The final sprint of the season after the international break is intensive. Veikkausliiga returned on Friday, the teams had only the weekend to rest before getting back to action on Monday evening. I have three more match previews and Asian Handicap recommendations.
IFK Mariehamn v PS Kemi
Last Friday’s defeat in Kuopio was a tough one for IFK Mariehamn. Although a game in hand and only 4 points trail to HJK, IFK’s shot at the title got a lot slimmer. It was away games where IFK were supposed to keep their hopes up.
Kemi had also a tough game when they hosted league leaders HJK. Offensively it wasn’t a bad game, but defensively, Kemi looked disorganized and vulnerable.
Which got me thinking about Kemi throughout the season. I remember a home game against IFK Mariehamn very early in the season. Kemi didn’t fear to attack but did it with a defensive cost. Is that truly the top level of Kemi? Because home against VPS they had a completely different strategy, which was close to perfect.
Swedish striker Erik Törnros arrived to Kemi on loan from Swedish second tier side Dalkurd FF, when Billy Ions was sold to SJK. The former youth international took his chance immediately and was rewarded with a player of the month prize. A good recruit, but a little to go with against top teams, when the rest of the team just isn’t enough.
Despite a rather poor home record, IFK Mariehamn are the favorites here. However, I don’t fancy them for a bigger win. A low scoring match feels safer with a good value.
Asian Handicap Recommendation: Under 2.5 at 1.68
VPS v KuPS
Table spots 3 to 7 are all within 2 points. KuPS and VPS are on the same number of points, 3rd and 4th, only 2 goals separating them. A loss here to a table rival would temporarily be huge, and could kill the momentum.
VPS have had some trouble finding the net since their fine winning streak. In their 7 previous games they’ve netted only 3 times. Drawing thrice goalless and winning twice. In other words VPS are still defensively one of the best teams in the league, they just need to solve it in the other end.
KuPS took a fine 2-1 home win against IFK Mariehamn, which could’ve been an even bigger win. Sasa Jovovic, who arrived from second tier team Ekenäs IF, has been a positive addition except when it comes to his efficiency. Fortunately Gbolahan Salami is getting better towards the end of the season.
It’ll be interesting to see who’ll start in the home team’s defensive line. Vuorinen has used an unorthodox rotation system in defense, where he’s switched between center backs all season long. Captain Ville Koskimaa was sidelined in Helsinki and is doubtful for Monday, as is youth international Mikko Viitikko. In Helsinki Nikko Boxall and Timi Lahti put in a solid performance, despite this being their first time together as a center back duo this year.
There’s little difference to this matchup compared to their previous one in Vaasa in July. With such a strong defense in opposition, KuPS will have to rely on their specialty – set pieces.
Despite VPS troubles netting, their style has been difficult for KuPS to handle. Last time in Vaasa Andre Clennon caused a lot of trouble for KuPS defense, giving VPS midfielders a lot more space.
Asian Handicap Recommendation: VPS -0.25 at 2.02
Inter v HIFK
There are two very hot clashes between top half teams, but this match of anxiety takes the prize as the match to watch. Both Inter and HIFK have switched coaches to survive relegation, the former with a lesser effect, so far.
Shefki Kuqi brought his own circus to a team that had already its own freak show going on. Strategically, logically – whatever you want to call it – Kuqi is not going to save Inter. If they survive, it’ll be thanks to individuals, not a team effort and absolutely not the coach’s effort.
It couldn’t be more opposite in HIFK. Antti Muurinen has brought in a positive spirit to raise the team, which has resulted in an individual renaissance, as Pekka Sihvola has finally found his long lost scoring skill.
HIFK’s win over SJK was a brilliant performance, and their loss against VPS was fair despite the bitter result. Muurinen said after the game that he didn’t want to stress to the players how important the game against Inter will be, but he just did. Says something about a professional sense of keeping a positive atmosphere.
Meanwhile in Seinäjoki, Shefki Kuqi blamed Inter’s loss on the referees, again: “same crap week after week.” Ironically, he could’ve been referring to himself.
Excuses won’t be good enough for Kuqi himself either if they lose on Monday. I see a lot bigger opportunity in HIFK, whose preparation seems so much better, despite a stronger squad in Inter.
Asian Handicap Recommendation: HIFK +0.25 at 1.77
Prices correct at time of writing.
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