BK Häcken v Hammarby
With eight matches to go, we see first versus third in the league facing off in a game determining whether Häcken will make it a two-horse race for the title, or if Hammarby still have a say.
Häcken have gone from strength to strength this campaign, using their strong squad in the best way possible to mount a real title challenge. They have remained top of the table for the majority of the league season, however they’re closely trailed by Stockholm sides Djurgården and Hammarby, one and five points behind respectively. Häcken have only suffered defeat once in the last 19 league contests, against Djurgården in late July. The free-scoring Gothenburg-based team, averaging 2.3 goals per match, has the attacking power to outscore any side in the division. At the back they’re not as solid, conceding 29 goals in 22 matches, however their defensive play has improved somewhat in recent matches.
Hammarby’s season has been more inconsistent; similarly fluid in attack (2 goals scored per game) and a bit less defensively frail, however they haven’t managed to turn performances into results as often as this weekend’s opponents. Whereas Häcken have consistently picked up wins in close matches, Hammarby have gone through a couple of periods where they’ve struggled to collect points. After a run of six wins in seven, they have now not managed to secure a victory in the last three. The schedule hasn’t been kind though – a large mitigating factor – and last week’s performance in the 0-0 draw against Djurgården was encouraging. The match prior to that was a different story, facing a heavy 4-1 defeat at the hands of IFK Norrköping, and Hammarby tend to concede against better opponents this season.
With close to a clean bill of health, and both teams firing on all cylinders to try and secure a vital win in the title race. The highest and third-highest scoring teams in the league won’t hang back, and everything points towards a goal fest. The last meeting between these two finished in a 2-2 draw.
Värnamo v Varberg
A bottom-half clash between two leaky defences, although both teams have become more effective in front of goal in recent times.
Värnamo have steadily pulled away from the relegation zone in the second half of the season; some impressive possession-based football with reduced mistakes in the build-up has made them more difficult to beat, also allowing for better ball progression and chance creation. They have only suffered defeat once in the last seven matches, failing to score in just one of those, picking up three victories in the process. As a result, their Allsvenskan place for next season is all but secured, with a healthy eight-point cushion down to the relegation playoff spot. Zeljkovic, signed in the summer, has added another dimension to their attack, and star striker Marcus Antonsson is in lethal form, notching ten goals in his last eight appearances – he’s now comfortably the second top scorer in the division with 16.
Varberg have been similarly impressive of late, only losing one of their last five matches to leave them seven points above Helsingborg in 14th. Unless there is a monumental collapse in the last eight matches, we can expect to also see Varberg in the top tier next year. Just like their opponents, they tend to score even when not managing to secure the win; only one of the last five games – the tough fixture of Kalmar away – has seen Varberg leave the pitch goalless. Robin Simovic, the giant target man, has picked his form up and been involved in a goal every other game in the last seven.
With both teams in a good vein of form, scoring and conceding in most matches, both teams to score at 1.75 is very tempting.
Helsinborg v Malmö
A fierce Scania derby between two teams that have, in very different circumstances, had difficult campaigns. Whereas Malmö have had little to do with the title race and are on their third manager, Helsingborg are expectedly battling to avoid relegation.
Helsingborg, back in the top-flight after one season in the second tier, didn’t add much in terms of quality to their squad following promotion. Last season’s top scorer Anthony van den Hurk has also left the club. His replacement, Amar Muhsin, looks a shrewd signing though, having scored three league goals in only two starts so far. Three wins in the last seven matches have brought Helsingborg above Degerfors, their biggest rivals in attempting to stay in the league, on goal difference. Sitting in the relegation playoff spot, 14th, it’s going to be difficult to reach Varberg who are 7 points better off. As many points as possible are needed, though, from the final eight games of the campaign. Having said that, getting anything against Malmö here has to be considered a massive bonus.
The away side has had their fair share of critics this year, both internally with players bemoaning the lax boardroom approach, and externally from fans and media. The football has been worse than previous seasons, and results have similarly been too inconsistent for a club of this size. Åge Hareide being back in the dugout has certainly steadied the ship somewhat, and performances have improved since his return.
Two consecutive losses in the Europa League group stages, admittedly against stronger opponents, sandwich a win over Norrköping in the league. There is still some disgruntlement around the club, but with a chance of making the top three we can expect the team to come together and pull in the same direction. Niklas Moisander’s long-term injury, picked up in the last league game, ruling him out for the season is certainly a tough blow, leading to the manager changing from three to four in defence in midweek.
A derby, with the added spice of both sides needing to pick up points for entirely different reasons, should make for an exciting spectacle. Malmö ought to be bigger favourites than they are though, considering the difference in quality.
AIK v Degefors
AIK, since the sacking of Bartosz Grzelak, have looked more cohesive in build-up play as well as creating more danger in the final third, largely due to a change in system. A 4-3-3 formation has been implemented by interim manager and club legend Henok Goitom, resulting in ten goals scored in four matches. Defensively there’s a lot more to be desired, having only kept one clean sheet, against rock bottom GIF Sundsvall, and last weekend’s 2-0 defeat to Varberg was a miscalculation. They’re still within touching distance of third spot so could secure European football next season with a strong finish, however the title looks out of reach with current form in mind.
John Guidetti’s arrival at the club has been a mixed bag – some stellar performances have been combined with fitness and injury issues. Luckily, he made his return last week, playing half an hour, and should be fit enough to start here. Nabil Bahoui has not been close to his best in recent times and may move back to the bench as a result.
Degerfors were a revelation last season, playing exciting football and just about avoiding the relegation playoff. This year has been more of a struggle though, with defensive frailties and a lack of goalscoring threat big reasons for their demise. Losing star striker Edvardsen to Djurgården has taken its toll, with no one replacing his 14 league goals. The recent signing of Omar Faraj from Segunda Division side Levante is a real coup, though, and he’s hit the ground running, scoring two in the last three.
Only losing once in the last five games has helped in their quest to climb above Helsingborg into 14th, but they’ll need to keep picking up points to stand a chance of surviving. Hitting the net in four of those five matches, only being held scoreless by Mjällby last week, while not conceding as many as previously, bodes well for the run-in.
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