Honka v HJK
The final round of Veikkausliiga matches was moved in its entirety to accommodate HJK’s Europa League campaign, with this fixture one of the most eagerly anticipated of the season so far.
After taking an unexpected lead at the top, a lucky draw and a sad defeat have seen Honka drop back to third. The workings of manager of the month Vesa Vasara have brought huge attention, the always-fruitful youth system has worked wonders along with clever recruitment. Their high risk, high reward strategy has been a joy to watch – but difficult to maintain. Rui Modesto scored again last week in defeat to Haka while Sadiku, Jansen and Koski were all in team of the month. They’ve had a lot more rest than their opponents and will need that freshness to make the most of their pace and aggression.
HJK have had a very busy week. Coming through a tough derby against HIFK followed by a strong performance in defeat (0-2) to Real Betis in the Europa League, they will need to be wise against their young upstart rivals, especially with a trip to AS Roma on Thursday to look ahead to. Paulus Arajuuri was injured on his return on Monday and could only make the bench. Malik Abubakari had a goal disallowed for offside against Betis but needs to do better in the league – he only has one domestic goal since signing from Malmo and that was in July against VPS. HJK’s consistency and experience has got them back to the top, but this will be a very tough test.
VPS v KuPS
A match with huge implications at both ends of the table and both sides coming into the fixture in form that can be described as mediocre at best.
One win in nine for VPS has them drifting into trouble, their prolific goal supply has slowed down and the defence are still struggling to keep a clean sheet. Their derby with SJK last week was a meek showing, the 2-0 scoreline flattering the losers with top scorer Kalle Multanen scoring in the wrong goal. Juhani Pikkarainen saw red in that fixture and misses this match, but he did sign a new contract this week alongside Prosper Ahiabu. With just four points separating them and the play-off, they need to pick up points to guarantee safety and can’t rely on those below losing.
After being sidetracked by their European adventure, it has been a struggle to get back to a fluent run for KuPS, a tepid goalless draw against Ilves last week the latest in a string of weak performances and a lack of spark despite fielding an almost full-strength team. With the Finnish Cup final against Inter next weekend, KuPS will need to get their league form back on track. Last season they had a giant lead before stalling with a series of draws, allowing HJK the advantage. They need to buck this trend and VPS should prove a good opponent to dust off the cobwebs. The quality of KuPS is proven but needs to wake up. This VPS defence are likely to provide several opportunities.
HIFK v Oulu
These two sides meet in the final match of the regular season, knowing they’re likely to face each other again in the next round of fixtures, HIFK guaranteed to go into the relegation round in 12th, AC Oulu set to finish 7th but unable to reach the championship group thanks to their forfeit recently.
Despite HIFK’s impotent season and commitment to finishing bottom, they gave HJK a very tough match on Monday night, buoyed by the feisty atmosphere and even taking the lead thanks to an early lead but quality prevailed in the end as they succumbed 2-1. Roman Eremenko didn’t feature in the matchday squad at all, while younger brother Sergei earned a yellow card which rules him out of this fixture. Mixu Paatelainen’s reign has inspired nothing while the off-the-field personality battles and financial peril hangs over like the darkest cloud. That HIFK will get two more home games to contribute to the bank balance is the only silver lining.
Despite a promising season at times, Oulu haven’t had the consistency or depth to maintain their top half position, having their win against Inter overturned a sad time. But last year they only just survived the relegation play-off, so this is progress. The return of Rasmus Karjalainen has brought cheer (and goals) and the early season form of Michael Lopez was a revelation and he needs to rediscover his touch here, with two goals in his last nine. The carrot of a Conference League play-off place for the “winner” of the relegation group should give them enough incentive to keep fighting, starting this week.
Lahti v Haka
At the start of the season, there were some who would have imagined the fortunes of these two sides would be reversed. Lahti made several signings including Albion Ademi (a move that didn’t go well for either party), while the 2021 Haka side were a functional team with little threat and struggled in front of goal.
Lahti are still deep in trouble, wedged in the relegation play-off spot and with only one league win in two months. They only managed two shots on target against Oulu last week and are failing to pick up points against the teams around them, any sign of momentum quickly fades away. Midfielder Eduards Emsis continues his latest suspension and his teammates “only” picked up two yellows in the 0-0 draw. Liechtenstein international Dennis Salanovic has yet to complete ninety minutes since moving from Oulu in the summer and should be providing more from the right wing.
Haka upset the title race last week with a surprising 2-1 win against Honka, Lee Erwin’s brace taking him to 14 for the season with six rounds remaining – his club did well to hang on to him with large bids from Turkey resisted as a potential Conference League place is there for the taking. Winger Stavros Zarokostas was deservedly named in the Veikkausliiga team of the month for August, despite struggling for fitness and only lasted a full game once in the whole season. The two of these combine frequently, ensuring Teemu Tainio’s side will finish in the top half. The celebrations of his assistant Ossi Virta provided plenty of laughs from the sidelines and we should see more on Sunday.
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