VPS v Lahti
The most inconsistent side of 2022, VPS will still be relieved that on their return to Veikkausliiga, they are almost certainly safe from relegation and continue to go forward with reckless abandon. Unfortunately, their defence is not solid enough to form a solid basis for a push into the top half of the table, but nevertheless their games have been a lot of fun to watch this season.
Scoring an average of two goals a game is only behind Honka in the table, with a late career purple patch for Kalle Multanen the real highlight. His nine goals this year is by far his strongest in a top division season, he has only ever really flourished in the second tier. Ably assisted by on-loan Ipswich forward Tata Yengi and Aleksi Pahkasalo, it’s a world away from the VPS side that were relegated with a whimper a few years back. Defensively they have struggled against better opposition – Lahti are not that. A win here will put a ten-point cushion between the two sides.
Lahti didn’t play last weekend (their fixture with HJK was moved to accommodate Europa League fixtures) but their recent form has been dreadful, one league win in three months and only one clean sheet since opening day – last time out against an impotent HIFK. But they have been having more shots recently, it’s just hard to see who might score a goal. Midfielder Teemu Penninkangas is top scorer with three goals, not a healthy position.
SJK v KuPS
While SJK’s form improved in the summer after some European success, their year remains a frustrating inconsistency. Recent wins against AC Oulu and HIFK sandwiched a fairly insipid defeat to Inter. One of the bright sparks of the season, Daniel Hakans, has moved to Norway on loan and despite heavy recruitment for their academy, there has been little shopping in the adult section. 19 year old midfielder Nooa Laine Is benefitting from a decent run in the side, trusted by manager Joaquin Gomez, and has scored twice in four games, the strike against HIFK was confident and sealed a 0-2 win last weekend.
SJK sacked previous manager Joni Honkavaara last season for “only” finishing third and despite wholesale changes, the side have gone backwards and they still need to pick up points to avoid playing in the relegation group when the league splits in September.
KuPS have struggled recently, a chastening Conference League exit to Young Boys and poor performances against Haka and Honka before edging a tight match against Mariehamn 1-0 thanks to a late Tim Vayrynen penalty. The speculation around the coach Simo Valakari hasn’t helped and while he didn’t get the Motherwell job this time, his name will be linked again. He returns to the club where he won the championship in 2015, a lot has changed since but KuPS will face a tough trip and have both HJK and Honka breathing down their neck at the top of the table. This is likely to be tight and likely to be a low scoring affair.
AC Oulu v Inter
The 3-2 loss to Haka last week was particularly galling for AC Oulu, conceding a late winner as they looked like getting back on track after some poor results. The returning Rasmus Karjalainen scored his first goal since coming back and on-loan Samuel Anini scored his second in three games. They’ve since gone and signed former Dulwich Hamlet forward Ibra Sakajja, who scored on his Crystal Palace debut back in 2011. After coming through the relegation play-off in 2021, Oulu have moved on well and are in contention for one of the European spots if they can keep picking up points, but they need to start winning games against those teams around them such as Inter.
Inter have seven points from the last three matches, but again those are against teams below them. The very pedestrian win against HIFK ended a run of three defeats. They took the lead against VPS last week through Matias Tamminen but ended with a draw. They’re still struggling to find the best XI following the departures of Benjamin Kallman and Rick Ketting, but new signing Roberto Sierra has brought a nice technique but needs to add more threat to his game.
The group behind the top three is pretty close and each win is vital as the end of the regular season approaches. Inter have greater expectations for their level of infrastructure and investment but are in danger of becoming comfortable in mid table unless they can either develop or attract another striker. Relying on Petteri Forsell for inspiration and assists is a risky strategy, he has the quality but can’t do it on his own.
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