Athletic Bilbao vs Zorya Luhansk – Thursday, September 28, 18:00 BT/19:00 CET at San Mamés, Bilbao.
Zorya remain in the hunt for their elusive first victory on the road in the UEFA Europa League. In recent years Zorya have established themselves as the third power of Ukrainian football behind Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv, despite the fact, that Zorya have been forced to play their home games away from Luhansk due to the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
The conflict, in particular, has been a drain on the clubs resources and it has been only thanks to Zorya’s close economic links to Shakhtar Donetsk’s owner Rinat Akhmetov that they have been able to survive. Credit also needs to go to head coach Yuri Vernydub, who has his side play attractive football.
This season, however, Zorya had a slow start with just ten points out of the first ten points. The slow start is somewhat because Zorya have lost Shakhtar loanees Ivan Petryak and Eduard Sobol, as well as Vladyslav Kalitvintsev, who returned to Dynamo Kyiv. In their stead Zorya have brought in the Brazilians Iury (Avaí FC), Silas (Internacional Porto Alegre) and Leonidas as well as several talented players from relegated Dnipro FC.
As a result, the talented side has had some issues with chemistry at the start of the season. This weekend’s 1-1 draw against Vorskla Poltava was preceded by a 0-0 draw against Karpaty Lviv. Both those results came after a disappointing 0-2 defeat to Östersunds FK on matchday 1 of the Europa League at the Arena Lviv.
Altogether disappointing results ahead of the tough matchup against Athletic Bilbao on matchday 2 of the Europa League. Bilbao in the meantime drew Hertha 0-0 on matchday 1 of the Europa League. Currently, 11th in La Liga Athletic have been in somewhat erratic form. The result against Hertha was followed up with a 1-0 defeat to Las Palmas and a 2-1 defeat to Atlético Madrid. This weekend Athletic travelled to last-placed Malaga where they managed a 3-3 draw in what was a spectacular game. Now hosting Zorya the Basques should be the favourites, but their recent form suggests that they are a beatable side.
Athletic Bilbao vs Zorya Luhansk – Player to look out for:
Oleksandr Karavayev #20 – Zorya Luhansk
Zorya’s winger Oleksandr Karavayev is one of the former Shakhtar loanees who left the club in 2016 and was immediately against sent out on loan to Turkish giants Fenerbahçe. Karavayev, however, failed to make any impact in Turkey and was deemed surplus to the requirements of new Shakhtar manager Paulo Fonseca. He returned to Zorya, the club where he enjoyed the best spell of his career, in late August on a permanent basis. The 25-year old is one of Zorya’s most talented players and has five caps with the Ukrainian national team to his name. Karavayev is eager to return to the national fold, and an impressive run of form in the Europa League will surely earn the attention of Ukraine manager Andriy Shevchenko.
Iñaki Williams #11 – Athletic Bilbao
Iñaki Williams might be one of the most sought-after talents in European football. The winger has been linked with several top European clubs in the last two years—most recently Borussia Dortmund—and it is only thanks to his release clause of €50 million as well as Bilbao’s reputation as being a reluctant negotiation partner that Williams has remained in the Basque country. A unique forward Williams can play all three forward positions and demonstrated in Bilbao’s 3-3 draw with Malaga that he can be a dangerous finisher at times.
Athletic Bilbao vs Zorya Luhansk – Match Stats
- The sides are meeting for the first time, and it is Zorya’s first encounter with La Liga opponents.
- Athletic’s only past encounters against Ukrainian opponents were a pair of meetings with Shakhtar Donetsk in the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League group stage: a 0-0 home draw and a 1-0 win in Lviv.
- Athletic have won their last six European home games since a 2-1 loss to eventual winners Sevilla in the 2015-16 UEFA Europa League quarterfinals.
- Zorya have lost their last four UEFA away games—and failed to score in the most recent three.
- Athletic’s Aritz Aduriz was top scorer in the 2015/16 UEFA Europa League with ten goals.
Futbolgrad’s Prediction: Athletic Bilbao vs Zorya Luhansk 3-1
Athletic Bilbao vs Zorya Luhansk – Possible Lineups
Arrizabalaga – Balenziaga, Laporte, Núñez, Lekue – San José, Vesga – Córdoba, Muniain, Williams – Aduriz
Manager: Cuco Ziganda
Lunin – Sukhotsky, Svatok, Gordienko, Opanasenko – Gromov, Kharatin, Grechyshkin, Babenko, Karavayev – Iury
Manager: Yuri Vernydub
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.