After comfortably winning the league title for the fourth year in a row, Shakhtar Donetsk are now firmly ensconced as the top club in Ukrainian football. Led by Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu, who has been involved in virtually all their triumphs over the past decade, Shakhtar dominated the 2012/13 campaign, leading from beginning to end and finishing a whole 13 points clear of their nearest pursuers.
And while the champions would live up to their tag of pre-season favourites, the country’s most successful team, Dynamo Kyiv, left fans disenchanted after failing to finish in the top two and missing out on the UEFA Champions League for the first time in 20 years. Even more surprisingly, Dynamo's most recent campaign coincided with the return of legendary coach Oleg Blokhin, who stepped down as Ukraine boss in September 2012 in order to take the job.
Instead, for the first time in the history of the Ukrainian Premier League, runners-up spot went to Metalist Kharkiv. Under the tutelage of Myron Markevych, the club finally broke up the Dynamo-Shakhtar duopoly after finishing third behind the big two for the previous six seasons. Now the outfit from Kharkiv are preparing to make their debut in the Champions League, starting in the qualifying rounds.
Stand-out playersHenrikh Mkhitaryan (Shakhtar Donetsk*), 24. *An Armenian international and defensive midfielder, Mkhitaryan moved to Shakhtar Donetsk in August 2010. Though nominally an enforcer in a side where Brazilians have traditionally set the tone going forward, Mkhitaryan had people talking about his creative skills during the 2011/12 campaign, when he scored ten league goals and was voted the club's player of the year. That was not altogether surprising, given that, aged 14, Henrikh spent time at Brazilian giants Sao Paulo, where he played alongside the likes of Lucas Moura, Hernanes, Oscar and Denilson.
During the 2012/13 season, the Armenian's goalscoring talents blossomed even further, with his 26 goals not only topping the charts and setting a new league record, but also matching the club record set by the legendary Vitaliy Starukhin. Understandably, several top European clubs are keen to acquire his signature, even if Shakhtar are hopeful that Mkhitaryan will still be on board when they embark on their Champions League adventure next season.
Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk), 28. One of the older members of Shakhtar's sizeable Brazilian contingent, midfielder Fernandinho had much more modest stats – two goals and six assists – to show for his season’s work. For all that, the contribution of this cerebral and passionate player to the club’s recent success cannot be understated, especially after his compatriot Willian left to join Russia's Anzhi Makhachkala.
Cleiton Xavier (Metalist Kharkiv), 30. A key protagonist for this season’s runners-up, Xavier also finished the campaign as the club’s top striker, with 15 goals and six assists to this name. A classic No10, Xavier has been so adept this season as the team’s orchestrator-in-chief that fans quickly forgot the departure of fellow Brazilian Taison to Shakhtar during the winter break.* *
Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kyiv), 23. *Given that this season was Dynamo's most disappointing in 20 years, the progress of a youngster who has come up through the ranks brought some welcome consolation to supporters. Without Yarmolenko's contribution, including 11 goals and five assists, Dynamo would likely have struggled to defeat Borussia Monchengladbach to qualify for the group stage of the 2012/13 Champions League and subsequently go on to finish third in the league. Normally played on the left wing for the Ukrainian national team as well as Dynamo, Yarmolenko is one of his country’s best hopes for the future. *
Key moments*15 July 2012. *In the first round of Premier League matches, Shakhtar host Arsenal Kyiv and emphatically defeat them 6-0. The win takes them straight to the top of the table on goal difference, where they remain for the rest of the season. Another 14 straight wins then follow before they drop their first points of the season, away to Arsenal on Matchday 16.
24 September 2012. Dynamo Kyiv sack manager Yuri Semin after a series of disappointing results. Although the capital side have only lost two league matches up until then – a 1-0 defeat to lowly Vorskla and a 3-1 reverse at the home of arch-rivals Shakhtar – a rout at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and, more crucially, a 4-1 loss to Shakhtar in Ukrainian Cup prove his undoing.
After appointing Blokhin as his replacement, Dynamo drop another eight points in their next four games, a spell that includes losses to direct rivals Metalist and Dnipro, leaving them trailing Shakhtar by all of 14 points.
1 February 2013. Shakhtar sell star player Willian to Anzhi for a reported 35 million Euros in what is the most expensive signing of Europe’s January transfer window. To replace him, Shakhtar bring in fellow Brazilian Taison from Metalist. The upheaval does not affect Shakhtar's domestic form, although shortly afterwards they do crash out of the Champions League in the Round of 16 to eventual finalists Borussia Dortmund.
*7 April 2013. *Shakhtar beat Dynamo 2-1 in Kyiv in what is their first win at Dynamo since 2004/05 and the first time in five years they have scored in an away game against their fierce rivals. Shakhtar's top striker, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, nets both goals. Three weeks later, on 28 April, Shakhtar secure their eighth title with four games to spare.
3 May 2013. Metalist Kharkiv prevail 2-0 in a crunch meeting with Dynamo and move to second in the table. Metalist's top forwards, Cleiton Xavier and Marko Devic, the latter just back at the club after an unproductive spell at Shakhtar, both find a way past Dynamo's young goalkeeper, Maksym Koval. Two matches later, Myron Markevych's team secure a second-place finish guaranteeing them Champions League football next season.
Honours*Qualified for the Champions League: *Shakhtar Donetsk, Metalist Kharkiv (third qualifying round)
*Qualified for the Europa League: *Dynamo Kyiv, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Metallurg Donetsk and FK Chornomorets Odesa
*Relegated to Ukrainian League One: *Hoverla Uzhhorod and Metallurg Zaporozhye
*Promoted to the Ukrainian Premier League: *FC Sevastopol and Stal Alchevsk