Honka v Haka
A decent start to 2023 became a good start on Friday for Honka with an incredibly comfortable 3-0 win against Lahti, where they fully dominated and barely let their opponents had a sniff. Two goals from Kevin Jansen and a first for Clesio Bauque were the least they deserved against limited opposition. Still dealing with the loss of their two attacking threats over the winter, Honka announced the signing of former Finland midfield star Roman Eremenko and he is eligible for this match. Roman’s class was evident in a short spell at HIFK last year and should do well in a team with loftier ambitions. If the strikers can get into form, they’ll have no shortage of chances.
Haka finally got their first win of the season on Friday but made hard work of it, losing 1-2 at home to KTP before coming back in the second half. They will find this a far tougher match and will be tested in tougher ways. The two sides only met a fortnight ago and Haka were leading going into injury time but conceded a soft penalty. Tainio’s side are still missing Lee Erwin but the goals from Friday were from four different scorers which is of some comfort. But Logan Rogerson still hasn’t hit the target after a decent 2022 and needs to step up.
Both teams have European football to build towards in the summer but are coming from different paths. A Honka win will take them back into title contention, an unlikely thought after matchday one.
AC Oulu v KuPS
Oulu will take to the field in a one-off kit celebrating the centenary of KuPS – an odd tribute but a nice gesture. After the shambolic defeat to SJK, they came from behind to win at Ilves last week with the latest of winners with Otto Liimatta scoring after a long throw-in. Ricardo Duarte’s side are still outsiders but will fancy at least a point to keep their European ambitions alive with new stadium plans still in the air. At full strength, the side are able to compete with the top teams and they’ll welcome back striker Ashley Coffey after a one-match ban which will be a relief.
The form of KuPS since their brutal managerial change has paid dividends, with three wins from three since the return of Jani Honkavaara including a strong 2-1 win against HJK on Friday. This change, along with the third coming of Urho Nissila, has been immediate. Despite the lack of a quality centre forward, the goals are being shared around, enough for now. Nissila’s contract only runs until July and assuming he leaves, will be a giant miss. Another recent signing fitting in well is Collins Shichenje, the big central defender on loan from AIK has been impressive and strong, yet just 19 years old.
It’s hard to see either defence being strong enough to keep a clean sheet, but it should be an open game between two sides who know how to score goals in decent form.
Airdrie v Falkirk
The SPFL playoffs begin in earnest on Tuesday, with Airdrie and Falkirk a potentially fascinating encounter as the two sides vie for the opportunity to win promotion to the Championship.
It is an encounter that promises to be an entertaining one. These two teams have already met on four occasions this season, with these games producing a sum total of 14 goals. Indeed, historically, this is a game that has been an entertaining one. Only two of the last eight times these teams have faced off over the last couple of seasons have brought under 2.5 goals – and on both of those occasions there were two goals netted.
While a playoff first leg might not be seen as the natural environment for an open game, Airdrie are best suited to playing in an attacking style, as has been underlined by the fact that they have scored 82 goals in 36 league matches – 50 of which came at home.
Falkirk are a more conservative team but four of their last five League One matches produced at least four goals, while the other had three. Indeed, a 3-1 win over Peterhead at the weekend snapped a run of five successive games in which they had conceded at least two goals.
Even in knockout competition, Falkirk have shown a willingness to be open. Their Scottish Cup run to the semi-finals of the competition, for example, had five games out of five with over 2.5 goals. A price of 2.1 is available on that eventuality on Tuesday, but over 1.5 goals looks like an excellent addition to any accumulator.
Real Madrid v Manchester City
In a rematch of last season’s Champions League semi-final, Real Madrid take on Manchester City in the first leg on Tuesday night with a return to the scene of one of the tournament’s most dramatic semi-finals only 12 months ago. The Estadio Santiago Bernabéu will give home advantage to Los Blancos in what is bound to be a hard fought contest to leave the Spanish capital with the lead after the first half of this battle.
Real Madrid will come in high on confidence with that memory, but also due to the fact that they lifted the Copa del Rey trophy on Saturday night, winning six trophies since Carlo Ancelotti returned to the club in the summer of 2021. They have not lost a knock-out tie over two legs since Chelsea beat them in the 2021 semi-finals with Zinedine Zidane in the dugout, and have not lost a single game in the knock-out stages since the first leg of last year’s semi-final at the Etihad, setting a new club record of five consecutive wins in the knock-out stages.
Manchester City are in excellent form of late, coming into this game off the back of five straight victories in all competitions, but will face the added pressure of reaching only a second-ever Champions League final. Pep Guardiola may play a more conservative game in this battle, as he has in the last two knock-out rounds where away ties against Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig both ended with 1-1 draws.
That means that Real Madrid to win or draw double chance looks to be excellent value. There is unlikely to be a decisive result either way in this first leg, but Madridistas will be expecting their team to come away from the first leg without being behind on the scoreboard.
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