VPS v RoPS

Financially struggling VPS had their best chance to reach Europe – and better economy with a 50,000€ prize – in the national cup. They hosted IFK Mariehamn in the cup semifinal home at Elisa Stadium.

Things were looking good for VPS in the matchup, where the guests have historically been stronger, as La Masia schooled Alain Richard Ebwelle scored after 20 minutes. The home team had been stronger for those initial 20 minutes, but as soon as they took the lead, VPS simply lost it.

It was not the first time this season either that VPS lose a leading position. It was neither the first time they lose it by conceding a shot from the outside of the box. One would suppose that something had changed prior to this utterly important game, but no, same mistakes repeat themselves.

Although VPS had to deal with Steven Morrissey’s suspension and Kostantinos Stramatapoulos’ injury – a few weeks out – in the offense, it does not justify or explain how poorly they played the remaining 70 minutes.

After turning the tide rather easily in the first half, IFK Mariehamn kept their hosts from scoring chances by defending with discipline and rather deeply, although not too deep. VPS bench did not have much to offer in the chase for an equalizer, as right fullback Hindrek Ojamaa and central midfielder Fabrice Gatambiye where Vuorinen’s choices to enter the field.

Without Kostas and Morrissey on the bench, VPS offense was, as said, rather harmless. However, I do not think that either of them would have made that huge of an impact against Mariehamn, as the issues lied deeper down the field.

Jerry Voutilainen, who has been so far VPS’ MVP of the season, played probably his worst game thus far this season, which only raises the importance of his role. Certainly, as he will be suspended against RoPS, Sebastian Strandvall really needs to step up to the level we saw him play on last year.

While Steven Morrissey will make his return on the field, missing Jerry Voutilainen and Alain Richard Ebwelle – who finally got to start a game and showed his potential – is probably far from 100% match fit, VPS offense is far from its sharpest form on Monday. RoPS have similarly troubled situation with their squad, but with some more days of rest, I think they will be a too tough challenge for VPS, who will have to wait for another opportunity to grab a win at Elisa Stadium (last win 4th of July 2018).

Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: RoPS +0.25 at 1.790

KPV v HIFK

VPS may have bottled – sorry for starting using that word so often – their chance to glory this season (and for a good while as it seems like), but oh boy did KPV do it even better, or worse.

KPV started off very promisingly taking a two-goal lead in the first half. A typically high and aggressive pressure with up to four players aligning with their guests’ bottom four players was fruitful, although as usual, equally dangerous.

The gap between the three defensive lines of KPV is by far their biggest issue. The side midfielders leave their respective fullbacks all alone in the final third of the pitch – I am still unsure whether this is a deliberately idiotic choice from Korhonen, or if the players plain and simply suck defensively – leaving Hendrik Helmke and Sebastian Mannström virtually alone in the second defensive line.

Sure, KPV play at times with three center backs and the fullbacks as some kind of a hybrid between wingback and fullback, but especially in those cases, the defending on flanks is really underwhelming.

The disparity in the second line is made even worse with Helmke in the role he has. Korhonen is really wasting the best of the German, who should definitely play as a trequartista, enjoying some defensive freedom with two hard-working more defensive-minded companions in the central mid. Now his work downwards is at times painstakingly obviously his least favorite thing to do on pitch, which makes me feel really bad for poor Sebastian Mannström.

HIFK was bought by a suspicious Chinese businessman earlier this week. We will probably see a lot of players coming in and out soon enough, however, not yet. As Tor Thodesen has recognized the strengths of his squad at the moment, and they have some extra days of rest, I see plenty of worth in HIFK here. It might also be the last time this season I write those words.

Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: HIFK DNB at 2.120

Ilves v IFK Mariehamn

I have to be honest here. Say FC Inter, KuPS, Honka, or especially HJK had started their season the way Ilves had, I am confident everyone had declared them both cup and league winners.

Sure, they are far from perfect, with their flaws being mainly in offense. However, they showed against KPV in the cup semifinal that they can put a lot of offensive pressure if needed.

Mariehamn, who also advanced to the cup final, had started the season impressively. Now I have to admit my mistake – I had stated in an earlier preview that their season start had not been a slump, whereas the 3-4 defeat to KuPS was a slump – now I am not as confident as I was. Mariehamn’s poor results continued as they went on to draw 1-1 at HIFK and losing 1-2 against Inter.

The Islanders’ defense is something quite fascinating to observe. In a 4-3-3 formation, the top trio assert at times aggressive pressure on opposition’s deepest line, while the back quartet lies semi-low. While it is rather easy to surpass the first defensive line of IFK Mariehamn, it is difficult to get much further after that.

Here is team captain Daniel Sjölund’s role dangerously crucial to Mariehamn’s defense. Say hypothetically that the center back passes the ball to a central mid past Aristote Mboma’s pressure, now one of the wide men from the first defensive line of Mariehamn drops, so that the mid-line is a quartet, making it a harder task for the midfielder, who receives the ball nearly always face towards his own goal, to pass the ball to either side.

The option is either to return the ball immediately to one of the center backs, which at least one is marked by Mboma, and ideally by this point the other center back shadowed by the remaining wide man. The other option is to try keep possession, take a touch or few and pass the ball further, however, Sjölund reads these situations most of the times excellently.

When this scheme works out ideally, Sjölund manages to dispossess the ball receiving midfielder in a situation where the opposition is very prone to a negative transition, basically a 3v2 attack for Mariehamn. This is also how IFK Mariehamn score most of their goals. If the dispossession happens a bit further down the pitch, Mboma is a great target player to receive a long pass from Sjölund and distribute the ball to a rapidly countering Hampus Lönn or Keaton Isaksson.

Now, that is what happens ideally. However, when it fails, or especially when Sjölund fails by misreading the situation, IFK Mariehamn’s defense is suddenly very open in the central lanes.

Ilves have a great central trio in Emile Paul Tendeng on top, and Lauri Ala-Myllymäki and Jair on the bottom of the triangle. Although both teams scored thrice in the cup semi, and Mariehamn have scored second to most goals in the league, I think we’ll go back to normal in Tammela, that is, a game of small margins.

Asian Total Goals Betting Recommendation: Under 2.25 at 1.769

Preview by: @konformisten.

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