With the reformatting of the Ukrainian Premier League and reducing the size to 14 teams, Round 7 has taken us past the 1/4 mark – so it is time to have a look at what we have learnt so far.
Shakhtar came into the season once again, following five successive league titles, as favourites. The summer proved difficult due to the war in the Donbas region and this affected Shakhtars recruitment and unsettled some foreigners in the side. However over the first few weeks of the season this was not evident. The Pitmen defeated Dynamo in the season curtain raising Super Cup and followed it up with six straight league victories raising expectations that they would once again race away from the chasing pack and claim the league title. These results included comprehensive victories against Olimpik and Illichivets as Shakhtar seemed to pick up from where they left last season. Although not recruiting significantly, returning forward Olexandr Gladkyi has hit the ground running and is linking with his team mates with confidence and has this far scored five goals. This form has seen him recalled to the national side for the first time since 2009. In Round 7 however, Shakhtar produced a very lacklustre “home” performance (the game was played at the NTK V Bannikov in Kyiv) against Zorya Luhansk and were deservedly beaten. Some players seemed to lack motivation for the game, in particular Brazil international Bernard, this will no doubt unleash the fury of Mircea Lucescu. This poor performance raised a few questions and suggested that Shakhtar may not be as invincible as first feared.
The team to capitalise most from Shakhtars defeat and the side that leads the UPL is Myron Markevychs‘ FC Dnipro. Six wins and a draw from the opening seven rounds and Dnipro set the pace. This included resounding victory’s over Metalist, Olimpik and Karpaty and promotes hopes that Markevych can take FC Dnipro a level further and mount a fully blown assault on the title after last seasons silver medal. Dnipro have retained a strong defensive line, keeping five clean sheets and have had a lethal touch upfront (Bruno Gama and Nikolai Kalinic among the top scorers) which has seen them leapfrog Shakhtar into top spot. “The Warriors of Light” will be hoping to continue their good form through October before they face Shakhtar and Dynamo in November.
Dynamo Kyiv are also performing well. They may appear to have been slightly lacklustre in some games and suffered some shock draws to Olimpik and Zorya – but they still find themselves only two points off top spot. Serhiy Rebrov has entrusted academy graduates into Dynamo’s starting line-up with the likes of Vladysklav Kalytvyntsev, Serhiy Sydrorchuk and Serhiy Rybalka getting significant game time. Another academy graduate who is capitalising on his game time is Artem Kravets. He was thrust into the limelight as Diemerci Mbokani was ruled out until November and Ideye Brown was sold to West Brom of the English Premier League. Kravets has scored five so far this season and is putting himself in the face of Myhaylo Fomenko and on the door step of a Ukraine recall. Dynamo haven’t been performing at the maximum level but they are slowly getting to grips with Rebrov’s style and should other championship competitors slip-up, Dynamo will be there to capitalise.
Metalist are still suffering from the effects of Ukraine’s revolution and Serhiy Kurchenko has announced a change in the clubs stratergy. They will move away from the policy of recruiting international stars and will instead focus on developing youth players. Ihor Rakhayev’s reign as coach appears will not reach the high levels of Metalist’s recent Premier League performances. Metalist are currently in 10th and are suffering from inconsistency. Last season’s other European places went to Chornomorets and Zorya. Roman Grygorchuks Chornomorets have continued their consistent performances of last season to be once again in the running for European place. Zorya have also produced some good results, including their win over Shakhtar and a draw to Dynamo, but they have also suffered from some disappointing results. Their early form was likely hampered by their Europa League qualifiers but they will be hopeful to improve their form and rise up the league.
Vorskla currently occupy 4th position in the league and have been boosted by the superb form of Artem Gromov, who has since received his first international cap. Vorskla have faced the top three sides in the league and only obtained one point in those fixtures, but ten in their other four fixtures keeping three clean sheets in the process. If they continue this good form they could be on course for a return to the Europa League for the first time since 2011/12.
Olimpik Donetsk have been the biggest conundrum in the league so far. They have suffered three crushing defeats against Chornomorets, Shakhtar and FC Dnipro, but in their other games they have excelled. They have defeated Metalurg Donetsk, Hoverlya and Zorya and earned a quiet memorable draw against Dynamo Kyiv. They were expected to fiercely battle relegation but if they can continue their form, they may steer clearly comfortably, especially given that only one side will be relegated this term.
Illichivets are the side currently at the foot of the table as they are another side suffering form the state of war as Marioupol is on the front line. Illichivets have had a high player turnover but have suffered more departures than arrivals a fact picked up on by Mykola Pavlov. He is still searching for players but admits the situation is likely to deteriorate for Illichivets before it gets better. The Azoz Seasiders have failed to win so far this season, but they are not too far adrift as to be completely written off just yet. Hoverlya have also failed to record a victory but it appears only a matter of time before they record a victory. Hoverlya’s Maxym Shatskikh has levelled Serhiy Rebrov’s UPL goal scoring record and few would bet against him becoming the all-time UPL top goalscorer before long. Karpaty are the other side at the bottom, they have recorded a victory however they may be facing the prospect of a three point deduction as a result of a breach of contract with Martyn Bogatinov, which could see them drop to the bottom level with Illichivets. Metalurg Zaporizhya have battled against the drop for the previous few seasons but have already matched their number of wins from last season. They will be hoping that they can continue their improvement and re-establish themselves as a midtable side.
Volyn and Metalurg Donetsk are the two sides occupying the middle of the table. Volyn will be quietly happy that they have started the season so solidly and that they will hopefully avoid a relegation battle, despite continued off the field woes. Metalurg D will be still hoping to find their feet and push towards another top 5 finish, yet they will no doubt still be disappointed with UEFA’s ruling to exclude them from the Europa League for breaching FFP rules. They have also not been able to rely on the goal scoring heroics of Junior Moraes, who got 19 goals last term.
Ukrainian Premier League Table –
*Karpaty deducted 3 points due to breach of contract with Martyn Bogatinov.
Article by Peter Chymera, Vice-President of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club and co-founder of the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame. Follow Peter on twitter – @PMChymera89