The second half of the Ukrainian Premier League season is now just over six weeks away and title contenders FC Dynamo Kyiv and FC Shakhtar Donetsk are busy preparing for what promises to be an absorbing spring campaign.
With the exception of FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, all the top-flight teams have now returned to training with Dynamo and Shakhtar enjoying the most exotic backdrop as they hold their midwinter camps in the United Arab Emirates. Dynamo currently enjoy the initiative in the league thanks to a three-point lead at the summit, but they have yet to make any additions to their squad, although striker Otar Martsvaladze and midfielder Taras Mikhalik are both on trial.
It is very much a two-horse race in the Premier League, with champions Shakhtar a massive 16 points clear of third-placed FC Illychivets Mariupil. The only Ukrainian club still competing in Europe this spring, much of Shakhtar's success has been built on a miserly defence that has leaked just eight goals in 19 league games, although Mircea Lucescu's side's did concede twice in a friendly draw against FC Moskva.
They are not resting on their laurels, however, after signing Ukraine Under-21 goalkeeper Bohdan Shust of FC Karpaty Lviv. Adrian Pukanych has also returned to Shakhtar from a loan spell at Illychivets, whose squad has dwindled during the winter break. Serhiy Gribanov, Andriy Boiko, Serhiy Pivnenko and Serhiy Kuznetsov have all departed, with only striker Konstantin Babich joining from FC Arsenal Kyiv.
Zé Elias pursuit
Fourth-placed FC Metalurh Donetsk have also lost key players, with Serhiy Shyschenko joining FC Lokomotiv Moskva and Oleksander Alekseenko replacing Babich at Arsenal. Metalurh have made inroads into the transfer market themselves though, signing Armen Hakobyan, while they are also leading the race for former FC Internazionale Milano midfielder Zé Elias.
There have also been two coaching changes in Ukraine this winter, with the highly-regarded Oleg Protasov returning to his homeland to take the helm at Dnipro as the outfit look to push for a European spot. FC Tavriya Simferopol's ambition is simply to avoid relegation, and their hopes now rest on the shoulders of Mykhailo Fomenko. The new man has wasted little time in making his mark, taking four Dynamo players on loan, and he is also looking to secure the signature of Serbo-Montenegrin goalkeeper Sasa Todić.
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