Veikkausliiga season 2017 kicks off after a long, dark winter. The long wait ends with high anticipation and high expectations on several teams compared to the few earlier seasons. Several clubs, not only SJK and HJK, have made a good off-season with interesting signings. Reigning champions IFK Mariehamn lost a handful of key players but at least on paper replaced them well. Last year’s two big surprises Ilves and VPS kept their core structure, the former making some few good additions to the squad. The by far biggest disappointment of 2016, FC Inter Turku, had a wild transfer window adding some arsenal in form of former league top scorer Timo Furuholm.
HJK v VPS
Despite two utterly catastrophic seasons in row by Finnish giants HJK, the Helsinki club made a huge economic profit last year. The organization per se is doing amazingly well, now they just need to reflect it back on the scoreboard.
Not sacking head coach Mika Lehkosuo is a signal of trust on longevity, or perhaps simply a preference of economy. The heavily criticized coach’s contract covers the following two seasons, and sacking him would definitely made a huge blow on the beautiful numbers the board so proudly presented.
What VPS did in contrast two seasons ago was firing their coach Olli Huttunen, who brought European qualifications back to Vaasa. However, his fate was sealed by a struggle against relegation, so there’s that. Petri Vuorinen, who replaced him mid-season, was a favorite with VPS in relegation battle before the last season. Against many of the experts’ expectations, he managed to get VPS back to Europe. Now it’s time for longevity in Vaasa, this time with coach Vuorinen.
Except some turbulent friendlies against Swedish Allsvenskan clubs, HJK made a strong pre-season. In the new format of the national cup, HJK sailed easily to the final. They won all seven games, scored 22 times and allowed only two goals. To add some modesty to those statistics, they did face some lower tier teams.
VPS, on the other hand, had a rather mixed pre-season. They beat in late November Swedish greats AIK 0-1 and local rivals SJK 0-3 in the cup, but lost embarrassingly to third tier team MuSa and blatantly 5-1 at Östersund in Sweden, which was the last match before the season kicks off.
HJK start the season with a good flow and have a deep depth in the squad with no major injuries disturbing the preparation. Meanwhile, VPS have had a few key offensive players (Juha Hakola & Sebastian Strandvall) missing due to injuries, a huge factor for a team that struggle finding the net. VPS defense has been sloppier than earlier and HJK’s immense firepower in the cup looks promising for a big home win.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: HJK -1.25 at 1.780
SJK v FC Lahti
Bronze medalists SJK had a crazy winter. Highly praised head coach Simo Valakari was sacked about a month before the season start, which raised a lot of questions on the organization. Former HJK coach Sixten Boström returned to Finland from MLS club Columbus Crew, and is trying to get rid of his status as the laughingstock of Finnish football.
Boström did fail horribly with HJK in Europe, but on the other hand, won the title for HJK. Although his signing was faced with plenty of skepticism, I believe he can make a better season with SJK than Valakari would have. Boström is not nearly as ideological and does not mind owner Sarajärvi standing for the majority of signings.
Some players left the club for rivaling league teams, but none of them had a key role. However, the depth took a blow from the losses, something that the new signings don’t cover fully. SJK’s midfield is still league elite, but the central defense and offense lack options. Top scorer Roope Riski left on loan for the German side Paderborn, which puts a heavy load especially on Billy Ions.
Toni Korkeakunnas is leading FC Lahti for the last year, unless he manages to pull off a magic rabbit out of his hat and finish in the top four. The overall atmosphere in Lahti has barely changed from last season, with barely any hopes for finish in the top and as few worries for relegation. Some few rotten apples left the squad but were mostly replaced by loanees from Zenit St. Petersburg.
However, most importantly the goalie position is in a better shape from the beginning of the season, as they got rid of the huge flop named Tomi Maanoja. Hendrik Helmke is a brilliant addition to the midfield, where Duarte Tammilehto was supposed to bounce back to league elite last year (and obviously did not do so).
Lahti had a horrible cup run with only one win against another league team, JJK. A 3-2 win against the promoted club that lost all of its key players despite the promotion, I mean, come on. SJK, just like HJK, made their way to the final, however at a great cost. Their semi final against second tier team Honka went to penalties on Saturday, which definitely takes a toll on a rather slim squad.
SJK are the clear favorites here, as they should be. However, FC Lahti have lost only once in ten games against SJK under Toni Korkeakunnas. Don’t ask me why, but somehow this man’s football is poison against SJK. There’s a good chance for a second loss, but I’m not expecting a triumphant home victory.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: FC Lahti +1 at 1.670
Цены правильные на момент написания.
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