Osters v Ostersunds
To kick things off in the Superettan this weekend is a very intriguing match down in the south of Sweden between two sides that have begun the 2023 campaign very impressively. It is an early call to make but both of these teams will be eyeing up a sustained push for the top three and promotion to the Allsvenskan this season.
Under the management of Stefan Tugedzic, Osters have started the season phenomenally well and begin this fifth match day sitting at the top-of-the-table in the Swedish Superettan. Their most recent outing was an entertaining 3-2 win against just relegated GIF Sundsvall, to make it four successive victories. They are the only side to have a 100% record so far this season.
Last year, they narrowly missed out on promotion to the top-flight for the first time since their relegation in 2013. They were beaten by Varberg BoIS in the Allsvenskan/Superettan relegation/promotion playoff but are looking to ensure that no such playoff will be needed this season.
Since the heights of a Svenska Cupen in the mid-2010’s, Ostersunds have been on a steady decline with quite a few financial issues almost causing the club to fold. Their 2021 relegation from the Allsvenskan appeared set to be followed up by a Superettan relegation in 2022 but some impressive form in the second-half of the campaign saw them rally and eventual win their relegation playoff match at the end of the season.
With that form having carried on into this season, Magnus Powell’s side have begun the 2023 campaign unbeaten in their opening four matches. They started the season with back-to-back draws and have followed that up with back-to-back victories, conceding just two goals in the process.
Both of these teams are strong and both, in particular, have good defensive records and underlying numbers this season. Given that, with both probably unwilling to give up ground to the other so early on in the season, a low-scoring encounter could well be in store.
HJK Helsinki v Haka
The Veikkausliiga’s “Klassiko” had a long absence but is always a keenly fought affair.
HJK’s perfect start finally ended last week at home to AC Oulu and they weren’t great – scoring from a very generous penalty before conceding one of their own. A straight red card for the experienced Joona Toivio also means a two match ban so he sits this one out.
Oulu were good value for the draw but the favourable fixture list means this is their fourth home game from the first five and will be favourites for this too. Bojan Radulovic is still on a goal a game while Roope Riski is back in training, but the striking options are limited behind them. Former Finland defender Valtteri Moren suffered a setback on his return from long term injury and will be out again for a long period.
Haka’s season has been a struggle so far and coach Teemu Tainio was raging at the concession of a late penalty on Monday against Honka, ending in a 1-1 draw. Eero-Matti Auvinen’s goal was a free header from a set piece and that is likely to be the only real threat against the champions as they struggle without last season’s powerhouse Lee Erwin, now plying his trade in Lebanon. The equaliser came from some naïve ill-discipline, HJK will welcome it. Ryan Mahuta hasn’t looked as threatening as he did in the season opener and there’s a lot of pressure on his young shoulders.
Napoli v Salernitana
Napoli can be crowned Serie A champions this weekend if two results go their way, and one of them is their own game at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona against Salernitana.
Luciano Spalletti’s side must win here and then see Inter beat Lazio the next day to be crowned champions. That means that there is plenty of incentive for them to fly at Salernitana from the off on Saturday afternoon. We say Saturday afternoon, it seems likely the game will be moved to Sunday at the wish of the Prefect in Naples. They are citing security reasons, but it clear that they just want to win the title at the Maradona on the pitch.
The late, late winner from Giacomo Raspadori against Juventus last weekend has brought all the enthusiasm around Napoli flooding back after the disappointing Champions League exit at the hands of AC Milan.
They will be roared on by an adoring crowd and players like Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia will feel that they owe the fans a big display after a tough few weeks. Expect at least one of them to find the net in what will be a party atmosphere in Campania.
It would not be at all shocking if Napoli beat Salernitana 3-0 or more here, but there is also a chance that Salernitana find the back of the net themselves. They are capable of the odd surprisingly good performance and with a six-point lead over the relegation zone, they still have a lot to play for and are not just there to make up the numbers.
They put three past Sassuolo last time out and do not tend to cower in the face of the big sides. Napoli could well win this one very comfortably, but Salernitana could play their part in ensuring there are more than 2.5 goals.
Mjällby v Elfsborg
Mjällby had started off their season in style, going unbeaten by reaching the cup final then winning two and drawing one in the league, ahead of last week’s encounter with newly promoted Brommapojkarna. The performance left much to be desired, though, as they were beaten 2-0 away from home. The match was fairly even and closed, with BP taking full advantage of their opportunities and a few chances gifted to them by the Mjällby defence. Meanwhile, Mjällby struggled to unlock their opponents who took better care of the ball in their defensive third.
The home side’s newly composed back three system has been effective and conductive to the way they play, progressing the ball quickly and using new target man Alexander Johansson to good effect, also getting the ball out wide for crosses from the byline.
Exciting youngsters Eile and Persson have returned on loan and kept their levels up, while the shrewd signing of Tom Pettersson adds experience and quality to the backline. It has been an impressive continuation of Mjällby’s recent resurgence to the top flight, with a clear strategy of how they want to progress.
Elfsborg have, after their first-round loss to champions Häcken, stepped up their performance levels and gone 2-1-0 since, now sitting in 4th place. The 5-0 drubbing of Brommapojkarna was followed by beating the difficult Degerfors 2-1 away from home, with 21 shots and 1.72 xG accumulated in that match. Their squad is one of the strongest in the division, with a top quality defensive line the backbone of their potential success.
The midfield and wide players are all of a high calibre and with a bit more stability around the club this year, nothing suggests they won’t be able to challenge for a top 3 spot. Jacob Ondrejka has been confirmed as a departure to Royal Antwerp and will remain at the club until the summer, but even without him, Okkels and Bernhardsson are top Allsvenskan players.
The latter, having started the season on fire, came off early in the previous game and will miss a few games as a result, but this shouldn’t have too big an impact on the team’s overall performance.
Mjällby are in a rich vein of form and strong at home, while the visitors’ attacking power should not be underestimated.
Jonkoping Sodra v Vasteras SK
After the opening four matches of the season, it is a bit of a surprise to see both of these sides remain unbeaten with similarly stubborn but impressive performances so far. The two teams finished firmly in mid-table last year but could be flirting with the notion of a serious promotion challenge this time around.
The home team come into this on the back of a 2-2 draw with Orgryte IS in their most recent outing, last week. That means Jonkopings Sodra have begun the 2023 Superettan campaign with three draws and a victory in their opening four matches.
Their unbeaten start has not necessarily been down to a water-tight or stubborn defence, though, with the hosts having conceded six goals in their last three matches. They only narrowly escaped finishing in the bottom four and the relegation playoff places last season with the second worst defence in the league, conceding 51 goals in 30 matches so that problem does not appear to have been resolved just yet, despite the off-season appointment of Andres Garcia.
Vasteras’ 3-0 hammering of Orebro on Tuesday means they have begun this season with three victories and a draw so far this season. Quite impressively, too, they have conceded just one goal in that time.
One concern for the visitors, under the management of Kalle Karlsson, would be that they have managed to notch just six goals in their four games. However, the underlying data suggests they are underperforming that goal tally so, should they revert to the mean, things are only going to get better. They currently have the second best expected goals for rate in the Swedish second-tier.
J-Sodra’s poor defensive record and Vasteras’ excellent defensive record, combined with their strong underlying numbers going forward, suggests that the hosts’ unbeaten start to the campaign may well come to an end this weekend.
Ayr v Raith Rovers
While the season is winding down for Raith Rovers, it certainly isn’t for Ayr United, and it is the home team who should be backed to pick up three points at Somerset Park.
Raith come into this match in a wretched state – indeed, they will struggle to name 12 fit outfield players on the bench for this match, with the club hit by injury and suspension problems. These were increased last weekend when they saw stalwart defender Tom Lang, one of their outstanding players, and No.10 Lewis Vaughan both sent off in a 1-0 loss against Morton.
Making matters worse for the Fife side, they were only able to named four substitutes for that match – and their injury issues have got worse in the last week, with a mystery player having said to be injured in training. With six players already laid up with injury, they are down to the bare bones.
Raith’s form has reflected their selection problems. They have lost four of their last five matches and have been defeated in their last five away games. It is a bleak record.
Ayr are not in the flush of form, but three successive draws against Morton, Partick and Queen’s Park, all of whom are still in the hunt at the top of the table, shows that the Honest Men are still fighting for a playoff place. The good news for the hosts is that Joshua Mullin – seven goals and four assists in 21 games – is back in training and may make the squad.
Airdrieonians v Queen of the South
Look for Airdrie and Queen of the South to produce goals in their League One clash on Saturday, with these teams having had a trend of producing exciting matches in recent seasons.
There is little riding on this match, although the home side will be eager to get the victory to secure third place in the league, which should theoretically mean an easier route in the playoffs. With the post-season still 10 days away, it would be surprising if there was to be much in the way of unforced rotation in the team, while it looks like Airdrie will have a full squad to pick for in this game.
The Diamonds have been in prolific form this season. They have scored 77 times in 34 league matches, including 25 in their last seven games.
Queen of the South, meanwhile, have struggled defensively of late, conceding five against Dunfermline in their previous away game then three against Montrose last time out, albeit reduced to 10 then nine men. Indeed, they will face a tricky reshuffle in defence after their two red cards last weekend.
Meanwhile, the head-to-head record between these teams shows a history of goals. When they met in Airdrie in October, the teams shared six goals equally, while Queen of the South won 3-2 in Dumfries in early march. Indeed, four of the last five between these clubs have seen at least four goals.
Although Airdrie should be favoured to win this match, they are winless in nine against Queens, so goals is the safer bet.
Annan Athletic v Bonnyrigg Rose
Annan can effectively seal a place in the playoffs on Saturday with a victory against Bonnyrigg. Given their recent home form, they should be backed to claim three points and be able to take it relatively easy on the final day of the season.
The Borderers have won five of their last seven at Raydale Park, claiming easy wins over Dunmbarton and Albion Rovers, 3-1 and 4-0 respectively already this month. In this run was a similarly straightforward 4-0 success over Bonnyrigg back on January 21.
Meanwhile, the visiting side look like they come into this game in some defence form given that they have lost only one of their last six. However, they have typically picked off relatively weak opponents in that time, although last weekend’s 1-0 win away to Forfar does give some cause for caution ahead of this match.
Rose, though, have lost all five of their previous visits to the top three in the division. Given they have lost only seven times on the road, that shows they are struggling with the gulf in quality, even though they have made these games competitive.
Certainly, it would be a risk backing over goals in this match given that 10 of Bonnyrigg’s last 11 games have produced under 2.5 goals. Given this statistic, under 2.5 goals at 2.15 or against both teams to score at 2.25 both look appealing prices, but Annan to win is the one to go for.
Ilves v FC KTP
Despite their decent start to the season, Ilves were poor against KuPS last weekend and lost 1-0. A reasonable midweek win over lower division opposition in the cup saw a couple of the newer players start to bed in and perhaps hinted at a return to form. The team return to their temporary Ratina home (their Tammela ground will be ready in 2024) with a hope of a second win against struggling KTP.
New signing Sebit Ngor scored a fine volley on his full debut on Wednesday while midfielder Seydine N’Diaye impressed in his 45 minutes. Captain Pennanen only played the second half and his fitness is key to the form of the side. Lauri Ala-Myllymäki is finally getting minutes too, hopefully ready to justify the form that convinced Venezia to sign him a couple of years ago.
In a similar vein, KTP beat a team from lower down in the cup but they won their first league match on 2023 at the weekend with a tough match against IFK Mariehamn. Last year’s top scorer Mika opened his account with a stylish individual effort and shows there is fight in the unfancied side.
The goal they conceded however was from poor defending of a set piece and that will be something Ilves will fancy exploiting. Four points from their opening round of fixtures is a decent return but they’ll need to fight hard and be stern against an Ilves team with a point to prove after failing to show up at KuPS.
AC Oulu v SJK
A well-earned point at the champions last week demonstrates the improvement of Oulu under Ricardo Duarte since the end of 2021 and they were good value. English striker Ashley Coffey has really settled in since moving from Sweden and his goals may well replicate those of Haka last year, adding a deadly finisher to a solid side.
Without a cup tie to worry about in the midweek, they will be a little fresher than their opponents and with a swagger not seen from an Oulu side since the early 1980s. Rony Huhtala, victim of Toivio’s lunge, has benefitted from injuries and is enjoying his late cameos as a real nuisance.
SJK’s midweek saw the annual Suomen Cup tie against their own academy side (who play in the second tier) and a comfortable 5-1 win against the juniors. There was rotation and it was hardly a long trip to play in their own ground, but a workout nonetheless. Last weekend’s goalless draw at home to Lahti was a fairly dull affair, a lot of teasing but very little threat on goal and no-one has stepped up in the league.
Jeremiah Streng returned from the US in the winter and scored two on Wednesday but will really need to step up a level. Oulu’s defence isn’t without fault but it’s hard to see SJK being the team to make the most of it. The departure of Jake Jervis has been a bigger loss than many thought and a repeat of the 2015 title seems very far away indeed.
Elche v Rayo Vallecano
Rayo Vallecano’s fans, players and coaching staff are in a buoyant mood right now, after defeating Barcelona 2-1 in midweek to move into ninth place, just three points behind the seventh spot that could become a European ticket depending on the result of the Copa del Rey final. For the first time, those inside the Rayo Vallecano dressing room have admitted that European football is a possibility and they’ll go all out to try to secure it.
They really need to win away at rock bottom Elche if they’re to finish in a European spot, and they should be able to do so against an Elche side that have lost six in a row, including all five of Sebastián Beccacece’s matches in charge. Not only do the Elche players lack motivation at this stage, as they sit 19 points adrift, but they also lack bodies as they have had several injuries and still do, particularly in defence, to important players like Pedro Bigas or José Ángel Carmona.
Rayo Vallecano’s away form hasn’t been great of late, with no wins, two draws and three defeats from their past five road games. But, besides a 3-0 loss at Celta Vigo in March, they have remained competitive in each of these games and should have enough to overcome the worst team in the division.
Braga v Portimonense
Saturday’s action in the Primeira kicks off with a double-header as Marítimo host Vitória, whilst Portimonense will travel to Braga. Marítimo occupy the relegation play-off spot with a five-point lead over Paços de Ferreira and are looking to avoid dropping down to the second division for the first time since 1984/85, whilst Portimonense have given themselves some breathing room above the drop after picking up back-to-back 1-0 wins against Estoril Praia and Gil Vicente.
The Algarvian side sits two points above Gil Vicente, eight above Estoril and 11 above Marítimo, but they face a mountain to climb as they look to take points off Braga and guarantee their top-flight status for next season. Portimonense have lost all six of their matches against Benfica, Porto, Braga and Sporting this season, taking the lead in the 40th minute but nevertheless falling to a 2-1 defeat at home against Braga via goals from Iuri Medeiros and Vitinha.
Braga sit third in the league and sit seven points above Sporting, two behind Porto and six behind Benfica. A top-two finish guarantees qualification to the Champions League group stage, whilst third guarantees qualification to the Champions League third qualifying round.
Artur Jorge’s side have their destiny in their own hands as they look to return to Europe’s premier competition for the first time in 11 years. Since the start of March, Braga have failed to win on just two occasions – a 0-0 draw to Porto on March 19 and a 2-2 draw to Nacional on Thursday.
Having won the first leg 5-0, Braga went with a completely rotated team and looked headed for another victory only to concede two late goals, but they comfortably secured progression to the Taça de Portugal Final where they will face either Famalicão or Porto.
Apart from the draw to Porto, Braga have failed to win at home on just three occasions this season in the league: a 1-0 loss to Casa Pia on November 6, a 1-0 loss to Chaves on October 9, and a 3-3 draw to Sporting on August 7.
Nine of their last ten league matches have featured under 4.5 goals, whilst Portimonense have had just one league match feature over 4.5 goals – a 4-2 loss to Boavista on January 29. I’m expecting a comfortable albeit fairly low-scoring win for Braga against Paulo Sérgio’s side as they look to close in on a return to the Champions League.
Lille v AC Ajaccio
Lille should step up their claim for a European place next season with a victory over Ajaccio at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, where they have been very impressive this term.
LOSC have won 10 of their 16 home fixtures in Ligue 1, scoring 33 goals in the process. Since losing August matches to PSG and Nice, they have picked up nine wins in 14, making them extremely dangerous opponents.
The hosts may come into this match off the back of a draw in Auxerre, but they were the dominant side in that match, generating an xG of over 3 in a match that finished 1-1. They have not typically been so forgiving in front of goal this season, and if given the same chances against the Corsican side will surely be more clinical.
Ajaccio, meanwhile, are virtually relegated, sitting 10 points from safety with just six matches remaining. They had been on a six-match losing streak before picking up a draw against Brest last weekend, and indeed they have been beaten in their last 13 fixtures against opponents not currently in the drop zone – a run that dates back prior to the World Cup.
Moreover, they travel poorly. Ajaccio have lost five of their last eight road trips by two goals or more. Having lost 3-1 against Lille in August, a similarly one-sided success is on the cards here. LOSC have won their last eight against Ajaccio, and each of their last four home matches against this opponent has been decided by a margin of more than a single goal.
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