Stoke's Europa League campaign begins tonight, but a 3,000 mile trip, four exciting Nigerians and a rejuvenated Andriy Shevchenko stand between them and success.
Kiev Is F***ing Miles Away:
Qualifying for Europe may have seemed a charming and exciting prospect for The Potters at the end of last season, and Tony Pulis may have even had a few special baseball caps picked out, to keep his bonce cool and shaded in some of Spain and Italy's more humid footballing locations. Unfortunately, when The Europa League draw was made, Stoke were in for a shock. In total, Pulis' lads will be travelling 11,000 miles for their away fixtures in the group stage of this years competition. As well as Kiev, they will travel to Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel and be partaking in a leisurely jaunt over to Istanbul to face Beşiktaş, the gaffer has claimed their fixtures are 'horrendous' but that they will 'try and enjoy it'. He may change tact however, when Robert Huth and Peter Crouch are squabbling over who gets the seats with extra leg-room on the way to Tel Aviv.
Dynamo Kiev could be the best team in the Ukraine... again:
Although Kiev's name has always carried a weight of history in European and domestic competition, more recently they have been overshadowed by arch-rivals Shakhtar Donetsk, losing the league to them two years running and watching them lift the UEFA Cup in 2009. Kiev manager Yury Semin however, has set about rejuvenating his squad, instilling it with a balance of experience and youth to drag Dynamo back to the summit of Ukrainian football. After 11 games of the Ukrainian league played, Kiev are fighting Shakhtar tooth and nail for the top-spot, at the moment only falling short on goal difference. Coupling this with impressive showings against tough opposition in last years Europa League would indicate that Semin is doing the job needed, and it shouldn't be long before Dynamo have their first trophy since 2007.
Kiev manager Yury Semin however, has set about rejuvenating his squad, instilling it with a balance of experience and youth to drag Dynamo back to the summit of Ukrainian football
Andriy Shevchenko is still capable of a goal or two:
For fans of The Premier League it may be hard to remember another world-renowned striker who came to Chelsea and failed to impress, such is the fame of their current sulky recruit. However, Andriy Shechenko was once that man. The Ukraine's most acclaimed export is now plying his trade in the capital and occasionally leading the line for Dynamo's rejuvenated team. Although he doesn't always feature for Kiev, Shevchenko still has the ability to cause Stoke damage and if he can rekindle the form which made him the toast of Milan, even for a few seconds, The Potters should be worried. Six league appearances this year have resulted in three goals, it may be in fits and starts, but Andriy has still got it.
'The Nigerian Legion' are quite handy:
Although it sounds like a tag-team from the WWF in its 90's heyday, 'The Nigerian Legion' is in fact a nickname endowed to Kiev's African-born contingent by the Ukrainian press. Ideye Brown, Lukman Haruna, Fanendo Adi, and Ayila Yussuf provide Dynamo with an exciting, attack-minded style of play which has been central to Yury Semin's overhaul of the team. In particular, Ideye Brown has shown he is capable of the spectacular, scoring four goals in his first two games for the club. Stoke must be wary of this quartet of players, and Pulis must get his tactics right to stifle their impressive range of attacking options. His back four has too often looked static and slow, attributes which will play into the hands of Dynamo.
Their fans are mental:
Thanks to one of those informative, yet ultimately infuriating magazine segments on MOTD2 I have been informed that Stoke, despite a relatively small stadium are the loudest fans in The Premier League. Similarly, despite a relatively small stadium (16,873 capacity), Dynamo Kiev's fans are undoubtedly some of the maddest in Europe. They are of the 'bounce on the spot and incessantly chant' school of football fandom favoured by most Eastern European teams. If you hear the strains of 'Delilah' over the ruckus caused by the home fans at the Lobanovsky Dynamo Stadium this evening, I will be very surprised.
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