To kick the weekend off we are bringing you action from Finland, Austria, Italy and Sweden. In Finland KuPS and Haka are coming in off the back of cup ties during the week and SJK look to open up a four-point gap at the top of the table with a win over HJK.
The Austrian and Italian leagues draw to a close this weekend, with Red Bull Salzburg looking to wrap up a successful campaign. A win for Inter Milan would see them secure 3rd place over their rivals as they prepare for their Champions League clash.
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Saturday Afternoon’s Best Bets & Predictions
KuPS v Haka
The two sides had differing fortunes in round five of the Cup this midweek, mirroring their seasons so far.
KuPS had a straight-forward 0-2 win against fierce rivals JJK, rotating several first-teamers and keeping it fresh. After a disappointing but narrow loss at SJK in the league last time out, this was a welcome change and the path to a third successive Cup looks clear. In the title race, they had won every match since the returns of coach Jani Honkavaara and talisman Urho Nissila and against Haka, they will face tough but fairly limited opposition. Jasse Tuominen returned from injury with a goal on Wednesday and an hour of match sharpness, if fully fit he’ll be a huge inspiration for the rest of the side after losing key players in the winter. Sebastian Dahlstrom celebrated a rare start with a well-taken goal from midfield, proving there is depth where required.
Haka meanwhile dropped out of the cup after losing on penalties at AC Oulu, despite taking the lead with another set piece header from Fallou Ndiaye. Teemu Tainio made a few changes to his regular lineup so that Argentinian striker Juan Lescano could slot back in and look to add to his four goals so far. Nine points from nine league games is less than expected and there’s a lot to improve on before the Conference League qualifiers next month. The 3-0 loss to Inter last weekend was toothless and a similar display will lead to a similar result. Tainio has a lot of credit in the bank, but his sides are usually too reliant on a form striker and have only kept one clean sheet so far.
HJK v SJK
This matchup sees second play against first (at the time of kick off), but these two teams are in very different places.
HJK bowed out of the Cup on penalties after a 1-1 draw with a young Honka side and coach Toni Koskela is on shaky ground. Last summer he was in danger of losing his job after a poor start but was saved by a strong second half and European progress. After a favourable fixture list this year, things have looked incredibly tepid and only one win in five isn’t up to scratch. The big hole where a quality centre forward needs to slot in is still there, Radulovic is flaky while Meriluoto is nowhere near the finished article. When your biggest goal threat is Tuomas Ollila at left-back, things aren’t good. Against a well-prepared and confident SJK team, they have their work cut out to get a win.
With a fixtureless midweek to prepare, SJK come into this game top of the table for the first time in a long time and pose a real threat. The win against KuPS was high intensity and low action, with an early penalty save from loan keeper Ovie Ejeheri that set the tone and Streng’s fine finish sealed the points. A win for SJK would open a four point gap with two games in hand already before the European distractions kick in and a real statement of intent. Jaime Moreno will enjoy the duels against Miro Tenho and Joona Toivio, and will be a battle to keep the neutrals interested.
AC Oulu v IFK Mariehamn
These teams enter this game after their Wednesday cup ties with different feelings in the camp. Oulu needed penalties to progress against Haka, while Mariehamn put seven past a team four divisions below them.
Oulu relied on a late goal to force the shootout and are becoming a bit too reliant on strikers again with no clean sheet since the opening day. Even lowly Lahti took an early lead against them last week before Ashley Coffey came off the bench for an instant reply and Karjalainen got the winner. While the year is an improvement on 2022, there is still a lot of work to do. With this fixture, they will be the favourites but will need goals. The return of Swiss midfielder Magnus Breitenmoser will toughen up the midfield but was almost a dead cert for a booking in each game he played last year…
Mariehamn made easy work of amateur opposition to progress to the last 16 of the cup but retaining their league place is the priority and this will be a different test. A tough but well-earned goalless draw against HJK was a slog but the point was welcome to get back off the bottom of the table. Brazilian striker De got two in midweek but is looking less effective than last season. New signing Asiri has yet to start a league game and will be itching to show his quality. They might get some joy against the unstable Oulu defence but the gaps behind them will be pushed hard.
Austria Vienna v Red Bull Salzburg
2022-23 Austrian Bundesliga champions Red Bull Salzburg look to finish yet another record-breaking season with a victory away at an Austria Vienna side who are looking to usurp city rivals Rapid Vienna into the crucial fourth spot in the table. With no chance of sliding down to sixth and out of the Euro spots, Austria Vienna would still face a play-off for the final UEFA Europa Conference League qualifying spot in their current position. Currently two points behind Rapid in the standings, the Violet half of Vienna would prefer to avoid yet another play-off if possible.
Red Bull Salzburg are currently enjoying an unparalleled 15-game unbeaten streak with 13 wins and only two draws in that period against Austria Vienna. One of those draws came earlier in the Championship Round with an injury-time spot-kick denying Austria a stunning upset victory. However, Salzburg’s record this season has been almost exemplary with only one defeat in 31 games – the first time in club history they’ve ever achieved that, and a remarkable 13 wins on the road, tying an existing Austrian Bundesliga record. Whilst Austria will need the win more, there’s a mood of resignation about finishing 5th, and you can’t look past a pressure-free Salzburg finishing their sensational league campaign with another victory in the capital. Benjamin Sesko, Nicolas Seiwald and Junior Adamu are amongst the Bundesliga’s best, and they may well all leave the club in the summer, so they’ll be gunning for a perfect goodbye in the season finale.
Sturm Graz v LASK
The final day of the season sees a match-up between two of the Austrian Bundesliga’s best performers in Sturm Graz and LASK. Cup winners Sturm Graz have re-emerged as a title-chasing force in Austrian football this season, whilst LASK will return to European group-stage football next year after a very solid third-place finish. Despite Sturm’s achievements, LASK are unbeaten in all three of their league meetings against Sturm this season – although Sturm were victorious in their ÖFB Cup semi-final clash.
In 2023, only Red Bull Salzburg have performed better in league play than LASK with only two defeats in 15 games (both against Salzburg), whilst Sturm Graz are looking to continue their immense league-leading home record with 11 victories. Both clubs have excelled in the striking department too, with almost identical strike rates spearheaded by young attacking talents such as Emanuel Emegha and Keito Nakamura, mixed with slightly more experienced heads in Manprit Sarkaria and Robert Zulj. LASK haven’t failed to score in the league against anyone but Salzburg since November, and Sturm’s last goalless league game (also Salzburg aside) was way back in early September. All in all, we expect an entertaining clash between two of the clubs to look out for next season in Austria and beyond, and we expect at least one goal for each team.
IFK Norrköping v Brommapojkarna
Norrköping started the season off well but have faltered somewhat in the last ten days, losing two in a row after three consecutive wins prior. They remain in a strong position in 5th but are unlikely to keep up with teams above them in the race for European qualification through a top-three finish. Despite a fairly balanced squad with good quality in most positions, they lack strength in depth, and are overly reliant on the likes of Nyman and Sigurdsson to produce in attack. While they often do so and the team only being kept scoreless once this season (against the mighty Malmö), more needs to be done to spread the goals around the team. In addition, they are severely overperforming their xG, with their finishing bound to regress at some point.
Norrköping are also not defensively solid enough to maintain a push for the higher positions, rarely keeping clean sheets and often susceptible to being broken down at some point during games. They favour a counter-heavy style but fail to maintain their deep block throughout entire matches without conceding dangerous chances. With only 43% possession on average, they try to read passes and intercept before breaking quickly, but a bit too often they get outdone by teams with quality in attack, as shown by losses to Kalmar and Elfsborg recently.
Brommapojkarna have been a real surprise package, showing flair and clever movement in attack to become one of the most watchable teams in the division. Combined with a rugged and dedicated defence, they can rattle any opposition. A deserved surprise defeat to Sirius, without a win until last weekend, was a stumbling block but won’t put any dents in their wheels. BP should be able to get back up onto their feet and compete with Norrköping.
A couple of absentees for each side (Traustason and Calisir) weaken them, but there is plenty to still suggest there will be goals here. Both teams have scored in each of these teams’ last three matches, a nice trend to carry on.
Torino v Inter Milan
This is a slightly hard one to judge in the sense that you have to get in the mindset of Simone Inzaghi. He has two clear options coming into this game against Torino. On one hand, he could be wary of the Champions League final just under a week later and drop all of his best players, meaning they could settle for a point or even a narrow defeat, with their minds set on a bigger goal.
The other option for Inzaghi is to not interrupt the momentum that his team has built over the past couple of months. Inter have been superb recently and the loss against Napoli, in which over half the game was played with 10 players, was the outlier in their form. Continuing to build the confidence of players like Lautaro Martinez, Romelu Lukaku and Nicolo Barella could be exactly what Inzaghi needs to do ahead of the tough match against Manchester City.
There is also the factor of a win securing third place, ahead of AC Milan. There are bragging rights at play there, as well as a bit of extra cash when it comes to the prize money. Inter are not in a position to turn their nose up at even a 3/4 million extra euros. Inzaghi is likely to take this route, rather than make wholesale changes.
Torino could do with winning the game too as they come into the weekend in eighth place, which could get European football. A win will see them keep that place, so it is also in their interest to score.
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