Vadim Furmanov –
Futbolgrad’s Ukrainian Premier League roundup from matchday 16 focuses on Dnipro vs Shakhtar, and the different path the rivals have taken this season.
In the past decade of Ukrainian football, any encounter Dnipro vs Shakhtar would have been the central match of the week. In recent years Dnipro had even become something of a bogey team for Shakhtar. Before Saturday the Miners had not won away against Dnipro in over five years. Last season Dnipro defeated Shakhtar in both fixtures, and for Shakhtar the lost six points effectively ruled them out of the title race, despite dominating champions Dynamo in their head-to-head matchups.
This year, however, this match felt like any other fixture destined to become a routine victory for league-leaders Shakhtar. Dnipro’s seemingly irreversible decline has seen them drop off from perennial contenders for European football to a relegation battle, a situation exacerbated by the point deductions which the club has received for unpaid debts.
Shakhtar’s first golden opportunity to go in front at the Dnipro Arena came in the 24th minute, when the linesman decided that Maksym Lopyryonok’s clumsy challenge on Viktor Kovalenko was enough to warrant a penalty. Shakhtar could not convert, as Marlos saw his effort parried away by Dnipro’s 17-year old goalkeeper Andriy Lunin. It was the first missed penalty of the Brazilian’s career.
Later in the first half Shakhtar would take the lead and double it within a three minute timespan. In the 36th minute Kovalenko headed a cross from Yaroslav Rakitskyi past the stranded Lunin at point blank range. Three minutes later it was again Kovalenko on the score sheet, as he calmly chipped the keeper after Eduardo’s ball put him through on goal. The move for Shakhtar’s second goal began with a disastrous error by Dnipro in their own box. The second half saw little of note, and Shakhtar left Dnipro with their first away victory over the home side since August of 2011.
The result of the match is reflective of the two clubs’ respective fates thus far this season. Shakhtar remain undefeated in the league, having claimed 44 out of a possible 48 points and opened up an eight-point gap over second-place Dynamo Kyiv. As for their European form, after the initial disappointment of getting eliminated from the Champions League before the group stage, Shakhtar have taken the Europa League by storm.
They have outscored opponents 17-3 and have won all five of their fixtures so far, and are surely one of the early favorites in the competition. No side in the competition has a better goal difference, and domestically Shakhtar have scored more and conceded less than every other team in the league. Heavily criticized after Shakhtar were shockingly knocked out of the Champions League by Swiss side Young Boys on penalties, first-year manager Paulo Fonseca has seemingly built a formidable side that look more than capable of success on multiple fronts.
Dnipro’s fortunes could not be more different. When asked in an interview about the possibility of Dnipro beginning to pay off their debts, the club’s general director Andriy Stetsenko refused to answer, responding simply “next question.” Stetsenko went on to assure fans that Dnipro would not suffer the same fate as rivals Metalist Kharkiv and that the city would not be left without a Ukrainian Premier League club, while also admitting that the club would play in the first league if relegated. The “concrete plan for development” mentioned by Stetsenko is unlikely to ease the minds of supporters.
Ukrainian Premier League – Talking Points
- Andriy Yarmolenko snapped a nearly 1,200 minute-long scoreless streak with a 45th minute tap-in to put Dynamo 2-1 in from over Volyn in Lutsk. This was Yarmolenko’s 84th goal in the Ukrainian Premier League, one more than current manager Andriy Shevchenko and tenth on the all-time charts. Only Maksim Shatskikh and Serhiy Rebrov have scored more goals for Dynamo in the Ukrainian top flight. Junior Moraes added a hat trick as Dynamo comfortably defeated Volyn 4-1 in front of an empty stadium—the home side were serving a stadium ban for Neo-Nazi displays and chanting by their supporters earlier this month.
- Karpaty Lviv have looked somewhat better in recent weeks, but were denied what would have been an impressive victory over Zorya by a 90th minute free kick from Zeljko Ljubenović. These dropped points mean that Zorya have fallen further behind Dynamo in second place but are still comfortable in the top half of the table, which will qualify them for the championship round in the new format. Karpaty, with just five points from 16 matches (made worse by a six point deduction), are destined for the relegation round.
- In an unlikely battle of two sides firmly in competition for a spot in the championship round, 5th place FC Oleksandriya were unable to make up ground on 4th place Olimpik Donetsk following a 1-1 draw at home. The result suits the visitors better, but both clubs will be pleased with their current position.
- In another matchup between sides hoping to finish the first round in the top six and compete for European football in the spring, Chornomorets Odessa recovered from conceding in the 3rd minute and fought back to record an impressive 2-1 victory over Zirka Kropyvnytskyi. With 22 points, Chornomorets are now in sixth place, three points clear of Vorskla with five matchdays to go until the split between the championship and relegation rounds.
Vadim Furmanov is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Originally from Ukraine, Vadim has resided in Chicago since 1994 and is a passionate supporter of both Dynamo Kyiv and the Ukrainian national team. He is also a Chicago Fire season ticket holder and a member of the Fire’s Section 8 supporters group. He writes primarily about Ukrainian football, as well as the intersection between football, politics, and history. You can follow Vadim on Twitter @vfurmanov.