The Fall season is starting to resemble last year’s finish an awful lot. In a similar fashion, HJK were supposed to, and were given the chance to gain the title like a walk in the park, but here we are. Once again, the contenders, who are clearly a lot weaker – except SJK – have had their chances to take advantage of HJK’s struggle, but instead make a counter-offer by stumbling themselves. The question is, will we have a worthy champion this time? Last time we didn’t and I doubt we will this year either.
HJK v RoPS
There’s a small rivalry mindset that’s been built up around this match. The northerners vs. the southerners, which were good games last season as they finished at the top only behind SJK. However, this time both sides find themselves in a pickle. Let’s take a look how great of a pickle each team is in.
I’ll start by going through the team that has less trouble to deal with, which would be RoPS. Although there is mainly only one particular area causing coach Juha Malinen some headache, it doesn’t mean that it’s easily solved. Aleksandr Kokko didn’t only leave a huge offensive responsibility to be covered, but a huge chunk of leadership, too. In the 1-0 win against the joke of a team known as PK-35, RoPS looked like they had anything to play for. A very bad sign for a squad that’s supposed to finish again in the top 3.
If there are some mental difficulties in Rovaniemi, they are nothing compared to the list of things that are so wrong no one really knows how to fix them. Sure, that’s a hyperbole, but only a slight one. After a disappointing and heartless 1-4 home defeat against FC Lahti, HJK went to Turku to gain redemption and at least some trust back from their supporters. Or that’s what they were expected to do, but they didn’t. Another clear loss, this time 3-1, and an even more soulless performance by the blue and whites put Mika Lehkosuo truly in a corner.
HJK are also missing a lot of key players. The offensive soul from Japan, Atomu Tanaka, center back Tatomirovic, and winger Nikolai Alho are ruled out. Vincent is doubtful to start the game after a 4-month absence. RoPS have a clearly better situation, with only Ville Saxman missing from the key players.
With Lehkosuo in charge and the team in a valley of despair, HJK are not the easiest team to predict. However, if they are to win this game, I can’t see them doing it by a bigger margin. HJK are still, oddly enough, valued very high by the bookies.
Asian Betting Recommendation: RoPS +1 at 1.85
KuPS v Ilves
Towards the end of the season, VPS have been a good team to measure other teams’ strategic capability. Last Friday Ilves hosted VPS in Tammela, and put a very disciplined performance against another disciplined squad, which ended in a scoreless draw. Although Ilves kept safety first in their mind, their possession was trying to create offensive breakthroughs.
KuPS, on the other hand, wasn’t as disciplined the fixture earlier in Vaasa. VPS were hanging on a win, but KuPS equalized with 10 minutes left of the regular time, not so surprisingly from a corner. To conclude these two games, KuPS are more prone to defensive mistakes and take more risks in offense, than Ilves.
The defensive vulnerability of KuPS was even more visible against Lahti, who created plenty of good scoring chances, but used only one of them. Johannes Kreidl was a bit shaky in the goal, but the biggest problem is the support from midfielders in defense. KuPS had only two chances in the game. First one should’ve been a penalty, and second one was a doubtful situation, which gave them the equalizing penalty.
Ilves young guns Lauri Ala-Myllymäki and Mikael Soisalo have taken huge leaps forwards along the season, reducing the immense offensive responsibility that lied on Senegalese Emile Paul Tendeng. However, fullback Antti Hynynen picked an injury that keeps him out for the remaining season, which is a minor setback for their offensive possibilities.
Ilves have won every single match against KuPS since their return to Veikkausliiga last year. Although KuPS are in a better form than in those earlier matchups, Ilves have a lot speaking in favor for them.
Asian Betting Recommendation: Ilves +0.5 at 1.74
VPS v SJK
SJK took a crucial win home against IFK Mariehamn, who have been a stark away team. However, either IFK have started losing their form on the road, or SJK simply put up a very solid performance. Hard to say, as both sides had their chances, although SJK the clearly better ones.
Meanwhile VPS took it slightly easier away in Tampere. Vuorinen rotated a lot, partly forced, partly deliberately. Their premium striker, Andre Clennon, was benched due to a lot of minutes, in fact, the most of the whole outfield squad. Pyry Soiri, on the other hand, was getting back from a minor injury.
However, it doesn’t excuse the poor scoring record they’ve had since August, which is when their 6 games long winning streak saw its end. The squad is thin, but in the end it seems like the offensive arsenal is even thinner, which starts to take its toll closer to the finish line.
Speaking of offensive arsenal, SJK have an incredible one. In the last derby, which VPS won at home 2-1, it was clear that Roope Riski was too exhausted – something that Vuorinen wanted to avoid with Clennon this time – and that they lacked an option for him besides Tuco. Now, that they’ve recruited Billy Ions, who’s gotten a new start, from PS Kemi, they have a lot to go on in scoring.
Despite trouble finding the net, VPS have avoided losses quite well, a lot thanks to their possession football, which reduces the opposing teams chances to create scoring opportunities. However, they’ve met teams that for the most are prone to give the possession to VPS, which SJK won’t be doing as easily.
Besides SJK’s intensive firepower, and their lack of will to allow VPS to play their possession football, they are also in a better form. VPS have had a good season, which so far cannot be said about SJK, but the end of their parade seems to reach its limit too soon for a top 4 finish. In this derby, SJK’s capability for a top 3 finish in the long run will be what gives them a win over VPS, who simply aren’t there yet this year.
Asian Betting Recommendation: SJK -0.25 at 2.23
Prices correct at time of writing.
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