Zorya vs Leipzig – Thursday, August 23, 19:30BST/20:30CEST – Slavutych Arena, Zaporizhia, Ukraine
“Even if we are not the favourites, we will give it our all against Leipzig”, Zorya head coach Yuri Vernydub explained to the media earlier this week. Zorya eliminated Portuguese side Braga with a 2-2 draw on the road after recording a 1-1 draw in the first leg at home.
In that tie, the Ukrainians were considered the outsiders, but 1971/72 Soviet Vysshaya Liga champions have made a habit of beating the apple-cart in recent years. Despite being forced into exile due to the conflict in Eastern, Ukraine Zorya have established themselves as the third power in Ukrainian football behind Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv.
At the same time, last season highlighted some of the difficulties the club faces on a day-to-day basis. Always on the road without a fan basis, Zorya finished fourth in the Ukrainian Premier League behind Vorskla Poltava last year.
Furthermore, the club lost several key players. The highly talented keeper Andriy Lunin was sold for €12.5 million to Real Madrid, defender Yevheniy Opanasenko left for Konyaspor, and striker Iury left for Al-Nasr.
Lunin’s transfer, however, also brought a much-needed cash injection to the club. Selling the keeper meant that Luhansk were able to bring in the likes of Rafal Ratão (Oeste Futebol Clube), Lenan Arveladze (Desna) and the talented Bogdan Lednev (Dynamo Kyiv).
The transition, however, has not been easy this season. Zorya had a slow start with just eight points out of the first UPL games. Furthermore, the only victory in the last five games, including the two draws against Braga, came away against Karpaty in Lviv – a club that has been struggling. Zorya’s biggest problem this season seems to be scoring goals – the club has scored just four times in five UPL games.
Hence, Zorya’s attacking line will provide very little difficulty for RB Leipzig in the Europa League playoffs. Furthermore, usually at this point of the season, post-Soviet clubs have the advantage of having played a few more competitive games than teams from Western Europe, where the leagues kick off later.
Leipzig, however, have been busy in the Europa League. Die Roten Bullen started this competition in the second round of Europa League qualification. Eliminating Swedish side Häcken 5-1 on aggregate Leipzig then kicked out Universitatea Craiova 4-2 on aggregate in the third qualification round.
Those four games allowed head coach Ralf Rangnick to experiment with the squad but also get them used to play competitive football early on. Then this weekend Leipzig eliminated Regionalliga West side Viktoria Köln in the first round of the DFB Pokal.
Rangnick has pointed out on several occasions throughout pre-season that he will heavily rotate the squad in the three competitions that Leipzig are involved in. Hence, with the DFB Pokal in mind and, the fact, that die Roten Bullen face Borussia Dortmund on Sunday in the Bundesliga expect Rangnick to rotate his team throughout the three matches heavily.
Even with the rotation, however, Leipzig have a deep squad, which could see some additions by the time the second leg comes around. Hence, anything but two decisive Leipzig results would be a major surprise.
Zorya vs Leipzig – Players to look out for:
Oleksandr Karavaev #20 – Zorya Luhansk
Oleksandr Karavaev is Zorya’s best player. Developed by Shakhtar Donetsk the 26-year-old midfielder was moved back and forward between Shakhtar and Zorya earlier on in his career. This was a time in which Zorya were a farm team of Shakhtar Donetsk. Then, during the 2016/17 season, Karavaev had an unsuccessful stint in Turkey with Fenerbahçe. Returning to Ukraine in the summer of 2017 Karavaev is Zorya’s leader on the pitch.
Yvon Mvogo #28 – RB Leipzig
Yvon Mvogo arrived last season to challenge nominal starter Peter Gulacsi. But Ralph Hasenhüttl, Leipzig’s head coach last season, left Mvogo mostly on the bench last season. Just one start in the Bundesliga was not enough for a keeper, who came in praised as the biggest goalkeeper talent in Switzerland. Mvogo even considered leaving the club this summer, but interims head coach Ralf Rangnick is determined to develop every player in the squad and to rotate heavily. Hence, Mvogo is understood to get more playing time, predominantly in the Europa League this season.
Zorya vs Leipzig – Match Stats
- This is the first time Zorya and RB Leipzig meet in a competitive fixture.
- Zorya faced Leipzig’s German rival Hertha in the group stage of the Europa League last season.
- The Ukrainians beat Hertha at home 2-1 but lost 2-0 in Berlin.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Zorya vs Leipzig – 0-3
Zorya vs Leipzig – Lineups
Makharadze – Cheberko, Svatok, Tymchyk, Vernydub – Gordienko, Kharatin, Karavaev – Khomchenovsky, Ratão, Lednev
Head Coach: Yuri Vernydub
Mvogo – Klostermann, Konaté, Orban, Laimer – Bruno, Ilsanker, Demme – Cunha, Poulsen, Bruma
Head Coach: Ralf Rangnick
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga 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.