FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk's semi-final success against SSC Napoli was testament to Myron Markevych's tactics; UEFA.com's Igor Linnyk makes the case for their defence.
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With his side required to play their home games in the capital, FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk coach Myron Markevych has often been concerned that this team lacked support during their UEFA Europa League campaign.
Until their elimination in the quarter-finals, fans in the capital had shown a marked preference to watching FC Dynamo Kyiv's away games on TV rather than turning out to watch Dnipro in the flesh, but Markevych could have no complaints as a crowd of 62,344 watched his side beat SSC Napoli 1-0 to reach the final.
Torrential rain did not discourage fans in the Ukrainian capital from turning out in force to show their support, with a heavy pitch perhaps more of a help for the defensive-minded Dnipro as they put the brakes on Rafael Benítez's plans to win the competition for a third time – having previously prevailed with Valencia CF (2003/04) and Chelsea FC (2012/13).
Dnipro's tactics proved to be weatherproof once more, as Markevych moved his proverbial 'bus' from Naples to Kyiv. Dnipro pressed high and attacked in numbers to begin with, but soon reverted to Plan A, last season's Ukrainian league runners-up following their coach's instructions and not being swayed into playing an open game.
Their mission was to close down space and hamper their opponents all over the pitch, and they accomplished it in some style. Denys Boyko was kept busy, but only once was he called into emergency service due to a defensive malfunction, when Gökhan Inler's through ball left Gonzalo Higuaín with only the goalkeeper to beat; for the fourth time in the tie, the 27-year-old denied the Argentinian in a one-on-one situation, a measure of Boyko's impressive form.
His was not the only heroic performance over the two fixtures. Yevhen Seleznyov scored his 100th Ukrainian league goal two days before the first leg, but the 29-year-old's strikes in both games against Napoli will doubtless come to be seen as more significant landmarks. Ironically, the striker only got a regular starting slot because of an injury to team-mate Roman Zozulya.
That might be a prime example of the way Markevych made the best of Dnipro's circumstances. Acknowledging that Napoli had the more skilful squad man for man, his was an absolutely result-orientated policy. What they lacked in individual skill, Dnipro made up for in doggedness, and in Yevhen Konoplyanka, they always had someone willing to lead the line.
It was Konoplyanka's assist for Seleznyov on Thursday that put the icing on the cake in Kyiv, with the 25-year-old perhaps Dnipro's only acknowledged star player. However, as their performance in Kyiv confirmed, Dnipro's strength rests not on great men but the great many.