The international break offered Veikkausliiga teams a one last chance to refine their play. With 9 games left over a 6 week period, the game is not about stamina and fitness anymore, it’s all about who’s top level is the highest. I take a look at the best opportunities on the Asian Handicap market.
HIFK v VPS
Stuck in a next to last position behind Inter, HIFK’s odds were looking bad at home against SJK, trying to leave the qualification spot. As I predicted, and Eastbridge delivered the most profitable Asian Handicap odds, HIFK shocked the titleholders with a 3-1 win.
While the win was a magical experience to the home crowd, and a very much-needed one, SJK was beaten thanks to their cockiness. Cheap mistakes offered HIFK chances to penalize the visitors, who looked nonchalant throughout the 90 minutes. Also, it’s a peculiar fact that SJK hasn’t won a single league tie in Helsinki.
What is perhaps even more peculiar is that the regional rivals of SJK, VPS, have a perfect record away at HIFK in Veikkausliiga. The highly strategically disciplined team has, unlike its table rivals, put all trust in their current squad focusing instead on improving their collective performance. Fascinating, considering that VPS has used the second least amount of players in Veikkausliiga. Only IFK Mariehamn have used fewer relying on an even smaller squad rotation.
HIFK decided to sack the club icon, Jani Honkavaara, in the middle of the season. He was replaced by HJK legend Antti Muurinen. The intention of a new coach was never a strategic one, more of a change of atmosphere. I hold it wise not to be too ambitious and strive for a bigger change, but there’s a certain risk with relying on better team spirit in hope of more points. At least it has given striker Pekka Sihvola a renaissance, who has scored five times in 6 games under Muurinen. With Honkavaara he found the net only 10 times in 44 matches.
VPS are the favorites in my books, not only thanks to their positive history at HIFK. They’re also significantly more unlikely to make cheap errors. Instead controlling the game through possession and punishing a rather unstable defense.
Asian Handicap Recommendation: VPS +/- 0 at 2.08
Ilves v RoPS
A look at the table says that this game is crucial for both teams in the top half. It’ll have an impact for both teams at the end of the season. However, a loss of points won’t actually be fatal to neither one, yet.
As the attacking magician Paul Emile Tendeng has cooled down together with the Finnish weather, young winger Mikael Soisalo has taken a huge leap forward. Hw was rewarded with a place in the team of the month. However, it still doesn’t change the fact that Ilves lack a regular offensive arsenal. Their 3 pure strikers have together scored a disappointing 2 goals this season.
Fortunately for Ilves, it’s not easy for their opponents, RoPS, either. Star striker Aleksandr Kokko left for Newcastle Jets after a glorious 5-0 win in Lapland derby against PS Kemi, RoPS have been surprisingly weak without him. Too much weight is on Robert Taylor’s shoulders and Kokko’s replacement, Estonian Albert Prosa, hasn’t yet fit the role.
In their previous win home against Lahti, which by definition is a win even before the kickoff, Cameroonian winger Jean Fridolin Nganbe Nganbe played his once-in-a-year match, scoring twice. And no, that’s not the reason he’s named twice. So, I don’t want to put too much weight on a home win against a team that is yet to win away this year.
With a win, RoPS would probably put even more distance between at least two of its rivals. Ilves would be near an exit from the medal race. A home win would make the race even tighter, while a draw would disappoint both teams at the moment.
Two very talented goalkeepers are facing two struggling offenses. However, both sides’ defenses have recently made some embarrassing errors. Otherwise defending with high discipline.
Asian Handicap Recommendation: Under 2.25 at 1.78
KuPS v IFK Mariehamn
Another match, where the result has the potential to shake the top of the table. The home side sits in a fourth position on equal points with VPS. The visitors trail league leaders HJK by one point with a game in hand.
KuPS, who’ve played equally well on home and away turf, have a chance to kill IFK’s away momentum, which in turn, has kept the islanders on the pole position.
Despite a challenging match schedule in August, goalkeeper Johannes Kreidl and centre back Babacar Diallo were named in the team of the month. It’s safe to say that KuPS has matured strategically. However, they are still far away from the discipline IFK Mariehamn possesses.
It became clear in IFK’s previous home game how dependent they are on good away results if they wish to keep a grip on the league title. They never took the initiative against VPS, which very seldom is a solid plan to get a win on home soil. No matter how much VPS likes to play possession football. With that said, it’s no wonder that IFK Mariehamn’s aggressive and shifting pressure suits better on the road.
Though KuPS are in a good spirit, not least thanks to the late 2-3 win at HJK, their sassiness won’t compensate the strategic flaws. I see a good value in a positive away result for IFK Mariehamn, once again.
Asian Handicap Recommendation: IFK M +0.25 at 1.87
Prices correct at time of writing.
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