IFK Mariehamn v HJK

There were some tops, some flops and a bunch of average performances in the premier round of Veikkausliiga 2018. IFK Mariehamn belongs to the flops, and peak that list.

The 2016 champions lost some edge from their title claiming squad prior to last season but could still cover the losses decently. However, Robbin Sellin, the driving attacking force of IFK, left only after one season. Nicklas Maripuu is top signing but has a more deep-lying role in the central midfield and can only do so much.

The Islanders’ preseason was tragic. They were in trouble against newcomers TPS, and Aleksei Kangaskolkka didn’t look at all like a solid starting striker. A 2-0 defeat at RoPS only made their situation worse. It was the absolute worst performance of the premier round, with no clear structure in the visitors’ execution.

Title holders HJK made a rather disappointing transfer window. German goalkeeper Thomas Dähne was replaced by a wildcard signing Maxim Rudakov, who arrived on loan from Zenit St Petersburg. Half sloppy performances meant that U21-national Markus Uusitalo got the responsibility against Ilves.

Ilves controlled the first half against HJK at Telia 5G Stadium in Helsinki, opening the scoring early with a beautiful volley. It certainly looked like Ilves gaffer Jarkko Wiss was beating HJK head coach Mika Lehkosuo in tactics. However, a step up for the second half and especially subbing in Filip Valencic turned the score table to the home side’s favor.

Mariehamn is on a roll of five consecutive defeats, and nothing is indicating that their streak would end on Saturday. Despite the fact that there’s some room for improvement in diverse areas for HJK, they are absolute favorites here. If Valencic starts, I’d go for an even larger handicap.

Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: HJK -0.75 at 1.720

Ilves v KuPS

KuPS beat Ilves by goal difference in the previous Veikkausliiga season, ensuring a runner-up finish. Hence, both teams participate this year in Europa League qualifications. However, the consequences were oddly different.

Ilves lost to key players in Reuben Ayarna and Paul Emile Tendeng both to – once again – seriously investing SJK. Additionally, reliable wing back Teemu Pennikangas left to another better-paying team, Inter Turku. Ariel ‘Tuco’ Ngueukam, who struck 15 league goals and gave 5 assists last year, departed for a bizarrely short stint at HJK before going after some serious Qatari money.

The losses are huge, and the replacements are modest. Tuomas Rannankari is a matching replacement for Penninkangas on the left flank, and Matias Ojala was a smart pick from Kemi to take the next step in his career. As for significant arrivals, that’s pretty much it. Head coach Jarkko Wiss has made it clear that the young players need to take a leap forward, in order to keep Ilves in the top.

KuPS’ squad is of another caliber. The latest addition is of top class, as they loaned Egyptian national Abdallah Said, who is looking to get in shape for the World Cup. The loanee raised KuPS market value to become the highest in Veikkausliiga this season, according to Transfermarkt. The striker made his first practice with the club Wednesday and is allowed to play in Helsinki – where Ilves are in exile until further notice – against Ilves.

Although a remarkable difference in market values – or whatever you want to call it – Ilves looked more like a compact collective team than KuPS in the first round. Ilves could almost hold the line at HJK, where the fixture was determined not only by excellent quality but also a difference in routine.

No matter the international and national merits, Honkavaara hasn’t been able to combine the assets he has, yet. Ilves has beaten KuPS in 11(!) consecutive games, but it might come to an end now. Hence, the choice of +0.25, which is still of excellent value.

Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Ilves 0.25 at 1.950

FC Honka v FC Lahti

The promoted home team continued their impressive form from the cup semi-final against HJK when they visited runner-ups KuPS in Kuopio. Vesa Vasara has implanted a diverse toolset in Honka’s tactics. KuPS and HJK are quite the different teams of high quality, but Honka put up a serious fight against both of them.

At Savon Sanomat Areena, Honka got a flashing start with an opening goal from the penalty spot. KuPS equalized a tad later, but Honka kept an impressive pace throughout the 90 minutes. Last year, KuPS became notorious for turning the score in their favor in the final 15 minutes, but Honka was by far the club closer to grabbing a winning goal.

Although Lahti were my only winners in the last preview, I’m not about to write them a love song.

In Sunday’s early match, the other newcomers TPS visited Lahti at Kisapuisto. TPS was creating chances from early on, mainly for Aleksi Ristola. Unfortunate to the Turku club, Ristola is an infamously horrible finisher. I mean, so infamous, that he’s practically a Veikkausliiga version of DeAndre Jordan on the free throw line.

Lahti took the lead undeservedly through a lucky goal, which gave them a slight shift in momentum, but it was still TPS who was steering the game. Some sloppy defending gave the home side two additional goals. TPS started executing their chances – once Ristola got off the field – too late and could only leave Lahti with a disappointing 3-2 result.

Lahti’s midfield looked like it’s the weakest area against TPS. With a more complete and structured game, I believe Honka to get a positive result at Tapiolan Urheilupuisto.

Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Honka DNB at 1.769

By Petteri Räisänen – @konformisten from @FootballUtd

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