UKRAINIAN FOOTBALL SHOW – EPISODE TWO

EPISODE 2 OF THE PODCAST OUT NOW
‪On the latest episode we discuss:‬

The Ukrainian Cup Final

Competitiveness of Persha Liha

The final UPL run in

Transfer rumours

LISTEN NOW:

APPLE: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/shoot-the-defence/id633108165?mt=2%E2%80%AC&fbclid=IwAR0MKJC3iDUEjJrYPkKraUi2m5tjR3TaeE27gHnMq-OMU9MwxEDsSa5QVgM

SPOTIFY: https://open.spotify.com/show/0IhypURW1JiiI7rGU354aV?si=O6V5LKuu%E2%80%AC&fbclid=IwAR0liTl9LtPPjLWx0KPnHgD5sn4zg5hCDeervO5MpoaIhkZls73_B5sAM5I

AUDIOBOOM: https://audioboom.com/posts/7632908-ukrfut24-podcast-cup-final-and-final-week?fbclid=IwAR36xb-UfEhlBcTFaCBH24pu1jOqMgc332nE-dqAc2SeV0_2Zb8AWAcxxZI

TRADING PLACES – UPL MD 31

A rare midweek Matchday is upon us! It’s an essential game week for the medal chasers in particular, who have just two more attempts at gaining further points to help boost their European ambitions.

Since the weekend, there hasn’t such a great abundance of news or happenings bar the results of MD 30. 

It’s likely the most exciting finish to a season (title aside) since 2013/14 with three sides remaining in the run in for the elusive silver medal and more importantly a coveted seat at the UCL qualifying round table.

Zorya were first up on Saturday against Kolos. A dominating first half performance and a brace from Kocherhin was enough for Zorya to move clear of Dynamo and Desna early on. The second half was less than comfortable for Zorya, with Kolos showing how they are more than capable of matching their opponents when it comes to chances created and threats – but their finishing ultimately let them down. The Luhansk outfit rounded out the victory at 2-0 seeing them move into second on 57 points 

Fresh from their Ukrainian Cup win, fatigue and misfortune combined to add more woe to Dynamo’s campaign. Two penalties defined the match. Firstly, young defender Syrota, starting his third game in a row for Dynamo and in total ever for the senior team began to struggle with the awkwardness and physicality of Oleksandriya’s forward Bezborodko.

An early yellow card followed by a poor challenge inside the penalty area all inside 20 minutes was enough for Mykhaylychenko to realise he had made a mistake. He instantly subbed him off for Burda as Dynamo went behind as Tretyakov converted from 9 yards.

A poor first half from Dynamo was attempted at being remedied in the second by bringing on Tsyhakov at half time. It instantly injected some energy and precision into the Dynamo right flank. However it wasn’t until Verbic, coming on at the 60 minute mark where things began to shift in Dynamo’s favour.

Two quick fire goals from Dynamo’s current man of the moment saw the Kyiv side almost home and dry – easing the pressure on them in the final matches. However, it wasn’t meant to be as this time it was Shabanov’s turn to give away an unnecessary foul in the box which felled Shastal. Tretyakov stepped up again and converted accordingly. Points shared with a team that had nothing to play for was certainly not in the Dynamo coaching staff’s playbook – nor is anything else for that matter… Dynamo sit on 56 points with Zorya up next!

The final Championship Group game was played simultaneously with the latter. Desna had a big chance to exploit a supposed weakened Shakhtar side missing the likes of Marlos and Moraes and maintain an advantage in the medal race. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Shakhtar, once again demonstrated their squad depth, unmatched anywhere else in the league (Man City-esque) and went ahead inside 25 minutes thanks to two goals scored within a minute of each other.

Solomon cut in from the left and caught Past off guard with an unexpected drive at the goal. Before the Israeli teed up Tete to give Shakhtar the lead from two chances which came out of relatively nothing. Desna took little time of their own to peg Shakhtar back – when they scored from a corner – Hitchenko again involved! Then in the second half after some Desna pressure, a Shakhtar counter saw Maycon get a rare goal to all but take the game away from Chernihiv.

Desna responded in quick time once more, with Filippov unleashing an early finessed finish from all of 30 yards out, which Pyatov had not been expecting. Alan Patrick, then capped off an impressive and once again understated performance with a goal of his own to round off the scoring.

Desna did have chances to get back in it, but luckily for Shakhtar, their former forward Pylyp Budkivskyi had a goal gaping as Pyatov ran out of his box to contest a ball. Instead, Budkivskyi slipped, missed the opporutnity before trying an audacious chip from 45 yards out as Pyatov ran back to his goal. Typically it ended on the roof of the net. A 4-2 Shakhtar win left Desna on 45 points – at a natural disadvantage but just two points off of their goal.

It is all delicately poised for the two remaining matchdays now!

Elsewhere, the Relegation Group saw a couple of high scoring games themselves. Vladyslav Supryaha continued his goalscoring form as he notched a brace in Dnipro-1’s comeback win over Lviv were initially 2-0 up. Rennan’s brace helped Lviv to a comfortable advantage before the on loan Dynamo man levelled proceedings with his goals to take him two clear (9) of the total Dynamo Kyiv UPL goals the forwards have scored in 2020 (7). Khoblenko won it for Dnipro-1 as Lviv went to sleep for a second game in a row and were made to pay.

Meanwhile, the other fixture between Mariupol and Olimpik played out to bewildering scenes. Olimpik won which was a shock in itself but they also did it in style. 4-1 was the final score line even with Olimpik starting a weakened eleven.

Mariupol were woeful, including a howler from the keeper Halchyk – aiming to dribble it past an onrushing defender on his goal line. Only to be tackled with ease, have Dehtaryov convert and then have the majority of social media question whether your team threw the game following such suspicious behaviour from the Mariupol first choice keeper.

THE MATCH PREVIEW ZONE

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

WEDNESDAY

Shakhtar Donetsk v Kolos Kovalivka (17:00 BST / 19:00 KYIV) (CG)

Shakhtar have got two final competitive matches to see out before the end of the season. Markedly these two games will also be the last ones they will play before the UEL Round of 16 game versus Wolfsburg in early August. So warming up for that will be a priority.

Following on the trend from last week, Luis Castro has given some of his key men a week’s holiday – permitting Stepanenko, Pyatov and Kryvtsov to have a break following their integral part in the title triumph. 

On the other hand, Marlos, Moraes and Matviyenko all return following their time away albeit it is expected their roles will remain limited to allow the fringe players more time on the pitch.

Mykhaylo Mudryk and U20 World Cup winner Danylo Sikan are expected to pick up some more minutes in the next two fixtures; ahead of potentially breakthrough years for the pair in 20/21. Kolos have been notoriously difficult to beat for Shakhtar this term but they have managed to do so-just each time! Likely to be another one of those. 1-0

Dnipro-1 v Karpaty Lviv (FORFEITED) (RG)

No Karpaty means no fixture fulfilment by them. As such Dnipro-1 get a midweek rest and free three nil victory to their record. 3-0

THURSDAY

Lviv v Olimpik Donetsk (15:00 BST / 17:00 KYIV) (RG)

An absolute dead rubber. Both sides aren’t going anywhere this season but still seem to be putting shifts in on the pitch regardless of how defining their performances actually are at this point of the season. Olimpik surprisingly scored 4 goals against Mariupol in the last round.

Whilst Lviv have scored 2 goals in each of their last two games but have let leads slip in both. This fixture has been a tight one previously this season and it wouldn’t be a shock to see another tie where the two can’t be separated given the uninspiring circumstances. 0-0

Vorskla v Mariupol (15:00 BST / 17:00KYIV) (RG)

Some were touting this game as a potential cup final of its own with the final Europa League Play Off tournament spot at stake. Going into this match, five points separate the two teams. Vorskla play their first game since the Cup final loss to Dynamo. Despite their brave and resolute performance in that game, it is fair to predict that the side stood up to the occasion for that silverware event. Whereas this match, returning to the league format may reassert the reasons as to why Vorskla sit ninth in the table at this stage anyway. They may have been reborn under Maksymov but there still remain some problematic areas in the side – none more so than consistent goalscoring and lapses in concentration at the back – preventing them from holding onto leads. 

Mariupol themselves are a strange anomaly. Their 4-1 defeat to a half strength Olimpik calls into question, both match-fixing or just lack of motivation – despite them not being mathematically safe in the final UEL PO place. Nonetheless, a late Europa charge would probably be asking too much too soon from Vorskla after a momentous turn around already this season in staying up after a dismal start and playing some coherent football once again to match. Typical draw – as it panned out last time. 1-1

Desna v Oleksandriya (17:00 BST / 19:00 KYIV) (CG)

Desna may have felt slightly disheartened about their silver medal chances in the immediate aftermath, following their defeat to a weakened Shakhtar on the weekend. However, they are very much still in the race with two games to go. Should Desna defeat Oleksandriya at home, they will remain in a strong position to finish in a medal place with fellow silver medal pursuer Zorya to come in the UPL finale on Sunday. 

Despite the 4-2 score line against Shakhtar, Desna were still able to display snippets as to why they remain (albeit unprecedently) in the hunt. They’re extremely dangerous from set pieces. With physical defenders, who like to cause a nuisance in the opposition’s box, there’s always someone able to get a free header away or finish off a scramble. Hitchenko has been particularly nascent in this area of late. Meanwhile, Filippov has also continued to be the most consistent forward in the side. Whilst he sometimes struggles to finish off the easier chances in games, he seems more comfortable finishing the more difficult ones; such as the early outside the box finish against Shakhtar. 

Although they were eventually overrun by Shakhtar’s more energetic midfield, against the likes of Oleksandriya – who will be aiming to conserve energy ahead of the Europa League Play Off tournament next week – this fixture shouldn’t be too problematic going off how the season has played out so far. Win or bust for Desna. . 2-0

Dynamo Kyiv v Zorya Luhansk (17:00 BST / 19:00 KYIV) (CG)

Another game of Cup Final proportions – this time it’s in the league. This fixture is of great significance to both sides as they meet at the Olympiyskyi on Thursday. A win for either would give them a serious foothold in the silver stakes and brand that victor the favourite to enter the UCL 3rd Q round following Sunday’s conclusion of the 19/20 campaign. 

Dynamo sit a point behind Zorya going into this. The last time the sides met, a month ago, Dynamo came back from a goal down to inflict an impressive 3-1 defeat in Zaporizhya. In that game, it was the substitutes De Pena and Tsyhankov that changed the game for Dynamo and it’s expected after a number of experimental line ups for Dynamo of late due to injuries and resting; the strongest possible starting side will kick off. De Pena is expected to retain his spot on the left, with Tsyhankov coming in on the right from the ouset. Meanwhile Benjamin Verbic, who’s enjoying a rich vein or form playing as a centre forward is anticipated to stay there. 

Syrota will revert back to the bench following his week of numerous baptisms of fire with either the now fit Burda deputising or Popov who is also expected to be back from injury. Unfortunately, for Dynamo fans, it’s difficult to see Mykhaylychenko offering anything other than his trusted midfield three of Sydorchuk, Shepelev and Buyalskyy; just because that’s the way the manager works. A shame as Shaparenko impressed against Oleksandriya.

As for Zorya, their on loan Dynamo men has different rules applied. Lednev has not featured in any of the previous  three fixtures versus his parent club and as such it’s expected that that will continue. Meanwhile, Tymchyk who has started on the bench previously against his main club, is expected to start in a defensive capacity of some sort. Without Hromov in the team, Zorya looked a lot more fluid in attack – Perovic and Kabaev were linking well as a strike partnership – although they too need to improve their finishing if they are to emulate what Kabaev had with Rusyn before the New Year. Vladlen Yurchenko should not be understated either, he’s probably been the most consistent player in the Zorya side – enjoying his playmaker role as one of the more senior heads  (26) in the youthful set up. 

Dynamo certainly have a more bountiful squad which includes players that possess greater game changing quality than that of Zorya and as such when it’s needed most – Dynamo could pull out the win. It will all depend on how disciplined Zorya are and whether their midfield and defence can unpick the usually large holes in Dynamo’s midfield and pounce on the lack of match sharpness in Dynamo’s defenders to gain those coveted 3 points and move one step closer to that debut UCL appearance.

Too close to call but will certainly be an open and entertaining game at one point or another. 2-2

THE END for Karpaty Lviv – UPL MD 30

It’s official! The UPL is left with eleven teams for the remainder of the season!

The sole team that was likely to be relegated anyway, has been removed from the division after failing to fulfil two fixtures in a row and not giving valid reasons for those unfulfillments. The UAF announced earlier this week that Karpaty Lviv’s time in the UPL is prematurely over! However, it has also confirmed that the side is not completely dead just yet. They have not had their professional status removed and as such are still able to apply for a Persha Liha licence. Whether that is acted upon, we will have to wait and see. 

In general, it has been a rather crazy week in Ukrainian football – even for its own high standards for unusual behaviour! FC Metal, a new phoenix club claiming to be the true successor to Metalist Kharkiv has emerged with hopes of obtaining professional status next season. This project has been masterminded by former Metalist sporting director Krasnikov and would cast doubts on the legitimacy of current Persha Liha promotion contenders Metalist 1925.

Elsewhere in the new football club creation factory, Champion.ua were reporting that a new team is being formed that will be called… ZORYA-1972 !!! The side will represent Luhansk but be based in Kyiv. It is expected they too will register for pro status next week. They have similar hopes of entering the Druha Liha for the 20/21 season. The General Director will become Dynamo Kyiv Vice President – Oleksiy Semenenko with finances being provided by a successful Ukrainian businessman. Does this spell trouble for the original Zorya Luhansk; with a rival side aiming to steal its identity?

Aside from the strange activities off the pitch, Kharkiv hosted one of the greatest Ukrainian Cup Finals of all time in midweek. A fiercely contested tie between Dynamo and Vorskla was end to end for the majority of the 120 minutes – with one of the highest quality penalty shoot outs you may ever witness eventually awarding a victor! The game ended 1-1 at Full Time. Ruslan Stepanyuk gave Vorskla a shock lead inside 10 minutes before the constantly threatening Verbic equalised on 37’.

From then on, nothing else was able to separate the teams, with Vorskla goalkeeper Dmytro Riznyk pulling out a Man of the Match performance with a number of stunning saves. The real standout moment came from the outfield players in the shoot-out. Top corner finishes were more common than not in this high octane match decider. Shabanov eventually won it for Dynamo are Bayenko skied his shot so high it probably went into orbit. Dynamo won 8-7 on penalties following 18 taken in total.

It’s Dynamo’s first major piece of silverware for four years, their twelfth Ukrainian Cup in total, but they can’t afford to rest on this achievement just yet with their fight for silver still very much in the balance in the league!

THE MATCH PREVIEW ZONE

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

SATURDAY

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

A must win game for Zorya as they face bottom of the top six side Kolos. With games against both of their medal rivals coming up in the final two fixtures of the season next week, ensuring they have are toe to toe with their rivals going into that or even at an advantage will boost their chances of a historic finish in second.

The unprecedented 2-2 draw to Oleksandriya last week dented their chances of an earlier advantage going into these final games. Anything but a victory in Obolon in this match up could well lead to extra pressure in the coming games. The question is whether Skripnyk and his young men have the bottle – if they don’t, they won’t be deserving of a place in the UCL Qualifiers anyway. Away win expected. 0-2

Karpaty Lviv v Vorskla Poltava (FORFEITED) (RG)

With Karpaty now officially omitted from the UPL – Vorskla get some extra rest following their Cup Final efforts and a nice 3-0 win, as will all the other sides that were meant to play Karpaty until the end of the season. 0-3

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

Dnipro-1 are guaranteed a UEL Play Off place. Vorskla are unable to catch them with the amount of points left on offer. The side will now aim to maintain seventh place and claim the last ever Trophy of Prestige before the league reverts back to a full table for the entirety of next season. It’s still uncertain whether Dnipro-1 will actually be able to play in Europe should they qualify, as they were only established in 2017 and UEFA rules state that a club must exist for at least 5 years to be able to participate. 

However, that bridge can be crossed should the eventuality arise. Can Supryaha add a late flurry of goals to his tally of 10 so far and potentially challenge those ahead of him? With the quality of opposition coming up and the lack of motivation facing those sides, the young Dynamo loanee would hope so. Comfortable win for the hosts. 2-0

SUNDAY

Mariupol v Olimpik Donetsk (15:00 BST17:00 KYIV) (RG)

As it stands, it is looking like Mariupol are on course for a UEL Play Off place where they will battle it out against the three sides above them for Ukraine’s final Qualifying spot for Europe’s second tier competition. They come up against Olimpik Donetsk who mathematically can’t finish their opponents unless Mariupol lost all their remaining games and Olimpik won all of theirs. Both seem highly unlikely circumstances. As such, Mariupol are favourites here to pick up another win as they prepare for that play off mini tournament. 2-0

Desna v Shakhtar Donetsk  (17:30 BST19:30 KYIV) (CG)

No Marlos, Moraes or Matviyenko for Shakhtar in this game. Castro has sent them on holiday with 3 games to go to have some extra rest ahead of regrouping for the Europa League in early August. Although Castro did promise that his line ups against all three medal chasers would be of similar strength, without those three key men (regardless of whether they started or came off the bench) will be a gain for Desna on paper at least. Desna don’t look to be slowing down as the season comes to an end.

They’ve kept up this intensity for so long now that it would be a disservice to themselves should they step of the accelerator now. Against a unmotivated and second string Shakhtar side – you really shouldn’t rule it out. Some huge cup final type games coming up in the final two fixtures should Desna get the win here. If they don’t, it’s going to be highly likely that they finish in fourth. 2-1

Oleksandriya v Dynamo Kyiv (17:30 BST / 19:30 KYIV) (CG)

Dynamo may very well still be on cloud 9 following their Cup win in midweek but they seriously need to discard those emotions and focus on the task at hand if they want to finish second still. They will be hoping Shakhtar do them a favour and take points off their medal rivals Desna whilst they themselves will need to defeat Oleksandriya.

The latter is the easy bit – having beaten their opponents 5-1 a few weeks ago and with Oleksandriya guaranteed fifth place in the table – anything but a win would be a catastrophic failure. If Verbic is in the same type of mood that he was in versus Vorskla and starts up front again, then the Oleksandriya back line be facing some serious problems. Expected away win in this one. 0-3

K A (R . I . P) A T Y – UPL MD 29

The end of another historic UPL club is nigh according to numerous sources in Ukraine. Karpaty Lviv, winners of the 1969 Soviet Cup, are on the verge of being another casualty in the list of teams in Ukraine that have fallen due to disregard and financial mismanagement.

Earlier this week, news broke that new Karpaty Co-owner Oleh Smaliychuk has spent the past few weeks attempting to reach an agreement with Karpaty’s other owner – Ihor Kolomoyskyi…

The talks were meant to regard the paying of a $5 million debt that the club needs to clear should they want to receive a UPL license for next season. The deadline for the license renewal was Tuesday 30th June. No agreement was reached, as Karpaty claim Kolomoyskyi never showed up to talks and has shown no intent to rectify the situation.

Furthermore, Karpaty missed one of their UPL games in hand versus Mariupol in midweek and have confirmed that they will not fulfil yet another fixture against Mariupol this weekend – as such all but confirming their forfeiting of the league and it seems that their withdrawal from the league is imminent as a result.

Certain figures have attempted to aid Karpaty in the meantime such as Rukh owner Hryhoriy Kozlovskyi offering to pay the away game fees for the remainder of the season, but these handouts were rejected by Karpaty. The club believes these offers are just to increase the clout of certain individuals rather than helping Karpaty in the long run.

“We are able to afford to play out our away fixtures, herein does not lie the problem. Rather it is the $5 million debt we need to pay off and as such if we are unable to, what is the point of us wasting more resource playing out the season, if we won’t be given a license for the next campaign anyway!”

As such it is expected that the club may either fold entirely and turn into a phoenix club a la Metalist 1925 or become incorporated into Rukh Lviv, with the club brand and history living on with a Rukh rebrand… However these are all currently rumours and as such no decisions have been made regarding the future of the club at this stage. Either way, it doesn’t look bright!

Back to the actual football side of things on the pitch. The medal race is back to a neck and neck scenario!

Desna beat Dynamo 3-2 in an electric thriller last Sunday. Dynamo once again showing how underwhelming the current squad is and how the coaching staff are none the wiser in how to improve it – despite largely obvious changes that they refuse to make.

Hitchenko’s added time header sunk the hearts of the large travelling Dynamo contingent, who inspired by Zorya fans the week prior – used ingenious ways to see out the game!

Tsyhankov proved once again how pivotal he is to the side with a brace; whilst the question as to why Carlos De Pena doesn’t start was once again brought into the spotlight following another impressive performance from him after coming on as a half time substitute.

For the neutral it makes all the more for a hugely entertaining end to the 19/20 campaign.

Shakhtar lifted the UPL
trophy post match

Also in with the medal shout is Zorya who drew 0-0 with already Champions Shakhtar. If there’s any indication as to whether players will be rested by Luis Castro for the remainder of the season as a result, it didn’t look like it. The likes of Tete and Konoplyanka did start but come full time, Shakhtar’s strongest XI were all out on the pitch. Not a good omen for Dynamo who face The Miners this weekend.

Elsewhere in the championship group, Kolos got their first win following a string of seven straight defeats defeating Oleksandriya in assertive fashion and not changing much for their own situation but more or less confining their opponents to a fifth place finish.

In the Relegation Group; Dnipro-1 recorded a shock loss to their rivals for seventh place – Mariupol who beat them 3-0. Olimpik and Vorskla played out a subdued 0-0 draw whilst the Lviv Derby and what may turn out to be Karpaty’s last ever UPL match (following the developments this week) ended 1-1 with a spirited second half comeback display by Karpaty who were down to 10 men for its entirety!

Yaroslav Deda grabbed what looks to be their final goal in the top flight just minutes after coming off the bench.

Zorya Londonsk also took part in a brand new podcast focused on Ukrainian football this week! Much of the above was discussed along with other COVID & football related topics. So if you have yet to listen check it out via the links!

Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/shoot-the-defence/id633108165?mt=2

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/0IhypURW1JiiI7rGU354aV?si=O6V5LKuu

Audioboom: https://audioboom.com/posts/7619661-ukrfut24-podcast-falling-dynamo-bankrupt-karpaty-and-covid-19 

THE MATCH PREVIEW ZONE

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

FRIDAY

Lviv v Vorskla Poltava (17:00 BST / 19:00 KYIV) (RG)

Vorskla get given 24 hours extra rest ahead of the Ukrainian cup final next Wednesday as they take on Lviv in the Friday fixture. This one is also for the history books as Ternopil City Stadium hosts its UPL game since it’s 2012 renovation. Lviv are playing in the neighbouring oblast for the remainder of the season due to a high level of COVID diagnoses in their hometown.

Lviv began life under new Georgian coach Gio Tsitsadze in relatively underwhelming fashion. They drew versus Karpaty; taking a lead against their rivals via a very fortunate own goal and then crumbled in the second half to a side with 10 men for the entirety of it. Lviv are lucky that Karpaty are in such a state, otherwise they could have seriously been threatened with relegation themselves due to the amount of games in hand their rivals had to play. 

Vorskla struggled to find the net versus Olimpik last time out but were once again resolute defensively. They were without their key defender Alioune but managed to keep their less than average opponents at bay. With primary focus on the biggest game in the past decade for club likely to be prioritised over a more or less meaningless league tie, some changes and experimentation should be expected from Maksymov. One eye will certainly be on Wednesday. 

If any sides can play out a goalless draw it’s these two in the circumstances. A bore draw expected. 0-0

SATURDAY

Mariupol v Karpaty Lviv (CANCELLED)(RG)

Alexa play That’s Life by Frank Sinatra… Karpaty have confirmed that they will not complete the second of their two anticipated fixtures versus Mariupol this week. Having missed the midweek game in hand tie due to the current situation at the club – the same reason rings true just a few days later. It’s a more than likely scenario that Karpaty have already played their last UPL game this season… . P-P

Dynamo Kyiv v Shakhtar Donetsk (17:30 BST / 19:30 KYIV) (CG)

Another Clasichne! But it’s not exactly one that’s being eagerly anticipated on this occassion. Despite Dynamo’s tedious position in second, the fact that Shakhtar have already won the league makes the competition against the two sides in this game a bit of a no contest.

Shakhtar are less than motivated to bring the game to their opponents since the restart. They showed this in the ‘re-opener’ reverse match against Dynamo at the end of May and still ended up winning 3-1 on the day. Just a class above their opponents at the moment. Compounded by the way Dynamo played versus Desna, optimism is rather low in the Kyiv camp.

After making some changes to his XI versus Zorya last weekend, Luis Castro is expected to play a strong enough side against the arch rivals, in preparation for their European round of 16 tie in August. This Clasico fixture is the last match up that will come close (but not really) to the quality The Miners will face in the Europa League. If Shakhtar take all the spoils in this one, they will sit TWENTY points clear in top spot. A gap that if remains come the end of the season will see Shakhtar grab a new UPL record bettering Dynamo’s 1999/00 margin of 18…

Dynamo will no doubt want to prevent that from happening but more pressingly want to ensure that their hegemony in second remains in place until the season’s close. Following their Desna defeat, it remains difficult to ascertain whether Dynamo will be able to muster anything against their one true enemy club. Mykhaylychenko experimentation against fellow medal chasers backfired last week, although a string of substitutions did seem to restore Kyiv’s dominance until the very end. Can Mykhaylychenko muster the courage to start the likes of 2019 POTY Carlos De Pena or June’s POTM contender Mikkel Duelund after eye catching performances of late? The answer to that is a high possibility ‘no’.

More of the same expected – although the absence of Shepelev due to suspension does give Dynamo room to push Buyalskyi deeper into midfield and allow Duelund in at number 10. The issue then remains as to whether Verbic, who ended up playing the entire second half against Desna as the sole forward, can cut it up there. Albeit, all the other members of Dynamo’s striker club are unable to function correctly under Dynamo’s playing style. Something which is as baffling to the spectators and worryingly for the players too. The main issue being that nobody knows what it is or what it is trying to achieve.

The result won’t be so severe this time round, compared to a few weeks ago. However, in true Shakhtar fashion, they’ll have just enough to nick it and ensure the medal races remain wide open. 0-1

SUNDAY

Desna Chernihiv v Kolos Kovalivka (15:00 BST / 17:00 KYIV) (CG)

Desna have a perfect opportunity this weekend to take advantage of the potential chaos that may ensue around them in the table. After their warranted but shock win versus Dynamo last weekend, Desna play yet another game at home. Something tells us there won’t be any away fans in cherry pickers this matchday, with the type of support that Kolos have. With that victory, Desna have ensured that they remain ‘amongst it’ when it comes to the medal race.

Ryabokon – UPL’s MOTM for June

They’re just a point behind Zorya and three behind Dynamo, who they should leapfrog, due to an enhanced H2H record, should the levelling of points occur. It really is too close to call when it comes to the finishing predictions, with all three chasers’ results. However as Desna are up against bottom Championship Group side Kolos – who saw their first win, last matchday, following seven straight defeats.

With the way Desna have been performing in recent weeks and throughout the season, it would be disappointing to see them drop off in the final run in but nothing seems to suggest they will do. The pressure doesn’t seem to be getting to them. 2-0

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

Olimpik seem to be drifting toward the end of the season in uninspired fashion. They’ve picked up some good results in recent games but very far from inspiring.

Meanwhile Dnipro-1 have been on a slight decline and have let their lead at the top of the Relegation Group slip to just one point. Mariupol are breathing down their necks, so they can’t afford to drop too many points. Although if Dynamo Kyiv win the Cup next week, it could increase the UEL Play off catchment area from fifth to eighth place. Dnipro-1 do need a comeback and have got the better quality in their ranks. As such they should pick up the three points in this one. 0-2

Zorya Luhansk v Oleksandriya (17:30 BST / 19:30 KYIV) (CG)

Zorya continue their attempts at pushing for a record finish as they take on the most out of form side in the top half of the table. Oleksandriya have been in freefall since June despite surprisingly beating Zorya in the post Covid restart opener. Zorya got a well earned point versus Shakhtar last Saturday but will need to improve in taking their goalscoring opportunities with the need to win games essential between now and the season’s crescendo.

Fortunately, they come up against a down and out Oleksandriya who lost their last four consecutive games following their last minute victory over Zorya in May.

There have even been rumours that Volodymyr Sharan, Oleksandriya’s most successful manager is on the verge of being replaced by former Olimpik Donetsk head coach, Vicente Gomez – who didn’t show much during his debut managerial stint in the UPL.

That is likely to come at a head following the close of the campaign – which couldn’t come soon enough for the visitors. They’re now nine points behind Desna in fourth and as a result can now prepare for the UEL Play Offs which will follow the conclusion of the league fixtures. 

With Zorya’s need for a victory more essential than that of their opponents, they will be more motivated in this one. It won’t be easy, but Zorya should just scrape through. 1-0

UKRAINIAN FOOTBALL SHOW – PODCAST EPISODE ONE

BRAND NEW

PODCAST OUT NOW

Covering all the news since the COVID restart: Dynamo’s recent plight

Karpaty’s financial woes

Spectators at BCD games

VAR

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MEDALSMEN: The Podium Chasers – UPL MD 28

Another eventful week in the world of Ukrainian football has passed by and it’s not over just yet with Matchday 28 still to come.

The biggest news from the past seven days was that of Shakhtar lifting their fourth consecutive UPL title and their thirteenth in total last Saturday. Their 3-2 win over Oleksandriya sees them wrap up proceedings with 5 games left to go. Liverpool-esque, albeit the Merseyside club won their title by an even greater gulf in points and games to play! With the silverware now officially secured, the main intrigue continues to focus on the teams below The Miners and their struggles for the remaining two medal places.

In this secondary battle for second and third place; things began to space out a bit more. Dynamo maintained their 3 point lead over Zorya thanks to a crazy game versus Kolos. Referee Serhiy Boyko came under huge scrutiny after the game had FIVE penalty shouts. Following VAR reviews, four of those were given. Two were given to each side. Kolos missed one of theirs whilst the other three were converted.

However controversy ensued as to whether Dynamo’s winner was actually a penalty in the first place when Yefremov was adjudged to have pulled Carlos De Pena down with a fingertip pull of his shirt – when it looked more like a slip on the heavily rained on Olympiyskyi pitch! All three points went to Dynamo in truly fortunate circumstances.

In the other game, Desna met with Zorya. The visitors were the better side on the evening, not allowing Chernihiv too many chances to attack. The scoreline was a lot narrower than the actual events of the game which saw Zorya miss a whole load of chances. However they prevailed in the end to give themselves momentary breathing room in bronze. This could all change once again this weekend as Zorya face Shakhtar and Dynamo travel north to Chernihiv!

Elsewhere in the league, Lviv parted ways with their Armenian manager Yegishe Melikyan on Sunday after three straight defeats since the return from lockdown. He was replaced by a South Caucasus neighbour – Giorgi Tsitsadze and his Georgian backroom staff who will be in charge for this weekend’s Lviv Derby versus Karpaty!

The fateful defeat for Melikyan was a 3-0 drubbing by Mariupol. Whilst Vorskla pulled off a surprise 2-0 victory against high fliers Dnipro-1. Both Ukrainian Cup Semi Finalists preparing positively for their game that would take place in midweek. 

Karpaty’s return to action following self quarantine and their Covid troubles was ironically pushed back by yet another week. This time it was their opponents Olimpik Donetsk who had some positive cases in their squad meaning that the game had to be postponed. Just the four games in hand for Karpaty at the minute.

Another substantial headline came from the Ukrainian Cup Semi Final between Mariupol and Vorskla on Wednesday. After a rather subdued 90 minutes and extra time. The scores were level at one apiece. Goals from Horbunov for the hosts and a Kane penalty for the visitors ended up seeing the game run down to a shoot out. Here is where the managerial genius combined with on the pitch talent to send Vorskla into only the second ever cup final in their history!

16 year old Pavlo Isenko was brought on just before penalties commenced. It was the Ukraine youth international’s debut for the senior side and boy did he take the chance! Out of five penalties faced, he emphatically saved three to put Poltava through! Vorskla won the 3-2 thanks to Isenko’s saves and has instantly become a name to be remembered for the future! Poltava will now face Dynamo Kyiv in the Cup Final on July 8 in Kharkiv!

THE MATCH PREVIEW ZONE

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

SATURDAY

Karpaty v Lviv (15:00 BST / 17:00KYIV) (RG)

A Lviv Derby gets Matchday 28 underway this week! This fixture has been truly underwhelming over the past couple of seasons with low scoring games and draws being the common denominator when these two rivals meet. On the pitch it’s likely to be much of the same in that respect. 

Karpaty return to first team action for the first time in over 3 and a half months after their post lockdown restart was delayed due to their own covid outbreak across the majority of their playing and coaching personnel.

Not only have they been affected with illness but due to the season delays, they have lost a number of key players. Luxembourg internationals Tim Hall and Marvin Martins left during the proper lockdown whilst just this week key man Yehor Nazaryna returned back to Royal Antwerp in Belgium and on loan Olimpik forward Matar Dieye went back to his parent club.

Lviv had their own troubles this week, replacing their manager due to the poor restart they have faced. Whilst they are above their opponents by a fair few points in the table, should Karpaty pull some performances out in their games in hand – Lviv could find themselves at risk of relegation. 

This fixture will take place in Lutsk at Volyn’s stadium due to the high COVID numbers in Lviv. No Karpaty Ultras this time round will force sole focus on the events on the pitch… which won’t be too pretty. 0-0

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

This game looks to be a bit of a dead rubber. Neither side has too much to play for as a result of their recent form in the Championship group. Kolos are mathematically unable to catch their opponents in the table with 5 games to go whilst it’s looking more and more unlikely that Oleksandriya have any chance of recreating a medal finish being nine points off the pace of third.

In essence it’s a glorified friendly with both teams wanting to restore some lost pride. Oleksandriya defeated Kolos 4-2 in the reverse fixture of this game back in March. Both sides put in good performances in their matchday 27 defeats, so it will be interesting to see if either can pounce on that and bring their losing streaks to an end. It’s a tough one to call. A draw would not be surprising . 1-1

Shakhtar Donetsk v Zorya Luhansk (17:30 BST / 19:30 KYIV) (CG)

The Champions will be coming out to a guard of honour for the remaining five games they have to play. Although whether the side that receives that applause will be full strength or experimental remains to seen.

Rumours are already circulating that the lesser used members of Luis Castro’s squad will be given more of a run out now the deed has been completed. As such The Miners play the role of Kingmakers or more accurately Princemakers as the season ticks down.

Depending on the starting XI chosen in the games versus medal contenders, will either directly benefit one over the others. Whether these sides will get equal treatment will be interesting. The likes of Tete and Konoplyanka are almost certainly going to get more minutes and that’s likely to start this weekend.

On the other hand Zorya have already beaten Shakhtar once this season, grabbing a 1-0 victory in the reverse of this Championship Group fixture just before lockdown was announced. As such they certainly have the ability to inflict some damage against their Donbas in exile neighbours.

A huge boost for Skripnyk’s men comes in the return of Bohdan Lednev who successfully served a one match ban for accumulated yellow cards. His chance creation and finishing ability will benefit his side who have been less than clinical infront goal in recent matches.

A big blow comes in defence with Yevhen Cheberko starting a one match ban of his own following a second yellow and red versus Desna. Abu Hanna is expected to start alongside Vernydub at the back as a result. This really could go either way but with more riding on a positive result for the visitors you’d expect them to narrowly do the double over the newly crowned Champions. 0-1

SUNDAY

Mariupol v Dnipro-1 (15:00 BST / 17:00KYIV) (RG)

Mariupol’s season seemingly came to an end on Wednesday as they went out the Ukrainian Cup to Vorskla. Despite this heartbreak, they sit just four points behind their visitors in the table who are in the prized final Europa League play off place. With Dnipro-1 picking up inconsistent results such as their defeat to Vorskla last time out, it’s not inconceivable that Mariupol could leapfrog them in the remaining games.

Victory for The Seagulls in this one will put them in good stead for the final run of games but it must be said that Dnipro-1 do possess some quality players in their squad and on paper at least should have enough to remain at the top of the mini league. Mariupol were unable to carve any real chances in their Cup Game and with them starting their first team in that game, the extra days of rest for Dnipro-1 may come in handy.

Dnipro-1 have already defeated their hosts twice in 2020 so far – so another victory would not be too surprising . 1-2

Vorskla Poltava v Olimpik Donetsk (17:30 BST / 19:30 KYIV) (RG)

Likely to still be high from their historic win in midweek, Vorskla will need to regain focus on the league albeit with not too much to play for. Their shock win over Dnipro-1 last week does provide food for thought and whether a late run could see them challenge for eighth but being eight points behind seventh seems a task too far.

Preparations over the next couple weeks will likely be more seen as warm up games for the Ukrainian Cup Final against Dynamo Kyiv. Olimpik on the other hand will be wanting to amass enough points to be safely out of relegation’s reach with Karpaty’s number of games in hand being kept in mind.

This fixture has all the hallmarks of a narrow win for the hosts who really have got into the groove of things recently. A Cup hangover is possible but when you’re up against the likes of Olimpik – Vorskla should have just enough.  1-0

Desna Chernihiv v Dynamo Kyiv (17:30 BST / 19:30 KYIV) (CG)

It’s the GAME OF THE WEEK. For a second matchday in a row Desna are involved as the medal race continues to tick down towards its great crescendo! Desna suffered a setback in their hopes for bronze after defeat to Zorya last week. The harsh reality was that Desna were second best in that game and were just unable to carve any serious chances – with Filippov having a quiet game.

Meanwhile Dynamo were equally poor in their match against Kolos and were seriously fortunate to get a win thanks to some controversial refereeing. Their performance had it not been for penalties was also well below par. No clear cut opportunities and flat build up play. Further still, had Kolos possessed a bit more quality in their own ranks, they would have beaten Dynamo.

As such, it’s a vital game for both of these sides. Both need wins. Desna need to remain within touching distance of Zorya and could even level with them should the latter lose to Shakhtar. Meanwhile Dynamo want to maintain their own cushioned position in silver, also keeping an eye on events in the Shakhtar game.

Viktor Tsyhankov is likely to start for the first time since lockdown having impressed since coming on from the bench on two occasions. Whilst for Desna, their game depends on Filippov being at his goalscoring best. Having already scored twice against Dynamo in three games so far this season he is more than capable of adding to that. The last time these two met, it ended in a draw and it wouldn’t be too outlandish if that were to happen again. 1-1

UPLovin’ it: Choose your BRONZE medallist – UPL MD 27

It’s been another packed news week for Ukrainian football despite the majority of the world’s sporting focus geared towards the the return of the Premier League in England. 

UEFA’s ExCo took place on Wednesday, confirming the future of a number of its competitions, in which Ukrainian sides will be taking part in.

The remainder of the Europa League will take place in August across a number of German cities – with the final ultimately held in Köln without spectators. Should Shakhtar hope to make it there; they will need to play out the second leg of the R16 tie with Wolfsburg.

It is still to be decided whether they will play this game in a behind closed doors Metalist Stadium or under similar circumstances in Germany. However, from the Quarter Finals onwards, each tie will be cut to just one leg.

Meanwhile, the National Team has a number of things to look forward to. In preparation for next year’s EUROs, UEFA confirmed that the Nations League will take place this autumn.

They will be keeping the original dates for matchdays whilst also adding in two friendly slots in October and November to aid sides as they haven’t met since late 2019. Combined with this, Ukraine will find out their final EUROs opponents in October – as UEFA agreed upon the dates for the Play Offs to be played.

The question remains until then; whether it will be Romania, Belarus, Georgia, Macedonia or Kosovo that joins Ukraine in Group C. Whoever that will be, will be playing across the same original host 12 cities that have been reconfirmed; Whilst the tournament itself will take place on the same ‘days’ as it was expected to this year.

Back to the domestic game and it was a positive week for Dynamo Kyiv. Not only did they come from behind against Zorya to beat them 3-1 and reassert a lead in second, but they also rather routinely swept aside Minaj 2-0 in the Ukrainian Cup Semi Final.

Tsyhankov marked his return from injury with a goal in the league win; whilst Mikkel Duelund was the star man in midweek, grabbing a brace on a rare start under Mykhaylychenko. Vorskla travel to Mariupol in the other Cup Semi Final next Wednesday.

Elsewhere in the Championship Group, Shakhtar placed another finger of the trophy as they narrowly defeated Kolos 1-0. In what was far from a vintage performance from Shakhtar, the tepid return from lockdown continued. Kolos were well organised and determined to end their own streak of losses but Moraes had other ideas as he got the winner.

Desna, then inflicted a second consecutive 5-1 demolition of Oleksandriya, following the side’s humiliation at the hands of Dynamo the weekend before. Oleksandr Filippov seems to be intent on chasing down Moraes for the golden boot as he ended his dry patch with a brace – a run he is hoping will catch the attention of Shevchenko and the National Team. This win combined with Zorya’s loss sets up another tight encounter in the race for the medals this week.

There was finally some good in the Relegation Group, as Karpaty returned to training following a two week self-isolation period following a mass COVID infection amongst their squad and staff. It still remains to be seen, as to when their missed fixtures will be played. However, they will resume with their next closest fixture, against Olimpik. Dnipro-1 sit 7 points clear despite missing last week’s game week due to Karpaty’s issues.

Olimpik surprised once more as they beat the solid Lviv defence 2-0 to leapfrog their opponents and move further away from relegation. Vorskla’s trip to the Azov coast ended in a score draw stalemate with Mariupol – which the most predictable result of the weekend.

THE MATCH PREVIEW ZONE

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

FRIDAY

Mariupol v Lviv (15:00 BST / 17:00KYIV) (RG)

This game is another dead rubber in the current circumstances of the Relegation Group. However, these final remaining games may all change meaning once Karpaty play their games in hand. Even still they would need to win a large share of those to trouble any of the sides above them including Lviv.

Lviv have not had the best of returns since the lockdown period was lifted. Their loss to Olimpik saw them drop below their rivals and it looks rather difficult to see any late charge for seventh place. However, as the season ticks down, Lviv will need to pick up the odd point if it is just to keep Karpaty out of reach of safety.

Mariupol have equally been underwhelming but consistent. Their two draws so far and the teams below them being the opposite of the this has helped them remain in eighth but still considerably off the mark compared to Dnipro-1 at the top of the mini table.

This is the lowest in quality side that Mariupol has had in many seasons and it’s difficult to see too much changing as 19/20 comes to an end. The early game of the round looks to favour a narrow home win after Lviv’s recent defeat to the equally woeful Olimpik. 1-0

Vorskla Poltava v Dnipro-1 (17:00 BST / 19:00 KYIV) (RG)

Vorskla have been another consistent side. Having drawn both their games 1-1 since the restart it looks like they too are drifting towards the end of the season, awaiting to start afresh next year.

They’ve certainly improved since the start of the season, with Kane and Yakubu finally coming into their own and Alioune’s arrival and integration in the team boosting their defensive exploits. The issue that Vorskla still lack is in attack; they just don’t create enough and when they on the rare occasion do – they squander their chances with inaccurate finishing.

Dnipro-1 arrive in Poltava full of confidence. They’re on a four win streak stretching back to March and are in prime position to finish in seventh, with room for some dropped points along the way. Their squad is the most in depth of all those in the bottom half of the table and they have goals readily available to be provided across the pitch.

Following their one week break to a postponed game with Karpaty it will be interesting to see if this ruins their rhythm. Vorskla possess a better defensive set up than most of their other opponents, so Dnipro-1’s usually fruitful attack will be put to the test. Even still, they should have enough to edge this one and remain comfortably at the top of the Relegation Group . 0-1

SATURDAY

Shakhtar Donetsk v Oleksandriya (17:30 BST / 19:30 KYIV) (CG)

Shakhtar are almost there. Their thirteenth UPL title will be theirs should they pick up any kind of win or if they and Dynamo lose this weekend. An unassailable lead will be accumulated via either of those methods and Shakhtar’s dominance on domestic Ukrainian football will be confirmed once more.

They have been far from their peak form since the season resumed but their abundance of quality has proved that only a couple of chances per game are all that’s needed to get the better of their Championship Group opponents.

It will be interesting to see whether Castro rests a few more players or whether he will reward his first choice XI to get the result that secures them the silverware in his first season in charge.

Oleksandriya have not had the best of fortnights. They’ve lost their last two games by an aggregate score-line of 10-2. By doing so, in the circumstances where you are playing your direct rivals week in, week out, they’ve seemingly ruled themselves out of a medal place push. They now sit six points behind Zorya and Desna who have been far more unswerving in their performances this season.

As is usually the case, Oleksandriya will be hoping to avoid a third successive league defeat at the hands of Shakhtar – albeit that seems highly unlikely especially with the incentive that Shakhtar possesses. Anything below conceding 5 goals will be a result for them. Shakhtar will be Champions at the end of the weekend – it’s difficult to see otherwise. 3-0

SUNDAY

Karpaty Lviv v Olimpik Donetsk (15:00 BST / 17:00 KYIV) (RG)

Karpaty are OUT of quarantine and self-isolation. Two and a half weeks after the first cases were being confirmed – a majority of the squad and coaching staff returned to training this week. However, eight first team players remain away from camp as they remained positive.

A number of Karpaty’s youth squad will also make up the side this weekend as they resume their 19/20 season a month after everyone else. Karpaty sit rock bottom of the table and are odds on for relegation. Eight points adrift with three supposed games in hand looks possible on paper. However, in reality, performances from earlier this season seem to suggest otherwise.

Meanwhile, Olimpik have undertaken a sort of mini resurgence in form, beating Lviv and drawing with Mariupol; whilst simultaneously scoring some goals in the process. Roman Sanzhar’s old side will be the favoured team just on the basis that they have been in action since the end of May.

Teixera is in good form at the moment and will be the danger for Karpaty’s defence that will most certainly be lacking match fitness. This will be compounded by the fact that Karpaty have lost a number of their better players in Tim Hall and Marvin Martins during the lockdown period – choosing to end their time at the club prematurely. This game won’t be a memorable one. Olimpik should just shave it. 0-1

Desna Chernihiv v Zorya Luhansk (17:30 BST / 19:30 KYIV) (CG)

A different narrative is written each week in the chase for medals. The Game of the Week this time round sees a battle for third; just a week after Zorya were looking like the favourites for silver. However, scenarios change thick and fast when it’s this tight in the table.

Desna go into this tie with confidence, bar a close defeat to Shakhtar in MD 25, they’ve comfortably dismantled the opponents below them in the table (In the first leg of fixtures against them at least). Their leading forward restored his goalscoring form with a brace, helping to brush aside Oleksandriya with ease. The Zorya result combined with their own win gives them another chance at the bronze medal places. 

Zorya have been dealt with a difficult hand of late. Their two defeats out of three games and a less than convincing 1-0 win over Kolos has erased their quiet confidence and put them right back into the dog fight – now battling for a medal altogether when it looked like either bronze or silver would be theirs.

The biggest factor in Zorya’s decline has been the form of Bohdan Lednev – his lack of influence in defeat to Oleksandriya and in the narrow victory over Kolos was marked. His creative absence was also felt v Dynamo as he was suspended. Combined with this, the loss of Rusyn back to Dynamo has also been haunting this side for all of 2020. Kabaev has stepped up with a few goals but he’s unable to carry the full burden of that responsibility on his shoulders.

This fixture is difficult to call. Based on form you would back Desna but Zorya and Skripnyk do have the ability to match Desna – it’s just whether their mental strength will be able to recover from recent capitulations. This one is going to be tight. 0-0

MONDAY

Dynamo Kyiv v Kolos Kovalivka  (17:30 BST / 19:30 KYIV) (CG)

Following their Ukrainian Cup Semi Final win over Minaj; the UPL decided that they would give Dynamo some extended rest – similarly as to how they have Vorskla and Mariupol playing on Friday for the extra day of preparation ahead of their own semi-final. Dynamo eased theirs.

Mikkel Duelund who scored two well worked and finished goals will be hoping that he is rewarded with another start in this tie. However, with the return of Tsyhankov it’s difficult to see an XI where all of Tsyhankov, Verbic, Duelund, Tsitaishvili and Buyalskyi all start under the auspices of the less than dynamic Mykhaylychenko.

Nevertheless, this game should be routine for Dynamo especially after they defeated Zorya last week – a rare occasion where the manager’s substitutions were timed to perfection and those players ended up making the difference.

Kolos come into this tie rock bottom of the Championship Group – and it’s little surprise that they almost mathematically can’t finish any higher. They attempted to delay Shakhtar’s title confirmation last weekend but narrowly lost to The Miners once again this season.

They are just sitting tightly now, awaiting the UEL Q spot Play Offs, that they are guaranteed a place in. They may end up being the joker in the pack at some point in the medal run in – taking points off of one of the contenders but it’s difficult to see them doing so versus Dynamo following their opponents recent results. Dynamo win likely. 3-0

UPL BOYZ: Battle for 2nd Place – UPL MD 26

Seven games to go! The UPL ticks down towards the end of the season with Matchday 26 and the fight for the automatic European spots finely poised!

Over the past week there, the fate of Ukraine’s other professional leagues’ 19/20 seasons were also decide. Ukraine’s second tier – The Persha Liha will resume on 24th June 2020. After a PFL meeting featuring representatives of all 16 clubs – the majority decision backed by eleven of those sides was to complete the season on sporting terms. This was then confirmed and permitted by the UAF.

Nyva Ternopil confirm promotion!

Meanwhile in the Druha Liha – things have ended as they stand after each side had already completed each other twice. This was as a result of majority decision by the clubs in the division and means that the top two clubs in Group A & B have been promoted. Nyva Ternopil, Polissya, VPK Agro and Krystal Kherson will all take part in the expanded 20 team Persha Liha during 20/21 season.

Krystal Mark their own promotion via IG

In Ukraine National Team news, Andriy Shevchenko and his coaching staff penned a new 2.5 year contract extension which will take them through until the 2022 Winter World Cup in Qatar. The manager was in attendance as Shakhtar beat Desna 3-2.

Back in the UPL and Matchday 25 saw the majority of matches play out with few surprises – largely backing the status quo.

In the Relegation Group – Dnipro-1 extended their lead in seventh to 8 points after a comeback victory versus Lviv, who played out the game as hosts but in the Dnipro Arena. Khoblenko’s goal off the bench was enough to edge it 2-1 after China’s opener and Tsurikov’s equalizer. 

Mariupol, who sit closest to Dnipro-1 in the table, eight points behind with a game in hand; returned to action after their first game with Karpaty was postponed. Instead they ended their lockdown with a rather underwhelming 2-2 draw with Olimpik in Kyiv.

Whilst Karpaty and Vorskla sat this game week out; with the Lviv side being in its first week of mandatory self-isolation following a huge breakout of COVID-19 just before Matchday 24.

In the Championship Group, things temporarily went back to normal. Shakhtar defeated Desna in a thrilling 3-2 finish at the Olympiyskyi – moving ever closer to their title! Meanwhile, Zorya narrowly overcame Kolos 1-0 and Dynamo dismantled Oleksandriya 5-1 to ensure the two clubs go into their own showdown neck and neck!

THE MATCH PREVIEW ZONE

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

SATURDAY

Mariupol v Vorskla Poltava (12:00 BST / 14:00 KYIV) (RG)

Six years to the day since Ukrainian soldiers liberated Mariupol from Russian aggressors – Mariupol host Vorskla in the UPL in their own city within Donbas. Whilst it may be a day of celebration off of the pitch, this game is practically a dead rubber on it. Both sides have fairly limited chances of overtaking Dnipro-1 in top spot in the Relegation Group whilst neither are at risk from the drop either. Following Mariupol’s surprising draw with Olimpik last time out, which many could attribute to their first bit of competitive in months, it’s going to be a difficult game against a revigorated Vorskla.

Poltava did miss out on last week’s round due to their opponents Karpaty being unable to play – but nonetheless, Maksymov’s side look much improved from when he first took over. Their defensive framework looks properly structured and their attacks look a lot more coherent than in recent seasons – although they still do lack a killer game changing forward which is why they remain with the league’s least goals. It wouldn’t be too surprising were either side to win this one by a narrow margin, but equally with the lack of defensive structure in Mariupol’s team paired with Vorskla’s minimal chance conversion; a low score draw sounds the most plausible . 1-1

Karpaty Lviv v Dnipro-1 (POSTPONED)(RG)

Karpaty enter the end of their second week of mandatory self-isolation following 26 positive Covid tests. This means that their scheduled game versus Dnipro-1 will not take place. Following further testing at the start of next week; it will be decided whether Karpaty are able to return to action in Matchday 27 – however the fate of their missed games still remains undecided. P-P

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

The GAME OF THE WEEK comes nice and early in Matchday 26. There’s a lot resting on this one, with both sides looking to make a concerted break from their rivals on the road to silver!

Hosts Zorya Luhansk were in the news this week with rumours circulating that should the club not make the Europa League Group Stage next year, there is heighted possibility that the team may fold. Other conflicting reports have dismissed this ultimatum, claiming that Zorya is in a much more stable trajectory and European qualification is not a matter of life or death. Nevertheless, Zorya enter the final few games of the season as a heavy favourite in finishing within a medal berth with a potentially guaranteed Europa League group stage berth depending on how the Cup pans out.

On loan Dynamo Kyiv man and Zorya’s POTS so far, Bohdan Lednev will sit out of this one due to picking up his fifth yellow of the season, in what will be a creative blow for Luhansk. Other Dynamo loanee, Oleksandr Tymchyk is expected to play, having done so in the previous fixtures against his parent club this season. Zorya have already beaten Dynamo once this season and they’ll be looking to do so once more in Zaporizhya.

Meanwhile Dynamo enter this game with more positive news. Viktor Tsyhankov returns to the first team squad following an injury he picked up in the early stages of post lockdown training. However, he would not be expected to start – regardless of how important this game is for his side – with Tsitaishvili seriously impressing after stepping into the red haired winger’s place and the fact that Tsyhankov has had no first team practice since early March.

Oleksandriya were battered by this side, but this result should not cast illusions that all is well at Dynamo. Problems in transition from defence to attack and primarily a very flat midfield are still eminent problems which Mykhaylychenko seems to be incapable of addressing. As such, it would not be surprising to see the visitors succumb to their opponents due to their own lack of vision and direction.

However as has been the case this season, it’s very difficult to separate these two sides and this will once again be the case on Saturday. Zorya have shown they can defeat Dynamo once already this season so they might be able to do it again. 1-0

Olimpik Donetsk v Lviv (17:30 BST / 19:30 KYIV) (RG)

Olimpik sprung a bit of a shock last week as they took two leads against Mariupol, only to end up drawing 2-2. Lviv on the other hand were unlucky to leave Dnipro without at least a point after another disciplined defensive display. This game has all the hallmarks of ‘not a classic.’

The four most recent meetings in the league have seen two score draws and then a 1-0 win to each side – both of which took place in the league this season before the split. As such, this won’t be a game of many chances and of even less quality. With not too much to fight for either, a goalless draw looks to rather favourable on the face of things. 0-0

SUNDAY

Kolos Kovalivka v Shakhtar Donetsk (15:00 BST / 17:00 KYIV) (CG)

As if it wasn’t clear already, Shakhtar have been Champions Elect for a while now. Should Dynamo and Zorya play out a draw, Shakhtar would require a win to all but mathematically lift the trophy with 6 games to go. Such has been their season, that they have lost a couple games and they still are head and shoulders above the rest. Some of their other performances have resulted in close shaves such as last week’s game versus Desna and the final before the split match versus Kolos which ended 4-3.

Shakhtar have proven that they don’t need to be at their constant best for the full 90 minutes, especially since the return from lockdown; they just need 3 or 4 chances a game and they’ll take every single one. Marcos Antonio sits this one out after accumulating too many yellows – whilst more changes can be expected for The Miners matchup versus the weakest team in the top six.

Kolos are drifting by now, having lost 1-0 to Zorya last time out, they’re just waiting for the end of the season, when they will get a shot at a Europa League spot in the play offs. With the lower intensity and lack of crowd, it’s difficult to see Kolos come anywhere close to their 3 goal tally versus Shakhtar last time out when their own top six fate was in the balance. As such it’s likely to be a routine victory for the visitors as they look move to within a point of the title . 0-4

Oleksandriya v Desna Chernihiv  (17:30 BST / 19:30 KYIV) (CG)

The extended automatic European spot showdown takes place at the Nika this weekend. Both sides were given setbacks in their own pushes for medals thanks to defeats at the hands of Dynamo and Shakhtar respectively. A win for either side could push them back into it.

Desna will be more favoured to play out a consistent finish to the season, following their performances so far. Their narrow defeat versus Shakhtar showed that they’re able to go toe to toe if required – but as is the same case with the rest of the league, Shakhtar’s resources are just too difficult to overcome.

Captain Denys Favorov has been in inspired form since the return from lockdown and he will look to lead his side to another victory against close behind rivals Oleksandriya. Oleksandr Filippov is yet to add to his handsome goal tally since the quarantine lift but will be aiming to break that duct in this one.

Oleksandriya, on the other hand, will be brushing themselves down after being humiliated against Dynamo last week. They are without their key centre back, Kaspars Dubra due to the red card he picked up in that game which led to the eventual capitulation.

However, the goalscoring has also seemed to be impacted since Oleksandriya returned from quarantine. Hrechyshkyn is their most likely goalscorer at the moment, only due to the fact that he takes their penalties. Converting chances need to be improved should Oleksandriya hope to emulate or even equal their historic bronze medal last year. This does look unrealistic looking at the opposition above them.

This game against Desna will prove to be the decider in who will be in a more favourable position in challenging Dynamo. At this current moment and looking back on the season’s performances so far, you would expect that to be Desna. Hence an away win should be on the cards. 1-2

FANTASTIC 4: RACE FOR THE SILVER MEDAL – UPL MD 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MATCH PREVIEW ZONE

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

SATURDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vorskla Poltava v Karpaty Lviv (POSTPONED) (RG)

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

76 DAYS LATER: THE UPL REAWAKENS ONCE MORE – MD 24

The hiatus has ended!

As Ukraine slowly moves out of lockdown, the UPL emerges from its second mid-season break to conclude the seemingly never-ending 19/20 campaign!

According to the Kyiv Post (accurate as of 29th May) there have been over 22,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ukraine, whilst officially 679 have died as a result of contracting the virus. After a relatively strict two month lockdown lasting from March to May; the country is gradually loosening quarantine measures.

During this relaxation period, which is still ongoing – the Ministry of Health and the UAF mutually agreed to permit the return of professional football, in a limited capacity. This was officially announced at the start of this week – just a few days before the UPL would officially restart. All the while, the media and public have known it would most likely be this date for a weeks, as teams resumed contact training some fourteen to eighteen days prior.

As mentioned previously, the UPL had already experienced its annual three month hiatus period during the winter months, returning in February for just a month’s worst of football before they were asked to close down once again. As such it will be interesting to see the fitness levels of the players; knowing very well from past experience it takes a couple of matchdays to fully regain momentum and second wind.

The marked differences this time around though, is the fact that the players have not had an extended friendly calendar prior to competitive fixtures be it in an exotic climate or at home. Most UPL clubs have played a couple of warm up ties over the past week in scant preparation for the fast approaching resumption. Putting the league title aside, which the majority of the populace has resigned to another routine Shakhtar trophy lift, there’s still quite a lot to play for!

Realistically four clubs still have a chance of finishing in one of the other two medal places. After an easy couple of years, in comparison to this one, Dynamo have comfortably finished in 2nd. However, it looks like they are seriously under threat from the reborn Zorya Luhansk and the surprise package Desna. Added to this, last season’s shock bronze medallists, Olexandria are also still within a shout.

Games will also be held behind closed doors – something that was already implemented during matchday 23. It’s also not uncommon for low attendances in recent seasons, and as such the crowd issue should not affect the players too greatly compared to other countries.

It’s worth remembering that this is the final time where you will see the league split in half; from next season onwards – the UPL expands to 14 teams. However, it’s not before we see some changes occur this term either. Places 4th to 7th are all catchment places for the Europa League play off. Come the end of the 9 remaining gameweeks; those four sides will take part in a mini tournament to decide who gets the final Europa League spot allocated to Ukraine.

This reshuffle not only gives added impetus for the clubs to finish as high as they can in the table – but it also gives the Bottom Six something to play for other than the Trophy of Prestige and the respite of surviving relegation. The latter a seemingly simple task this season, with Karpaty being some hopeless, despite the fact they recently acquired a new owner in the form of football agent and former club vice president; Oleh Smaylichuk.

THE MATCH PREVIEW ZONE

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

SATURDAY

Kolos Kovalivka v Desna Chernihiv (12:00 BST / 14:00 KYIV) (CG)

Kolos kick us off at the Obolon Arena, as the Championship Group enters Matchday Two since the split – albeit with a two and a half month delay in between. This game will reveal whether the unforeseen pause, has been a blessing for Kolos, who went into it one a three game losing streak and can count themselves lucky that they even made it into the Top Six. The first post-split game saw them humbled by Oleksandriya 4-2 as the gulf between Sixth and the rest of the top table teams was laid bare.

A few positives do arise from the break for Kovalivka as they welcome back manager’s son Denys Kostyshyn who was the side’s star man early in the campaign. However, with no first team football for over six months, it’s likely to take the attacking midfielder a few games to get back to full sharpness. Whilst the same can be said for all the players who have equally sat out the past couple months.

Desna, on the other hand will arrive in Kyiv with confidence. Bar a solitary and narrow defeat to Shakhtar this calendar year, Desna continued their overachieving form from 2019 – taking off points from their medal place rivals in the process. Now they are in the top six, they will not only need to keep the pace with Dynamo and Zorya – but also capitalise on points dropped.

As such a win in this fixture could ensure it’s back to neck and neck with Kyiv – who face Shakhtar and a high possibility of not picking up a win. If Oleksandr Filippov can pick up from where he left of this weekend, just as he carried on from the old to the new year; Desna stand a good chance of a historic league finish.

The remainder of the season is not going to be enjoyable for Kolos – and the misery is likely to continue from the outset. Desna should have a slight edge thanks partaking in a warm up game versus Obolon Brovary. 0-2

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

The second Championship Group game of the round sees temporary silver medal holders, Zorya visit Oleksandriya, who are not too far behind the pack themselves. After a mixed start to 2020, Oleksandriya welcomed the return of key man Kyrylo Kovalets from injury by bettering Kolos in the last matchday.

Last season’s bronze medallists have played a couple of friendlies in the past week against local sides Vorskla and Cherkashchyna and seemed rather comfortable in their victories. 4-2 and 5-0 victories respectfully show that goals shouldn’t be at a premium once the league recommences. It will just be down to whether Oleksandriya’s defensive weaknesses which has been more porous this season can withstand the regular contact against the league’s top clubs.

Zorya, have not played any warm up games since returning to training; so they may actually be rustier compared to their opponents. They sit level on points with Dynamo and will need to aim to win games against those sides towards the lower end of the top six to take benefit from potential points dropped when the likes of Dynamo and Desna face Shakhtar. Fortunately for Zorya, they managed to beat their Donbas rivals in the last matchday before lockdown thanks to Shakhtar prioritising the Europa League.

Bohdan Lednev will need to pull out further game defining performances if he’s to guide his loan side into the UCL qualifiers at the expense of his parent club.

This is a tough game to call as both clubs are more than deserving of their top six berth and can easily go toe to toe if they so wish. However, due to the slight frailties seen in Oleksandriya’s defence this season; the pace and skill in Zorya’s attack should help them edge it. Hard fought tight match. 0-1

Dnipro-1 v Olimpik Donetsk (15:00 BST/ 17:00 KYIV) (RG)

Relegation looks to be almost off the cards completely for Dnipro-1. After a double header of facing closest rivals Mariupol before quarantine and winning both games; the hosts of today’s game will enter the remaining games of the season with an ego of certainty that they are the best side in the bottom half. Had it not been for a loss against Shakhtar, then they would have been amongst the big boys. Youngster Vladyslav Supryaha was in fine form ahead of the hiatus and with the fixture list ahead, it’s likely that he’s licking his lips at the prospect of facing some of those defences.

None more so than that of Olimpik. Apart from a draw with Vorskla in 2020, the Donetsk outfit hasn’t picked up another point since November of 2019. Whilst their own complacency currently doesn’t look to be too fatal (due to Karpaty’s own suicidal way of playing) they sit five points above the drop whilst the other way – nine off of their opponents.

Goals come few and far between; although the return of Dehtaryov may bring some positive impact should the forward find some form. That currently looks unlikely when viewing them during their most recent friendly versus Dynamo. Whilst they did threaten in a limited capacity, what they had just wasn’t enough to penetrate an organised back line and goalkeeper.

Whilst Dnipro-1 are hardly role models for a stringent defence; fortunately they make up for it in their attacks. Some astute signings were brought in during the winter and they looked to be bedding in rather positively before the pause. As such, it’s difficult to see anything other than a home victory. 4-0

SUNDAY

Karpaty Lviv v Mariupol (12:00 BST / 14:00 KYIV) (RG)

UPDATE: THIS MATCH WILL NO LONGER TAKE PLACE ON 31ST MAY DUE TO A POSITIVE CORONAVIRUS TEST FROM ONE OF KARPATY LVIV’S PLAYERS!

The Relegation Group continues as it opens Sunday’s fixtures. Under new ownership Karpaty may not have seen any fruits from that takeover yet (It did only occur on Tuesday) but the promise of being paid salary may be the positive spark needed to ignite an unlikely great escape.

Although the club sits bottom, a number of draws against arch rivals Lviv has maintained a slight chance of survival – thanks in no small part due to the incompetence of Olimpik above them. That being said, the club lost a few key players during the quarantine period who for once reason or another, decided to leave for good.

Tim Hall, one of the more positive lights in a sorry Karpaty squad has been one of those casualties, alongside his countryman Marvin Martins – whose arguably been the club’s most consistent defender this term. They will most certainly be missed. Time is running out as to whether Roman Sanzhar has any jokers up his sleeve, because so far he hasn’t displayed any nouse to signify that he does. The winter signing of Matar Dieye has not paid off – and unless the team can convert their draws into wins then their Premier League will come to an end sooner rather than later.

Mariupol have also fallen off in the league this season. After a shock fourth place finish last time out and a favourable fixture list to qualify for the Top Six – they proved that they just don’t have the quality to match the league’s bigger sides. Shakhtar loanees can only contribute so far. Mariupol’s primary focus will be the Ukrainian Cup – in which they are through to the semis in.

They’re not too far off the UEL play-off spot but having already lost to Dnipro-1 in the first post-split round, they’ll need to pick up some momentum in the league of they are to challenge their new arch rivals. Dmytro Mishnyov and Topalov look to be the main outlets for anything creative in the side. Babych will need to utilise them if his side are to convert from the limited chances they produce.

These sides have met twice in the league already this season – drawing on both occasions. Another draw would not be surprising. 1-1

Vorskla Poltava v Lviv (12:00 BST / 14:00 KYIV) (RG)

Here is the match-up between two safe sides. They’re relatively clear of the Persha Liha trap door and they’re a bit off of that top spot. The two lowest scoring sides in the competition meet in Poltava. Whilst both squads are flailing when it comes to any kind of attacking flair or threat – the defences are where they shine. 

Vorskla were looking rather skeletal and fatigued at the start of the season – playing with an astonishingly old back line. Since Yuri Maksymov has arrived, he’s reinstated the Vorskla way. Solid at the back – minimal up top.

Pape Alioune has rejuvenated the back line with some extra energy and powerful presence. His youthfulness alongside the experience of captain Chesnakov can ensure that there won’t be too many goals conceded during the end of the season. Ibrahim Kane and Luizao have also impressed.

Maksymov’s multicultural side look like they are slowly being built into a formidable team but this season is just too early for it all to click and come into consistency. With not too much to play for in the league – it is likely that priority will be given to the Cup in which Vorskla are through into the semi finals in.

Lviv are very much in a similar boat – albeit the league is all they have left to play for. They struggle for goals greatly and this is not looking to change before the end of the season. The Brazilians in the squad have not been consistent enough yet and a whole host of winter signings had still yet to fully integrate themselves into the starting line up before the hiatus.

Alvaro has shown glimpses of his quality as has Iacovelli – but they will need to up the ante if they are to prove that they can cut it in the UPL – as their compatriot Bruno Duarte did – who subsequently went on to impress in Portugal.

In preparation for this resumptive Lviv beat Minaj in a friendly last week, whilst Vorskla lost to Oleksandriya. Both sides found the net a few times despite the differing results. As such it looks like this one is nailed on draw. 0-0

The Clasichne: Tie of the Round

Shakhtar Donetsk v Dynamo Kyiv15:00 BST / 17:00 KYIV) (CG)

It’s the unmistakable GAME OF THE ROUND. What better way to see Ukrainian football back into action than with a Clasichne! 

Yes, it’s true. This fixture may well be losing its novelty the more times it gets played in a single season. It’s already the fifth meeting between the clubs this season. Despite this being such a fierce rivalry – without the undertones of fan involvement in this one – it should give sole focus to the events on the pitch rather than in the stands.

The last time these two faced each other – the game ended on a rather sour note – with monkey chants resonating from the Dynamo end – forcing Taison to lash out and leave the pitch in tears following a red card. It’s a shame that this is what brings the Ukrainian Clasico to the news headlines across the world. On this occasion though, there won’t be any fans to distract away from the actions on the pitch.

Shakhtar go into this in a relatively confident mood. They are 13 points clear at the top and look to be in a sharper physical condition compared to their adversaries, if the friendly match performances are anything to go by. The Miners brushed aside Rukh Lviv and Obolon Brovary scoring 4 goals against both despite playing with some experimental and some forced changes. 

Ismaily injured himself versus Rukh, and was just about able to play 30 minutes against Obolon. However, he has been declared fit to play against Dynamo along with Matviyenko who also injured himself versus Rukh.

Alan Patrick looked in inspired form against Obolon, as did Marlos (who now looks fully fit following an injury recovering start to 2020). The depth in Shakhtar’s squad just looks incomparable to any other side in the league. Their ability to chop and change the likes of Taison for Tete and Solomon for Konoplyanka show it’s going to be a difficult afternoon for Dynamo.

Dynamo go into this game with a mixed bag. Key man Viktor Tsyhankov is out of this fixture; along with Shaparenko and Burda. However, the absence of the team leader, could shine an opportunity for a player who has been appallingly underutilised this season; Gio Tsitaishvili.

The U20 WC winner scored a brace inside 4 minutes against Olimpik – Dynamo’s final warm up game – showing Dynamo fans that there may still be life without Tsyhankov. Although after those 4 minutes, he markedly drifted in and out of the game as the friendly lost its intensity. If he does get the nod over De Pena and Karavayev then it will be interesting to see how the young wide-man performs in such a big game.

Duelund also looks to be a player who needs to be given greater game time as he once again impressed in the Olimpik friendly. He compliments Buyalsky well and looks to create chances a great deal more than the likes of Shepelev. The biggest issue with Dynamo at the moment is that their strikers are out of form. It may be because Rusyn is not suited to playing alone upfront and that Fran Sol is low on confidence following his injury blow and general lack of favour with the coaching staff but the issue remains that they are unable to score goals within this team – leaving a huge burden on the midfield. 

The stats and evidence from recent friendlies and general season trends seem to point towards only one winner; Shakhtar. Although, as it is a derby, Dynamo are likely to have added impetus to perform out of their skins – with a unique lack of pressure from the stands (due to no fans) – can they get themselves into that liberating mindset and end up playing freely like nobody’s watching? Probably not. 2-1