Thursday sees our return to Europa League action as the Toffees face a double-header against Ukrainian kingpins Dynamo Kyiv for a place in the Quarter Finals. Kyiv top their domestic championship which, combined with our distinctly crud form on home soil, makes the two-legged tussle with Ukraine’s finest anything but a formality. Lets take a look at the task in hand in more detail…
Currently overseeing his first season in charge as number one, Sergei Rebrov has impressively overturned last season’s 12 point deficit to arch enemies Donetsk into a 4 point advantage as the Kyiv club look to bag their 14th Ukrainian title.
Rebrov was an idol as a player at Kyiv under the stewardship of legendary coach Valeriy Lobanovskyi, bagging over 100 goals for the club in a trophy laden spell in the capital city which took the club to within an ace of a Champions League final in 1999.
A big money move to Spurs followed, however his career spiralled. A Partridge style descent into anonymity then ensued before he eventually washed up at West Ham under the stewardship of self gratifying uber snide-hawk Alan Pardew in the Championship. More titles did then follow in both Turkey and Russia before a final fling at his first love Kyiv.
He will remember Everton well having broken his Premier League scoring duck for Spurs against us!
Due to his short time in the managerial hot seat it’s difficult to deduce Rebrov’s managerial style, although he unsurprisingly credits his mentor Lobanovskyi as the key influence in his career as a number one.
Lobanvskyi’s methods involved rigid tactics, a focus on fitness, the use of scientific and statistical systems to ensure a high level of performance from his players.The system of his play was drilled into the players to ensure each squad member would know exactly what would happen in any given situation and that each player in the squad knew the roles needed in the team.
This is already evident in Rebrov’s early tinkering, with 23 players used in the EL already, including 4 different players being deployed at left back, albeit the system remains 4-3-3.
Lets take a closer look at the players at Rebrov’s disposal….
In goal Kyiv’s legendary keeper Oleksandr Schovkovskyi is most likely to keep goal. The 40 year veteran stands at 6ft 3″ and with 25 domestic titles to his name he is Kyiv’s most celebrated current player. A notoriously good penalty saver, he was first choice in the 2006 World Cup for Ukraine and his stock is underlined by a back catalogue of more than 100 ECL games . He also has a big kick in his locker and isn’t afraid to use it. Regular number one Oleksandr Rybka usually starts in the league but has been used more sparingly in the Europa League.
At the back the Croatian Domagoj Vida is a big 6ft grok who can play right across the back four. He turns like a bus and as a consequence has been booked in 4 of his 7 EL games this season. Whilst Vida is a shoe in at one of the fullback slots (probably on the right) the left back slot has been one of flux with Vida, Burda, Antunes and Oleg Gusev all having filled in this season. Gusev is the most experienced and is a useful squad player given that he is two footed and can play on either flank in defence or in midfield. Gusev is arguably more potent going forward and he both scored and assisted in the controversial return leg with Guingamp in the last round.
In the centre back slots height is aplenty. Alexsander Dragovic, a two footed Austrian is the principal ‘first pick’ centre back and is also the most comfortable of Kyiv’s defensive roster at bringing the ball out from the back. Formerly of Basle, Dragovic has been strongly linked with a big money summer move to Man United.Alongside him on the right side of centre is likely to be Brazilian Danilo Silva, another big hitter at 6ft 1″ who can play right back or centre back.
Man mountain 6ft 6″ Yevhen khacheridi has also been used alongside Dragovic this season and is a monster in the air as you’d expect of a man of his sizeable frame. If we can wheel Pienaar or Osman onto the pitch alongside Baines then you feel we could tie these big lids in knots.
Rebrov will usually go with a midfield triangle with 2 holders and 1 ‘number ten’ in front of them. Sergy Sydorchuk is usually one of the designated defensive midfielders but can also bomb forward. As per most of his colleagues, Sydorchuk is a tall, lean and robust player standing 6ft 2″ and more than capable of putting himself about. Alongside him Serhiy Rybelka is a more cultured cat, predominantly right footed and able to link defence with the forwards although he is suspended for the first leg. The slick Portuguese leftie Migel Veloso can play either holding or at 10 – and scored twice against us at the same stage whilst at Sporting Lisbon – however due to injury he could miss both legs.
Younes Belhanda is a Moroccan central midfielder and is better suited to playing free of defensive responsibility. He was sent off just 3 minutes after coming on a substitute in the away game in Guingamp so there are question marks over his temperament in the heat of the battle. 5 assists in the Ukraine league from 14 starts would suggest he’s more flamboyant and subtle than some of his taller Ukrainian colleagues. In terms of comparable players over here he is similar in style to Sigurdsson at Swansea and is certainly one to be watched. Vitaliy Buyalsky can also play at 10 and is a good passer capable of unlocking teams.. albeit he is slighter in size than his oppressive colleagues
In the forward three slots there is an abundance of pace and power. On the left Jeremain Lens usually occupies the left-wing slot and the right footed ex PSV winger has directly been involved in ten goals in eleven Ukraine league games this season. He’s good 1v1, has bags of pace and also has the brainpower to pick a through pass. Lens did come off injured in today’s league game so it’s unknown whether he will be fit to start this one – if so expect Gusev to fill in.
The rockstar of the team is Andriy Yarmolenko, a powerful right-sided forward with a great left foot. The Russian born Ukraine international has 3 goals, 5 assists and 1 red card from his 7 EL games this season, with his incision making him statistically the EL’s top creator of goals. Like his colleagues he’s also a big lad who can mix things up and Kyiv will look to play the ball long and quickly into his feet when possession is regained.
The centre forward in between the quick duo is likely to be Artem Kravets, a 6ft 2″ striker who boasts a goal ratio better than 1 in 2 this season in the Ukraine league, although he is less prolific (1 in 4) in the EL. Pretty much all his goals are tap ins or headers from close range and he provides little threat outside the box. Playing second fiddle to Kravets is Dieumerci Mbokani, a 6ft 2″ heavy hitting sort who was Kyiv’s top scorer last season in the league with 14 and for whom was linked to the Toffees in 2010 whilst at Monaco.
Kyiv represent a significant raising of the bar in comparison to Young Boys, with the margin for error in the competition now increasingly narrow.
Our opponents don’t have any of the physical weaknesses of the Swiss side and in terms of size they are considerably bigger and have the potential to overpower us. They’re also currently on an 18 game unbeaten run domestically, which includes 8 clean sheets in their last 9, so unlike us they have a habit of winning games, and are happy to win ugly
They are beatable, though, as was shown when arguably their best eleven were dismantled 3-0 by the mighty AaB of Denmark in the group phase, and at the weekend they failed to break down an even weaker opponent who played for nearly an hour with a men less. Getting anything in Kyiv will be incredibly tough, however, but I’m going for us to edge the home leg and then hold on, most likely by virtue of away goals.