Unbeaten after eight Premier League games, FC Metalist Kharkiv nonetheless find themselves third in the Ukrainian table – a position Myron Markevich's side are only too accustomed to.
Since finishing fifth in Markevich's first season in 2005/06, it has been solid bronze all the way for Metalist with five third-place finishes in a row. The north-east club remain eager to compete with FC Dynamo Kyiv and FC Shakhtar Donetsk for the championship, though, and with their stock rising at home they are now regulars in UEFA competition.
Under Markevich, they battled through the group stage to the UEFA Cup round of 16 in 2008/09, before coming close to matching that achievement in last term's UEFA Europa League – losing to Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the last 32. FK Austria Wien, AZ Alkmaar and Malmö FF await them in Group G this season, with none expecting an easy ride from Metalist.
Indeed, they may be stronger than ever. While FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk had pretensions of becoming a new force in Ukrainian football under former Sevilla FC boss Juande Ramos, Metalist are again the big two's only realistic challengers – successfully integrating the nine South American players they have recruited over the last 18 months.
If Argentina forward Jonathan Cristaldo was not an instant success, he has scored five goals in eight league games in 2011/12 and another two in the UEFA Europa League. Further evidence of midfielder José Ernesto Sosa's pedigree, meanwhile, came as he featured in Argentina's last two friendlies. Brazilian midfielder Cleiton Xavier remains a central figure, with the captain ably supporting charismatic striker Taison.
With such ammunition, it is no surprise Metalist are considered perhaps the most entertaining side in Ukraine, with ex national-team boss Markevich proud of their attack-minded reputation. "We cannot play any other way," he said. "We like to play in the opposition half. I admit that sometimes means we concede goals on the break."
That has not been a problem in Europe so far: they beat FC Sochaux-Montbéliard 4-0 in the play-offs following a 0-0 draw at the 38,000-seat Metalist Stadion, which will host UEFA EURO 2012 games next summer. Now Markevich wants to maintain that aggressive approach. "We will try our luck in attack as often as our opponents allow us," he said.
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