The season kicked off with two games to avoid a too loaded schedule for the Euro qualifying teams in July. You’d expect it’s time for the rest of the league to start off their season, but no, only for some of the clubs. Anyhow, HJK really flexed their muscles in the premiere against VPS. They really looked like a serious European team again, something we hadn’t seen in the two previous seasons. It wouldn’t surprise me if HJK go undefeated at home this season.
IFK Mariehamn v JJK
IFK Mariehamn, from the Åland isles, took shockingly the league title 2016, often referred to as Finland’s Leicester. Although their success was a huge surprise to everyone outside of the club, I wouldn’t really class it on the same level as Leicester. In hindsight, their run has been explained at least with modest reason, compared to the Premier League stunners.
The islanders had kept a solid core for a while and developed their staff, which was witnessed as few injuries throughout the season. Since the staff knew the players well, it made it easier for them to work on daily basis with the individual. Consequently, success equaled losing a handful of key assets abroad.
One of last year’s best goalies, if not the best, Walter Viitala, top scorer Dever Orgill, offensive artist Diego Assis and the reliable contributor Josef Ibrahim found a new address. The replacements, including Robbin Sellin from Allsvenskan side GIF Sundsvall, Andreas Vaikla from another Allsvenskan team IFK Norrköping and the interesting Zimbabwean striker Lucky Mkosana, are yet to prove their value for the reigning champions.
The title holders’ preseason results are nothing to brag about, but their nothing compared to newcomer JJK’s winter. The Jyväskylä club’s cup run was simply an embarrassment; 9-1 against KuPS and 4-0 against second tier team Haka serve as the most awful examples.
Nevermind the fact that IFK Mariehamn are looking to be far away from renewing the title – JJK are the worst newcomers in a while. Juha Pasoja promoted a team that had the most stable season in Ykkönen, and unfortunately for them, it doesn’t mean that they were the best team. This should be an easy win and a morale boost for Mariehamn.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: IFK M -1 at 1.830
Ilves v FC Lahti
Jarkko Wiss enjoyed a neat winter in Tampere with his Ilves. U-21 national Mikael Soisalo was the significant, although unavoidable, loss that also brought in a nice amount of cash from Middlesbrough. The rather unexperienced coach could focus on strengthening an already relatively large squad with some exciting talent. First of all he replaced the centre backs Heikki Aho (retired) and Pavle Milosavljevic (FF Jaro) with a far superior Jani Tanska.
First of all, he replaced the centre backs Heikki Aho (retired) and Pavle Milosavljevic (FF Jaro) with a far superior Jani Tanska. Fullback Teemu Penninkangas (SJK) is an upgrade to Felipe Aspegren, while Ariel ‘Tuco’ Ngueukam and Youness Rahimi (both SJK) were brought in to ease on the scoring. Winger Eero Tamminen failed to break through in VPS, but could have a better opportunity to impress in a less rigid philosophy under Wiss.
It’s safe to say that the loss of Mikael Soisalo is not easily replaced, however, the signings are of high quality and cover his quality with quantity. In a tightly scheduled league quantity with a certain quality can be worth a European spot. Not at all impossible for Ilves, who were only two points from Europa League qualifications last year.
FC Lahti kicked their season off on Wednesday at SJK. As I expected, they did put on a good fight and were rewarded with a point. Their hosts’ game was still far from complete, which allowed Lahti to take over the pace for some periods. This was a good result for the odds in this game, because as I stated in the previous preview, Lahti play well against SJK, and that’s basically it for them.
Lahti’s draw against a stronger SJK raised the odds for Ilves, and I’ll pleasantly accept that. Ilves are the best team at home after HJK, and for this value a home win is an absolute no-brainer.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Ilves -0.5 at 1.970
VPS v SJK
What an unpleasant opening fixture the two Ostrobothnian clubs had. VPS went from losing 5-1 at Allsvenskan team Östersund in their final friendly to an absolute slaughter of 5-0 at HJK. SJK, on the other hand, failed to answer the expectations and drew 1-1 with FC Lathi after a tedious performance. It’s quite fair to say that neither side have all the right pieces in the right places.
It’s hard to find any comfort after such a ferocious defeat, however, the two losses were against far superior teams away from home. It’s not an excuse that covers the digits completely, but gives some hope prior to the derby against an SJK, who are more lost with their game.
As I pondered in the previous preview, VPS defense did look more vulnerable than last season, despite Vuorinen trying to secure the crucial scoring positions by lining up three central defenders. VPS gaffer has been experimenting rather wildly throughout the winter with formations, however, we are yet to see the fan favorite 4-2-3-1, with both of the Jamaicans, Steven Morrissey and Andre Clennon, on field.
SJK’s immense transfer window with rather late signings and especially a late change of coach was clearly visible in their premiere. Sixten Boström seems to stick to the same style he used while coaching HJK, that is, sticking up a long pass to a winger and trying to penetrate the opposition from there. It didn’t really pay off too well against Lahti, but there’s time to make it work.
Whether it will work against VPS, who know their rivals well even after the coach swap, is not that expected. The hosts did eventually get set-piece specialist Juha Hakola back to their starting line-up against HJK, and according to rumors even Sebastian Strandvall will be fit for Saturday. An important addition to an offense that lacks inspiration.
Although both teams are somewhat off the course with their game, which usually means absolutely horrible football in 90 minutes, these two teams pump up for the rivalry. Eight out of the ten previous derbies, including cup fixtures, have seen three or more goals. With these odds the value is great.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Over 2.5 at 2.680
Prices correct at time of writing.
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