HJK host Jaro at the Sonera Stadium tonight at 6:30pm. The home side have recorded three straight victories (KuPS (H), Inter (H), VPS (A)) after the opening day defeat against TPS in Turku and sit second in the table, a point behind JJK. Jaro have also recovered from their dodgy start to the season, that saw them get beaten by biggest relegation favourites RoPS (A) and Haka (H), by taking all three points at TPS and drawing at home to KuPS. Jaro are seventh in the table ahead of today’s fixtures.
HJK are expected to field their strongest eleven after some of the key players were rested against VPS last Sunday. Berat Sadik and Teemu Pukki will start upfront, Alexander Ring will take his place in centre midfield alongside Dawda Bah, while more defensive-minded Tuomas Kansikas (who had a great game against Inter) will replace Mikko Sumusalo at left-back.
Jari Litmanen (who did’t travel to Vaasa) is expected to start on the bench and will probably make a cameo later on in the match. Old warhorse Aki Riihilahti is touch-and-go in terms of squad inclusion after the 34-year-old featured in the last two Klubi 04 (HJK’s reserve team) matches. However, there’s no reason to rush the injury-prone midfield destroyer since poor man’s Riihilahti Cheyne Fowler is fit. Sunday’s trip to Maarianhamina may be the more likely occasion for ‘Ägä’s’ return.
Jaro coach Aleksei Eremenko has most of his key players fit (though, full-back Tillman Grove is doubtful and midfielder Markus Kronholm is out for a month due to illness) and is expected not to make too many changes to his first eleven. However, despite Jaro’s inclination to an attacking strategy, the visitors will start with a bit more caution against the reigning champions. Eremenko will have his mind set on finding a way to stop HJK’s in-form wing men (especially Sebastian Sorsa and Rafinha on the right) from inflicting their damage. Therefore, there will be no place in the opening line-up for the 16-year-old Simon Skrabb. Jaro cannot come to Helsinki just to shut up shop and this is why they look to engage in battle in the centre of the park where HJK have been at their most vulnerable.
HJK can go into the match with full of confidence after keeping clean sheets in the two consecutive matches. However, against both Inter and VPS, HJK didn’t manage to open the scoring until late in the game and this is a problem coaching duo Antti Muurinen and Juho Rantala need to address. The home team will start the game actively and look for an early goal while the visitors are comfortable keeping their foot on the break, with an eye for the counter-attack, early on and open up their play more as the game progresses.