The same Mykhailo Mudryk, but different? Chelsea winger adapts to inspire Ukraine

Mykhailo Mudryk sprung off the turf, rising through the drizzle to meet the ball with the badge on his jersey, before guiding it deftly to the grass below. Then, he turned, driving forward into the ever-widening channel in front of him. Slovakia’s goal grew bigger and bigger before him, as he drew closer and closer. But it would never be sizeable enough to contain his shot. It was an ugly finish in all honesty, slashed high, wide and hopeless.

It was a moment to sum up his brief Euro 2024 campaign up to that point, but more than that, it was an extension of a dispiriting first 18 months at Chelsea. The Ukrainian has been praised by fans of the club for his application, an admirable quality, but so far he has provided lots of endeavour and very little product for the Blues.

And on Friday, clad from neck to ankle in yellow rather than blue, this was a different Mudryk, yet the same Mudryk.

In his nation’s wretched Group E opener against Romania, a surprisingly one-sided 3-0 defeat, Mudryk was passable in certain areas; statistically, at least, he battled well to win duels and make helpful recoveries. But as arguably the closest thing his team has to a talisman – with Andriy Yarmolenko somewhat of a fading force at 34 – the 23-year-old was ineffective, demonstrated by his reliably unreliable finishing.

One chance summed up his afternoon on Monday, as he was put through one-on-one late in the game, only to send a shot woefully off target. And the same scene rolled on Friday, but thankfully for Mudryk, it would not be his defining moment against Slovakia.

Early on, his teammates tried to pick out the left winger, who would veer centrally at times, with lofted passes. Most of those balls were admittedly lacking in accuracy, though Mudryk’s timing was perhaps off as well. With Oleksandr Zinchenko behind him, Mudryk and the Arsenal left-back should theoretically have formed a formidable partnership, but it was a fragmented one initially.

Mykhailo Mudryk during Ukraine’s 2-1 win over Slovakia at Euro 2024 (Getty Images)
Mykhailo Mudryk during Ukraine’s 2-1 win over Slovakia at Euro 2024 (Getty Images)

That was in part due to Slovakia’s keen sense of positioning and eagerness to press, crowding the space between Mudryk and Zinchenko and giving neither much time to think or act. And even as Ukraine, over the course of the first half, began to target Mudryk with balls along the surface, they proved no more adept at picking out the winger. That is to acknowledge: His initial impotence in Dusseldorf was not wholly down to him.

But when he did find himself in promising positions, Mudryk just could not capitalise at first – a couple of clauses that will be achingly familiar to Chelsea fans.

Not long after his driving run and haphazard shot on 22 minutes, the 23-year-old slipped a pass through to Artem Dovbyk, but the weight was just slightly off, and the striker forced a corner when a better set-up might have allowed a goal. Later in the half, Mudryk shimmied nicely in the Slovakia box and shrugged his way past his man, but his final stroke again left something to be desired, and the attack petered out.

A couple of phases prior, he was actually guilty of a rare case of laziness, languidly jogging towards the Slovakia area as his teammates desperately sought a response to Ivan Schranz’s opener. After Ukraine hit the post, Mudryk eventually found himself on the ball in the box, but he was quickly closed down and dispossessed – not for the first time.

Mudryk’s end product was lacking at times, but he improved as the game wore on (Getty Images)
Mudryk’s end product was lacking at times, but he improved as the game wore on (Getty Images)

But in the second half, Mudryk finally made the kind of contribution that his nation needed: not a goal or assist, but an important act in Ukraine’s equaliser – and evidence of learning, following his earlier failures.

Once again, Mudryk bore down on goal. On this occasion, he elected not to shoot, instead slipping the ball to his left on the diagonal, finding Dovbyk as he had done in the first half. This time, though, the pass was just right. Dovbyk then combined with Georgiy Sudakov to bring Zinchenko into play, the full-back sneaking around the outside of Sudakov and into the perfect crossing position.

Zinchenko’s low ball bypassed Mudryk but found Mykola Shaparenko, who was unmarked, clinical, and ready to tuck away the equaliser. Mudryk’s run started the move, yes, but his lingering presence in the box thereafter proved important, too, as he drew the attention of two defenders and allowed Shaparenko the space to finish.

As Ukraine grew in confidence and sought a winner, Mudryk actually did well to hit the post from an acute angle, after striker Roman Yaremchuk overhit a pass to the Chelsea forward. Mudryk had accelerated past the substitute, timing his run well, only to be let down by the attempted assist.

Mudryk ultimately played an important role in Ukraine securing three points (Getty Images)
Mudryk ultimately played an important role in Ukraine securing three points (Getty Images)

Mudryk dropped to the turf in the ensuing passage of play, clutching his leg, but thankfully he was okay to continue, and Ukraine’s pursuit of three points continued.

And thankfully, Yaremchuk found his touch – two of them, in fact, both brilliant – to make that pursuit a successful one. After expertly bringing down an overhead ball with his first touch, the striker stabbed a shot under Martin Dubravka for 2-1.

With that, Ukraine earned a vital win in Group E, keeping themselves very much in the running for a place in the last 16. Mudryk himself knows a thing or two about running; it is the rest of his game that tends to frustrate. But on Friday, he learned over the course of a crucial contest, and his in-game improvements should not be overlooked.