Shakhtar left off right where they started, picking up three points as they begin their title defense, while Dynamo dropped points at home and already fall behind their great rivals.
Shakhtar have had a busy offseason, losing key players Fernandinho and Henrikh Mkhitaryan and acquiring no less than five new players. Only one of them, Fred, started in their opening match of the new campaign at home against Hoverla Uzhhorod, while newcomers Fernando and Facundo Ferreyra both came off the bench. Hoverla, who finished last season in the relegation zone but were granted a reprieve as a result of Kryvbas’s bankruptcy, have also made significant changes over the summer, bringing a new head coach and a multitude of new arrivals.
The defending champions were overwhelming favorites to take the three points, but the visitors caused Shakhtar problems in the first half with their relentless pressing and forced Shakhtar goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov into several impressive saves. But Shakhtar made the breakthrough early in the second half. Shakhtar’s Ukrainian Under 21 international Dmytro Hrechyskin, recently promoted from the reserves to the first team, found the corner of the net with a half-volley from outside the box. Hoverla, though, did not wilt, and continued to bravely attack Pyatov’s goal, denied an equalizer only by poor finishing and good goalkeeping. Shakhtar secured all three points one minute from time, Adriano getting on the end of Dario Srna’s cross from the right flank. Despite the result Hoverla manager Vyacheslav Hroznyi can take many positives from their performance.
Dynamo Kyiv have once again decided to spend big this transfer window, spending over 38 million euros on new players. Two of the acquisitions, Dutch striker Jeremain Lens and Congolese forward Dieumerci Mbokani, were in the starting 11 for Dynamo in their opener at home against Volyn Lutsk. Dynamo got off to a nightmare start and were behind within two minutes. Volyn’s Romanian midfielder Eric Bicfalvi sent Yaroslav Kinash through on goal with a clever defense-splitting pass, and Kinash brilliantly chipped the onrushing Oleksandr Shovkovskyi to give the visitors a shock lead. Volyn nearly doubled their advantage in the 10th minute, as Bicfalvi’s free kick struck the post. This proved to be a wake up call for Dynamo, who began to impose themselves and found the equalizer on 28 minutes. Mbokani jumped on Miguel Veloso’s deflected effort and found the corner of the net with a brilliant outside-of-the-boot finish, leaving Volyn keeper Vitaliy Nedilko with no chance. But try as they might, Dynamo could not find the winner, and despite their overall domination they failed to cause Nedilko many problems. Lens was replaced at half time by Dudu, who failed to make much of an impact, and the same can be said for another new signing, the Moroccan midfielder Younes Belhanda, who came on for Lukman Haruna in the 66th minute. Already Dynamo find themselves looking up at the table, and although it is far too early to draw any conclusions based on one match alone, it is an inauspicious start for Dynamo and manager Oleh Blokhin.
Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, 4th place finishers and Europa League qualifiers last season, had no problems in their opener, a 3-0 home victory over Arsenal Kyiv. Dnipro took the initiative from the opening minute and were rewarded in the 12th minute. Yevhen Seleznyov took advantage of a loose ball in the box following a free kick and beat Arsenal keeper Yevhen Borovyk at his near post. They doubled their advantage in the 32nd minute when the Brazilian winger Giuliano, who was having a fantastic performance, beat his man on the right flank and found Roman Zozulya at the near post. Zozulya beat his man to the ball and rolled it in past the stranded Borovyk, who was well out of position. Despite their two goal advantage Juande Ramos’s side did not take their foot off the gas and continued to create chances. Yevhen Konoplyanka, who surprisingly started on the bench, came on in the 64th minute and duly made it 3-0 ten minutes later with a deflected free kick. It was a hugely encouraging performance for Juande Ramos’s men, who faded badly down the stretch last season but will hope to challenge for Champions League football next season.
The opening match of the season on Friday night saw Tavriya Simperopol host Zorya Luhansk. Tavriya, who were banned from making any transfers due to non-compliance with contractual agreements with player agents, were unchanged from last season, while Zorya started with two players back from loan spells, the Brazilian forward Danilo the Ukrainian defensive midfielder Ihor Chaykovskyi. Tavriya did, however, start with a new face on the bench: the Greek manager Giannis Christopoulos, who was welcomed to Crimea by fans with Greek banners and flags displayed on the terraces. The star performer of the match was undoubtedly Zorya’s midfielder Dmytro Khomchenovskyi, who gave the visitors the lead with a long range curling strike in the 28th minute and secured the three points for his side in stoppage time. A poor beginning of the season by Tavriya, who will no doubt suffer the effects of their transfer embargo.
Metalurh Zaporizhya were by far the worst team in the UPL last season, winning just one match and earning 11 points, 16 points deep in the relegation zone. And yet, as a result of Kryvbas’s bakruptcy and the refusal of two teams in the First League of promotion into the Premier League, they remain in the top flight. In their opening match of the season against Illichivets Mariupol, they showed little improvement. Ruslan Fomin scored the only goal of the match in the 20th minute, taking advantage of a misplaced back pass and rounding the keeper to roll the ball into the empty net. 1-0 for Illichivets, and that is how it remained throughout the 90 minutes. Metalurh did have a few chanced, but were never able to find an equalizer. They will have to drastically improve their performances, as it is highly unlikely that they will once again stay in the Premier League by way of a miracle if they finish in the relegation zone.
Karpaty Lviv lost their first match 2-0 at home to Vorskla Poltava. Karpaty have a new manager, Oleksandr Sevidov, and signed several new players from new now-defunct Kryvbas, but showed little improvement from last year’s disappointing campaign. The fans at the mostly empty stadium unveiled a banner that said “how you play is how we support you.” The hosts should have taken the lead in the 9th minute. Following a flick on from a corner, but captain Andriy Tkachuk send his header over the bar from two yards out, with the goal gaping! They were punished in the 22nd minute. Oleh Mishchenko took the credit, but replays showed that it was Karpaty defender Andriy Savchenko who redirected the ball into his own net. Six minutes after half time the visitors doubled their advantage via Albanian striker Ahmed Yanuzi, who calmly finished after finding himself one one one with the keeper. Judging on this performance, it is unlikely that Karpaty will have convince the fans to come out in droves this season.
FC Sevastopol, the only promoted team from last season, held Chornomorets Odessa to a 1-1 draw at home. Chornomorets were awarded a penalty in the 38th minute. A flurry of activity in the box saw the ball cleared off the line, but eventually Yevhen Neplyakh was adjudged to have handled the ball while attempting to block Sergey Samodin’s header. Elis Bakaj put away the penalty to give the visitors the lead, but Sevastopol equalized four minutes later. Oleksandr Kovpak beat his man and put away a near post header following a corner. There were no goals in the second half, and both sides take a share of the spoils.
Monday night’s match, the last of first round, saw Metalish Kharkiv take on Metalurh Donetsk. Metalist broke the Dynamo-Shakhtar hegemony last year and earned a Champions League qualifying spot, while Metalurh also had a rather impressive season and qualified for the Europa League. Both sides, then, came into the season full of optimism, although Metalist will be without injured star midfielder Cleiton Xavier for several months. This was an exciting match, with both sides creating plenty of chances, but in the end the match was decided by one goal. Marco Devic took a pass from Jonathan Cristaldo and unleashed a fierce drive just under the crossbar, giving Metalist the lead in the 77th minute. Metalurh were unable to find an equalizer, and Metalist took all three points.
It is way too early on in the season to draw any kind of conclusions from the first round of matches. Shakhtar started off the season with a victory, but we have yet to see if the newcomers can adequately replaced the departed stars. While it is too early to panic, Dynamo fans will be worried about their meek performance and whether the new arrivals can flourish. Dnipro, meanwhile, looked very solid in their thrashing of Arsenal, and though only Metalist emerged with the victory both they and Metalurh look to build on their impressive performances from last season.
Tavriya Simferopol 0-2 Zorya Luhansk
Metalurh Zaporizhya 0-1 Illichivets Mariupol
Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk 3-0 Arsenal Kyiv
Karpaty Lviv 0-2 Vorskla Poltava
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 Hoverla Uzhhorod
Dynamo Kyiv 1-1 Volyn Lutsk
FC Sevastopol 1-1 Chornomorets Odessa
Metalist Kharkiv 1-0 Metalurh Donetsk
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