Inhulets are showing the way forward in their new league.
Inhulets take positive steps forward in their first season of Ukrainian Premier League Football.
Matchday 3 in the Ukrainian Premier League threw up some exciting games even if the match in Kirovograd Region between Inhulets and Desna Chernihiv did not stand out. Inhulets from Petrove village are making their debut in the top flight this year, following several near misses. In contrast, Desna Chernihiv will make their European debut this week after finishing fourth last season. However, the game took on extra significance following the sale of Oleksandr Filippov to St Truiden in Belgium in the run-up to kick-off. Filippov had been the star striker last season, so it would have been interesting to see how both teams would adapt. Inhulets had started the season with a draw and defeat, but this would be their first game at their adopted home for the season in Kropynytskyi City.
Since their promotion to the Premier League, Inhulets have adopted a more defensive stance to protect the defense against an upgrade in quality. Below, we can see that one of the attacking players has been replaced with a holding midfielder as the team has transitioned from a 4-1-3-2 to a 4-2-3-1.
The game on the left was the most recent game against Desna Chernihiv, with Inhulets in the red. The game on the right was from their last game pre-promotion away at Balkany Zorya, where Inhulets were in blue. The two holding midfielders add a barrier in front of the defensive backline. This allows the front four players to engage the ball further up the pitch than would usually be expected in Ukraine.
Stopping the build-up
Ukrainian football is often characterized by slow build-up play. Defenders and midfielders drop deep when they lose possession and allow the team with the ball to play in front of them.
Here we can see the Inhulets defense sitting deep in the game’s early minutes and allowing Desna time on the ball. Desna averaged over 60% of the possession throughout the game, with possession jumping to over 80% of the ball for the match’s final thirty minutes. As you may have noticed from the two line-ups above, the back four remain unchanged since their promotion. Kovalev, Balan, and Kucherenko are all averaging 90 minutes per match of game time for the season so far. There is a clear build-up of confidence through consistency in the backline.
However, to really understand where the Inhulets tactics’ success lies, we need to look further up the pitch. This solid foundation allows the front four for Inhulets to hunt the ball further up the field. Yevgen Zaporozhets recovered the ball eight times in the game on Saturday, six of which were in the opposition half. In the picture below, we can see the benefit of pressing the opposition further up the field. On winning the ball, the advanced players provide excellent outlets for a swift counterattack despite Inhulets being the home team.
The three players in advance of the ball have an unusual amount of space to exploit after Zaporozhets won the ball. This example very nearly provided the opening goal of the game. The equalizer for Inhulets came from another piece of high pressing.
From a quick throw-in to Inhulets, we can see four players already in the final third, with one of the holding midfielders, backing up the play. This high line caused Desna Chernihiv numerous problems all game and allowed Inhulets to create chances despite not seeing much of possession. The two holding midfielders Kucherenko and Lupashko, won several balls in the attacking third, giving the front four a springboard to attack the Desna defense.
A tricky forward
It would be rude to talk about Inhulets without acknowledging the massive impact of Nikita Sitchinava, who ran himself into the ground for eighty minutes of the game. Sitchinanva scored 18 goals last season for Inhulets, as he provided the catalyst for the promotion charge. His goals quite often turning potential draws into three points for his team. He plays on his own in advance of the three attacking midfielders and can quite often end up isolated against the defense. In the image above, he is number 4 on the photo and receives the ball with his back to the goal. This move leads to the equalizer where he dribbled away from the defender and hit a hard drive into the top left corner.
In the photo below from earlier in the second half, we see Sitchinanava bursting from his half. Desna Chernihiv had just turned over the ball from their corner. He can exploit the space with his rapid pace, creating opportunities for his team from the smallest of chances.
Using a combination of strength and pace, he holds off the challenges. We can also note here that two of his teammates are up with play supporting him in the process.
Battled hardened for the challenges ahead
On the face of the match statistics, Inghulets should have lost the game quite comfortably; Desna Chernihiv controlled the ball for three-quarters of the match. They had two times more shots on goal (18 to 9) and more than double the number of passes (2537 to 241). They won the ball back more often and were successful in duels, so the question remains had done Inhulets collect the point? I believe that the final clue comes back to the shots.
Of the eighteen shots that Desna had during the match, Inhulets defenders blocked six of these before reaching the goal. We can see the spirit shown by these defenders in the images below.
In both these examples, late in the game, Desna Chernihiv strikers (Shevtsov and Budkivskyi) are free deep inside the penalty area. It is only through the determination of the Inhulets defense that neither chance tested the goalkeeper. This spirit comes from the base of a squad that has played together over several years. This trust and desire have built up through games over several years, which should take the squad further as they adapt.
Inhulets uses a solid base of a defense with a wealth of experience to build a cohesive team unit. The confidence in the backline allows their attacking players to engage with the ball further up the field, in the belief that their defenders will carry out their roles well if the ball is turned over. Nikita Sitchinava uses his explosive talent to exploit these spaces further up the field and finish off the few chances that come to him during the game. It will be interesting to see if Inhulets can keep up this full press approach throughout the season or if fitness issues will slow their game down.