Crimean First Division leaders Gvardiets head into the title decider on Saturday afternoon, reports Patrik Miguel of the AR Crimea Football Free Press.
Darwen’s men entertain Zhemchuyzna Yalta at the Gvardiets Stadium on Saturday and it looks like winner takes all. The Guards are three points ahead of their rivals with a far superior goal difference, but a win for Zhemchuyzna could see the momentum swing back in their favour. Gvardiets are yet to beat the men from Yalta, losing 3-1 in the league and throwing away a 2-0 lead in the Crimean Cup third round. Darwen, however, is being bullish.
“There is a reason we are top of the table with five games to go. It doesn’t matter that Zhemchuyzna have beaten us already, we are still three points clear. It might not even matter if they beat us again, I can see us winning the final four matches with ease and still taking the championship. But yeah, I can also see us winning and finishing their unbeaten run. Am I bothered that they might see the season out unbeaten? Not if we end up with more points than them – we have won twenty-eight out of thirty-one, they have won twenty-six. Unbeaten means nothing if you don’t win the title.”
It is unimaginable that Darwen will alter his approach to the match, his fast, attacking, aggressive 3-3-1-3 having got them to this point of the season with a plus 84 goal difference. That means there will be goals for sure, as Zhemchuyzna are clearly capable of hitting Gvardiets on the break. Darwen offered his thoughts on this.
“People always ask me what I will do to combat the threat of the opposition. I give them the same answer, we are top of the table and playing the type of football not seen before in this part of the world. Why should I change? We have scored 112 goals in this division, they have scored 87. We have only let in one more than they have (28 to their 27), so for a team that people say just attack carelessly and don’t care about defence, we are not doing that badly. I think it is up to them to work out how they contain us, if they manage too then it will be difficult for us – but I am not going to change how we play.”
He has a point, Gvardiets are the top scorers across all the European leagues this season and in Dmytro Men’shykov have a player with 36 goals in 32 appearances across all competitions. He is not alone, Martynov has 15 in 19, Safaryan 18 in 28, and this was 18 in 23 before he was out injured for eight weeks. Even the main back-up striker, Pisyni, has 10 goals in 12 starts. This team are hard to stop scoring.
So how have Zhemchuyzna beaten them in the league and cup so far? Both times Gvardiets have been ahead, and both times Zhemchuyzna have been patient and picked their opponents off on the counter attack. In the cup, it was 2-0 with 20 to go and Gvardiets just kept piling forward. The game ended 3-2. For me, Zhemchuyzna are actually the better side, but they play a much more patient, counter attacking style which has meant they have struggled to break sides down who sit back and defend, hence their five draws. Gvardiets, well the only way to stop them is to try and get plenty of men behind the ball and hope that they don’t find a way of breaking you down with their quick, clever, intricate passing patterns.
Gvardiets know a win or a draw pretty much guarantees the title, promotion having been wrapped up for both teams weeks ago. Even a defeat would not be a car crash for them. For Zhemchuyzna, will they be brave enough to sit back and hope they can nick it on the break, or will they try and attack from the off which is guaranteed to leave room for The Guards to go and play?
Zhemchuyzna will be without half of their own clincial strike duo – 10-goal Slautin is injured. They will also be without a key attacking threat from midfield with Maksim also missing through injury. Gvardiest have a fully fit squad, but will be without their experienced defender Zakarov who misses out through suspension, one of many picked up by Darwen’s side this season.
It should be an intriguing battle at the weekend.
AR Crimea Football Free Press.