Manuel Veth –
Mariupol vs AZ Alkmaar – Thursday, August 8, 18:00BST/19:00CEST – Stadion Chornomorets, Odessa, Ukraine
For the third time in the club’s history, Mariupol will play in the UEFA Europa League. Fourth last season the club enters the competition in the third round of the Europa League.
Together with the 2005/06 and 2015/16 season, it was the best result of the club that was formerly known as Illichevets Mariupol, named after the Illich Steel and Iron Works that are located in the city. But with the introduction of the decommunization laws in Ukraine the club was forced to change its names as the plant was named after Vladimir Lenin.
It has not been the only upheaval for Mariupol. Due to the ongoing conflict in the Donbass between Russian and Ukrainian troops, the club is forced to play its European home games in Odesa, located 623km, or nine hours and 26 minutes on bumpy Ukrainian roads, west of Mariupol.
The club’s location, in fact, has caused some consternation among other Ukrainian clubs. Dynamo Kyiv, for example, refused to play there and ultimately lost three points that, in turn, cost the club the championship. The politics aside Mariupol are a solid Ukrainian side that under head coach Oleksandr Babych have started to play in a cultured 4-3-3 formation.
Babych is one of many Ukrainian coaches that emphasises good football over tactical discipline. It is a fact that Babych, and Ukrainian football, in general, shares with the club’s Dutch opponent AZ Alkmaar.
Alkmaar under head coach Arne Slot opened the season with a spectacular 4-0 victory over Fortuna Sittard. The two times Eredivisie champions—the club won the last title in 2009 when Louis van Gaal was in charge—finished last season in fourth place to qualify for the second round of Europa League qualifying.
There Alkmaar convincingly eliminated Swedish side Häcken. Like Mariupol, Alkmaar like to play in a typical Dutch 4-3-3, and with 64 goals scored in 34 games, the club had the fifth-most goals in the Eredivisie last year. Hence, we can expect a wide-open game on Thursday, which overall should favour the Dutch, who will also have the bonus that Mariupol will not be able to rely on home support in Odesa.
Mariupol vs AZ Alkmaar – Players to look out for:
Valerii Fedorchuk #25 – Mariupol
Valerii Fedorchuk is the most experienced player in a side that mostly consists of youth players and academy players loaned out from Shakhtar Donetsk. The former U21 national team player looks back at a career that includes stints all over Ukraine, where he played 185 games in the Ukrainian Premier Liha but also time in neighbouring Latvia.
Teun Koopmeiners #8 – AZ Alkmaar
Captain Teun Koopmeiners anchors Alkmaar’s midfield. Born in Amsterdam, the central midfielder is at the centre of AZ’s three-man midfield. Able to play several positions the 21-year-old has increased his market value to €5 million since first bursting on the scene in 2017 and has managed ten appearances for the Dutch U21 side, which he also captains.
Mariupol vs AZ Alkmaar – Match Stats
- The two clubs have never played each other.
- Mariupol face Dutch opposition for the first time in history and have never advanced beyond the third round of Europa League qualifying.
- AZ Alkmaar have never faced Mariupol but faced Shakhtar Donetsk (W2), Dynamo Kyiv (L2), Dnipro (W1), Metalist Kharkiv (D2) in the past.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Mariupol vs AZ Alkmaar – 0-3
Mariupol vs AZ Alkmaar – Lineups
Khudzhamov – Bykov, Chobotenko, Yavorskyi, Kyriukhantsev – Mishniov, Chekh, Fedorchuk – Churko, Kashchuk, Vakula
Head Coach: Oleksandr Babych
Bizot – Wijndal, Wuytens, Vlaar, Sugawara – Midtsjö, Koopmeiners, Ouwejan – Idrissi, Boadu, Stengs
Head Coach: Arne Slot
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others contributes to Forbes.com and Pro Soccer USA. He holds 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 is available HERE. 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.