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[FM17] Trials and Triumphs of a Turkmen

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A much quieter month for us courtesy of an international break, which served largely to stall our momentum from August. At home to Vorskla we needed a last-gasp goal from Karkoshkin to take the three points after a disappointing performance, and a week later put in an absolute aberration in Odessa to return from Chornomorets on the wrong end of a hiding. The following Sunday, we found our level once again - Olexandriya never stood a chance, we hit them for six, and just about got out of September with our pride intact.

In the Europa League, we opened our group campaign with our toughest home game against Athletic, and did a decent enough job to earn a point. Palamarchuk had us ahead against the run of play midway through the first half, but we couldn't quite hold on. Still, a point against the top seeds has to be seen as a positive, and if we can build on it against our Greek and Turkish opponents we should have enough to make it through.

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Defeat to Chornomorets and some solid form from Dynamo sees our lead cut to three points, but there's no cause for concern just yet - especially as we have the head-to-head advantage against the capital side. One side we probably won't need to worry about is Obolon-Brewer, last year's champions winning just two or their nine games and struggling badly. We're still in the box seat, and we intend to stay there.

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October was very much a month of two halves. We opened the month away in Trabzon, and quite frankly deserved the defeat - our hosts outpassed us and earned their victory - which put us in a tight spot for qualification. Back at home, Dnipro held us to a frustrating goalless draw in Donetsk, and then after another international break a heavily rotated side needed the big guns to come off the bench to ensure we edged past a third-tier outfit and into the third round of the cup. Far from convincing.

However, after that we got back into the swing of things. Panathanaikos had no answer to our attacking play as we grabbed our first win of our Europa group - four points from three games leaves us with work to do in the return games - and then back home against Zirka everything clicked. Three goals in the opening quarter hour, five in the first half, and seven in total left the visitors shellshocked, and we took that form on the road to annihilate Karpaty. 7-0 and 6-0 in consecutive games is a lot more like it, and now we need to maintain that sort of level for the rest of the campaign. 

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A slip from Dynamo means the lead is up to eight points, and with our goal difference taking a substantial boost from a 13-0 aggregate win over the last two games, we're looking very strong despite our mild consistencies. Dynamo and Dnipro are likely to remain our closest challengers despite Obolon's attempt at a recovery, while at the other end of the table one point separates five sides - relegation is anybody's game. We're not concerned with what's going on down there, and before long we're hoping there's be little interest in the top either. The gap is already a big one, and we intend to make it even bigger over the coming weeks.

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A much more convincing month, with five wins from six games across three competitions, and just a single goal conceded. Beginning with the Europa, we followed up our win in Greece last time out with a hammering of Panathanaikos at home, the visitors having nothing to hurt us with and unable to stop us going forward. Then came a tough trip to Bilbao, where we held our own against the Basque side and returned with a point, leaving us needing to avoid defeat at home to Trabzonspor in the final game to seal a place in the knockouts.

In domestic matters, we were imperious in November. Illichivets are having a great season, but had no answer to the in-form Palamarchuk as he hit a hat-trick in a 3-0 win, and a week later we repeated the scoreline with three goals in 15 minutes against lowly Poltava. The cup quarter-final away to Dnipro was a tough game on paper, but two early goals gave us a huge advantage, and while the hosts pulled one back we were able to sit in and counter, striking again to book our place in the final four. Having then picked up a point in Bilbao, we celebrated by breezing past Zorya, an own goal putting us on our way before each of our strike pairing found the net - the perfect month in the league, and we've found our form.

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We're just about halfway through the season - just seven games to go until the table splits in two - and our lead is now up into double figures. The size of our advantage is shown through our vast goal difference being almost 30 better than second-place Dynamo, and Dnipro in third are closer to table-proppers Poltava than they are to us. There are plenty of tough games still ahead, but with a 10 point lead already in the bag, it'd take a bold man to bet against us at this point.

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2031 is now firmly behind us, and we've ended it strongly. The one disappointment came in the Europa League, where we failed to overcome Trabzonspor but did enough to get through regardless, but in the league we were imperious. Champions Obolon-Brewer were brushed aside easily enough before we headed to Poltava and thumped five goals past them ahead of our draw with the Turks. Just two days later we took on Dynamo for the second time in the season and delivered a perfect performance, going 2-0 up through a Palamarchuk brace inside five minutes - breaking a club record just halfway through the season - and from then on we kept the pressure up, adding a third through Ostapenko and then striking twice in the final five to seal a resounding 5-1 win. We're looking very good indeed, and such a big win over Dynamo is a big marker to have laid down.

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We've made it through our group, but to be honest I'm a little disappointed. Only two wins as second seeds is a fairly poor show, and while we only lost one game, it was away at the bottom seeds which is barely excusable. We've been punished for our mediocrity with a last 32 tie with Tottenham, and if we go any further in the competition we'll have to seriously up our game.

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Heading into the long winter break, our lead is at 13 points and growing. Dynamo are reeling after we gave them a hammering, while Dnipro are a further five points back. We have just four more games to the split, and at this point in time it looks like it'll take a miracle to deny us the title. We look like reaching the split with a lead of 15 points or more, and even if we're forced to sell players - something I have no intention of doing - we shouldn't collapse that badly, even in a worse-case scenario. In short, we're on track.

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Great start with Shakhtar, even if performances in Europe have been a little shaky.

I'll be honest, I was excited to see what type of Brazilians you were going to bring in. Oh well!

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35 minutes ago, tyler16 said:

Great start with Shakhtar, even if performances in Europe have been a little shaky.

I'll be honest, I was excited to see what type of Brazilians you were going to bring in. Oh well!

Europe has been a bit lacklustre, but to be honest I've been a bit disappointed with the lack of domestic challenge. Sorry about the Brazilians though! Ukraine probably has the highest quality of player in the former USSR, and I like to play reasonably 'nationalist' anyway, so I thought it'd be fun to try and change Shakhtar's strategy and beat Dynamo at their own game :D 

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No transfers either in or out of the club over the winter - aside from managing to find a loan club for one of our remaining foreigners, Lekic - and so it was all about tuning up ready for the challenge of Spurs in the Europa League. We organised a glamour friendly against Bayern which we were very impressive in, then eased past Red Bull Salzburg in a second 'European' fixture - promising signs, even if both were at home. We then took off around Ukraine to hand out thrashing to three reserve sides including our own, giving morale and form a nice little boost ahead of the Tottenham tie.

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Aside from beating Bayern, the main news was my first cohort of youth graduates since taking over at Shakhtar. The production line here is remarkable, with around half the first team having enjoyed their footballing education here in Donetsk. At a glance, this isn't a great intake, but there's decent squad depth potential here, and the standout talent is a fellow Turkmen! Meredow is another in the 'winger who will need retraining' category, but his basic skills are there and he's got the attitude to make it to the top. I'll be monitoring his progress closely.

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We're back, and there is certainly a lot to talk about. In Europe, we stunned Spurs with a clinical attacking performance in the Ukrainian snow, and a week later turned what was looking like a defeat in North London into a high-scoring draw courtesy of a spectacular second half display. That earned us a two-legged tie with Sevilla, who simply outplayed us at home to leave us a mountain to climb in Andalucia. We put in a superb effort, winning on the night and holding the Spaniards scoreless, but we couldn't find the second goal we needed and so exited with our heads held high on the away goals rule. A disappointing outcome, but some excellent performances.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of our league form. Having hit our stride prior to the break, Europe very much knocked us out of it. We avenged our earlier loss at Chornomorets with a 4-0 pounding at home, but then stumbled badly in a 1-1 draw with lowly Olexandriya. Worse, although mitigated by European fatigue and rotation, we lost our second game of the season in Dnipropetrovsk, and then found ourselves pegged back away at Zirka. One win from four is not title-winning form, and we've got to get better having reached the split.

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10 games to go, all against sides two to six in the table, and our lead is down to eight points rather than the 15 I had predicted. It isn't time to panic just yet, but at this stage every victory or defeat is likely to have a far greater impact on the standings, so we cannot afford to allow our indifferent form to continue any longer. Dynamo look like our only realistic challengers, so our games against them will be key, but we have to see it out from here. 

At the other end, the main story is defending champions Obolon-Brewer not even making the top six. They're in little danger of relegation - their squad is far too good to be sucked into that battle - but it's a huge drop-off after an historic success last season. A warning for us all - the mighty can very quickly fall.

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Last month I lamented our poor form, saying that we needed to find a higher level if we were to make sure of securing the title. I told my men as much, and to say they responded would be an understatement. First up in April were Dnipro, a side who less than a month ago beat us to nil, and we returned the favour in some style, a brace from outlying foreigner Sova setting us up for a 4-0 hammering. Four days later we did the same to Desna in the cup semi to set up a surprising final with second-tier Volyn Lutsk, and then came the big one - the derby against Dynamo. And, in short, we destroyed them. Two goals in four minutes were a sign of what was to come, and by the end our fans were in dreamland. Palamarchuk hit four, we wound up with seven. and Dinamo left with their tails between their legs and their morale on the floor.

Despite the triumph, we needed to stay focused, and against Illichivets we nearly came undone, needing a late own goal to grab the 3-2 win. Midweek saw a home game against Karpaty which was dealt with much more easily - two goals in each half despite us never getting out of third gear - and then came the visit of Zirka, another side ill-prepared to handle our attack in full flow. We settled for 3-0 on this occasion, and we're flying towards the finish line.

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To their credit, Dynamo won the four games that didn't end in a 7-2 battering by their fiercest rivals, but with the gap now up to 11 points and just five games remaining, they're running out of time. Nobody else can mathematically take the title down - Dnipro are a huge 26 points behind us - and if the results fall right for us, we could claim the crown after two more games. There's marginally more interest at the other end of the bale with Olexandriya hoping to claw back the gap to Chornomorets, but if I were a gambling man I wouldn't be putting money on the title going down to the wire.

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Let's not delay the inevitable here - Shakhtar are once again champions of Ukraine. We played two of our five league games in May, and were preparing for our third when we were crowned champions, Dynamo losing 1-0 at home to Dnipro to hand us the trophy. It's been coming for a while - our superb run of form in April made sure of that - and we've accomplished our main objective for the season. We'd already broken team and individual records after the first game of the month, and we're firmly back on top of the nation's footballing pile.

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We would have wrapped up the title a week earlier had we been able to beat Dynamo in Kyiv, but they earned a small manner of revenge by inflicting our third league defeat of the campaign - scant consolation for a 7-2 thrashing, I'm sure. Before that we'd left it late to beat Dnipro, and afterwards celebrated our success with a last-second winner away at Zirka. Illichivets were hammered as we picked up the trophy in front of our home supporters, before a shadow side earned a point in Lviv to round out the league season. All that remained was the cup final - could we make it a double?

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We certainly could, coming out comfortably on top of the clash between the newly-crowned champions of the Ukraine's top two divisions. Volyn can be proud of their efforts even if they never particularly looked like scoring - they kept it closer than plenty of sides they'll be playing next year - and I end my first season in charge with the doubters silenced and two more winner's medals in my collection.

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Proof of our title win, and of the margin of success - 14 points and a goal difference of 73 is huge given that we took on the rest of the top six four times apiece, and we ended up with more than double the points tally of Illichivets in 5th. To be fair, this is the sort of domination that Shakhtar have been used to in the past, but having lost it last year, it was imperative that we ascended as quickly as possible back to the summit. Now that we're here, it's on us to make that gap as wide as possible.

Elsewhere, Poltava and Olexandriya drop through the trapdoor into the second tier, while deposed champions Obolon could only manage 8th in a pitiful defence of their title. Chornomorets were one of just three sides to beat us - Dynamo and Dnipro the others - but almost suffered relegation themselves, while Zirka and Illichivets can be proud of seasons that saw them enter the top six before the split. The landscape of the Ukrainian game may be changing, but we're still on top of it.

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These are the men who secured the league and cup double, and as you can see there is plenty of talent in the side. This year however, the key players have undoubtedly been our two record-breaking strikers. Palamarchuk broke league records, netting 26 goals despite only appearing in three quarters of our game, while partner Karkoshkin finished top scorer in the Europa League despite only playing to the last 16. With Pokatylov an excellent third option and talented youngsters waiting in the wings, we won't be lacking in firepower any time soon.

That said, we're aiming to have the best of Ukrainian talent here in Donetsk, and there are others who will be targeting over the summer break. Equally, the four foreigners remaining at the club - Trajkovic, Lekic, Biro and Sova - will all be up for sale as we seek to transition to an all-national side. A serious knee injury to Sova in the final league game of the season makes it more difficult for us to move him on, but unless there are other complications, the other three will be out on loan at the very least. I want to leave a lasting legacy of Ukrainian talent and success at the club, and we're very nearly at a stage where we can make that happen.
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After one season at Shakhtar, Saparow had most definitely found his feet. Despite initial doubts from the supporters over his credentials and hesitation at the all-Ukrainian transfer policy, the Donetsk side had cruised to the domestic double, and claimed the scalp of Spurs before exiting the Europa League. He would be hoping it was the last time he'd have to deal with Europe's secondary competition.

There was also no chance of Bahtiyar moving on this year - not after a single season, not with a transfer transition ongoing, and certainly not with the Champions League on the horizon. It had been a wrench to leave Kuban, but after a year in Ukraine, our young Turkmen was satisfied it had been the correct decision. The season had only just ended, and he was looking forward to the next.

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Preseason this year was short - very short in fact. The Ukrainian Super Cup takes place midway through July, and with Champions League qualifiers to contend with, we settled for just three games before anything else began. The kicked off with a high profile clash with Monaco which somehow remained scoreless despite plenty of chances at either end, and then we racked up the goals against our own academy and that of Metalurg Donetsk. There wasn't much time to prepare for the curtain raiser, but were we ready?

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Well, more ready than Dynamo at any rate. They scored first but had a man sent off after just 20 minutes, and it took less than a minute for us to pull level. From then on the game was one-way traffic, Ostapenko scoring on the stroke of half time and then netting a glorious free-kick after the break to put us firmly in control. With time running out, Palamarchuk bagged his brace to seal the win, and we go into the season on the back of another big win over our fiercest rivals. That's got to be good for morale.

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The transfer window was a frustrating one. Although the squad overhaul was significant last season, I had hoped to bring in more than two players, but for various reasons we couldn't get deals over the line. Joining us are future prospect Shestakov from old club Kuban, and centre-back rock Chumak, a Shakhtar youth graduate who left for Greece three seasons ago and has matured into an excellent defender. He'll go straight into the first team, and for £7m we've got an absolute bargain.

The outgoings were also not quite as planned. Of the four foreigners looking to leave, we moved just one permanently - Aston Villa wildly overpaying for Trajkovic - and one on loan in Lekic. Goalkeeper Biro attracted precisely no attention, even on a temporary basis, and Pavel Sova's injury meant no teams were willing to make a move. On the other hand, we've loaned out a number of our brightest prospects to sides around the league to give them game time, and made good money from the sale of misfit winger Timofeev to Polish side Lech Poznan. We've trimmed some of the fat, brought in one key man, and cut our foreigner quota in half for the year - not the worst window we've ever had, but we could have done better. Now, on to the Champions League... 

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Two games in the final week of July, and a full eight in August - the season is well and truly up and running, and I'm absolutely exhausted. Beginning with the league, we started with a repeat of last year's cup final and somehow failed to beat promoted Volyn despite taking a second-half lead - hardly an ideal start. We then needed an injury-time penalty to overcome fellow newcomers Ingulets Petrove, before travelling to Lviv and smashing Karpaty 4-1. Obvious improvement, and surely we had found our form?

Not so. While we had European games to consider, we then hosted Obolon-Brewer and found ourselves 2-0 down after just half an hour. We pulled one back late one, but it was a shocking display against the former champions, who are in good form early on. We got back on track by beating Chornomorets 4-0 in Odessa, but we were still a little cautious head of the derby against Dynamo. We needn't have worried - two from Karkoshkin and a Palamarchuk hat-trick set up a goalfest and a 5-3 win. We might be turning a corner, but it's still too early to say.

In the Champions League however, we've looked good. A late goal at home in the first leg against Dinamo Minsk gave us a narrow advantage to take to Belarus, but once there we turned things up a notch and hit them for five to secure group stage football of some sort. However, we were determined to reach the Champions League proper, and once again gave ourselves a slim lead in the home leg against Slavia. In Prague we conceded first, levelling the tie on aggregate, but by the interval we were cruising, a Pokatylov double easing us into the group stage - back where we belong.

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And it is quite the group we find ourselves in. None are particularly weak - although being third seed in groups D and F would perhaps have been preferable - but we find ourselves facing off against the infinitely wealthy PSG, Italian giants Inter, and perennial Scottish champions Celtic, all sides with huge European pedigree. If we follow seeding we'll be playing Europa League football in the New Year, but my hope is that the group's strength works in our favour - if everyone takes points off everyone else, we have an outside chance of sneaking into the knockout stages. That's the dream.

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The early league table shows us a point off the pace set by Obolon, who look to have recovered from a dismal last campaign to make a strong start. Dynamo are up with us too, behind by virtue of head-to-head record, and so already it looks like the three of us will be battling for top spot early on. With last season's displays and the strength we've got in our squad, I'd expect us to pull away as the year goes on, but for now we need to make the top spot our own.

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A mercifully shorter month with just the five games in September, and the story here is without a doubt our European adventures. The first game of the group stage saw us welcome PSG, one of the favourites for the entire competition, to Donetsk, and Vyacheslav Palamarchuk blew them away. The score was 2-2 after 12 minutes, at which point our star striker simply took over, completing his hat-trick inside half an hour and adding a fourth for good measure. PSG pulled one back late on, but the damage was done. Then, away in Milan we enjoyed another bright start to go 3-0 up, only for our hosts to draw level with an hour on the clock. With the San Siro encouraging them to go for the jugular, we instead stunned them into silence with Karkoshkin's second on the break, and then added a fifth late on. We've taken on the two top seeds in the group and beaten both 5-3 - you'd have got excellent odds on that particular set of results.

In the league, things were less spectacular. A narrow win over Illichivets followed by a late show away at Zirka, and then a rotated side dropped points at home to Zorya a few days before the Inter. We've yet to find our free-flowing best, but an unbeaten month is a promising enough sign for the time being.

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We're back on top of the pile, but the margin is a small one - a single goal putting us ahead of Obolon, with both Vorskla and Dynamo within three points. We've got four league matches in October, so a chance to try and put some daylight between ourselves and the chasing pack, but the early signs are that this season will be somewhat tighter than last time round. I've no problem with the competition - as long as we up our game accordingly.

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October is already in the rear view mirror, and it's been a resounding success - six games, six wins, and just a single goal conceded. It all started with a comfortable 3-0 win over Dnipro at home, and after an international break we carried on in a similar vein, matching the scoreline in Poltava as we eased past Vorskla into the quarter final of the cup. Three days later we welcomed Celtic to the Donbas-Arena, and two goals in four minutes from substitute Pokatylov kept our 100% record going. One more win, and we'll be into the last 16 - hugely impressive given the standard of our opposition.

We were then back at Vorskla in the league, where we handed out an even bigger beating than in the cup encounter a week earlier, rare non-Ukrainian goals from Sova of particular note. Late strikes from Palamarchuk were enough to take us past struggling Ingulets, and then Volyn were thumped 5-1 in a game which saw a hat-trick of penalties for our star striker. Six games, six wins - we can't ask for better than that.  

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Our four league wins moves us two points clear at the top with the sexond round of fixtures underway, and with Dynamo sitting six points back of Obolon-Brewer we could be about to see a two-horse race emerge. Around the league it's been a miserable campaign for newly-promoted Ingulets Petrove, while European regulars Dnipro are just three points above the drop zone after a poor start. Just five more games before the winter break, and if we can keep our winning run going, there's every chance we could have an even bigger gap to play with after the split.

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Just two league games in November as the cups came thick and fast, but they were not without importance. Karpaty were shellshocked as we struck three times in the first 12 minutes of a 4-1, and crucially at the end of the month we gained revenge for our sole defeat of the season thus far, edging out Obolon in Kyiv to move further ahead in the league table.

But this month was really about the cups. In domestic matters we blitzed Illichivets to go into the final four, however it was the Champions League which had our attention. We knew a win in Glasgow would put us through, and a famous performance topped off with two late goals saw us book a place in the knockouts with a game to spare. That meant our game with PSG had little riding on it, but a 3-1 defeat in Paris was still disappointing after taking the lead. Still, we're into the last 16 - an incredible achievement.

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With the win over Obolon we go seven points clear, and are starting to show some of the form that saw us clinch the title last season. There's a sizeable gap behind them to the trio of Vorskla, Dynamo and Zorya, and beyond that it's difficult to see anyone else challenging for Europe. Our mind is fixed firmly on retaining our crown, and we're looking good to do just that.

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Four games to round out 2032, and with the exception of our Champions League hosting of Inter - which we held goalless until the final five minutes - we won them all. Whcih can only be a good thing.

The first was a trip to the capital to take on Dynamo, and two first-half goals gave us an advantage which we carried all the way through to the final whistle - a reminder to our rivals of where their place is. We followed up with a Palamarchuk treble giving us the win against Chornomorets, and rounded up a successful year with another three-goal haul at home, this time beating Illichivets to end the year on a high.

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In the Champions League, Inter's failure to get a third goal meant we not only qualified, but as winners - PSG eliminated by virtue of being the only side to drop points to Celtic. We may have tailed off in the last couple of games, but securing progression after four matches, including 5-3 wins over the sides seeded above us, is a superb achievement. We've been well rewarded too, the draw for the last 16 handing us a tie with FC Kobenhavn, arguably the weakest side remaining in the tournament. We don't want to get over-confident, but we have to be looking to win that one...

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With four games to go before the split, we're up to nine points clear of Obolon-Brewer and a massive 18 ahead of Dynamo as we look to hold on to our title. At this point we'd be forgiven for thinking we already have one hand on the trophy, but given that we're still fighting on three fronts we can't get carried away just yet. Don't let that make you think I'm lacking in confidence, however - we should be winning the league from here, and comfortably at that.

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We're back after the break and ready to take on the Danes in the Champions League, but our preparations have been mixed. Of course, we had no difficulty taking on our own youth sides in the final tune-ups, but the three games against foreign sides yielded very different results. A thumping win over Argentine giants Independiente was promising indeed, but a 3-0 defeat to my old side Kuban and a last-gasp draw against Polish opposition is hardly the wins over Bayern and Salzburg we enjoyed last season. I can only hope that the final games have found us sufficient form to get through against Kobenhavn.

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With no winter signings, the focus was once again on the youth intake, and while the depth is no there this time, there are other things to consider. Firstly, that we operating at such a high level that a teenager ranked halfway down the list could potentially make a career in the lower reaches of the top flight if they reach their potential, and secondly that we seem to be a little more international this year, attracting Turkmen and Portuguese graduates. Neither look up to much, but it's a sign of our strength and appeal as a club.

The star of the show - although Pavlov has the makings of a excellent centre-back - is undoubtedly Fedorenko, an attacking playmaker with sky-high potential and some excellent foundations on which to build. Although it's an area of the team we have good depth in, my plan is to have him in and around the first team either at the end of this season or the start of the next - I genuinely believe he'll be good enough to go. Especially if we continue to dominate domestically.

 

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That was closer - closer than it needed to be. Away in the Danish capital, we conceded early to set Parken rocking, and although Gorban got us back level before the break, we looked shaky. A second for the hosts two minutes after half time was cancelled out by Pokatylov, but the last half hour was all Kobenhavn, and a late winner was all they deserved. That meant we needed to win at home, and Kazakov gave us the away goals lead after half an hour. An equaliser had us behind again, but after the break we were a different team, two goals in five minutes giving us an advantage we would not relinquish. Being behind four times in a tie is far from ideal however - we cannot expect Liverpool to let us off the hook so often in the quarters.

In the league, we sailed through to the split with four wins from four - narrow victories away in Lugansk and Dnipropetrovsk, followed by comfortable wins at home to Zirka and Vorskla, 3-0 and 5-1 respectively giving our goal difference a welcome but largely unneeded boost. Into the last phase of the season, we're looking good to retain our title.

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We've split for the final two months, and it'll be a straight fight between ourselves and Obolon. Even then, it won't be a particularly fair fight by virtue of us having an 11 point headstart, but it's the only way there's any excitement in the title race. Karpaty are too far back to have any say, while Dynamo are more concerned with holding off the challenge of Vorskla and Chornomorets for the final European spot. What it means in reality is that we can afford to rest players for our Champions League campaign, where Liverpool lie in wait. We've already exceeded expectations, but I can't help dreaming of more...

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7 minutes ago, decapitated said:

This thread has been an enjoyable read :) 

Glad you're enjoying it, thanks for reading along! :) 

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We march on! Again the story here is the Champions League, where we put up a great fight at Anfield and were rewarded with a late away goal courtesy of Prokopenko - something to work with back in Donetsk. A week later, at a packed and vocal Donbas-Arena, an early goal from an unlikely source - full-back Kiselev with a low drive - put us ahead, and 10 minutes into the second half we had the lead outright for the first time. Liverpool battled straight back, but with less than 20 minutes to play Palamarchuk converted a stonewall penalty, and the Reds had nothing left to give. We move into the semi-finals, and Manchester United lie in wait.

Speaking of semi-finals, our domestic cup game was an altogether more straightforward affair, as we breezed past Zorya to set up a final with Dnipro. The win came three days after another thrashing of Dynamo - 6-0 this time, with our two strikers in fine form - and although we dropped points in Lviv before the first leg of the Liverpool tie, we soon bounced back with another six-goal showing, this time home to Vorskla. After our European triumph we travelled to Kyiv twice, first taking a point from our nearest challengers Obolon-Brewer, and then beating Dynamo for the second time in a month to emphasise our dominance. They must be sick of us by now.

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With five games to go, one more victory does the job. Obolon have had a great year, losing just twice in the whole campaign thus far, but we've won six more matches than them and that's been the difference. Dynamo look likely to finish in the top four, while at the bottom it's hard to see either Ingulets or Illichivets hauling in Volyn with so few games remaining. 

If truth be told, it's difficult to focus too much on the league at the moment. We're into the cup final, and have a huge double-header against Manchester United on the horizon. We're huge underdogs in Europe, but that's been true ever since the group stage. As long as there's a chance, I'll keep believing...

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Our first match of May, and it's done. Chornomorets put up a half-decent fight, but once Palamarchuk put us in front there was no way back for the Odessa outfit. Back-to-back titles are ours, both won convincingly, and Shakhtar are now firmly back on top of the Ukrainian game. With the league now settled, we can focus all of our energies on the two cups - the domestic final against Dnipro and...

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A Champions League final against Real Madrid! At Old Trafford in the first leg we fought well, going behind on the stroke of half time only to pull level through Kazakov on the hour. A marginal offside went United's way with 10 minutes to go to leave us behind before the home leg, but Karkoshkin erased the deficit to have us ahead on away goals midway through the first half. With 15 minutes to go United's pressure told with the equaliser, but instead of crumbling we redoubled our efforts, and Palamarchuk buried a header to force extra time.

Once we were there, neither side was willing to lose, and so to penalties we went. Passlack and Palamarchuk hit the target with the first round of efforts, before teenage goalkeeper Morozov tipped Cairo's strike onto the post, allowing substitute Sova to give us the advantage. Karkoshkin kept his cool after Vergara had smashed wide in the third round, putting all the pressure on Clarke for United's fourth. Up he stepped, over went the shot, and with two penalties to spare we had beaten Manchester United. Shakhtar Donetsk are going to back to the San Siro, and this time it's for the Champions League final.

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We've already discussed our comeback win over United in detail, but that doesn't mean it won't hold a place in our supporters' hearts for years to come. In less tense affairs, the game at Chornomorets sealed my second title at Shakhtar, and we saw out the season in style, recovering from a silly draw against Karpaty to snatch a late win against Obolon, beat Vorskla in Poltava and then wrap things up with a four-goal romp against Chonomorets once more. A convincing way to end the season and head into the two finals.

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One league defeat all season and a 22 point gap to second place is an exclamation mark on our dominance of the domestic game, even if Obolon can be proud of bouncing back from a torrid last campaign. Karpaty are the story of the year in stealing third from disappointing Dynamo, while both Chornomorets and Vorskla will be pleased with top half finishes. Dnipro's consolation after being stuck in the bottom six is finishing at the top of it, and Volyn have done well to survive after their promotion. Ingulets found some late form but not enough to survive, with Illichivets joining them in the second tier.

Of course, this would usually be the end of the season, but not on this occasion. First up, a cup final against Dnipro for which we will be comfortable favourites. Second,a cup final against Real Madrid for which we will be massive underdogs. Two games, and a chance to make history not only for Shakhtar, but for Ukraine and all of Eastern European football. Not since Crvena Zvezda in 1991 has a club from East of Germany lifted club football's biggest prize, and we're unlikely to have a better chance. A place in history awaits. 

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Two down, one to go. Dnipro dug in deep, attempting to hit us on the counter, but while they actually ended up with more of the ball than us, we shut them down completely - just one of thier six shots troubled Morozov. We took our time getting going, but the goal came eventually through who else but Palamarchuk, our striking star stabbing in with 10 minutes remaining to seal back-to-back domestic doubles. 

Pavel Sova was injured in stoppage time after coming on as a second-half substitute, and with young Morozov now the equal of Biro in goal, I've come to a decision I've been toying with ever since our place in the final was confirmed - against Real Madrid, in the biggest match in club football, every member of our matchday squad will be Ukrainian. My policy may not have been popular with everyone, but it's worked so far and this is the logical conclusion. 

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Job done, mission accomplished, history made. However you want to spin it, the fact is that Shakhtar Donetsk are European champions!

A packed San Siro saw us under pressure in a goalless first half, although we had opportunities on the break too. Shortly after the break, Chumak ended up on the wrong side of his man in the box and conceded a penalty, which two-time World Footballer of the Year Titouan Benoit smashed beyond Morozov's dive for a lead Real just about deserved. As they took the lead so they sat back, and we pushed for a leveller which we looked like missing out on - until the 87th, when Ostapenko found Karkoshkin in a half-yard of space inside the area and the striker turned to fire in. Extra time.

Buoyed by the late goal, we entered the extra period in the ascendancy but faced a scare when goalscorer Benoit rattled the woodwork with an angled effort. However, just as the referee was about to blow for the change of ends, some quick interplay between Zhilkin and Kazakov freed the former down the right, and he whipped in a cross that Palamarchuk glanced in at the near post. After 15 long minutes, each taking longer than the last to pass, the final whistle eventually blew. Against all odds, we'd achieved what many thought impossible - an all-Ukrainian side had won the Champions League.

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These are the men who will go down in history, as legends of the club, as the team that all future Shakhtar sides will aspire to. Led at the back by the rock that is Roman Karev, marshalled in midfield by the superb Ostapenko, and powered by the goals of the inimitable Palamarchuk, on top of Europe as an individual as well as with his team-mates, we have a homegrown side - with the exceptions of Biro and Sova - good enough not only to take on all comers at home, but abroad as well, and with our Champions League title to show off, it will presumably be even easier to add the cream of the nation's talent to our side. 

Of course, I now have a number of questions to answer. What is there left for me to achieve at Shakhtar? Was the Champions League win a fluke, a one-off? If I choose to stay, what is the motivation? And if I leave, where to? In many ways, the first three are linked - while at no point can we be accused of having an easy ride in Europe, there are plenty who will see it as a lucky run. Staying gives us the chance to build, to challenge again, to establish Shakhtar as one of the continent's elite sides. Not the mention the chance to be crowned world champions in December.

And if I leave? I don't know. I've hit the pinnacle of the club game, so perhaps a venture into the international realm? There's also my dream of leading Spartak, but with them performing well there is unlikely to be an opening. I'd say staying put is the most likely option, but you never know...
--

Remarkably, Bahtiyar had done it. His all-Ukrainian Shakhtar side had toppled PSG, Inter, Liverpool, Manchester United and finally Real Madrid on their way to European glory, rounding out a spectacular season with an historic treble. For the academy reject from Turkmenistan, it was quite the transformation of fortunes. There was no doubt about it - he had reached the top of the game.

Questions would be asked about his future, but for now Saparow was happy simply to bask in the glory of a wonderful season. All comers were vanquished, every trophy won, and there could be no doubting his talents. What the next year would bring, he was quite happy to wait and find out.

Edited by EvilDave

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On that note, I'll be putting this on hold until after Christmas and potentially into the New Year. Merry Christmas all, and thanks for reading!

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On 23/12/2018 at 19:40, decapitated said:

That's a great triumph well done on the CL. :) 

Thank you! I was hoping to be able to build towards it, so for it to come in the second season was a pleasant surprise :D Something for your Dnipro to aim at, perhaps?..

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With a reasonably short break behind us, we are back, and with the shortest pre-season I can remember. Our status as European champions allowed us to attract Arsenal to Donetsk for a glamour tie which ended in a draw. Once the Londoners had gone, we then travelled to Kharkiv for two games against local sides, beating once-proud Metalist - now a non-league outfit after financial meltdown - and Olimpik, against whom we hit double figures. Not too many changes to the squad, good form being shown - we're out to prove that last year was no fluke. 

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To help us do that, we've made a couple of changes to the side. Of the three incoming players, Panfilov is a back of a punt - the full-back being stuck in Armenia and, now rescued, immediately loaned out. Sichkaruk arrives to compete with young Morozov in goal and weakens Obolon-Brewer in the process, while the repatriation of Gadjiev from Ajax is a big move. He can play centre-back and the screening role equally well, and will slot nicely into the rotation for both. Our search for Ukraine's top talents continues.

Leaving are all but one of our remaining foreigners - somehow, wonderkid Sova once again failed to attract bids. He is injury-prone, but is also an excellent footballer. First, forgotten youth goalkeeper Guimaraes left for Kazan with significant sell-on clauses attached, then perennial loanee Lekic finally got his move, heading to Spain for good money. Finally, we moved on Zoltan Biro at long last. The Hungarian keeper has served us well and been a faithful stalwart at the club, but even he is not exempt from our nationalisation programme. Joining that trio are a number of young hopefuls heading out on loan, with the plan being that they return more preapred for first-team action.

All in all, it's been a calm summer at the home of the European champions, which is just as I had hoped. We successfully fended off Italian bids for Palamarchuk and Chinese ones of Karkoshkin and Gorban', leaving us with all of our key players ready and raring to go. At this stage the domestic title should be a given, but it's Europe we're really interested in. If we can put in a good show of retaining our title, we'll be truly welcomed to the continent's top table.

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Three games in July, five in August - we're up, running, and in decent form. Two of the eight were super cups - in the domestic game, we overcame Obolon-Brewer despite having Karev sent off less than 10 minutes in, while in Europe we were narrowly but comfortably beaten by a PSG side we knocked into the Europa League last season. We put up a reasonable fight, but were second best.

In the league, a disappointing opening game - somehow failing to score against newly-promoted Naftovyk - soon made way to our usual dominance. Palamarchuk got his season going with a brace at Zorya before netting our fourth at home to Chornomorets, and after our European curtain-raiser we wiped the floor with Vorskla in Poltava, our star man hitting a hat-trick in a 6-2 victory. In theory, the biggest tests were to come away at Dnipro and home to Dynamo in the classic, but once again Palamarchuk stepped up to the challenge, making it a hat-trick of hat-tricks as we won the games by a combined 7-1. We're already looking very strong.

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On the back of the Super Cup, the group stage of the Champions League was drawn, and as reigning champions we go straight in as a top seed. In contrast to last year's line-up of PSG, Inter and Celtic, this year's draw is much kinder. Porto and Sevilla are no slouches, but we beat much tougher opponents on our way to the crown, while Legia should be little more than whipping boys. Progress last year was a bonus - this time it's the minimum.

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Early tables don't say a lot, but this one says we're already on top and are winning games comfortably. Zirka are surprisingly keeping up with us for the time being, with Dynamo and Obolon are already four and seven points back respectively. As I've mentioned before, we should no longer have to worry about the title - it should come naturally to a squad as strong as this.

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Five games in September, and five victories for the European champions. Beginning in the Champions League, we've enjoyed the perfect start - a goal from right-back Zhilkin enough to scrape past a Sevilla side that dumped up out of the Europa League two years ago, and then a comfortable victory in the Polish capital. We have a double-header against Porto next, and four points from the pair should be enough to see us through.

In the league, we made light work of lowly Desna, eventually getting our reward with two goals late on to claim the win. Then came an easy ride over Karpaty in Lviv, and we wrapped up the domestic month with a routine 2-0 away at Zirka, who thus far had held onto our coat-tails. Not for long...

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Nine games played, seven points clear. Zirka have dropped right off so Dynamo are our nearest challengers, while at the bottom Dnipro are having a shocker and sit just above the two promoted clubs. The writing is already beginning to take shape on the league wall, and so far it reads pretty well for Shakhtar fans.

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Defeat. It is not something we sample very often, and yet whenever I taste of its bitter flavours, it sickens me. In October, we dined at the losers' table on two occasions - the second a disappointing 1-0 reverse in Kyiv at the hands of Obolon, and the first an exercise in complacency. Away at Olexandriya in the first cup tie of our year, our second-string side fell behind to the second-tier side, equalised, and then let themselves down from the penalty spot. There will be no domestic sweep this season, and it is entirely our own fault.

Elsewhere, progress is as usual. Volyn never stood a chance and were hit for five, while Zorya and Naftovyk were beaten by identical 2-0 scorelines. In the Champions League, a late rally from Porto was not enough to take a point, meaning a draw in the return fixture next month will book our place in the last 16. As expected.

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The gap is now up to nine points at the top despite our defeat, with Zirka bouncing back to take second spot ahead of our conquerors Obolon-Brewer and Dynamo. Dnipro's miserable campaign continues, and the relegation zone is again occupied by the league's two newcomers. It's frustrating to think we handed Naftovyk one of their five points on the opening day, but we shan't be making that mistake again.

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In the league, we were flawless as we approached the winter break. Chornomorets offered little resistance even on their own soil, our strike pairing combining for all three of our goals. A brace from full-back Kiselev and an own goal saw us past against Vorskla, and then two in as many minutes secured another big win against Dynamo - once our greatest rivals, they've been reduced to also-rans.

In the Champions League, Porto dealt us an absolute thrashing to make up for their loss in Donetsk, a late consolation from Palamarchuk our only reward from an abysmal performance - the worst of my tenure. However, we bounced back well, travelling to Andalucia and returning with a place in the last 16, an end-to-end first half followed by a scintillating second as we ran out 5-2 winners. We still have Legia to play, but we're through. The hard work begins here.

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Zirka kept pace this month, holding the gap at nine as we reach the halfway point of the season. Even at this stage I'd be surprised if the top four or bottom three change, although which of Volyn and Desna join Naftovyk in relegation remains to be seen. What should be clear is the identity of the champions - barring a disaster, the trophy is staying in Donetsk.

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December doesn't usually mean a great deal, but this year for us it meant the Club World Cup. After edging out Egyptian giants Al-Ahly 1-0 in the semis, our tired European champions faced off against the tired South American champions of Fluminense, and after a fairly turgid game we lifted the global crown, Palamarchuk fittingly getting the goal that crowns us the best side in the world for 2033. It isn't the most prestigious competition, but it's a trophy you certainly have to earn. We've done exactly that.

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Away from FIFA's intercontinental event, we played two further matches - one each in the league and Europe. In the former, an early strike from Karpenko saw us Dnipro, while the latter saw us romp home against Legia for our fifth win of the group stage, four different scorers getting in on the act as we move into the last 16 on a high.

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Feyenoord await us there, and we'll go in as favourites having won our group with only the aberration in Porto as a blemish on our record. The Dutch side have done well to make it this far, but given that both Porto and Sevilla are arguably better sides, we can be confident.

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The gap in the league is down a point to eight, but only by virtue of us missing a game while being crowned world champions. Win it, and it moves into double figures - the kind of territory in which bookmakers begin to pay out on a title win. I'm sure we'll prove them right too.

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On 31/12/2018 at 17:08, tyler16 said:

Glad to see this up and running again. Not a bad start to the season by any means.

Cheers tyler - we're ticking along nicely in the league, but it's Europe that counts now. The defeat in Porto worries me!

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After lifting the world title and enjoying the winter break, our midseason games took on a slightly different flavour this year. Coming to Donetsk were Brazilian side Corinthians, who posed us very few problems, before we headed to China at the invitation of two of the country's biggest sides. We overcame both without conceding - young striker Maximov looking impressive against Shanggang - and hopefully gave our profile in the Far East a bit of a boost in the process.

Of course, we still had time for a couple of local affairs, a mixed side beating the best of our youngsters before a hammering of non-league side Slovkhib's seconds. I mean, they knew that was coming when they agreed to the game, really. 

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With no transfer business in or out bar a few loans- incredibly, there are still no takers for Pavel Sova, although my refusal to name him in the matchday squad may be damaging his chances of a move - the most exciting day of the break was, of course, youth graduation day. We have another Turkmen in the ranks - although Aliamow is neither particularly promising or competent in a position we utilise - and on the whole the top end of the class seems to be strong personality-wise. The pick of the bunch is holding man Mescheryakov, who is still raw but looks to have both the foundational tools and character to do a job in the long run. 

Otherwise, we're ready to resume our assault on Ukraine and Europe. Feyenoord are our first opponents in the Champions League, and we're favourites to move a step closer to the defence of our crown. Bring it on.

 

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Back in business. In the league, we reached the split without adding so much as another blemish to our record, even if the swashbuckling five- and six-goal performances of the first half of the campaign haven't quite arrived just yet. Karpaty put up probably the strongest fight against us, netting twice in a losing effort, but the most satisfying result was undoubtedly the win over Obolon-Brewer, purely because they're the only side to have beaten us domestically, and we swatted them aside with ease. I also gave young Maximov a few games after his showings in China, and a hat-trick at Volyn leads me to believe we're well covered if any one of Palamarchuk, Karkoshkin or Pokatylvo goes down with a long-term injury.

In Europe, we had Feyenoord to contend with in the last 16, and we did so professionally. We more than matched them in De Kuip, finally taking a second lead through Karpenko's late strike, and back at home we played out one of the most comfortable Champions League 1-0 wins you will ever see. Chumak got the goal from a set-piece, and the Dutch side only recorded four on-target shots across the 180 minutes. It's Real Madrid in the quarters - I dare say we'll have a much tougher test as they look for revenge.

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Just the 10 games to go, and with six of them falling in a busy April there's every chance we wrap the title up before May arrives. We've still only dropped five points all season, resulting in a 17-point lead that it would take somethign spectacular for us to relinquish. Zirka have surprised everyone by leading the rest of the pack - even top half is an achievement for them, while at the other end Naftovyk have finally won a game but look long gone Dnipro are the big disappointment of the year, and will be hoping to salvage 7th as the scantest of consolations.

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It's done. After just 26 rounds of a 32-game season, we've retained our title with our most dominant performance to date. A win at Zorya, disappointing home draw with Dynamo and then win in Lviv put us one win away from the title, and fittingly it came at home against the side we first dethroned back in my first season in Donetsk. We could and perhaps should have scored more, but that's the bare minimum for the year achieved - we can now turn our attentions to the continent.

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As mentioned above, the league is finished. After clinching the title at home to Obolon, we demolished Zirka with a late blitz, and then saw a tired side squeeze out a win against Zorya, Karkoshkin stabbing in a rebound to prevent us dropping any more points. Still, those games mean little at this point.

The games that matter came in the Champions League, and against a Real Madrid side looking to avenge last year's final defeat, we were up against it in the Bernabeu. They were fired up, netting inside five minutes, but with Palamarchuk on the field we're always good for a goal and we got one to tie things up half an hour in. That would be as good as it got though, the Spaniards netting a penalty midway through the second half and then hitting us on the break late on for a well-deserved win. We had work to do in Donetsk.

And my word did we do it. What took place that Tuesday night was the finest display of my managerial career - we simply blew Real away. Palamarchuk had us hoping with a deflected effort 20 minutes in, and we swarmed all over the visitors. A penalty on the stroke of half-time was coolly put away by Kazakov to hand us the slimmest of advantages, but we would push on further. Two minutes into the second half we netted again, and when a Zhilkin cross was turned in by a Real defender 10 minutes later, we were running riot. Even when Madrid pulled one back - meaning they only needed one more to go through - we never looked like going out, and when Karev towered over his man at a corner our job was done. A truly sensational night of football, and proof, if ever it were needed from the European champions, that we belong at the top table.

That win put us into a semi against Spain's other eternal force, Barcelona, this time with the first leg at home. Perhaps it's something about Spanish sides that my men particularly enjoy playing against, but once again we were superb, the only blemish in a fine performance a free-kick conceded inside he last 10 minutes that produced an away goal. We go to Catalonia in a strong position to reach back-to-back finals, and on the basis of these showings, are looking good to win it.

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Proof of our dominance, were it needed. Seven points dropped in 28 games, 24 points better off than anybody else in the country, and outscoring our opponents by more than two goals each and every game. More interesting developments are Zirka's second place, Dynamo fending off Karpaty for a Europa League qualifying berth, and Dnipro looking in real danger of going down. I mean, the most interesting development is our Champions League campaign, but...
--

Bahtiyar and Shakhtar were looking strong - very strong. A third consecutive Ukrainian title, and in some style, was the headline news, but the 5-1 win over Madrid was the highlight of the month, if not the season, and sent shockwaves throughout Europe. Following it up with a home win over Barcelona meant that Saparow looked odds-on to lead his men into a second final. Possibly even a second title?

That would make our Turkmen star one of the world's most sought-after managers, and a second continental triumph might make him more inclined to seek new pastures. But where?

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We're going to Cardiff! Despite facing a Barcelona onslaught, a Palamarchuk strike from the edge of the area gave us the away goal cushion we needed, and while a late second for the hosts left a tense and nervous final 10 minutes, we were able to see it through without having to go through extra time and.or penalties. Having beaten two English giants in Manchester United and Liverpool last season, this time we've knocked out the top two from Spain on our way to the final. Our opponents in the Principality Stadium will be Chelsea, who edged out PSG in the final four. We'll be underdogs, but we were unfavoured last year too. Could we?

On the home front, Dynamo frustratingly handed us just our second defeat of the season in Kyiv, a tired side unable to come up with the equaliser after an early home goal. However, we then exploded in the final three games of the season, smashing three of the top six 5-0 to put a bold exclamation point on the season. It also puts us in fine form for the Champions League final...

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League done, dusted and dominated. Just 10 points dropped - four fewer than last season - a winning margin of almost 30 points, a goal difference which sees us outscore our opponents by almost 2.5 goals per game, and the runners-up closer to relegation than winning the league. We have practically no competition in Ukraine any more - the fact that we didn't also win the cup is an annoyance and a surprise - and the challenge has gone.

Elsewhere, a late slip from Zirka - two points from their last four games - allowed them to be overhauled by Obolon-Brewer for the second place spot, with Dynamo in an odd limbo seven points behind Zirka and nine ahead of Karpaty. At the bottom, Naftovyk picked up just three wins all season, but above them both Desna and Dnipro managed to pick up enough points in the final few games to send Volyn down at their expense. Dnipro are the biggest failures of the season, as I've mentioned before, and it'll be interesting to see how and if they bounce back.

That's next year though. Our season isn't done, and there's one more game in Cardiff waiting for us...

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Devastated. In front of a huge crowd in Cardiff, we came up short. Not only short, but disappointingly so. Karkoshkin missed a good chance to put us ahead after five minutes, and a few minutes later we found ourselves behind to a long-range screamer. It was a blow we never truly recovered from, and we only really created one more clear-cut opportunity, which unfortunately fell to Prudnikov rather than Palamarchuk, and it went begging. A second goal for the Blues not long into the second half killed us off, and they held us at arm's length for the rest of the game. We don't get held scoreless very often, and to do it on the biggest stage of all is a huge blow.

But we can't beat ourselves up about losing our crown. We were never expected to claim it last year, nor were we expected to make it to the final this time round. We've claimed a spot in the elite group of European sides, we've put Shakhtar well and truly on the world stage, and we've proved that we can take on and beat the very best. Unfortunately on this occasion, not Chelsea.

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In the immediate aftermath of the Champions League, the disappointment is crushing. But with the benefit of hindsight, it's been another excellent season. New men Sichkaruk and Gadjiev slotted into the squad nicely, the league was an absolute breeze, and we once again made it to the final of the most prestigious club competition in the world. A number of youngsters - Bobrov in particular - broke through into the regular rotation, while there were some excellent performances from established stars such as Palamarchuk, Zhilkin and Karev. Not a single non-Ukrainian featured for a side that almost defended the Champions League, and despite somehow missing out on the domestic cup, we are by far and away the nation's dominant side.

So, what next? I don't know. Short of going for the Champions League once again, there's nothing left for me to achieve with Shakhtar other than an unbeaten league campaign. There are some exciting youngsters coming through the ranks that I'd love to see develop, but they're long-term projects. There are other opportunities out there - is now the time to take them?
--

So close, and yet so far. Bahtiyar's Shakhtar did brilliantly to make it to the final of the Champions League, but in the end were professionally dealt with by Chelsea, leaving them with only the league title to add to their trophy cabinet. That shouldn't diminish their achievements however - the league campaign as dominant, with no-one getting close to the Donetsk outfit.

For Saparow, three years in Eastern Ukraine have yielded huge success, but the number of goals left to achieve seem to have dried up. Peerless at home, back-to-back European finals, an all-national side, all ticked off. The destination may not be clear, but is it time for our Turkmen to look for a new home?

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I'm still here. After a lengthy World Cup summer - which saw the Chinese hosts and France dropped in the groups before Italy ended up taking the spoils - it became clear that the right move wasn't available. There are precious few clubs I can see myself taking over, and none of the posts came open. Here at Shakhtar the domestic challenge is non-existent, but one more crack at the European whip is enough to keep me interested.

All of which meant a routine pre-season, with Czech and Mexican opposition beaten before we racked up 17 goals against two Crimean sides. That all led nicely into the curtain-raiser against Volyn, and we ran riot against the side which achieved a rare double of being relegated and winning the cup last season. Five goals, all in the first half, earn us our first silverware of the season, and we're ready for the league.

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Our transfer dealings are done, and arriving at the club is precisely nobody. We have the best squad in the country, the few Ukrainians that would improve us are plying their trade in Madrid, Paris and London, and there is no need to block the passage of our youth graduates to the first team by signing those of other, inferior clubs.

Leaving us, at long last, is Pavel Sova. Our mercurial Czech playmaker has struggled with injury, was not even registered last season, and now finally has his move, Real Madrid stumping up almost £20m for his considerable talents. Also leaving are some of our fringe players - Yudin and Bitarov - along with a handful of those potentially causing a bottleneck for our youngsters. Teenager Bobrov has now surpassed Funderat, Nagornyak is fourth-choice at best, while Guzenko stands in the way of recent graduate Mescheryakov. It may be a gamble to rid the side of so much experience, but we have the depth and the headstart to win the league at a canter. In Europe, a gamble may be what we need.

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The league season is underway, and we have begun it in fine form. Karkoshkin's hat-trick on the opening day in Kyiv saw a great personal milestone as he became Shakhtar's leading league goalscorer, and while I suspect he will one day find himself overtaken by Palamarchuk, it is still a great achievement for the striker.

Otherwise, we completed a straight-forward month with the concession of just that single goal in the first round, scoring 19 of our own across the five matches as we brushed aside a series of bottom-half opponents. We will face tougher challenges, but the start is strong. 

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In Europe, our draw is a difficult one. Without the top seeding guaranteed for the holders we found ourselves agonisingly short of the co-efficient required to join the second pot of seeds, and we suffered for it. Juventus are an excellent side, Manchester City perhaps the strongest team in the second pot, and fourth choice Young Boys should pose a challenge even if we should be winning. If we are to reclaim the European crown, we shall do it the hard way.

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Already we have a four point lead in the standings, and once again it is Zirka who are our closest challengers in the very early stages. The most interesting fact of the table at this point is Dynamo's meagre four points - if they stay down there very long, there will almost certainly be change afoot in the capital.

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Another set of five, and another five wins in the bag. Desna gave us our toughest test of the season thus far in the league before we swatted Zirka aside 2-0, youngster Fedorenko impressing with his third goal of the season from the attacking midfield spots. After our European campaign got under way, a third domestic home game in succession saw us run out 3-0 winners over Zorya, before we rounded out September with a 4-1 thumping of Karpaty in Lviv.

In the Champions League, Juventus came to Donetsk and were unlucky not to leave with a point. We showed great spirit to recover from an early goal to be level at the break, and in the end Palamarchuk's second after the interval got us the win. Juve pushed us very hard, having an equaliser ruled out for offside, and we can probably mark this one down in the 'fortunate to win' category.

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Nine from nine, 10 clear - nothing much to report here. Dynamo have improved to midtable, while positions two to four are the surprises - none of Zirka, Olexandriya and Chornomorets can really be expected to keep the pace. Not that anyone will in the long run, but you know what I mean.

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We'll begin October in Europe, as did our fixture list. It took us to Manchester for the second game in our Champions League group, and City simply tore us apart at the Etihad. We barely got a kick, were passed off the park, and on three separate occasions they carved us open the score - twice from open play, and the third a penalty when Bobrov got his legs in a tangle. We needed to improve significantly at home to Young Boys, and thankfully we did just that, netting early to settle the nerves and then taking apart the Swiss underdogs. 5-0 hands us two wins from three, and a win in the return gives us every chance of making it through to the last 16.

We also avenged last season's cup upset against Olexandriya, two from Fedorenko easing us through 3-1. That came after we dropped our first points of the league season away in Dnipropetrovsk, and a week later we welcomed Dynamo to Donetsk only to send them packing on the back of a Karkoshkin brace. Always good to put Kyiv in their place.

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Zirka do well to maintain the gap at 10, but it's already at 10.  Dynamo and Dnipro both continue to struggle, the rest of the top five remains unchanged, and the second newly-promoted side - Donetsk 'rivals' Olimpik - are holding their ground in the top half. It's an interesting enough season, just not if you're miles clear at the top...

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A busy November, but again we march on. In the league we faced three games, defeating Obolon-Brewer and Olexandriya by matching 2-0 scorelines, and then somehow letting a three-goal lead slip against Chornomorets before snatching the win anyway through Palamarchuk's late header. Two weeks later, after an international break, a heavily rotated side saw off Volyn in Lutsk to book a semi-final spot in the cup. The domestic challenge is non-existent.

The same cannot be said of Europe. Having hammered Young Boys at home, we travelled to Bern full of confidence, only to need a pair of penalties - one as late as the 87th minute - to even salvage a point. The Swiss were a completely different side, we were complacent, and we had work to do. However, away in Turin at the end of the month we put in our strongest show of the season so far, blitzing our hosts with a Palamarchuk double and then adding a counter-attacking third in the second half. That books our last 16 spot before we face City a second time, and so we await the knockout draw with anticipation.

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We have still dropped just two points, while second place Zirka have put down 17. We're flying, out of reach of the rest of the league, and the title race - if it was ever on - is well and truly over. As it stands, none of Obolon, Dnipro or Dynamo will make Europe - the latter stuck in the bottom half - and so the landscape of Ukrainian football is changing. The name on the trophy each season certainly isn't though.

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Posted (edited)

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Somehow, we've lost a game. Not only that, but we've lost to Desna - one of the weakest sides in the league. Quite what happened in Chernigov I'm not quite sure, but even with a handful of first-teamers out, we should never find ourselves beaten by them. Either side of that one result we were fine in the league - beating neighbours Olimpik 3-1 and then netting five without reply across games with Zirka and Vorskla - but the loss of our unbeaten record continues to sting.

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In the Champions League, we needed a three-goal win at home to City to overhaul the Mancunians and claim top spot, but with our progress already secure there was no need for us to risk too much. A draw against the group winners was less than ideal but more than we took from the away game - hope that we can in fact go toe-to-toe with them - and the two of us combine to relegate Juventus to the Europa League. Our reward for second place is a tie with a group winner, and PSG will pose quite the challenge. Still, we've beaten them before, and we can do so again.

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18 games gone, 18 points the lead as we hit the winter break. The loss at Desna continues to bewilder me, but the league is wrapped up already - we can't mathematically do it before the split, but that's the sort of dominance we're talking about. What the rest of the country is talking about is the bottom of the table - Vorskla look as good as gone, but just two points separate Dnipro in 11th from Zorya in 6th - and with Dynamo in there too, there are some big clubs in a real struggle.
--

Shakhtar continue to fly, dominating Ukraine and making progress in Europe despite their unbeaten record being surrendered in an unlikely fashion. Bahtiyar had little concern about his side holding onto their title - and most definitely had an eye on regaining the cup - but the real challenge is without doubt the Champions League.

However, the lack of domestic competition for his all-Ukrainian side, combined with previous successes, has left a certain Turkmen with a certain lack of motivation in Donetsk. The present season looks almost certain to be his last, and scouting out a suitable destination is already underway... 

Edited by EvilDave

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looking frightful steamrolling domestically.  Will Turkmen go west or back east?

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Finally  caught up with everything. This has been a great save so far. Interesting that you did it with only Ukrainian players.

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Thanks for reading guys, glad you're enjoying it. Ukraine has become a bit of a chore domestically at this stage, even with native players only, so a new challenge is necessary soon. I know where I'd like it to be, but it needs to come open...

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