The fact that the Ukrainian Premier League this season, which continues on Monday after a winter break, is remembered by the fact that competition is played in the background as well as football, is in keeping with the audacious spirit of Ukraine as it struggled against the Russian occupation. fight.

For the first time in over 30 years, the title seems to go somewhere other than any of Ukraine’s traditional football powerhouses. Shakhtar Donetsk And Dynamo KyivSC Dnipro-1 took a weak but important lead at the top in the second half of the season.

Here, the PA news agency considers the nation’s most fascinating title race in a generation before the league restarted.

Who are SC Dnipro-1?

Hailing from the eastern industrial city of Dnipro (formerly Dnipropetrovsk), the club was formed only in 2017, replacing the bankrupt FC Dnipro, who was the surprise runner-up of the Europa League two years earlier and lost to Sevilla in the final.

The current incarnation entered the winter break with a five-point lead over Shakhtar and champions Dynamo. Kyivpartly thanks to the goal-scoring adventures of the league’s leading striker, Artem Dovbyk.

The 25-year-old’s defining moment so far was when he scored for Ukraine against Sweden at Hampden Park and won his country the Euro 2020 quarter-finals, but SC Dnipro’s history, an unprecedented title this season, would have eclipsed that.

Their head coach is Kiev-born former Shakhtar defender Oleksandr Kucher. First time since 1992.

Shakhtar and Dynamo Kyiv still in the race?

  1. Dnipro-1 – 35 points (14 matches played)
  2. Shakhtar Donetsk – 30 points (13 games)
  3. Dynamo Kiev – 30 points (15 games)
  4. Zorya – 28 points (15 games)
  5. Oleksandriya – 24 points (13 games)

Definitely. The duo are in second and third places, five points behind Dnipro, but Shakhtar has two matches against their rivals in the capital, and most importantly, there is a match with the leaders where they can cut the difference to two points.

Considering the history and Dnipro still have to face Shakhtar in almost the last week of the season, it can be said that Shakhtar is the title to lose. Their 2-1 loss to the leaders in November was their only domestic loss of the season, and their leaving the competition last season robbed them of their chance to reclaim the crown from Dynamo Kiev is still fresh in their memories.

As for the champions themselves, they are unlikely to underestimate a title that took five years to regain. It would be no consolation to see Mircea Lucescu’s team go to Dnipro instead of their arch-rivals in Donetsk if his team fails.

If Dnipro and Dynamo are looking for reasons to be optimistic about their chances, how about the £88m hole that Shakhtar left by selling the top scorer in his attack? Mykhailo Mudryk To Chelsea?

Why is this season shaping up differently?

Since 1992, when Tavriya Simferopol took their first Vyshcha Liha title to Crimea, they have had no side other than the big two to win the league, but this season is one like no other in Ukraine.

FIFA’s decision last year to allow foreign players to suspend their contracts had the effect of somewhat leveling the playing field, especially as Shakhtar – European pioneers in the generation and development of young South American talent – had discouraged their teams.

This season, the Ukrainian league is just that, a rare example of one of Europe’s elite leagues made up almost entirely of domestic players, and has been disproportionately placed in the top two. Other clubs have inevitably lost key roster members, but like all countries, the tops choose imports and there has been a seismic jolt to the league’s competitive balance.

How did the war affect football?

The league is played without spectators for obvious safety reasons, but restrictions have also been placed on which stadiums can be used. Matches are held in the city of Kiev, the wider Kiev region, Lviv and Zakarpattia, cities far from the east of the country where the fighting is most intense.

Clubs have restructured their rosters with the majority of foreign players temporarily or completely relocated, but for Ukrainian-born players this is (almost) the usual.

The clubs continued the tradition of spending the winter holidays overseas and spent most of their time in Turkey, playing a familiar friendly match against sides from other countries where the leagues were taking a break for the winter.

Meanwhile, Dnipro and Shakhtar returned to the competition this month, playing in the European Conference League and Europa League play-offs respectively.

What other stories are there as the league prepares to restart?

The biggest story of Ukrainian football outside of the war is now two and a half years old, but it’s never less gripping – the presence of head coach Lucescu in Dynamo Kiev, who has won an eight-time championship with Shakhtar, is a haven

An appointment roughly equivalent to Manchester United Great Sir when Romanian was founded in 2020 alex ferguson The backlash from Dynamo supporters who took over Liverpool was so fierce that Lucescu tried to resign a few days later. The sides worked, and he has since added his ninth league title to the titles the club has won with their fiercest rivals, Shakhtar.