UPL – Ukrainian Derby Preview (04/08/2013).

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Despite the duopoly finally having been broken last season by Metalist, it is still the games between Shakhtar and Dynamo which attract most interest in the Ukrainian Premier League. The rivalry over the years has always been their but the past decade has seen the fixture become one of the biggest in Eastern European football. This is the first Ukrainian derby of the season and despite it only being the 4th round of the 2013/14 UPL, both sides will be keen to gain an upper hand on their rivals. The game will also prove a step up in class for both sides in terms of the opposition they have faced so far, and will help prepare both sides for their upcoming european campaigns.

Shakhtar come into the game with a 100% record sitting top of the pile. They may not have been at their sparkling best so far this season but they have produced results and that is what matters at the end of the day. Opening with a comfortable victory in the Super Cup against Chornomorets, Shakhtar have since dispensed of Hoverlya (2:0), Sevastopol (3:1) and Chornomorets again (1:0). The games have not been as straight forward as many had predicted, in particular with Sevastopol until Shakhtar finally took control in the latter stages of the game. There is a general expectation that Shakhtar can still find another level and what better date to find that, than against your bitter rivals?

Shakhtar will not be taking the game lightly despite having won the previous 5 Ukrainian derbies and Dynamo not have won or even registered a point at The Donbas Arena. After the victory (in the league) over Chornomorets, Shakhtar defender Serhiy Kryvtsov commented on how Mircea Lucescu has already told the players to switch focus to the game against Dynamo and stressed that there is hard work ahead for the Miners. Lucescu himself admitted the only positive he has taken from the victory over Chornomorets is the three points. He will be keen to keep up the good recent form Shakhtar have had in the fixture but will be wary of this new look Dynamo and the challenges they will provide.

Dynamo’s start to the campaign has not been as successful as Shakhtar’s. An opening day draw at home to Volyn (1:1) raised questions about Oleh Blokhin‘s side. They have since however won their next two games beating Hoverlya (2:1) and Sevastopol (2:0) and in particular against Sevastopol seemed to find more fluidity. It has been a very busy transfer window for Dynamo with Ihor Surkis commenting that it may have been their best ever. The new players still have to gel but the form of Diermerici Mbokani is a positive that Dynamo will look to build on. Dynamo will also be able to call on their latest signing Alex Dragovic and it will be interesting to see if Blokhin is prepared to throw his new man in the deep end and straight into action against Dynamo’s great rivals.

One blow that Dynamo have suffered is that their Ukrainian midfielder Denys Harmash will be unavailable for the fixture. He has this week undergone an operation on a meniscus injury which could see him out of action for a few months. This isn’t just a blow for Dynamo, but for the Mykaylo Fomenko who will be unable to call upon Harmash for Ukraine’s crucial World Cup Qualifier against England.

One battle on the field which could be particularly interesting is between the fullbacks Darijo Srna and Benoit Tremulians. Both players love to get forward and this could be an area of the pitch where strengths and weaknesses could collide, Tremulians only mad ehis debut against Sevastopol but drew plaudits for his performance. The pairing of Tremulians and Jeremy Lens have the potential to cause real headaches for Shakhtar, but at the same time Srna and co. will be ready to exploit any gaps should Dynamo be overly attacking.

One talking point before kick off is the appointment of Viktor Shvetsov as referee. Shvetsov was the only Ukrainian official to be given a role at Euro 2012, albeit only as a fourth official. In the closing weeks of the previous campaign Shvetsov was widely criticized for his performance in the game between Shakhtar and Dnipro making some questionable decisions in favour of the Donetsk club. The fixture between Dynamo and Shakhtar has been marred in the past by refereeing performances and no doubt the man in the middle will be closely watched throughout the game.

It will no doubt be another sell-out as Shakhtar have announced record season ticket sales (27,000) while the interest in the game will be high enough to fill the stadium and leave many disappointed without tickets.

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