City’s Euro adventure starts today!
Foxes prepare to take on Ukrainians
IMAGINE Leicester City had spent the past six years playing in Plymouth, with little hope of returning to the King Power Stadium.
For their Europa League opponents Zorya Luhansk, that scenario is a reality.
Since 2014 and the start of a conflict in eastern Ukraine, close to the Russian border, Zorya have been playing their home matches 250 miles away in Zaporizhia.
But it has not halted their rise. They have become an established Europa League side and now they are looking to do what no Ukrainian outfit has done before in 32 previous attempts and win on English soil.
While Zorya are little-known compared to the likes of Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk, this is their seventh straight season in the Europa League, and third time in the group stages of the competition.
Andrew Todos, a UK-based Ukrainian football expert, who runs the website Zorya Londonsk, told the Mercury that they have capitalised on the downfalls of other clubs to become Ukraine’s third-best team.
“Since they’ve relocated, it’s all coincided with the decline of other established Ukrainian Premier League sides, like Dnipro and Metalist,” said Todos.
“They used to be the regular contenders for the Europa League and they collapsed due to financial issues.
“Zorya have sort of stepped up to the plate in recent seasons, benefitting from loans from Shakhtar and then Dynamo Kiev.
“They’ve been in Zaporizhia now for six years almost I think, so it’s basically their new home, de facto.
“I don’t think there are any plans of returning to Luhansk while the war’s going on and while the proxy government is in place over there.
“A lot of people have been displaced as well as the club.”
Zorya sit ninth of 14 clubs this season with six points from six games. They have endured a slower start after selling key players over the summer, but are unbeaten in four now, having drawn with Dynamo and Shakhtar.
That is giving them confidence of getting a result, as well as City’s injury situation, with Jamie Vardy ruled out of the clash.
Todos said: “I think the actual expectations for the Europa League as a whole are that the group is not the hardest in the world.
“They’ve had harder groups in the past in the Europa League and they were probably not as established in terms of experience then, and still got okay results.
“I think there’s definitely an ambition in Ukraine that they can finish second if they put their mind to it. That’s definitely not past them.
“I think they’re taking the news of Leicester’s injuries and the slightly better performances of late as a positive.
“So I think there’s optimism, but, as is always the case, I’d say expectations are probably for a draw at best.”