After a season which Shakhtar dominated and were only denied a record points tally by taking their foot off the peddle they once again head into the new season as heavy favourites to claim their 5th consecutive title and their 9th overall. Few would bet against the Miners adding to their trophy collection further with no doubt their main ambition being to try and go further in the Champions League, Rinat Akhmetov and Mircea Lucescu’s Holy Grail. Shakhtar have re-invested, once again signing young Brazilians (Fred – Internacional, Ismaily – Braga) as well as allowing some young Ukrainians to enter the first such as Eduard Sobol. They will be hoping that the new signings can fit straight into the squad which will be missing some star men from last year, Willian (who joined Anzhi in the winter window) as well as Fernandinho (Man City) and Henrik Mkhytyrian (who joined Shakhtar’s conquerors in Europe, Borussia Dortmund).
The biggest story of the 2012/13 season was undoubtedly Metalist Kharkiv breaking the Dynamo/Shakhtar duopoly and entering the Champions League for the first time in their history. They will be aiming to show that this was not just a one season fluke and will be hoping they can match the success as well as pushing Shakhtar harder and making a name for themselves in at least the group stages of the Champions League. Over the summer Metalist have been surprisingly quiet for a team hoping to establish themselves and make a push to consolidate themselves as Champions League regulars, it would be expected that they will still add to the squad before the end of the window.
Dynamo on the other hand, have been very busy and have made some notable signings. Following on from their disastrous season, Ihor Surkis has backed Oleh Blokhin in the transfer market as they have brought in Jeremy Lens (PSV), Dieumerci Mbokani (Anderlecht)Benouis Tremulian (Bordeaux) and Younes Belhanda (Montpellier), as well as promoting some promising young talent. They will be hoping to make at least an immediate return to the Champions League and will hope to seriously make a challenge for the Ukrainian title. The last time Dynamo went this long without a title was back in the 1960’s and they will be desperate to stop the rot. They have thus far managed to hold on to their main stars such as Andriy Yarmolenko, but there have been some notable departures, Taras Mykhalyk (Loko Moscow), Admir Mehmedi (Freiburg) and Raffael (Gladbach). Dynamo were however boosted by a strong showing in the “Joint Championship” winning 3 and drawing once against Spartak and Zenit so they will be hoping to build on this in what is likely to be a vital season for the Blue-Whites.
Juade Ramos’ Dnipro, like Metalist have been quiet over the summer. After challenging for the UPL silver throughout the season they faded badly in the last few weeks and were ultimately disappointed with 4th place. They had hoped to be the side to break the duopoly but it appears they have fallen further behind the top clubs. It will be important for them to start strongly and make a big impression, but much will depend on the commitment of President Ihor Kolomeyskyi who appears somewhat disillusioned with the Ukrainian game.
The middle pack will be hoping to make some ground but it will be hard work for the likes of Chornomorets and Metalurg Donetsk to seriously challenge the top four. At one point, The Sailors looked like they could challenge the top four toward the back end of last season but they ran out of steam and settled for runners-up place in the Ukrainian Cup. They have added experience in Olexiy Gai (Shakhtar) and a couple of signings from the stricken Kryvbass. They will be hoping to make an impression in Europe and be challenging for another Europa place in the coming season.
Towards the bottom of the league, it would be anticipated that last season’s bottom two, will be around their again. Metalurg Zp and Goverlya have both been reinstated to the UPL following Kryvbas’ demise and Stal’s refusal to accept promotion. Metalurg were desperately poor in the previous campaign and are likely to start heavy favourites for the drop once more, however, given their UPL lifeline they have somewhat redeveloped the squad and may put up a better challenge than in 2012/13. Hoverlya improved in the second half of the campaign, but a host of exits after their initial ‘relegation’ including coach Sevidov (who joined Karpaty) may have weakened them. Newly promoted side FC Sevastopol have been busy and may benefit from close links with Shakhtar as they will be able to loan several players from them. They also have the highly rated ex-Karpaty manager, Oleg Kononov at their helm. He led Karpaty to Europe and could help secure Sevastopol’s status in the UPL.
Karpaty Lviv are a side who may again struggle, after the highs of the Kononov era, Karpaty have been in turmoil. They survived relegation with only a few games left and over the summer transfer listed the entire squad. With some big names departures, such as Ihor Khudobyak (Rostov) and Lucas (PAOK), Oleksandr Sevidov has begun the rebuilding process. He drastically improved Hoverlya in the second half of the previous campaign and will be hoping he can use this experience to keep Karpaty away from the drop. Another Western Ukrainian side who may struggle are Volyn. They are another side with financial worries and they will be hoping that they do not follow Kryvbass out of business. With the rumour mill flying they will hope that their football can do the talking and they can stay away from the drop zone.
Another side who struggled last season where Vorskla who suffered from high profile departures, they will be hoping to return to the footsteps of Europe where they were a few years back under Mykola Pavlov. Pavlov meanwhile, will be looking to build on the solid mid-table finish with Illichivets and hope to push on, as will Arsenal, who are vocally targeting the Europa League. Tavriya Simferopol, who feature in the seasons opening game replace manager Oleh Luzhnyi during the off-season as they pine for the return to consistent form and become a force again in Ukrainian football.