you take a look at what is actually happening on the pitch you see a more depressing state of affairs.

Since Lviv returned to the UPL, they have enjoyed the more favourable results, drawing twice against their rivals and even getting a 1-0 victory at the Stadion Ukraina last season. Lviv are similarly in a better state right now as well. They are seven points ahead of their neighbours and have played some alright football since the turn of the year. Their new signings look to be settling in well too.

Karpaty, on the other hand have also added a number of good signings on paper to their roster during the window, but unlike Lviv, they’ve been unable to find a way of gelling and even find a way to string some passing together.

The defending has been atrocious and that’s why their average goals conceded sits at just under 2 goals a game. It is difficult to see what Roman Sanzhar will be able to do in the coming months – with relegation looking more likely by the week. This won’t be the most engrossing or attractive footballing affair. 0-0

Kolos Kovalivka v Shakhtar Donetsk

This is a must win game for Kolos and it comes against their hardest possible opponent. Sitting just a point ahead of Mariupol, they know that a victory is the only thing that can guarantee them a top six place, without needing to rely on Dnipro-1 to take points off of the Seagulls. Kolos were rather poor against Dynamo in midweek and as such the confidence for them to pull off any kind of upset here is unlikely.

After resting a large amount of first team starters in last weekend’s game, Luis Castro will be looking to secure another quick and easy win for this side in the blueprint of their win over Dnipro-1. It could get all too overwhelming for the village side against Ukraine’s most elite side.

The reverse fixture saw The Miners storm to a 6-0 win. Kolos will have some stringent home support from the stands at the Obolon but it seems unlikely that they will be able to quell this rampant Shakhtar side. Ultimately, it looks like the relegation group may be beckoning for Kovalivka. 0-3

Dnipro-1 v Mariupol

Mariupol are in pole position to take a top six spot with the fixture list very much in their favour. They visit Dnipro-1, who had their relegation group fate confirmed on Wednesday, aiming for at least a point to see them through into the Championship group.

The main question rides on how motivated Dnipro-1 will be after their result in midweek. If they pull out anything close to their performance against Dynamo, then Mariupol will be in trouble. However, it is expected that Mariupol will take advantage of the path that Shakhtar have given them in beating both of their league rivals in consecutive games in order for them to re-enter the ‘Elite’ group.

VAR is in action during this game and as such you would expect certain dubious decisions that may have been unaccounted for will be brought to the referee’s attention and made amends for. Mariupol won the reverse fixture of this tie 1-0 so it looks ever so favourable that they will do enough to overtake Kolos in the standings at the very death. 1-2

TWO MORE SPINS. ONLY ONE WINNER – UPL MATCHDAY 21 PREVIEW

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

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN: RACE FOR 6th TICKS DOWN – UPL MD 20 PREVIEW

WEEK IN REVIEW

The UPL resumed last Saturday after two months away from the competitive limelight! VAR arrived and a whole number of new signings made debuts for their new clubs!

Zorya kicked us off in Mariupol as they took their Donbas neighbours on the Azov coast. Man of the moment Bohdan Lednev was got what was the winner after converting a direct free kick. He was dangerous as usual and it would not be surprising to see Shevchenko hand the player a call up for the next set of friendlies in March. Perevoic got a goal on his first appearance for the Luhansk club whilst Myshnov grabbed a consolation for the Seagulls. Zorya won 2-1 to ensure they stay toe to toe with Dynamo.

Dynamo, then became the first ever side, along with Vorskla to play under the additional eye of VAR. Ironically, it wasn’t called upon once in a game rather sparing of controversy and overall a lack of quality. Dynamo were certainly using the game to get back up to speed with things as they ended up needing an acrobatic Verbic goal to secure all three points against second bottom in the table.

Buyalskyy got Dynamo’s first after his cross come shot evaded everyone and ended up in the back of the net. Before Stepnayuk, getting a debut goal for Vorskla who made their limited chances count thanks to some prominent defensive errors in the Dynamo back line. The 2-1 FT scoreline flatters Vorskla a lot more than the game suggests but on the whole it sums up the need for Dynamo to convert more of their chances. It will come to hurt them against the better sides!

Kolos caused a stir in Oleksandriya when they too nabbed an additional time winner to steal all three points from Volodymyr Sharan’s side! Yevhen Smyrnyi was on board to score twice in the absence of Arni in the starting XI and it’s a result that leaves the Kyiv oblast club in a good position to make the top six in their first ever top flight season.

Oleksandriya, who enjoyed a strong winter break were disappointing. It’s still too early to tell as to whether their recent overachieving exploits in the league and Europe are starting to catch up with them but they have a lot to do still if they want to manage another bronze medal finish.

Karpaty Lviv secured their Relegation Group status before anyone else! Their 1-1 draw with Dnipro-1 , means they are mathematically out of the top 6 running with just three games to go.

Dnipro-1 hindered their own chances greatly by not being able to win in the Lion City and as such will need to rely on their close rivals to slip up with some difficult fixtures of their own coming up.

All is not lost for Karpaty on the relegation front. They are still within leapfrog distance of Vorskla. It looks like the goals department in both sides will play a huge role in deciding who will be the team to go down with the defences being far from rectifiable overnight! Dieye and Supryaha got a goal apiece for their sides with the result ending in 1-1!

Shakhtar rested almost two thirds of their team for the showdown with Desna. This was in no small part due to the crucial second leg Europa League tie with Benfica in the following midweek. As such Shakhtar’s bench players such as Konoplyanka and Bondar were given a run out.

As this season has proved, Desna are no pushovers and took the game to the Miners in Kharkiv. However, the test use of VAR in this match came to bite them in the very first official review. Desna took the lead via debutant Hutsulyak but it was overturned due to Fillipov being offside in the build up. It was the correct decision. Chernihiv continued to threaten and hold Shakhtar at bay, following the introduction of Taison and Marlos to the mix.

However as is usually the case, Shakhtar got a lucky break in the 90+5 minute. One final break into the box ended with the ball falling to Marlos with his back to goal. Instinctively he pulled out a backheel flick which to the dismay of the visitors, nestled inside the far post. 1-0 and Shakhtar remain comfortably in their Champions-Elect throne.

Shakhtar weren’t done with their footballing exploits for the week though. Soon after, they departed for Lisbon to see if they could make the R16 in the Europa League for the first time since 2016.

Whilst Benfica were not at their best in Kharkiv during the first leg; they were always going to be improved in front of a home crowd.

The hosts started well as Pizzi put them ahead. However Shakhtar were never far behind. Marcos’ lofted ball to Dodo was played into the 6 yard box where a Dias bundled it into his own net. Shakhtar had their away goal. Benfica were the better side in the first half, enjoying more possession and chances. They took the lead just before half time and moved level on aggregate thanks to Dias making amends at the other end.

The second half didn’t start particularly well either. Silva pounced on a defensive mix up between Ismaily and Pyatov – leading to the latter to be so far off his own line that the Portuguese winger was able to arch it into the top corner of an empty net

However similarly to the quick response Shakhtar had to Benfica’s first goal of the night, Stepanenko powered a bullet header in from a corner. Shakhtar then began to excel in their breaks going forward and took a hold of the game.

They had two away goals now so they were in the ascendency. 20 minutes from time, Taison began another break, played a through ball to the overlapping Ismaily whose ball rebounded out to Alan Patrick. The midfielder struck the ball into the the ground on the half volley in expert fashion allowing it to bounce into the top corner. He certainly didn’t mean it to play out exactly like that but it was fantastic nonetheless!

Shakhtar managed to hold on for the 3-3 and are into the next round’s draw! An assured and exciting performance from Shakhtar who have found a new never say die attitude in Europe this season. The game is no longer over once they go behind – similarly to the Renaissance the Ukraine National team are experiencing.

The only question now is, how far can The Miners go? All the way?

Fixture Preview & Predictions

Dnipro-1 v Dynamo Kyiv

VAR IN ACTION ALERT

It’s FRIDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL to get Matchday 20 in the UPL underway! Fans of two brotherly clubs Dnipro and Dynamo Kyiv will descend on the away end at the Dnipro Arena. The now defunct club’s fans will be supporting the visitors due to their opposition to the fake’ / ‘artificial team that uses their name and represents their city in the Premier League!

Dnipro-1 are the first team up who are still chasing the final place in the top 6 ahead of the split in 3 weeks time. They hit a stumbling block last time out, drawing with Karpaty. They know time is running out. The side are 4 points adrift of current sixth place Kolos and face the UPL top two in consecutive game-weeks! It looks unlikely that they’ll be able do it when taking in that fixture list but stranger things have happened.

For starters, capital side Dynamo still look to be off the pace since coming back from the winter break. This is glaringly apparent in the previous weekend as they narrowly edged second bottom Vorskla. Not only did Dynamo lack penetrative attacking quality, they were caught at the back on a few occasions that could have easily led to more conceded goals had the opposition quality been higher.

They missed Tsyhankov and the recall of Rusyn is already showcasing the lack of understanding the Dynamo coaching staff have in the young forward’s favoured system. He is just not cut out to play up front on his own and constant wing play isn’t the most effective for a striker who isn’t a prolific header.

Until that changes, it looks like we will be seeing more of the same from Dynamo. Enough quality in periods from the likes of Verbic or Buyalskyy when times get tough but when a real challenge arises, it’s just not consistent enough across the park.

Dnipro-1 made a number of signings in the winter window and it’s likely a few will get their chances in this game. On loan Buletsa & Supryaha are to miss the game due to ineligibility so Khoblenko and co should get a chance to shine. This game has a lot of potential but will almost certainly fall flat. 0-1

Lviv v Oleksandriya

Lviv looked down and out of the race for sixth as the season entered its hiatus period back in December. However, they have given themselves the faintest of hopes after an away victory to league position neighbours Olimpik last time out. They sit 5 points off Kolos, who are currently on the final spot throne.

Whilst they don’t face the traditional top two in their next three games, they still have Oleksandriya and Zorya in the run down. Neither of those sides are walkovers and similarly will cause the other Lviv club problems!

Oleksandriya will have been extremely disappointed with their return to action last week, not only losing at the death but also underperforming at home.

Desperate to make amends and not slip up in the race for the automatic European spots, Sharan and his men need to ensure they take the points off the likely Relegation groupies whilst they still have the chance.

Defensively they’ve been a lot more susceptible this season and that will need tightening up. Sitalo ended a long standing goalless streak v Kolos and thus would be ideal if he was able to maintain some sort of form for the central Ukrainian club.

Nevertheless, Lviv have a host of new signings in their squad, with new defender Bopesu already impressing. This game will be tight, neither side have been notorious when it comes to goals. As such a goalless draw would not be beyond the realms of possibility. 0-0

Desna Chernihiv v Mariupol

Consecutive defeats either side of the new year against Dynamo and Shakhtar have left Desna slightly off the pace in the race for second despite their highly impressive but also unprecedented first half of the season which saw them sit in silver at numerous moments in time.

Both of their games against the ‘top two’ have been extremely close fought encounters, so much that Desna deserved at least a point in both but lost to solitary goals twice. Chernihiv looked sharp against Shakhtar and are sure to take this into this weekend’s game against top six chasing Mariupol.

Having made the top table last season and eventually settling in fourth, Mariupol have been rather mediocre. They lost their key creative outlet and goalscorer in Vakula and looked to be missing him against Zorya; where they were lucky to come away with just a 2-1 loss. The lack of clear cut chances doesn’t line the team up in good stead to make the ‘promised land’ but judging by their fixtures, they very well could be the favourites to retain their Championship group spot for another year!

Now that Desna have let their big club opponent ‘wave’ pass them by, they can get back to consistent business and resume their challenge for at least bronze. The conditions are favourable for them; being at home and having an organised and defensively astute squad. Mariupol to lack the cutting edge. 2-0

Kolos Kovalivka v Karpaty Lviv

Kolos are currently the club sat on the final musical chair, awaiting three more dances around the piece of furniture. The UPL debutants will be feeling on edge as they look around to see at least 5 of their closest rivals patiently waiting for the slightest of slip ups.

Dynamo Kyiv loanee Smyrnyi showed his worth in Ruslan Kostyshyn’s side as he scored a brace last time out and will be relied upon again with preferred forward man and recent injury returnee Bondarenko yet to hit the ground running in the UPL. It would be expected that Arni Vilhjalmsson will return to the starting XI after beginning the previous match on the bench. The Icelandic man always has a part to play. Goals never fall too far from the tree when he’s on the pitch.

On the contrary, Karpaty are not where they want to be and not where the majority expect to see them either. They remain at the foot of the table but were far from their usual woeful selves when they drew with Dnipro-1 at home. Matar Dieye, looks to be the goalscorer the Lviv club so desperately needed. Whilst his debut goal was somewhat dubiously onside; had VAR been present it’s debatable as to whether it would have stood, he looks lively and worked well being fed in from the flanks.

The test will be whether the Senegalese ex Juve man can convert these stray goals into consistency and hot form. If so, then relegation may not be so certain after all. With so much on the line for the away side, juxtaposing Karpaty who became the first confirmed team to be consigned to the relegation group, Kolos are favourites going into this game. With Dynamo and Shakhtar on the horizon before the cut off; maximum points need to be secured ahead of those unknowns (likely defeats)! It won’t be easy but they should just have enough. 1-2

Zorya Luhansk v Olimpik Donetsk

VAR IN ACTION ALERT

Sunday opens with another Donbas derby for Zorya. Albeit, this one is sadly being played in exile. Viktor Skripnyk’s youth revolution welcome Olimpik who are likely to still have nightmares of the previous meeting between these two outfits. Zorya won 5-0, in a game that showcased the exuberant talents of a one, Bohdan Lednev – the primary candidate for the UPL’s Player of the Season.

Lednev, resumed his 19/20 domestic campaign with little to no change in intensity from the previous year. He scored a set piece and was instrumental in Zorya’s attacks going forward. Despite losing his link up partner, Rusyn, who played in front of him – the Dynamo loanee continues to go from strength to strength. There was a moment in time where Artem Hromov was the be all and end all of Zorya – but now it seems that button has been passed onto the young Kyiv native.

Myhailo Perovic also looks like a rather astute player; drafted in following the forward departures in the winter. He will be wanting to go on a bit of a goalscoring run ahead of the real business end of the season. He has a real opportunity to do so, with Zorya having a favourable final 3 team run in.

VAR will be in use during this game, with both sides experiencing playing under the new system for the very first time. Olimpik will hope it doesn’t curve some of their past fortunes when it comes to debatable penalty decisions and strange offside calls. Nevertheless, Vicente Gomez will have been disappointed with the final result of their defeat to Lviv at home. They looked stringent but their inability to convert chances saw them come out as second best. Zahedi, Texeira and Dehtaryov will need to share the burden as Yevhen Pasich in midfield can’t be constantly relied upon to provide.

Zorya need the win to continue to keep Dynamo ticking over and on edge. If they can keep the pace with the Kyiv club, then when the two clubs eventually meet on the pitch – the games will truly mean something. The UCL play off spot is still very much in reach. Olimpik could make it if they pulled off a number of shocks, including the beating of this week’s hosts – but that just persists in looking unlikely. 3-0

Vorskla Poltava v Shakhtar Donetsk

The sole Ukrainian delegates to Europe – Shakhtar, return to league action after a difficult, hard fought encounter with Benfica. They march on to the next round in the Europa League and will in no doubt be prioritising that competition going forward with the domestic picture looking so comfortable. However, with the UPL giving us three match days inside a week – the Miners will need to take on what is put in front of them first.

Having survived a scare against Desna, Shakhtar will undoutably want to at a minimum maintain their 14 point lead ahead of Dynamo. At the moment it looks like an almost unassailable lead due to the fact that Shakhtar have not lost yet this season and with second bottom welcoming them to Poltava – it doesn’t look like that will be changing too quickly either.

Vorskla showed grit and character against Dynamo under the floodlit Lobanovskyi Stadium last time out and were cruelly denied a what seemed, nailed on point thanks to some good fortune falling on Dynamo and the legs giving way in the final moments of the game. They become the latest side who tackle the class double header of Dynamo then Shakhtar. Anything you can do, I can do better?

It will depend largely on the side Castro fields for Shakhtar in this one as to how much Vorskla end up pressurising. Despite feeling hard done bydue to the result with Dynamo; they were on the whole outplayed by their Kyiv counterparts in that game.

Had Dynamo played a more fluid system, which complimented their forwards; then more goals would have definitely been conceded. Albioune, at centre back will be hoping to keep Moraes quiet at the Oleksiy Butovsky but it still seems most reasonable that his wall will be breached at one point or another.

Castro favours rotating players even when it’a not entirely essential. With his side playing in four games in such quick succession over the course of 10 days; resting and pre game substitutions will inevitably occur. Regardless of such actions, Shakhtar should have more than enough to continue their unbeaten run. 3-0

BENFICA v SHAKHTAR – 19/20 UEL R32 PREVIEW

CAN THE MINERS PUT THE LIGHTS OUT AT THE ESTADIO DA LUZ?!

Shakhtar take on Benfica in Lisbon tonight in the second leg of their Round of 32 tie in the Europa League!

They go into this evening’s match in the ascendency, having bettered their Portuguese opponents by 2 goals to 1 last week in Kharkiv. In doing so, the internally exiled Donetsk outfit ended their worst European ‘home’ run ever, halting a 7 game winless streak, with an impressively assured performance.

The Miners dominated the possession from the outset and did not look like a side that had been out of competitive action for two months. Rather, it was their opponents who looked lethargic, constantly on the back foot and short of ideas. Shakhtar were explosive in their drives going forward, descending quickly on any loose balls and determined in their duels.

Their opener came via a beautiful team move starting from the back with Matviyenko distributing a ball out wide to Taison, before some incise one touch passes set up Alan Patrick to arch an incisive finish inside the post. Whatever the coaching team had been working on during the winter break, it came to fruition in the build up to that goal.

Shakhtar should have scored more, before Benfica temporarily equalised out of almost nothing. Moraes’ finishing just wasn’t up to scratch, whilst Marlos found himself on the end of a marginal but correct VAR offside decision which ruled out his ‘opener.’

Benfica’s leveller was an intensely confusing event. Matviyenko lapsed in concentration, which was followed by some richoteting near the goal-line, ending in Benfica scoring what many had thought was a legitimate goal.

However after a VAR review, the goal was chalked off and a penalty was given instead due to a foul in the build up from Kryvtsov. Pizzi converted and Benfica were back in the tie.

Kovalenko ensured that Shakhtar’s extended efforts didn’t go to complete waste as he finished off a chance that originated from some poor Benfica defensive judgement, combined with some Taison tenacity. For a player who has cryptically been insinuating they want to leave the club on Instagram recently, the ex club captain did quite a good job of showing the opposite.

Shakhtar will be hoping that those missed chances and domination don’t come back to haunt them in Lisbon.

They go into the game with a fresh squad, the majority of first choice players, being handed a rest by Castro in the past weekend’s clash with Desna. They prevented a shock result thanks to a Marlos winner deep into stoppage time, likely prioritising the upcoming match, over a league fixture, where they sit 14 points clear at the top.

As a result, an unchanged starting XI from the first leg would not be too much of a surprise.

PREDICTED LINE UP:

PYATOV

BOLBAT

KRYVTSOV

MATVIENKO

ISMAILY

STEPANENKO

ALAN PATRICK

TAISON

KOVALENKO

MARLOS

MORAES

On the other hand, Benfica ended a 4 game winless run on the weekend, narrowly beating Gil Vicente 1-0. They are far from being in their best form and it should favour a hungry, motivated Shakhtar to take the game to a team who have failed to keep a clean sheet at home in 6 matches! Compounding this, Shakhtar have a good record on the road in the Europa; winning 8 of their previous 10.

Whilst the stars look to be aligning for Shakhtar, coming up against a Benfica side just at the right time – they will need to remain vigilant ensuring that they don’t repeat the lapses of concentration that have plagued most of their European games this season. Many of which have led to conceded goals and in knockout competition, such fine margins are where games can be won or lost.

Shakhtar need to be wary of one thing – ‘Don’t lose and you’re through!’

THE GREAT UPL THAW: DOMESTIC FOOTBALL RETURNS TO UKRAINE FOR 2020

The UPL reawakens from its winter slumber this weekend after just over 2 months of hibernation. All the clubs have been hard at work at their mid season, warm-ish weather, training camps since mid January and are raring to get back into the competitive swing of things. As has always been the case, there have been countless player movements, exciting transfer rumours and even the odd game changing announcement during the hiatus. As Ukraine prepares to see in the second half of the domestic footballing season, a new year welcomes a new dawn in the Ukrainian Premier League!

VAR has ARRIVED!

The revolutionary change to the way matches will be officiated will make its debut on this opening Matchday, with Dynamo Kyiv and Vorskla Poltava going down in the history books as the first teams to go toe to toe with the new system in place. VAR has finally made it to Ukraine but only in a limited capacity for the remainder of the season. 

So far the UAF has announced that only 10 matches will be used to test out the product over the coming weeks. This will include two games a matchday for the next four gameweeks and then the remaining two in the Ukrainian Cup Quarter Finals. Matchday 19 will also see the operation in place during Shakhtar’s game with Desna. 

There are regularly dubious calls and decisions made by officials during games in the top flight, so it will be interesting to see how referees take to it and more importantly whether it will improve competence and decision making!

THE POST-WINTER RECONNAISSANCE 

The winter transfer window is rather hectic, so much so, that a whole number of moving and dealings often get overlooked or missed. Many players have returned from spells abroad, others left clubs they were stalwarts at for seasons. The UPL never ceases to surprise!

Mariupol v Zorya Luhansk

Mariupol had a relatively quiet window. They did make one notable signing though and it will come as a shock to absolutely nobody that the player they did recruit 1) came from Shakhtar 2) signed on a loan deal. The player in question is Danylo Ihnatenko, who spent the first half of the season at Serhiy Rebrov’s Ferencvaros where he made 26 appearances in total.

Mariupol are very much resembling a Shakhtar reserve team, having made 13 transfers this season – one player signing permanently, the other twelve in on loan and all incomings arriving from their exiled Donbas neighbours Shakhtar Donetsk. The biggest loss to the side will be that of Vladyslav Vakula moving in the opposite direction after signing for the Miners in the summer. Their main creative and goal scoring outlet has been lost and as such it will be interesting to see how they cope without him. 

Zorya are the visitors to the Azov coast as these two sides are given the honour of cutting the figurative 2020 UPL ribbon in the opening match of the year. Luhansk’s fortunes over the close period were slightly more mixed. They ended up losing one of their star men during the first half of the season – Nazariy Rusyn, who was recalled back to Dynamo from his loan, whilst Pylyp ‘The Tree Stump’ Budkivskyi was allowed to move to Desna.

The reinforcements for these losses arrived in the form of Mihailo Perovic, a young Montenegrin forward, who played for Zorya’s early round Europa League opponents Buducnost. Some scouting system they’ve got there! Far from prolific, let’s see if he can make a name for himself in the UPL…

Additionally, wide man Andrejs Ciganiks, a Latvian relation of ProFootball’s Ihor Tsyhanyk also signed. The only other notable signing was that of Croatian Lovro Cvek who is a central midfielder. Granted, none of these players are household names, however, they are all young and judging by Skripnyk’s track record at developing such talent, all may not be lost with the departure of Rusyn. Lednev is still at the club after all!

PREDICTION: Zorya are the stronger and more favoured side on paper. Lednev has shown further glimpses of his early season form during the winter friendlies, whilst other members of the squad such as Mykhaylychenko, Abu Hanna and Ivanisenia remind you that this squad has a serious shot at that silver medal place. Mariupol could drift away from their loosely held Top 6 spot due to the Vakula sized hole they now have in their side. Goals may return with old boy Fomin back from injury but it looks to be a difficult Spring awaits. 1-3

Dynamo Kyiv v Vorskla Poltava

Dynamo go into the 2020 curtain raiser sitting, rather fortunately in second. Albeit by the skin of their teeth. The league title is all but lost for another season as had been as early as the autumn. Mykhaylychenko decided to take the winter break as a chance to clear down his convoluted squad. 

Dynamo said goodbye to Zambrano (starting Copa America final full back) having never been given a chance at Kyiv – but alas his ordeal is over. Gerson Rodrigues departed on loan to Ankaragucu in Turkey after falling out with the coaching staff and Denys Harmash similarly was loaned out to Turkey to join fellow compatriots Morozyuk and Boryachuk at Rizespor. Who will Mykhaylychenko turn to now that his favourite card attracting super sub is not available?

Incomings saw Nazariy Rusyn return from a successful six months with Zorya – a spell cut short out of goal scoring desperation and the fact that Besedin is now banned indefinitely for testing positive during a banned substance test. Unknown entities, Kargbo Jr and Benito also signed but due to a serious injury, the former is ruled out until the summer. Typical. 

Sitting in second bottom, Yuri Maxymov’s Vorskla saw more players arrive than go outward during the off period. Rather prolific Persha Liha forward Ruslan Stepaniuk returns to Ukraine after a spell in Kazakhstan to bolster a seriously lacklustre Poltava strike force. The non goalscoring striker, Yuri Kolomoyets, whose decline has been well documented over the past year, left for Estonia along with defender Ochihava. 

So who better to have return and replace Yura than Vladyslav Kulach, a forward who can actually convert chances. The 26 year old returns after a year away; having had a short spell at Oleksandriya before being struck by health problems and then a spell in Hungary. Ex Zorya defender, Opanasenko also arrives from Konyaspor to shore up a flagging defence. They may be able to get out of their relegation run if if they start to score goals and create chances. But it is more than likely that they have a three way scrap on their hands for survival alongside the two Lviv clubs.

PREDICTION: Dynamo have looked rather impressive during their winter warm up games, with Mykhaylychenko experimenting on numerous occasions and giving a whole host of players run outs. Fran Sol and Duelund look to be back to full fitness and could end up being like new signings for the Kyiv club, that is if they are utilised by their manager, who certainly has a tendency to stick to ‘favourites’.

Vorskla have signed a few players who will most certainly boost their lack of fire power but at this stage. However, even with Tsyhankov out, the home side should have enough to beat their former player’s team. VAR also makes its UPL bow in this fixture, meaning attention may be privy to the referees much more than that of the football itself. Dynamo will be playing this game in front an empty stadium after a UAF decision – in response to racist chanting during the El Clasico in November. 2-0

Karpaty Lviv v Dnipro-1

Bottom side Karpaty have A LOT of work to do if they are to stay up this season. They may only be 3 points from safety but it was looking increasingly difficult to see them grab a victory towards the end of last year. This winter was very much a great exodus when it came to first team squad members. Familiar names Pidkivka, Kucher, Kovtun, Hrysio, Ponde and Mendez were all released. Hutsuliak, who was once a Karpaty key man, departed for Desna whilst Di Franco returns to Lviv for the first time since joining Dnipro-1. 

However, Roman Sanzhar has been able to bring in a number of shrewd signings to replace them. Hennadiy Pasich joins his former Olimpik manager in the City of Lions, as does former teammate, Karpaty nemesis (and consistent free scoring opponent) Matar Dieye to try and get some goals for this underperforming club. U20 World Cup winner Oleksiy Khaklov has also linked up in western Ukraine alongside former Shakhtar second choice keeper, Kanibolotskyi. The question will be whether these new recruits can help to save this historic club from the drop. It will not be easy by any stretch.

Dnipro-1 arguably had the best transfer intake of the window, on paper at least. After an underwhelming start to their debut top flight campaign, Mykhaylenko certainly needed some reinforcements if his side were to challenge for that final top six spot. Dnipro-1 who use all the same infrastructure of the now defunct FC Dnipro have been able to attract a considerable amount of seasoned UPL talent and experience. Volodymyr Adamyuk and Oleksandr Svatok return to the city where they once played in. Whilst Belarus Championship winning forward Oleksiy Khoblenko and Andriy Tsurikov, who endured a less successful spell at Jablonec both return to Ukraine to turn out for the UPL debutants. 

Additonally, some South American flavour has also been added to the ranks in the form of ex Lviv right back Lucas Taylor and influencial former Karpaty midfielder Franco Di Franco. It will evidently depend on how well the new players gel with the existing crop but if you combine these new signings along with the existing squad already at Dnipro-1’s disposal, then it looks like they are the front runners to make a late dash for the final Championship Group spot.

PREDICTION: Both of these sides have failed to live up to their expectations so far and so this opening game of the calendar year will be a real test to see which side’s new signings and revamped line ups have better chemistry whilst showing greater cohesion on the pitch. It is a tough call but all the indications point to Dnipro-1 picking up a positive result due to the depth of squad they now boast. Karpaty were already rather light on quality before a load of their regulars left in the winter, so whilst their transfer accumulations look quite good, they just don’t look to possess enough to edge their opponents in this one. Goals will certainly feature. 1-2

Oleksandriya v Kolos Kovalivka

Oleksandriya had an extremely quiet mid season break. No major big name signings, rather a few players to bring in to bolster the squad. Roman Vantukh ended his loan spell with Olimpik and was subsequently loaned out by Dynamo again to the Kirovohrad oblast side. Bohdan Myshenko was brought in from Belarusian side Zhodin before Artem Hordienko’s short spell at Sheriff Tiraspol after leaving Zorya came to an end as the midfielder returned to his home country and signed for Sharan’s team.

It’s incredibly tight at the top of the UPL, with Oleksandriya still very much in with a shout of 2nd place. They will need to be at their dogmatic and gritty best if they are going to repeat last season’s bronze medal finish.

Kolos, similarly didn’t make any transfers that aroused any serious fanfare. Ruslan Kostyshyn needed to deepen the squad and has done so with a few astute transfers. Ultimate journeyman Andriy Bohdanov leaves Desna after a year to line up for the Kyiv oblast side. If they were missing a free kick taker, they’ve certainly go their hands on a good one now. Yefremov moves clubs from Obolon brovary but not home stadiums, so he will be in familiar territory when he turns out at right back for Kovalivka.

Meanwhile 2009 EURO U19 winner Kyrylo Petrov also returns to his homeland are spending a number of campaigns in Azerbaijan. Vladislavs Soloveikis has also been drafted in for defensive cover. All in all, these signings should bring stability to Kolos’ team with the club’s top scorer of recent season’s Bondarenko coming back from injury towards the end of last year. If Kolos can maintain their impressive performances from the first half of the season, then they have a real chance of making the Championship Group in a few weeks’ time in what would be their debut top flight season!

PREDICTION: The Nika is a fortress for Oleksandriya and perform well when they are at home. It will be a daunting trip for Kolos who have not travelled well this season but with Arni Vilhjamsson up top, an upset is never off the cards. Oleksandriya, no longer have the distraction of the Europa League to worry about, which certainly caused a number of hangovers during the autumn. Now they can focus all their energy on the league and cup, it’s highly likely Sharan will go for the jugular to ensure the year get off with a win. 2-1

Shakhtar Donetsk v Desna Chernihiv

Shakhtar made NO major signings this winter break. They welcomed Vakula who joined up with the team for the first time after signing in the summer and being loaned back to Mariupol. Other than that, there were a number of familiar names in the departure list. Bohdan Butko was loaned to Lech Poznan, Andriy Boryachuk on a similar deal joined Rizespor whilst perennial loanee Andriy Totovitskyi left for this weekend’s opponents Desna.

Luis Castro’s was more content with being able to keep two of his biggest stars rather than allowing them to leave in this window. Mykola Matviyenko was mooted for a move to Arsenal, with negotiations stalling over a deal that both sides were mutually happy about. Arsenal were after a loan deal with an obligation to buy in the summer but Shakhtar wanted upwards of 30 million Euros. Elsewhere, Taison was pushing for a transfer away and continues to post cryptic captions on his Instagram posts about being sad or being withheld from his dreams. 

Nevertheless, both players started in Shakhtar’s highly impressive win over Benfica in the Europa League Round of 32 in midweek. Ukrainian clubs always seem to be slightly off the pace when they come back from two months off from competitive football but instead Shakhtar pulled one out one of their best performances in Europe for many a season.

Alan Patrick and Kovalenko ensured a narrow but comfortable 2-1 win in the first leg of this tie. Shakhtar took the game to Benfica, who themselves looked to be the side that had just come back from a winter break, and showed some wonderful passing and fast build up play.

Taison certainly didn’t hold anything back in his performance either, proving how influential he is in this side coming in from that left hand side. The league is as good as wrapped up for Shakhtar now, so expect a number of weakened line ups in the UPL as long as Shakhtar remain in Europe!

Desna are most definitely side that will be taking the league seriously. The 19/20 season so far has been a revelation for the Chernihiv side, with Ryabokon’s men very much in the mix for the European spots and all but secure in their first ever (and last ever) Championship Group finish. The window saw a number of attacking reinforcements arrive in Northern Ukraine to ensure the goals keep coming. Target man, Pylyp Budkivskyi signed from Zorya as did former Shakhtar youth teammate Andriy Totovitskyi. 

Hutsulyak left his second spell at boyhood club Karpaty to try and challenge at the other half of the table, rather than be posited with another year of the relegation battle. Meanwhile down the other side of the pitch, Estonia international Joonas Taam comes in to boost the back line. Desna will need to maintain their first half of the season momentum if they are to finish above either Zorya or Dynamo but with no major outgoings, they certainly should be able to put in a good fight for one of the premium European spots.

PREDICTION: Shakhtar will likely rest a number of players due to the key second leg tie in Lisbon next Thursday. There is plenty of recovery time in between but being so close to the first leg too should see a number of rotations. Either way, despite Desna being in the position they are at the moment, Shakhtar always find a way to grab a narrow victory against them. A repeat of September’s result looks to be a comfortable prediction. 1-0

Olimpik Donetsk v Lviv

Olimpik Donetsk sit teetering between the drop and the final Championship group spot. Vicente Gomez, made a few signings in this window aiming to ensure that UPL status can be assured for yet another season. Orest Lebedenko comes in on loan from CD Lugo and Dmytro Lytvyn arrives from Zorya to boost the defensive prowess.

Whilst Maksym Dehtaryov, who just couldn’t stay away, returns to his former club on loan from Desna despite only leaving in the past summer. Denys Balanyuk also signs to fill the forward ranks after Matar Dieye went out to Karpaty.

Other recognisable players to leave were full back Trubochkin and one half of the Pasich brothers, Hennadiy. It will be interesting to see how they cope without Dieye who has been vital in the relegation runs of seasons’ past with Olimpik ultimately not in possession of enough quality to break into that final top six place.

Lviv signed seven new players during the close period. Joel Bopesu, Yuri Kravchuk, Yehor Kymenchuk, Andriy Busko and Mykyta Khodakovskyi all come in to boost the defensive areas of the team. Full backs aplenty along with a centre back and a defensive midfielder. Meanwhile, another Brazilian arrives, in the form of Matheus Iacovelli, aiming to bring back the prolific (for Lviv anyway) goalscoring exploits of compatriot and former Lviv man Bruno Duarte. Regardless of these signings, it still seems that another half season of flirting with relegation awaits.

PREDICTION: None of the other games this weekend scream out 0-0 as much as this one. Yes, there are a few goals in both sides but the reality is that neither side’s forward line possesses any kind of consistency. It’s going to be a tough tackling and one dimensional affair at Stadion Ukraina which ultimately won’t see many goals or action of any kind. 0-0

SHAKHTAR V BENFICA – UEL 19/20 R32 PREVIEW

COMPETITIVE FOOTBALL RETURNS TO UKRAINE!

Shakhtar Donetsk officially open the 2020 Ukrainian footballing calendar as they take on Portugal’s Benfica in the Europa League Round of 32 TONIGHT!

Kharkiv hosts the first leg of this tie with the Miners aiming to start the new decade with a victory!

There were no major personnel changes over the hiatus period for Donetsk.  However, Mykola Matviyenko was close to joining Arsenal with the failure to agree on a mutual deal ultimately affecting the transfer. Meanwhile, former captain Taison remains at the club despite posting a number of cryptic instagrams hinting that he is unhappy but is persevering. Both players are expected to play a part in this evening’s fixture.

As is usually the case with these curtain raising ties for Ukrainian clubs at the start of a calendar year, intense and competitive football has been lacking since the start of the winter. Despite the fact that Shakhtar have partaken in a eight exhibition matches since January, tonight will be the first true test of their match fitness and sharpness.

Benfica currently sit top of the Primera Liga, a point above rivals Porto. They have been playing league football throughout the winter period. However, what may end up falling in Shakhtar’s favour is that the Lisbon club’s form has taken a dip just ahead of the UEL. They’ve lost games against second and third, whilst drawing the other in their previous three fixtures.

Regarding Shakhtar’s squad; Dodo will miss this fixture due to the red card picked up against Atalanta whilst Manor Solomon is out for a lengthy period. Apart from those two omissions, Castro has a full strength side to choose from. They will be aiming to keep a clean sheet to limit the away goal disadvantage, so defensively speaking, the Miners’ will be need to be compact and astute. Serious improvements on their UCL displays will be required.

Predicted line up:

Pyatov

Ismaily

Matviyenko

Kryvtsov

Bolbat

Alan Patrick

Stepanenko

Marlos

Tete

Taison

Moraes

On the other hand, Benfica also have a couple of players out. Weigl and Gabriel will not play. But ‘once upon a time’ QPR magic man, Adel Taarabt is expected to start having rediscovered his form this season.

It’s difficult to predict how Shakhtar will fare in their 2020 debut match but this home leg will the key fixture. If they are able to keep Benfica out, then they will have an easier task ahead of them at the Stadio da Luz next week. 

PLAYING FOR THE ENEMY: The Ukrainian footballers who sign for Russian clubs…

“Would you join Zenit Saint Petersburg if they offered you EUR 5 million a year?”

When this question was put to Ukrainian national team footballer Roman Yaremchuk in late 2019, he didn’t hedge or hesitate.

“No,” he replied. “That’s a great question, but in today’s situation, I wouldn’t go. One hundred percent. I have everything I need in life and that is enough.”

Yaremchuk, who is currently starring for Gent in the Belgian First Division, clearly had no qualms about addressing the politically charged subject of Ukrainian footballers playing for Russian clubs.

However, while his response generated headlines in Ukraine, he does not speak for all Ukrainians on the subject. On the contrary, many of Yaremchuk’s compatriots openly support the right of players to join clubs in a country that is involved in an undeclared war with Ukraine.

The debate over Ukrainian footballers playing in Russia is an extension of a broader discussion that regularly preoccupies much of Ukrainian society.

What sort of relationship should Ukraine pursue with today’s Russia?

Amid an ongoingconflict that has torn apart intimate ties between the two countries stretching back generations, where should the line of disconnect between Ukraine and Russia now be drawn? Should it be at the governmental level, or should it also extend to a freeze in all cultural or sporting relations?

This is the opening extract of a piece that features on the Atlantic Council website.

To continue reading the article in its entirety follow the link below:

Playing for the enemy-Atlantic Council

UKRAINE ON THE RISE: EURO 2020 AWAITS AFTER AN UNPRECEDENTED 2019

Ukraine have qualified for the finals of a European Championships for the third time in their history. Andriy Shevchenko and his men will participate in the continent’s premier international tournament next summer and go into it with much optimism. 

The EURO 2020 draw, which saw Ukraine start the process as a top seed has already provided the first three opponents that the Zbirna will face on the Road to Wembley! 

Ukraine were drawn into Group C alongside one of the 12 ‘host’ nations; The Netherlands. Whilst Austria were picked out as the third seed option. The final spot is yet to be confirmed. However, it is guaranteed to be either one of either Romania or the four sides vying it out for the sole Nations League ‘D’ Play Off place; Belarus, Kosovo, Georgia or Northern Macedonia 

The Arena Nationala in Bucharest and the Johan Cruyff ArenA in Amsterdam will become the destinations for travelling Ukrainian fans for the initial three group stage matches, with the tournament being held across the continent to celebrate UEFA’s sixtieth birthday! Ukraine will face The Netherlands in the Dutch capital on Matchday One before facing the mystery fourth side and Austria in neighbouring Romania’s largest city. 

What can Ukraine expect from its EURO 2020 Group: 

Netherlands: 

Ronald Koeman’s side look to be on their way up after a number of years in the footballing wilderness. They have some big names in their side; including Balon D’Or runner up Virgil Van Dijk and Barcelona’s Frenkie De Jong. With the domestic advantage that The Oranje will have, this could well be a baptism of fire for Andriy Shevchenko in his debut major tournament match in charge. Nevertheless, having kept Portugal at bay in Lisbon and in Kyiv, nothing should be deemed impossible for the Yellow and Blues when it comes to facing European grandeur. 

Austria: 

Whilst the weakest side in this pot were the Czech Republic, the central European outfit should certainly be looked at as a beatable entity. Boasting the likes of ex Dynamo Kyiv defender Aleksandr Dragovic, David Alaba of Bayern Munich and former West Ham teammate of Andriy Yarmolenko, Marko Arnautovic, the Austrians undoubtedly have quality in some areas of the pitch. However, they have shown in the recent qualifying campaign that whilst they can rather comfortably dismiss the weaker sides, they struggle against any kind of quality opposition. Ukraine should be expected to clinch all three points in what already looks to be a tight affair. 

Romania or Belarus / Georgia / N Macedonia / Kosovo: 

It is anticipated that Ukraine will be able to defeat any one of the potential sides hoping to qualify via the Nations League Play Offs. It would be preferable for the Yellow and Blues that Romania fail to get past this extra qualifying round, enabling Ukraine to avoid a clash with another ‘host’ side and not having to play in front of one more partisan home crowd. 

Romania are far from spectacular as a team, emphasised by the fact that they failed to finish in the automatic places in their own qualifying group. As such, Ukraine shouldn’t have too many problems on the pitch should they need to face them. Likewise, Ukraine should be able to defeat any of the other weaker sides should it be they who qualify and Romania do not. Ukraine boasts an impressive record against all four in recent history. 

Ukraine’s likely EURO squad: 

When pressed ahead of Ukraine’s final game of 2019, as to whether he had a fairly strong indication of the squad he will be taking to next year’s tournament, Shevchenko remained coy and said ‘There is still a long way to go and a lot can happen between now and then.’ 

However, despite this quote from the head coach, it would be classed as rather uncharacteristic of him and his backroom staff to draft in a large amount of surprise selections or instigate a complete squad overhaul before June 2020. 

U-20 World Cup winner, Denys Popov could be one of the few wildcard selections that the manager may spring should he continue to flourish at Dynamo post winter break. Another name to keep an eye on would be attacking midfielder Bohdan Lednev. The Zorya Luhansk loan star will be aiming to force his way in as a late trump card. 

Expected 23 Man Squad: 

The Goalkeepers: Pyatov, Lunin, Boyko 

The Defenders: Matvienko, Karavayev, Kryvstov, Sobol, Bolbat, Mykolenko, Plastun, Popov 

The Midfielders: Yarmolenko, Konoplyanka, Malinovksyi, Marlos, Bezus, Tsyhankov, Kovalenko, Stepanenko, Sydorchuk, Zinchenko 

The Forwards: Yaremchuk, Junior Moraes 

A Historic 2019! 

Ukraine ended the calendar year unbeaten for the first time in their history! Out of the ten games played, Ukraine won seven and drew three. Many will look back on fixtures against Portugal and Serbia as the most memorable and significant when it comes to the legacy of Andriy Shevchenko and his hybrid Ukrainian, Italian and Spanish backroom team. Much optimism arises from a qualifying campaign that featured a number of firsts, none more important so than the finishing position – top; meaning Ukraine qualified for a European Championships as group winners for the first time! 

As a result of these unbeaten feats, they were also rewarded with a top seed in the EURO draw. In years to come people will look back on the 2-1 defeat of reigning European Champions Portugal in Kyiv and the breath-taking 5-0 demolition of Serbia as generation defining games of the Shevchenko Era. The impressive achievement did require a last gasp equaliser in Belgrade in the final game of the year to draw 2-2 and complete the invincible 12 months. So much so that the ‘fight until the very 

end’ attitude has come to characterise this new ‘golden’ generation for the Ukraine National Football Team! 

Cause for optimism 

The Shevchenko regime has instilled a new ‘never say die’ attitude in the squad psyche. This shows a marked psychological change from teams and managers of years gone by. Going behind in a game is no longer a game lost. Heads do not drop, rather the determination to get back into the game increases and the desire to fight until the death has never been more visible. There is a belief in the collective ability that the squad possesses when on the pitch, all whilst being grounded and showing little signs of egotism off it. 

Most importantly and rather complimentary of the new team mentality is the balance in ability across the park. There is real quality in each position, with no real dead weights in Shevchenko’s primary starting XI. 

Further to this, there is no standout star that hogs all the heroic headlines, as the manager regularly did during his playing days. There is less reliance on one talisman, rather now all the starters have become vital cogs in a big machine. 

The extended squad also has some quality scattered in amongst it, with many of whom seizing their opportunities when coming on, showing former coaches such as Fomenko, that rotation and tactical replacements are key to any successful manager’s portfolio. 

The Key Performers 

Ukraine’s midfield trio has been indispensable over the past 18 months. 

Taras Stepanenko plays at the base of it. He is the player who labours along as the team’s unsung hero with his impact not being truly noticed until he’s not there. It is absolutely vital that he remains fit for next summer, with many in the media calling him the squad’s most indispensable player. 

Ruslan Malinovksyi and Oleksandr Zinchenko have also come into their own this year. The latter broke into the first team of a domestic treble winning Manchester City side; despite being deployed as an unorthodox left back. Guardiola’s genius helped him develop into a more complete and rounded midfielder, adding defensive awareness to his game. His defensive abilities have improved ten fold as has his maturity on the field. A future captain lies in wait. 

Likewise, Malinovksyi has been integral to the spine of this side. His work ethic in midfield and ability to drive with the ball from box to box, has been a joy to watch and helped catalyse a number of counter attacking moves that ultimately resulted in goals. His set piece deliveries and personal goal scoring contributions were vital in helping Ukraine qualify. This could very well be the greatest midfield three Ukraine has ever had! 

Also a couple of special mentions need to be given to Roman Yaremchuk and Andriy Pyatov. The former looks to have finally found his feet as the long awaited heir to Shevchenko up front. It took him a while to get going, but now he’s started, it looks difficult for him to stop scoring. Of course, he is nowhere near winning the Balon D’Or (just yet) but he looks to be the missing ‘goal-scoring 

forward’ piece of the puzzle that Ukraine have struggled to replace since the current manager retired from playing! 

Meanwhile Andriy Pyatov had the year of his life in goal for the Zbirna! Whilst his performances for Shakhtar on occasion have continued to be dubious, his displays for the national side have been immaculate. A few key saves in both fixtures against Portugal ensured that Ronaldo was subjected to a torrid time, and a record of just four goals conceded in eight games helps further his cause to being named Ukraine’s greatest every goalkeeper, should he give a good showing of himself in 2020. 

Across the board, Ukraine have never looked so connected and united as a group, with morale and fan relations at an all-time high. It would certainly not be too far-fetched to name Ukraine as one of the dark horses at next year’s European football extravaganza! 

Shevchenko: A better manager than many expected him to be? 

When Andriy Shevchenko was first announced as the heir to the underachieving and uncharismatic Mykhailo Fomenko, the news was met with a considerable amount of scepticism. Despite being a national team legend on the pitch, he was very much a managerial novice off of it. A rookie had been given the pinnacle of any Ukrainian manager’s career as his first senior coaching role. 

Nevertheless, even ahead of what will ultimately define Shevchenko in his role as Ukraine National Team Head Coach, EURO 2020; the hallmarks are there for him to be elevated, even above Oleh Blokhin should he continue the success of the past two years into the new decade. Ukraine have suffered just one defeat in the past two calendar years under his tenure, whilst finishing top of their Nations League and EURO 2020 Qualifying groups. 

Shevchenko can’t be given all the credit though. The sublime coaching set up behind him have equally played a significant role in the side’s recent development. Italian’s Mauro Tassotti and Andrea Maldera, Spaniard Pedro Luis Jaro and Ukraine’s very own Oleksandr Shovkovsky have each assisted and contributed their own forms of training and preparation that has enabled the side to flourish in a dynamic and open environment.

WINTER IS COMING: UPL 19/20 MATCHDAY 18

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