Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
It’s a lovely little trip out east to Ukraine for Bobby Mancini and fans from the blue half of Manchester today for their Europa League tie with Dynamo Kyiv.
‘Tis a wonderful city. If you do happen to be in Ukraine’s capital, make sure you pop by and visit Rodina Mat and Pechersk Lavra, and for goodness’ sake wrap up warm at the Valeriy Lobanovskiy Dynamo Stadium; it’s parky out in Kyiv today.
TRAVEL: Mark's FourFourTwo guide to Kyiv
Anyway, here’s the lowdown on City’s Ukrainian opponents.
1) Huzzah for the Second ComingNot the second Stone Roses album, which wasn't their best work, was it? And after it took all that time to hit the shops. No, Never Mind the Bolsheviks is talking about Yuri Semin’s return to Kyiv.
Ihor Surkis was a president who came bearing gifts at Christmas, giving Bilo-syni fans just what they wanted by delivering them their old gaffer on December 24th – albeit not in a big red Santa outfit, sadly. It’s the Russian’s second spell as Dynamo numero uno, and since Valeri Gazzaev buggered off back to Alania Vladikavkaz, they’ve been decidedly more chipper in Kyiv.
Semin won the Premier League title with Dynamo in 2009, before leaving to have another bash at managing Lokomotiv Moskva. The 63-year-old did rather well in Russia, steering the Railwaymen into the Europa League places – and he’d still be in Moscow had there not been an almighty ding-dong between him and Loko president Olga Smorodskya. “I don’t have any conflict with Olga Smorodskaya," said Semin. "She’s the one who has a conflict with football.” Ouch.
In that title-winning year Dynamo made it to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup, dumping out Valencia and Paris Saint-Germain along the way, only to lose out to their rivals Shakhtar Donetsk. It’s played 20, won nine, drew seven and lost four while Semin has been at the helm of Dynamo on the continent.
And before you pipe up with the man-juice jokes, it’s pronounced “syomin”.
2) Dynamo have looked fresh since retuning the winter breakIn their three games since Ukrainian football returned from its winter hols in Turkey, Dynamo have won the lot and haven’t shown any signs of being ring-rusty. Semin masterminded scrumdiddlyumptious 4-1 and 4-0 tonkings over Beşiktaş in the previous round of the Europa League, and at the weekend Dynamo recorded a very comfortable 2-0 away win in Donetsk over Shakhtar’s cross-city chums/rivals, Metalurh.
That makes it nine matches unbeaten, and their veteran man in nets Oleksandr Shovkovskiy clocked up his 178th Premier League clean sheet on Saturday, too.
3) It’s something resembling a 4-4-2… probablyAgainst Beşiktaş Semin had them playing a 4-4-2 with Ongjen Vukojević and Roman Eremenko (top of the assists chart in the Europa League, thank you very much) in the middle, with Oleh Gusev on the right and the very exciting 21-year-old Andriy Yarmolenko on the left. Artem Milevskiy will lead the line, with Andriy Shevchenko off him.
That said, Semin might opt for something a little more cautious to counter City’s attacking threat. Plus, Sheva missed the game in Donetsk, but NMTB would be very surprised if he isn’t starting tonight.
4) Artem Milevskiy’s the main man up topIf Mancini’s been swotting up on Dynamo, he’ll know the Minsk-born Ukrainian international is going to be a real handful for his defence.
Milevskiy is an interesting character and didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Gazzaev, but he’s someone who Semin gets the best out of, and on his day the 26-year-old is a top forward. Tall, he’s an out-and-out striker and scored five times in the group stages, but hasn’t found the back of the net since. He’s a due a goal, then.
5) Dynamo will also have a central defender missingTaras Mikhalik buggered his knee in the first leg against Beşiktaş and hasn’t played a part in Dynamo’s past two fixtures. The good news for the Ukrainian international is that he doesn’t require an operation as the club initially suspected, but tonight’s game will come too soon for the 27-year-old and Mikhalik will sit this one out.
Leandro Almeida also missed the Metalurh fixture; he will return to partner Ayila Yussef at the heart of the defence. Yevhen Khacheridi deputised in his absence at the weekend. Georgi Popov will start on the left and Danilo Silva down the right to complete the back four.
6) Sheva’s still got itHe might not be the Andriy Shevchenko of days gone by, but write the 34-year-old off at your peril. He scored in both matches against Beşiktaş, bringing his total in Europe to 66 – 24 of them for Dynamo, putting him ahead of club legend Maxim Shatskikh and level with fellow Ballon d’Or winner Oleh Blokhin.
After his dismal spell at Chelsea, how Shevchenko would love a goal tonight to show English fans he’s still a force. (For those into their stats: Sheva's old strike partner Serhiy Rebrov leads Dynamo's European goalscoring charts with 30.)
7) No yellow cards for Dynamo please, Mr RefereeShevchenko, Milevskiy, Eremenko, Khacheridi and Roman Zozulya (plus Mikhalik) are all a booking away from missing the second leg at the City of Manchester Stadium next week.
8) Semin wants revenge for 1999Semin twice won the title with Lokomotiv Moskva, but he wasn't able to get his hands on a European trophy. He could have, had it not been for that blasted Mancini: in 1999 City’s manager was part of the Lazio team that dumped the Russians out of the Cup Winners’ Cup at the semi-final stage, denying them a first appearance in a major European final.
9) Dynamo are due some success against an English opponentThat’s NMTB trying to put a positive spin on Dynamo’s pretty dismal record against English teams: played 18, won three, drew five, lost 10 is how it reads and they’ve been defeated in both of their previous fixtures in Manchester (against United) without scoring.
Dynamo have lost eight times and drew once in England. On home turf it’s slightly better; only Manchester United and Liverpool have won there in nine visits from English sides.
10) City are damn lucky Oleksandr Aliyev is ineligibleWise men protect their crown jewels when Oleksandr Aliyev is lining up a free-kick. This boy can hit a football like you wouldn't believe. When Semin swapped Kyiv for Moscow, he took with him Dynamo’s star midfielder Oleksandr Aliyev, another player whom he’d been able to get the best out of where others had failed and, at least on the field, the Ukrainian international’s first season in Russia was a big success.
With his boss’s departure, however, Aliyev himself began angling for a move – specifically back to Ukraine to join Semin – and things turned very ugly with our friend Olga Smorodskaya. Aliyev scored 14 times in 25 games for Lokomotiv last year, but sealed a move back to Dynamo just before the transfer window closed. He’ll be a real asset for the club; it’s just where the dickens everyone will fit in.
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