HJK have been humiliated quite the few times this season but it took a 3-0 defeat at FC Lahti for Mika Lehkosuo to be sacked. The long-timed gaffer was replaced by RoPS’ Toni Koskela who has a past in the club, and well, “knows the club”. You know, like Ole. Jokes aside, this is a remarkable moment in Finnish football, as the arguably best coach of the millennium leaves Veikkausliiga, at least for now.
KuPS v Ilves
Speaking of coaches being sacked, I would not be surprised if KuPS are the next team to let their manager go. Jani Honkavaara’s KuPS did not exactly make the expected finish last season, and so far this year, there is no sign of improvement.
At Veritas Stadium KuPS lost to a hot Inter by 1-0. Albeit a narrow margin on the scoreboard, KuPS were dominated by their hosts – although I feel like I have to mention here the offside goal KuPS scored. Inter neutralized KuPS buildup in very similar manner as against HJK, although this time they steered KuPS defenders to move the ball to Kalle Taimi while marking Luis Murillo frantically.
It is not a secret that Taimi is not as skilled with the ball as his Colombian mate on the other flank, and as the midfield was controlled partly by Inter’s solid defense, partly by KuPS stupid formation, KuPS were for the most forced to try building up via Taimi. It would not be that bad if Saku Savolainen had not hurt himself midway the first half, and well, the KuPS wingers generally being quite bad this year.
I am not sure how much of that depends on Honkavaara, and how much it depends on simple lack of skill. However, I am sure that Rasmus Karjalainen is used criminally badly by Honkavaara. He has a role that very clearly that does not fit him, that is, a lone target striker. Karjalainen is a notoriously bad header, the stats speak quite clearly for this, and his strengths are definitely not in negative play position.
DFB-Pokal Match Preview: RB Leipzig v Bayern Munich.
The success of KuPS’ offense at the moment is quite dependent on Brazilian striker Lucas Rangel, who in contrary to Karjalainen, can act as a target. With Rangel on pitch KuPS have a goal difference of 14-3, and without him 0-11. Quite the difference, huh.
Ok, so KuPS are not really crap at exactly everything, either. What I liked against Inter was how they rolled the ball once managing to get over the half-line. In contrary to the majority of Veikkausliiga sides, KuPS are actually open – possibly even seeking – to switch sides with 1-2 long ground passes. Additionally, they can stir up the opposition defense by positioning a load of lads along the last defensive line, and then move both horizontally and laterally.
An additional infuriating thing to observe with this KuPS side, that I feel like I have to speak about, is how slowly they react to the game. I do not know if it is a poor mental state in KuPS, but the players’ reaction – that is, movement – to opponent’s breaking through a defensive line or a negative transition is oddly passive.
However, there is a definite flipside to this, although exclusively in negative transitions deep in the opposition side. Like against Inter, KuPS were at times heavily manned in a rather narrow zone, and after losing a ball, a quick regain of possession opens up for great chances. The irony is that it depends more on the actual manpower, not the reaction to the negative transition, that can lead to such chances.
Now, this becomes very problematic against an Ilves, who are masters at regaining possession. Jarkko Wiss told in an interview how he has forbidden sliding tackles from practice sessions, forcing the players to adapt an intense pressure without outplaying themselves. So far, it has been very fruitful. And so should it be at KuPS, too.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Ilves +0.25 at 1.800
HIFK v FC Inter
hIFK had a very important away game at Kokkola against KPV. The guests had a good chance to leave their fellow newcomers on an even safer distance, but the two tied the score 1-1.
And rightfully so. Quite depicting for a match between newcomers, the pitch was in abominable shape. It was not the first time this year we saw Veikkausliiga played on a horrible grass field, however, it was the first time both teams adapted to the pitch this clearly.
I refuse to analyze this draw any further, as the ball was so seldom touching the ground that it would be just pointless to try to draw any further conclusions. 3 games in a week on a pitch in May is unsurprisingly a bad idea. I mean sure, neither team is trying to play a very controlled possession through positional play like HJK, both teams being among the sides moving the ball fastest upwards, but really, no point to analyze.
However, what I have noticed from earlier games, HIFK like to attack from the wide, and are not shy to do this through long balls. When pressing in defence, they form with 4-3-1-2, with the three highest positioned players pressing aggressively. If that fails, there is quite the peculiar detail in HIFK – if the ball is on HIFK’s half on either flank, the whole team is on one-quarter of the pitch, leaving it very open on the other side. Interesting enough, KuPS – whom I just admired for being good at switching sides – did not manage to use this to their advantage.
Now, I have already described a bit Inter’s victory over KuPS. Although tactically superior, there was a bit to worry about in details. Finishing was pooring, especially from Filip Valencic, who has been brilliant so far. Inter should definitely have scored a second goal to seal the deal, because 1-1 was not that unlikely, in the end.
HIFK have had success with the high pressure, like against Honka. However, considering how Inter have so far managed high pressure I do not think that HIFK will be causing that much trouble. Sure, it happens at times that one of the centre backs fails with a pass, but with this offense, Inter should be able to cover those risks, too.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: FC Inter -0.50 at 2.040
RoPS v SJK
So, Toni Koskela left RoPS after a great last season and a less successful start to this season for the great and glorious HJK. However, before he left, he managed to give his one last blessing to the boys in blue. And that blessing was moving one of the strikers to the midfield.
A three-man midfield has really made a huge impact on RoPS. Lucas Lingman has a lot more freedom now, and is not constantly stuck low on the pitch trying to build up the play with someone pressing on him. Simply with more men on the midfield, the defenders are not nearly as often put in a pickle where there simply are no good short passing options.
Copa del Rey Match Preview: Barcelona v Valencia.
Koskela did this already prior to the 0-1 defeat against Ilves, where – despite the unfortunate result – RoPS looked better than in a good while. Against VPS they played even better, especially their defending made VPS look very harmless in the first half. However, offensively there is still a lot to improve, although it is better than earlier.
Meanwhile, SJK continued with what has become their trend this season – that is, conceding in the final fifteen minutes of the game. SJK had good control of the game against Honka for the first 60 minutes or so. This was quite surprising, and I will explain what was so odd with this.
SJK controlled the central lanes with only two central midfielders, Mehmet Hetemaj – probably the best in Veikkausliiga in this role – and Moshtagh Yaghoubi – not exactly optimal in defense, but he has got grit. The wide men in Serge Atakayi and Denys Olinyk did not exactly give much aid in the central zones, while Sergei Eremenko stayed quite clearly higher up the central lane with Batista.
So, by aiding the defensive line in front of the box, Hetemaj and Yaghoubi were the masters of the central zones against Honka, who could not create a squat. Until Yaghoubi got tired. This is also the turning point of the game. Honka equalized at the 60th minute from a corner, and at this point, I am sure Yaghoubi chose to focus his energy on offense.
Yaghoubi was still working somewhat defensively, although with gradually lessening amount. SJK gaffer Eremenko sr. reacted to the changed situation by subbing Batistuta, who had been as useless as before, for Billy Ions. Although it is good to see Ions back on field after a tough injury and the early loss of his brother, he is painfully out of matchfit. Not that it really made that much difference considering Batistuta’s contribution, or the lack thereof, but he could at least have moved his son Sergei down the field to support Yaghoubi and Hetemaj.
Instead, Eremenko brought in Maximo Tolonen for the exact same position as his own son, which to me signals an eager to win. Ambitious and respectable, but perhaps a bit stupid and definitely risky considering how SJK have conceded in the final minutes this season.
Honka’s winning goal came from SJK’s right flank, but I would actually put it at least partly on Yaghoubi. The controversial midfielder was just gazing at Honka’s offense a few meters on the wrong side of the ball(!) which, in turn, forced both Hatakka and Atakayi to pull in from the side, leaving it open for Sumusalo.
SJK have lost their points in the final minutes. Although I described what happened the last time, I am not entirely sure yet why this has happened earlier. However, what I do feel confident about is that it requires quite a lot more stamina and squad depth than what RoPS has. With Yaghoubi and Hetemaj on field, SJK should tame rather easily RoPS offense.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: SJK DNB at 1.890
Preview by: @konformisten.
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