Veikkausliiga plug and play signings

Veikkausliiga plug and play signings

It’s January, so the transfer window is open. In Finland, preseason isn’t going to kick into gear for another month-or-so but in most other countries, we’re heading into the period of the season where the home stretch is starting to come into view. Now is the time to add to your squad if you want a mid-season boost of energy! Only, January is mostly a terrible time to buy players due to inflated prices and most good players being too important for their clubs to be moved in the middle of a season. Finland, luckily for this piece, is almost completely exempt from these market factors as player prices are mostly very moderate, and the season being summer-centric. Could Finland then maybe be a good place for teams to find some value if there is none to be found elsewhere?

The usual answer to this question would be a fairly straightforward no, but we’ve had some recent examples of players going straight from the Veikkausliiga into the starting eleven of a team in a stronger league and providing positive value. Alfredo Morelos is maybe the biggest Veikkausliiga outlier in quite some time, so maybe he’s a bad example, but Lassi Lappalainen jumped straight into the Montreal Impact team and started scoring. Santeri Hostikka has played a varied half season of Ekstraklasa football for one of the better teams in the league, Joao Klauss is doing well in the Austrian league, as did Dever Orgill before he moved to Turkey. Roope and Riku Riski played respectable careers abroad before returning home. Rasmus Karjalainen has played competently in the Eredivisie, and Leo Väisänen has been an important part of Den Bosch in Eerste Divisie (before getting a move to Elfsborg). After struggling in Scotland, Benjamin Källman has been his usual self in Denmark and Norway, and Onni Valakari, Juha Pirinen and Robert Taylor had varied seasons as key cogs of relegated Tromsö. A mention to Pyry Soiri as well, who has stuck abroad longer than I anticipated, even if he’s gone from club to club.

The above list isn’t exhaustive, of course, but it supports my point which is that finding decent players from Finland is far from impossible. If you’re one of the best players in this tier, then surely you should be at least a good player one tier up. It’s inevitably a crap shoot, but that’s the beauty of it, and the risk is usually something that can be noticed in the price as well. So let’s have a look at some players who could be of interest to clubs in Scandinavia, Central Europe, North America and maybe even the lower reaches of England who could have an immediate impact.


Goalkeeper is a tricky position to evaluate because hypothetical buying teams might have completely different requirements for the position. In any case, if nothing else, you want your goalkeeper to be a good shot stopper, so let’s look at that particular trait. The best shot stopper in the past season was Maksim Rudakov of HJK – in fact, he’s the best shot stopper of all keepers who have faced more than 100 shots on target in the league since 2013. Only thing is, he’s back at Zenit St. Petersburg after a two-season-long loan. Without really knowing, I’d assume he’s available, so he probably qualifies, but we’re interested in the Finnish league system here. Tim Murray of Honka pops up as an alternative and seeing as they have a couple of young promising Finnish goalkeepers on their books, they might be open for a bid. If you’re looking for an under-the-radar option that you’ve never heard of, Jonathan Jäntti is a player who has been the best goalkeeper in the second tier two seasons in a row, for two different teams, whose cumulative numbers should be enough to, at the very least, get him a job in the top tier in Finland. I would assume that shot stopping is something that translates fairly well from league to league, so a budget conscious, ambitious foreign club willing to take a calculated gamble should maybe have a look, especially since he’s a free agent and would presumably be OK with a trial.

Top 10 goalkeepers since 2013 by GSAA

Center backs

If there’s any one outfield position where Finland has consistently been able to produce quality players, it’s probably center back. HJK, in particular, have had a decent pipeline of center backs who have moved abroad, mostly due to having the top youth system in the country, but also because they tend to hoover up the best players in the league before they attract the interest of foreign teams. They did so with Faith Obilor in 2017, and his performances since have created a modicum of international hype. He was close to a move in the summer of 2018, before ending up signing a new deal with HJK. He’s not very young anymore, but is in good shape, and has the kind of physical upside that is difficult to find almost anywhere in the world.


If Obilor were to move in January, it wouldn’t surprise me if HJK went after Robert Ivanov of Honka to replace him. As a converted midfielder, he excels on the ball, but also specializes in winning aerial duels. He’s been very good in the league for two years now, and earned a Finland call-up about a year ago. Honka head honcho Hexi Arteva has already felt it necessary to comment on – to my knowledge non-existent – speculation on Ivanov’s future. To me it feels like he’s trying to coax a bid, but what do I know. If he goes, they already signed Tapio Heikkilä who could be considered a ready-made replacement.


Full backs

If you’re looking for the best overall left back in Finland, you should sign Luis Carlos Murillo – only, you’re already three months late, because he signed for HJK after the end of the season. That’s too bad! You could probably still get him, but he’d cost you a pretty penny, and within the scope of this blog post, we aren’t interested in paying pretty pennies.


The thing is, though, there’s a guy who has been only slightly worse  – better in an attacking sense, but not quite as solid defensively – in the same time period who seems to have gone somewhat unnoticed – Dylan Murnane of IFK Mariehamn. If you’re looking for a left back, he’s your guy.


If your problem is the right side of defence, Finland is somewhat more barren, due to a league wide penchant for preferring bumbling center half types in that position. I mean, if that’s what you’re looking for, maybe try Kalle Taimi – he is a Finland international, after all?


Otherwise, Felipe Aspegren has been maturing nicely, and had his best season by far in 2019. He’s more of a midfielder type, so can play a variety of roles to a sufficient standard. I don’t imagine he’s far from a national team call up, especially considering the other options.


Another alternative might be Nikolai Alho, who has reimagined himself as an attacking full back after a career as a winger. It fits him nicely, and he did well there last season, even if his team faltered. Rumors have placed him in League One this month, so it doesn’t seem like such a long shot.


Central midfields

Rasmus Schüller signed for HJK last week, and immediately became the highest profile midfielder in the league. Among players who played last season, the pick of the bunch is maybe Jair Tavares da Silva. He’s been in Finland for a while and has played with varied success in the second tier. Upon his promotion to the top tier, he turned in a very good season of midfield work, showing a range of skills.


If not Jair, another option could be KuPS’ Issa Thiaw. He only played just under 800 minutes last season due to an injury, but in the previous season he put up an impressive mix of defensive numbers, combined with a propensity to get into the opposite box – a trend that continued in 2019. If only there was a term to describe that type of player!

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The long shot – and the length of the shot seems to be increasing by the season – would maybe be Moshtagh Yaghoubi. I’m not the biggest fan of Yaghoubi – I think he slows the game down too much – but he undeniably is a talented player. He’s also something of a stat player – in that his playing style is so busy that he sticks in a lot of the statistical categories, even if the numbers don’t necessarily translate to his team doing better. His personality could be described as a little… complicated, and he has fallen out with a lot of his previous teams. That being said, he can play, and if that’s what you focus on, and if you believe you can handle difficult personalities, he might be the guy for you. He just joined HIFK this offseason, so he’d cost money.



There are basically two stand out guys in this category who don’t strictly qualify due to not playing in Finland anymore. Filip Valencic played for Inter last season on loan from Stabaek. He’s been really good every season he’s played in Finland, and Stabaek don’t seem to rate him. I think he could be a star for them, or a similarly rated team, but I’m not sure he has a future there.


The other player is Ishmael Yartey, who played half a season of dominant football for relegated KPV in 2019. He’s a free agent, so knock yourselves out.


The other stand out players are KuPS icon Petteri Pennanen and HIFK’s dynamic Carlos Erikson. Pennanen is a wide playmaker type, who has been one of the best players in the league for some time. He’s been abroad in two stints without sticking, so there are some question marks there, but he seems to be a free agent – or at least free-ish, as he’s attracted interest from the Indonesian league for what that’s worth – so he could be a potential value bet.


If Petteri Pennanen isn’t to your taste, maybe Mika Ojala is? He had a good season for Inter in 2019 after some struggles and some early indications that his legs had gone, but didn’t do enough to earn an extension with Inter. He’s a club legend – and an all time Veikkausliiga creative great – so I struggle to place him anywhere else in Finland, even though he should definitely be good enough.


Erikson, on the other hand, is one of the most dynamic forward players in the league, a live-wire with tricks in the bag. If he can take another step forward in 2020, with HIFK overall probably having a better team, he could be one of the best players in the league.


So there you have it, a full list of players in every position who could potentially improve your team in the immediate future. None of them are flawless – they are playing in Finland after all – but all of them have upside. If you’re interested in younger players, better investments, there’s a place for that as well.

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Are Jaro on to something?

Are Jaro on to something?

As I was researching my piece on Jani Honkavaara a while ago, I stumbled upon something interesting, something I had witnessed previously during the summer. Before my eyes were numbers that supported my notion that Jaro were pressing more intensely than any other team in either of the top two tiers of Finnish football this season. I found it interesting, because I had stumbled upon another interesting tidbit even earlier in my digging through the numbers: namely, that Jaro had played quite an impressive season, using mostly homegrown talent and a couple of Mexicans. Is something going on in Pietarsaari? Are Jaro on to something?

Lots of attacking, lots of high pressing (note that some of the statistics are ones where more is worse, like xGA – in their case the percentile ranks have been flipped, which means that for all of the statistics on the graph, more is better)

The modern version of Jaro owes quite a lot to Alexei Eremenko Sr., their coach in their previous stint in the league. A coach with a very distinct style of play, focused around valuing control of the ball over chance creation and – how to put this nicely – aggression bordering on violence, Eremenko made his Jaro into one of the most distinct teams in the league in terms of playing style at a time when possession football was still making its way up north – and relegated them in the process.

Käcko is the first head coach of Jaro to create consistent periods of separation between xG For and xG Against at either level, even if last season did contain a couple of dips in form

Back in 2016, I wrote one of my first blogs about their campaign ending in relegation, and how it was a pretty good example of how xG contains more information about the quality of a team than just shot numbers. Jaro in 2015 was also a very typical example of how having a very distinct style of play isn’t always equivalent to getting good results (VPS being another example).

Käcko’s Jaro, like Eremenko’s did, has a very distinct style of play, only they seem to be getting results in the process – results that can be backed up by their underlying metrics – and played some of the funnest football in the country. That they’ve done so without huge investments in playing staff is an additional bonus, as is the fact that they’ve used a lot of young players rather than Veikkausliiga cast-offs or Ykkönen veterans. Seeing as Jaro started to get results at roughly the same time that Käcko took over, while not seeing huge improvements in playing personnel indicates that a lot of the credit should be apportioned to him. Overall, heading into 2020, Jaro look like a potential candidate to fight for promotion if they can maintain the form that carried them through large portions of last season, and if they can add the right type of players to the existing bunch.

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In terms of playing style, Käcko’s Jaro seem to try to push their opponents wide when pressing up the pitch, hence using the sideline to squeeze space. This allows them to win the ball back in their opponents’ half, giving them the opportunity to spring quick counters whenever possible. This is in stark contrast to Eremenko’s Jaro, who were more comfortable sitting deeper, challenging their opponents in their own defensive third rather than further forward.

When comparing their passing tendencies to their opponents’ this effect becomes further emphasized, as they have overrepresented pass clusters in the same areas in which they tend to win the ball back (essentially, meaning that they play more of these types of passes compared to other teams). Otherwise, their passing tendencies lean towards not playing it short in their own half, especially not centrally, as well as playing long cross field balls from right to left, mostly from center back Johan Brunell to left back Darvin Chavez or wingers Walter Moore or Anthony Olusanya.

Compare this to 2015, when Jaro had a bunch of underrepresented pass clusters in the attacking zones, while their overrepresented pass clusters were short passes in their own half (plus the same diagonal from right to left).

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Now, the nature of Ykkönen means that any success achieved last season can easily end up having very little bearing on this season, as player churn tends to be a factor. Consider, for example, Jahir Barraza, who played an impressive season on loan from Atlas in the Mexican league. His loan spell ended at the end of the season, and although Jaro would likely be interested in acquiring him for 2020 as well, it’s going to be dependent on his desire to return to the Finnish second tier for a second season. Replacing his production will be as difficult as it is imperative if Jaro are going to have any say in the fight for promotion back to the Veikkausliiga.


Essentially, losing Barraza and not finding a competent replacement could be the difference between one of the top places and mid-table mediocrity. The silver lining is that Käcko had Jaro playing well with a moderate player staff already last season, and that they have an intriguing potential replacement in local boy Anthony Olusanya (even though I’m unsure he’d be ready to step up to produce at the level of Barraza next season).

With little budget and few options, who could be alternatives at striker for Jaro, then? AC Oulu fans are trying to crowdfund the signing of Niklas Jokelainen, and that could be something worth trying to intercept if there’s any chance of doing so. He has previous as a similarly active shooter at Ykkönen level, and is a dynamic forward with a wide skill set who could thrive being the main man behind the likes of Olusanya, Severi Kähkönen and Axel Vidjeskog. Another alternative could be to try to get Akseli Ollila, if he doesn’t attract interest from the Veikkausliiga, to switch Olusanya to center forward permanently – although that also seems a little unlikely. In any case, Jaro are looking a good bet to be one of the Ykkönen teams to follow next season.

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2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – Final update

2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – Final update

Another season is behind us, and so another edition of the Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking comes to its end. Last season saw a flurry of moves abroad, whereas this season has seen far less action. Looking back to last year’s list, I think I did a fairly good job at ranking prospects. Of the top 10 only Eetu Vertainen really lost a bit of stock in 2019, the rest either moved abroad, graduated due to age, or stayed roughly in place. The further down the list we go, the more speculative it becomes, and the less specific the rankings become. Is there any particular reason to rank one player at 36 compared to 37? Not really, you could just as well flip them. So the list should be considered less a definitive statement regarding a particular player, and more an indication of the rough tier he belongs to at this particular moment in time.

Since the last list, a couple of things have happened that impact this list more or less. Firstly, SJK decided to use their option to buy Jude Arthur, after an impressive maiden season. I’ve used him as an example of players I’m not including in the span of this exercise all season, but now I don’t really see a reason to exclude him anymore. Secondly, Tariq Kazi moved to Bashundhara Kings of the Bangladeshi league. Last season he made his breakthrough at Ilves but couldn’t retain his place in 2019, and only ended up playing a handful of minutes.

A reminder that the I’m only covering players owned by a team in Finland, so notable prospects like Kaan Kairinen, and so forth are disregarded. I’m also only interested in players younger than 23, and since age is tricky since it changes all the time, I’m going to use age seasons instead (that is, if you’re born in 2000, your age season in 2019 is 19). A reminder that I’m heavily favouring minutes played over most other statistics, as I think that it is what’s most important for young players. I’m also weighing minutes at the top tier higher than minutes at Ykkönen level, because of course I am.


Lassi Lappalainen – Bologna (Montreal Impact)

The list:

Rank (previous) Name Age Team Minutes Primary Position
1 (1) Lucas Lingman 21 RoPS 2382 MC
So, in the end, Lingman got to stamp his return ticket to Helsinki. He’s largely been carrying RoPS for a couple of seasons, and will hope to keep going on his return to the capital. He will supply HJK with something they have been sorely lacking: creativity from midfield. In theory, a midfield containing Parra, Väänänen and Lingman seems like a nice blend of industry and creativity, whether that is the setup that will end up being used is a different question. Has been the number one prospect in the league for a full season, and is still young enough to be around next year as well.


2 (2) Lauri Ala-Myllymäki 22 Ilves 2155 AMC/CF
Man, does it feel like I’ve been saying the exact same thing about Ala-Myllymäki all season. I like him as a player, but a lot of his strong sides are distorted by the fact that he’s scored a bunch of penalties and a couple of free kicks. I still think he’s more of a midfielder, and I think Ilves would’ve benefitted from playing him deeper, and using Naatan Skyttä in his place from a much earlier date. That being said, he took the most shots per 90 in the top two tiers this season, it’s just that a lot of those efforts were speculative. He has a good shot, and his highlight reel will make it seem worthwhile, but there’s an even better player in there, if used properly.



3 (3) Ilmari Niskanen 22 KuPS 2394 RW
Ilmari Niskanen is a fun player in many ways. He made the bench of the first team in 2013, made his debut in 2014, established himself as a first-teamer in 2015 and has been an above-average-to-good Veikkausliiga winger since 2016. He broke out properly in 2018 and, even if he maybe has stagnated a bit in 2019, he graduates from this list in third place, a league winner, and a core cog in the team that won it all, at that. For the second year running, he was one of the U22s with the most minutes in the league. It’s not a bad way to go even if expectations were even higher.


4 (6) Santeri Väänänen 17 HJK 656 MC
There’s a decent chance Väänänen will be a first choice midfielder for HJK next season, and if he isn’t, he seriously should consider going on loan somewhere where he would be. Like Skyttä, he’s a young player who has a genuine chance of making his team better right now. Plays with a lot of personality, even if the skill set is wide enough at this stage that his future role is still a bit unclear.
5 (26) Naatan Skyttä 17 Ilves 555 AMC
Skyttä is probably my favorite prospect in Finnish football at the moment, and he’d probably be number one or two if he’d played two times the minutes he ended up playing. There are a lot of young players on this list where I’m not really sure what their strengths and weaknesses are, mainly due to young players often struggling to stamp their authority on the game and ending up looking a little lost – that has never been the case with Skyttä. He is a player who inevitably is at the center of what his team wants to do, always looking to receive the ball between the defensive lines, and constantly betting on himself to be able to do something with the ball once he gets it. The thing is, I’m pretty sure Ilves would have benefited from it as well, because in the brief time he played, he was 5th in the league in key passes per 90 while completing the third most dribbles per 90. It doesn’t mean he’d have kept up the pace – which is why I’m being conservative in his placement – and his xA per 90 was only closer to 20th best in the league (still pretty good for a teenager!). Either way, he’s still way ahead even in playing time compared to his peers (17 year olds play on average 224 minutes per season in either of the top two tiers).
6 (N/A) Jude Arthur 20 SJK 1510 MC
Hey Jude! The Veikkausliiga tackles leader makes an appearance at the death. SJK decided to pull the trigger on Arthur’s option, and so here he is. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen, and if the trajectory stays the same, he’ll potentially make them their money back, maybe even with a tidy profit. He’s an effective shield in front of the defense, who gets involved defensively, is good in the air and is a tidy passer. Will play an important part for next year’s new look SJK.
7 (5) Salomo Ojala 22 Haka 2160 FW
Questions persist about Salomo Ojala’s true talent level, and whether he can pick up in the Veikkausliiga where he left off in the second tier. He’s an intriguing mix of different qualities, and has mostly been deployed as a second striker, with responsibilities beyond poaching goals. He might suffer slightly from the higher tempo a level up, but he’ll hopefully have time to settle down under familiar management so even only a median projection would seemingly be that he’s one of the top young(ish) goalscorers in the league next year. He won’t appear on this list due to his age, but he’ll be fondly remembered nonetheless.


8 (7) Juho Hyvärinen 19 RoPS 2358 RB
I try to be careful when rating young players who play for teams whose hands are forced when it comes to playing them. RoPS in 2019 was on the margins of this category, handing out a lot of responsibility to players who were very much learning on the job. That being said, Juho Hyvärinen played more minutes in 2019 than almost any other player. He had his ups and downs like any teenager will, but he essentially played all of the minutes he was available for, which is something that few players can say. Will need to move to a team with higher aspirations before long, though, because if he can’t show off his contribution in attack, he’ll run the risk of becoming just another Veikkausliiga right back.


9 (4) Jasin-Amin Assehnoun 21 Lahti 1941 LW/LWB
Assehnoun is a difficult one to judge because he essentially split his playing time between left wing and left wing back. In both cases, his strength is largely the same – genuine 1-v-1 ability – but his opportunity to use it and the circumstances around him varied depending on the system. He’s one of the strongest dribblers in the league – 5th overall in successful dribbles per 90 – and that usually tends to lead to good things, so hopes are high.


10 (13) Luis Henrique 21 HIFK 1287 CF
Luis Henrique joined HIFK late, but made an instant impression. His tenacity reminds me of Alfredo Morelos a little bit, even if the offensive output (beyond goals [0.54 NPG per 90] and assists [0.46 per 90]) doesn’t quite match the Colombian’s. If he stays another season with HIFK, I have a feeling his development might be key to determining where they are going to sit in the table.


11 (14) Tommi Jyry 20 KuPS 1457 MC
That’s two titles in two years for Tommi Jyry, who made the bold decision last season to move from a HIFK where he had established himself as a first-teamer to a title-chasing KuPS, already blessed with options for his position. The move payed off in many ways, as Jyry fought his way into the starting eleven in Kuopio as well. He’s an energetic midfielder who is more of a neat passer than a creative force. He played the Ville Saxman role decently for KuPS, and I think that his type of combination of defensive work rate and desire to get into the box to finish chances is something that Jyry could develop into with time. His only goal this season is a good example of this exact thing, as he lunged onto a low cross inside the goalkeeper’s area to bundle it home.
12 (8) Kalle Katz 19 RoPS (HJK) 1511 CB
After Toni Koskela left RoPS, Katz’s playing time sort of dried up a little bit. His season was nothing special, so it’s understandable that he’d be dropped in the midst of a relegation battle – or maybe there was an injury that I couldn’t find information about online? Either way, his contract with HJK is up and his form at RoPS is probably going to at least partly determine whether he’ll get an extension with HJK or not. I would suggest a move abroad at this point, but in all honesty I think he would have had to have leaned more heavily onto his strengths – passing and dribbling – in 2019 for that to be relevant at this stage. HJK in 2019 could be good for him, but with the catastrophal way the season ended, I wonder if they’ll dare trust youth in 2020.

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13 (18) Enoch Banza 19 KPV (HJK) 1673 LW/RW
Another HJK loanee, Banza rises in the ranks because he seemed to show genuine development toward the end of the season. Maybe it was the addition of Ishmael Yartey that pushed him to produce better, maybe due to being played solely on the left wing, from where he had a more natural avenue into the box. His shotmap shows that he gets a fair amount of centrally located shots, despite being a winger, which is an intriguing development well worth following. He ends the season with a decent tally of goal contribution and the hope that he’ll get a chance to do better next season for HJK.


14 (10) Severi Kähkönen 19 Jaro 1337 AMC
In terms of overall performance, Kähkönen has probably been just about as good as anyone on this list. According to InStat’s player positions, he has mostly played in central midfield somewhere, but I think he should probably be considered more of an attacking midfielder. This matters, because compared to other central midfielders, his shot, goal and xG contribution is off the charts good, whereas compared to attacking midfielders it’s just really, really good. Either way, you’d like to see him play at a higher level pretty soon, because this season has showed that the Ykkönen has very little left to teach him.


15 (9) Akseli Ollila 19 EIF 2108 LW
Ollila has been developing at a steady pace since moving to EIF last season and at this point he is one of the standout attackers in the division. He scores a lot of penalties, which adds to his goal tally, but a total of 6 non-penalty goals and 3 assists off around 5 xG and 5 xA is a very decent total for a winger. Looking at his shotmap, you’ll notice that he rarely missed from close to goal this season – is that an indication of xG overperformance or good finishing? Another player who should be looking to play at a higher level next season, who shouldn’t have trouble finding takers.

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16 (17) Eetu Vertainen 20 HJK 1484 CF
After the title chances dried up for HJK, Vertainen was given a chance to lead the line and did so in much the same way as he had done previously – pretty well, showing a decent array of ability while still seeming like there’s something missing if he wants to make it at HJK. At his best, he’s a live-wire. He’s physical yet light-footed, can dribble, can shoot, can pass – just needs to get his head straight and next season will be far better for him, as long as HJK contributes with sufficient playing time. Looking at his shotmap, you see a player who should have scored closer to his xG of around 5, rather than just the 2 NPG he ended up getting.

Vertainen shotmap.png

17 (16) Eemeli Virta 19 Lahti 1920 MC
A nice season alltogether for Virta, and one in which he established himself as a tidy passes, and competent defensive midfielder. He scores in the 75th percentile for tackles, the 85th percentile for interceptions and almost 90th percentile for aerial win percentage among midfielders, which seems intriguing. If he can continue on the same path next season, he’ll potentially carve something of a niche for him, which is of interest.
18 (12) Yussif Moussa 21 Ilves 1516 MC/AMC
Moussa provides lots of shots, lots of dribbles and lots of tackles from midfield, which is an interesting profile. A lot of the shots are speculative, though, so with some tactical honing Ilves could have a gem on their hands.


19 (11) Anthony Olusanya 19 Jaro 1327 LW/CF
Olusanya started the season in great form but dropped off a bit as the season progressed. His final playing position is still something of a question mark. Unlike Kähkönen, he doesn’t stand out while watching him play, but he has the numbers to make you intrigued.


20 (15) Aapo Mäenpää 21 IFK Mariehamn 1877 RB
IFK Mariehamn’s season should be considered a success based on pre-season expectations, and Mäenpää has been an important cog in their machinery for three seasons now. He’s a defensively solid right back – maybe the least sexy player profile I can think of – which means two things: the senior national team is probably not too many steps away, and his ceiling is probably fairly moderate. His contract is up according to transfermarkt, so we’ll see where he ends up next season.
21 (27) Elias Mastokangas 18 Inter 388 AMC
It’s hard to blame Inter for not playing Mastokangas more – would he have taken the place of Mika Ojala, Filip Valencic or Timo Furuholm? – and you would have forgiven them for playing Albion Ademi ahead of him also. He ended up ahead of Ademi in the pecking order, which is to his credit, and he showed a lot of promise while on the pitch. Needs to play more – a lot more – next season, so should probably consider an inter-league loan if that playing time isn’t to be found in Turku. Maybe a controversial cross-town switch?
22 (N/A) Arlind Sejdiu 18 Honka 375 LW
I had my eyes on Sejdiu already heading into the season, and I’m disappointed that he only managed to play as little as he did. I am, however, a bit surprised by how well he performed while on the pitch. 0.48 Non-Penalty Goals per 90 and 0.24 Assists pre 90 is a good, if slightly lucky, start. But 0.31 xG per 90 from out wide is something that any team would take any time. My fear is that Honka will persist with their policy to only play players over 25, and if so, I hope Sejdiu will look to go on loan somewhere, because he looks an intriguing prospect.
23 (21) Jeremiah Streng 18 SJK 973 CF
My hope is that Streng will be the key beneficiary of Jani Honkavaara taking over at SJK, as a centre forward fitting the general characteristics of what he seems to want for that position. This season was a win just for the amount of playing time he managed to accumulate, but looking at the way Naatan Skyttä or Santeri Väänänen managed to provide key contributions for their teams, you have to look at it a bit more cautiously.


24 (22) Pyry Lampinen 17 Lahti 537 CF
It’s hard to keep up the pace when you score with your first two shots in the league. Lampinen cooled off understandably, but was also shunted to the right wing as it became clear he wasn’t going to score with his every touch. Adds to the interesting generation of young strikers knocking on doors at various clubs – some of whom would deserve to be on this list had they appeared enough in the league.


25 (23) Matias Tamminen 18 RoPS 813 CF
2019 will go down as a success for Matias Tamminen, if only for getting a fair enough of playing time and scoring a couple of league goals. While RoPS has been a good environment for player development for a fairly long time now, that might not have been as true for their center forwards. Tamminen seems like a player who needs more service in the box – almost all of his shots this season were from inside the box, and all of them were from close to the goal line – rather than attacks built through deliberate build up. Hopefully there will be more mass in 2020, because the quality of chances is there.


26 (20) Axel Vidjeskog 18 Jaro 1063 AM
Last season, it felt like there was something of a dearth of promising teenagers playing actively in either of the top two tiers. This season, I’m placing Axel Vidjeskog in 26th and feeling a bit bad about because he could just as well be higher. Jaro have a fun team, and Vidjeskog is a part of it. He lacks the polish of Severi Kähkönen and the raw end product of Anthony Olusanya, but he’s a year younger. Next year will be illustrative.


27 (19) Anttoni Huttunen 18 MyPa 1535 LW
Huttunen was unfortunately injured approaching the end of the season, and in his absence MyPa managed to squeeze out another season in the second tier. Huttunen showed flashes of brilliance during his time on the pitch and ended up with similar xA numbers to Petteri Pennanen or Lucas Kaufman one level above. With players like him, I tend to hope that the progression is quick: I’d rather see him play for a better team, in a better league, with better teammates as soon as possible, and I remember reading somewhere that he had been training with HIFK during the season – that could be potentially be a good next step.


28 (35) Kevin Larsson 18 HIFK 672 RW

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Larsson came into the HIFK side in 2019 after joining from renowned talent factory KäPa and ended up playing more than I expected. It’s hard to pin down his profile at this point in time, but the playing time suggests that the coaching staff has faith in his ability. In many ways he resembles Joel Mattsson in that he was played a lot for his age while the statistics struggle to pick up what he’s good at. Will hopefully take another step forward next season.

29 (25) Daniel Rantanen 21 EIF 1929 MC
Rantanen has floated around the top two tiers for a couple of years now, and although not much has changed – he’s still one of the most active shooters from central midfield – this season feels like a breakthrough of sorts, even if it’s only at Ykkönen level. In previous seasons, though, it’s been all volume and very little end product to show for it. This season, he has been a genuine attacking force for EIF – even if his shotmap is littered with hit-and-hopes. Although the range of his passing (and to an extent his shooting) is a key strength of his, he is also capable of carrying the ball forward from midfield, which can be a valuable asset. Looking at his key passes, a notable trend is the long diagonal looking for Akseli Ollila, which was a prominent weapon for EIF in 2019.

So what does the future hold? His contract is up, and a forward thinking Veikkausliiga team in need of an offensive midfielder might find the thought enticing.

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30 (24) Teemu Jäntti 19 Lahti 980 MC
As I’ve written before, I kind of like the hypothetical balance of attributes that a Jäntti-Virta central midfield partnership would consist of. Jäntti is more of an energetic box-to-box shuttler type while Virta is more of a sitting midfielder who can distribute from the base. With Assehnoun on the left and Zeqiri on the right and a young new coach… are Lahti starting to look like a pretty interesting team to follow in 2020?
31 (N/A) Joel Mattsson 20 HIFK 2018 AM
Last time around, I dropped Mattsson due to not quite being able to figure out what kind of player he is. I’ve done it before, for roughly similar reasons. The thing is, though, that he’s played a lot this season, which means that two coaches has considered him promising enough to give him the time of day, and that makes me feel like there’s something I’m missing. I can’t figure out what it is, but there must be something? His form did pick up toward the end of the season, and now his contract is up, so next season will be illustrative.


32 (37) Joonas Sundman 21 SJK 1353 LB
Sundman is a constant in the U21 national team, and has established himself as a key part of an SJK defense in constant flux. Wins a lot of headers and doesn’t contribute a lot in attack, which isn’t the most enticing profile it must be admitted.
33 (44) Tiemoko Fofana 20 Ilves 1606 CF
I don’t dislike Tiemoko Fofana – there’s much to like about his game: his versatility, his movement in the box, his hold up ability – it’s just that the statistics aren’t exactly flattering. The fact remains that with the playing time he got, for Ilves to win the title, he would’ve had to accumulate more xG, more goals, more shots.


34 (28) Evans Mensah 21 HJK 1434 RW
Will HJK decline their club option for Evans Mensah? For some reason, even if he has been really good at times, it still doesn’t feel like there’s a consistent place for him at HJK. He has the individual ability to be dominant, and he has been a consistent goalscorer from the wing, but other options still seem to preferred to him whenever possible. An enigma.


35 (29) Niklas Jokelainen 19 RoPS 787 CF
Jokelainen’s playing time dried up toward the end of the season, but what came before that seemed promising enough. If I’d have to think of a non-obvious candidate to do a Rasmus Karjalainen, he’d be pretty far up on the list.


36 (30) Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan 20 RoPS (HJK) 839 LW
Kouassivi-Benissan’s loan to RoPS was a good idea that came a little too late. It would probably have been better for both player and receiving team if he could have spent a full season there. I still think he’s more of a winger, or a wing back in a system where he would be allowed to attack more and worry less about his defence. Should have another year on his HJK contract, and should have a better chance of breaking through under Koskela.


37 (32) Mehdi El-Moutacim 19 EIF 2469 GK
The problem with being a young goalkeeper is that it’s the one position on the pitch where experience is considered the most important, and all of the league minutes are basically divided between 12 players. El-Moutacim doesn’t play in the league but he has accumulated a lot of Ykkönen minutes already for a player his age and has done reasonably well. He plays with a lot of confidence, which is something that is exceptionally good for a goalkepeer, but which can lead to some problematic issues in his day-to-day work, mostly in his passing. His largest medium term problem is that he’s going to start to get minutes at a higher level soon, and for that to happen he’s going to have to convince a team that he’s good enough to be a number one, get promoted with EIF, or move abroad. It’s a rocky road either way with no clear best case solution.
38 (33) Mauro Severino 20 TPV 758 RW
Severino is a productive attacker, probably even at Veikkausliiga level. Getting relegated from Ykkönen isn’t exactly great for his reputation – nor is changing teams three times before you turn 20 – but an opportunistic side should definitely look to pounce.


39 (N/A) Tuukka Kurki 20 KTP 943 FW
The answer to who was 11th in xG per 90 for both leagues this season. Kurki looked excellent in flashes for HIFK last season and only started to get into the KTP team once Kalle Multanen moved to Italy. I like him, and I hope to see more of him next season.


40 (N/A) John Fagerström 21 EIF 1119 FW
The answer to who was 10th in xG per 90 for both leagues this season. He looked a good fit for EIF as a lone front man, with good hold up play and a poacher’s instinct after struggling for Haka in 2018 as a winger. I like the profile, but does he have another level in him?


41 (31) Martti Haukioja 19 VPS 1408 LB
Haukioja has an… interesting profile for a full back, in that he scores fairly profile in most defensive categories but played a tonne of passes into the box and added a good amount of xA. Is that a good recipe for a team that got relegated? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a player of his pedigree would be picked up by a Veikkausliiga team before the season starts.
42 (34) Omar Jama 21 EIF 2155 MC
Jama is a neat player – he can carry the ball forward, and pass it at a good rate, but he has some defensive limitations and offers marginal creativity. He’s pretty young though, and has played quite a lot, but time is running out for him to realize his potential.


43 (40) Maximo Tolonen 18 SJK 570 AMC
Jani Honkavaara has a decent reputation as a developer of players, and Tolonen will be hopeful that some of that magic will rub off on him. At times this season, he’d be SJK’s most progressive, positive player, then he’d get subbed early for some reason. At times, I get doubtful about his ability, but then I look up his stats from Ykkönen in his age 16 season, and I’m reminded of what a precocious talent we’re talking about. He has suffered from the turbulence at SJK more than probably anyone and might be the one player to benefit most if they can find some stability.
44 (36) Ville Tikkanen 20 SJK 581 CB
Something of a lost season for Tikkanen, although he did manage to get back on the pitch toward the end. If history is to be believed, he’ll have enough defending to do under Honkavaara, so at least he’ll get a chance to show what he’s got.
45 (46) Joonas Lakkamäki 17 MuSa 1298 RB
An impressive enough debut season for Lakkamäki. He scored in the 90th percentile for interceptions while dribbling a fair bit and tackling more than average for a fullback.


46 (33) Tuomas Ollila 19 KTP 1588 LB
Ollila will always struggle because of his size; there will always be a big enough reason why his defence doesn’t match up, that practically all that he does in attack will feel insufficient. He is a good attacking fullback/wingback, though, he just needs a team that doesn’t care as much about his weakness in the air.


47 (49) Rony Huhtala 21 MyPa 1672 CF
I like Huhtala, that much should be clear, and he saw a serious upturn in form toward the end of the season (which was largely fuelled by penalty goals, it must be said [even if he won a large amount of the penalties himself]). Stats like Kurki and Fagerström more, but the three of them should interest teams in the league looking to add depth to their attacks.


48 (43) Momodou Sarr 19 VPS 1857 CF/RW
Sarr ticks a fair few boxes, to be honest: he is very selective with his shooting, he is young, he’s played a lot. It’s just that he took under one shot per 90 in 2019, and didn’t exactly look convincing as VPS floundered. Playing a season at Ykkönen level might be just what he needs.


49 (47) Teppo Marttinen 22 KPV 2184 GK
Marttinen ended up relegated after a full season as KPV’s number one. He hasn’t always looked convincing, but he’s only 22 and few goalkeepers do at that age. With KPV signing Miika Töyräs, it’s fair to say that Marttinen might be on the lookout for another contract at Veikkausliiga level, although taking the Carljohan Eriksson route abroad could be a good alternative if the opportunity arises.
50 (42) Johannes Kytilä 19 MyPa 2419 CB
Apart from Katz and Valtteri Vesiaho, Kytilä was one of last season’s Klubi 04’s most played center halves. He played a dramatic part in securing another season of Ykkönen football for MyPa and has essentially played all of the available minutes this season.

Look at that majestic little dot!


Players listed previously in 2019: Mikko Kuningas, Diogo Tomas, Simon Lindholm, Tuukka Andberg, Joakim Latonen, Sampo Ala, Niilo Mäenpää, Tommi Jäntti, Alexander Jibrin, Paavo Voutilainen, Jonas Häkkinen, Anton Eerola, Antti Ulmanen, Matias Lahti, Juhani Pikkarainen, Samu Alanko, Nuutti Laaksonen, Nikolas Saira.

Thanks for reading the series in 2019, I’ll be back with another edition next season. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter for more Finnish football content!







Honkavaara: homecoming

Honkavaara: homecoming

As KuPS and Inter battled it out for the title this previous weekend, the Veikkausliiga felt fresh again, after a brief period of staleness. Maybe it’s the overall feeling in Finnish football these days, maybe the league is developing, or maybe it’s just the joy of watching two underdogs reaching something of a peak simultaneously – to the extent that teams bankrolled by millionaires can be considered underdogs (which they absolutely can in Finland). To me, and I believe I’m not alone in feeling this way, it was a fitting way to end the season, and either team would have deserved to come away with the victory. To me, the result honestly didn’t matter, and all available results would have pleased me equally – and I believe that this was pretty largely true all over the country (apart from some parts of Turku and Kuopio, maybe).

Still, there was a special kind of joy in watching KuPS win it, maybe due to the perception of a plan coming together. When KuPS hired Jani Honkavaara ahead of the 2017 season, he joined the club as a promising coach with a tendency for attacking flair and defensive frailty. His time at HIFK had been an undeniable success story, winning them promotion to the top tier after decades in the lower divisions, then staying up in their first year back. He seemed to have developed a bond with the team as well as the fans, and his sacking in the midst of 2016 seemed like a watershed moment for the Helsinki side, leaving a team built on division players and guys recruited from recently bankrupted MyPa on one side, and one built around high profile, big money, over the hill recruits on the other.

Honkavaara’s KuPS appointment was by no means considered a slam dunk at the time. His last season at HIFK had been cut short by some poor results, if not performances, and even though the general consensus was that he was a talented coach, he hadn’t yet managed to produce the kind of consistent top level production that would have made him a top tier coach at this level. KuPS had been a pretty bad side under Marko Rajamäki, and roughly similar under Esa Pekonen before him. Honkavaara, however, from day one made KuPS into one of the most entertaining attacking sides in the league, even if there always seemed to be some lingering defensive issues.


During his time at HIFK, Honkavaara’s job description was simple: do everything to stay up. His team was a combination of club legends who had been a part of the journey through the divisions, and players from recently defunct MyPa. Yet even though the remit of his job was different at HIFK, some of the tendencies of his KuPS teams were already there to be found.

Image 26-10-2019 at 12.27.jpg

Looking at some of the matches from 2015 in which HIFK had its highest xG differential of the season, you can see that when they played in a way that worked well their team set-up looks quite similar to the way KuPS have looked recently. One example of this is the asymmetry in full back and winger positioning, where the left side contributes more to creativity while the right side is used as more of a balancing act, keeping the width to allow more space for the players inside. In the above graph, you could easily see Murillo in place of Jurvainen, Pennanen in place of Korhonen and Niskanen in place of Hänninen, each playing similar roles.

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Cherry picking games from each of Honkavaara’s seasons with KuPS, the same pattern is visible. Pennanen is the key player, with either of the midfielders usually serving as a more critical node in reaching him than the other. Without Murillo, the full backs were less asymmetrical, but his quality as a player (and the lack of a similarly talented attacking right sided full back) made the left sided bias a natural development as the team evolved.

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Using pass clustering, we can see another perspective of the development of Honkavaara’s teams. The arrows represent passes clustered together according to how similar they are to each other (and how dissimilar they are to all of the other clusters). Red arrows represent clusters that the team plays 20% less than average, compared to other teams, blue arrows represent passes that the team plays 20% more than average. At HIFK, Honkavaara’s team played it short from the back, and used long diagonals from right to left, and crosses into the box from the left. At KuPS, the diagonal passes start to disappear, as do the short passes from the own goalkeeper’s area, while passes on the flanks in the attacking third increase. It is also noticeable how as the team develops, passes in their own half are reduced as they evolve into more of an attacking team. You can also notice quite clearly Honkavaara’s preference to attack down the flanks rather than the middle.

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Defensively, KuPS under Honkavaara have employed a press that has varied from above average to very high in terms of intensity. Using PPDA – or Passes Per Defensive Action – a metric essentially developed to answer the question of how many passes a team allows its opponents to play before intervening in a particular area of the pitch, KuPS in 2018 was the 8th most intense pressing team since the start of the data sample, when filtering the data to only include the opposition final third, and have been more intense than average in every season since 2017.

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Toward the end of the season, however, Honkavaara announced that he wouldn’t be signing an extension with KuPS. After some vivid speculation, after the final round of the season it became clear that his next destination would be his old hometown, Seinäjoki. At SJK, Honkavaara will be tasked to rebuild what he created at KuPS. His understandable preference would probably just be to sign some of the key players he had at KuPS, like Murillo or Pennanen, but with both players closing in on 30, and Pennanen still under contract with KuPS, it could be the type of short sighted and expensive move that SJK will want to avoid. With the contracts of Trevor Elhi, Jarkko Hurme and Dani Hatakka expiring, there’s ample room to strengthen at full back specifically.

Joonas Sundman is a well liked and capable option for the left side, even if he lacks the kind of attacking prowess of someone like Murillo. Depending on the options available on the market, a feasible alternative could therefore be to try to attack more from the right side, with Maximo Tolonen – a left footed attacking midfielder – a potential alternative to play the reverse Pennanen role. Looking at potential players from the top two tiers of Finnish football, Felipe Aspegren, if available, would be an alternative on that side of the pitch, as would Saku Savolainen, potentially, and Tatu Varmanen, if recruiting from Ykkönen would be considered comme il faut.

Player Ageseason Year Position Level
Luis Carlos Murillo 29 2019 FB Finland. Veikkausliiga
David Nii Addy 29 2019 FB Finland. Veikkausliiga
Walter Moore 33 2017 FB Finland. Ykkonen
Fugo Segawa 22 2019 FB Finland. Ykkonen
Felipe Aspegren 25 2019 FB Finland. Veikkausliiga
Top 5 similar playerseasons to Luis Carlos Murillo in 2018

On the left hand side alternatives are more abundant, with Dylan Murnane and David Addy leading the line, and Fugo Segawa representing something of a left field choice. The most obvious option, however, would seem like convincing Murillo (whose contract will expire at the end of the year according to transfermarkt) to make the move to Seinäjoki – even if that might be quite hard, especially after two seasons as one of the best players in the country (or if HJK can get there first).

Player Ageseason Year Position Level
Luis Carlos Murillo 28 2018 FB Finland. Veikkausliiga
Walter Moore 33 2017 FB Finland. Ykkonen
Saku Savolainen 23 2019 FB Finland. Veikkausliiga
Tatu Varmanen 21 2019 FB Finland. Ykkonen
Dylan Murnane 23 2018 FB Finland. Veikkausliiga
Top 5 similar playerseasons to Luis Carlos Murillo in 2019

Doing the same exercise with Petteri Pennanen, the most enticing options that come up are a couple of Ykkönen-level superstars in Aleksi Pahkasalo and Daniel Rantanen. Of the two, Pahkasalo seems more analogous to Pennanen in terms of playing position, and is a player I’ve advocated for previously but I’m not sure either of the two would make sense, or be good enough for a title challenger.

Player Ageseason Year Position Level
Josue Currais Prieto 26 2019 AM Finland. Veikkausliiga
Aleksi Pahkasalo 27 2019 AM Finland. Ykkonen
Petteri Pennanen 26 2016 CM Finland. Veikkausliiga
Mikko Kuningas 19 2016 AM Finland. Veikkausliiga
Daniel Rantanen 21 2019 CM Finland. Ykkonen
Top 5 similar playerseasons to Petteri Pennanen in 2018

After Alexei Eremenko Sr.’s attempt at rebuilding Jaro anno 2015, however, it might be that SJK want to play it a bit more conservatively in terms of incoming player movement, in hope that having a more competent coach will be enough to carry them forward. They have accumulated an interesting mix of prospects who have mixed results so far, so maybe the expectation is that Honkavaara can do with one of them what he did to Rasmus Karjalainen in 2018. Considering the player sales of Karjalainen and Urho Nissilä from KuPS in the last couple of years, the best case scenario is that SJK can start to develop another genuine pipeline abroad in the fashion of HJK. In any case, if history is an indication, SJK will likely at the very least be more easy on the eye than this season, which should go down well with their stakeholders.

The hope, now, is that Honkavaara’s move turns out to be a win for both KuPS and SJK. The league needs a genuinely competitive SJK – as one of the organisations that could realistically be able to challenge HJK in the long run – but hopefully not in place of a genuinely competitive KuPS. Considering the way this season finished, adding SJK to the mix would make for a mouthwatering 2020 – so let’s hope that KuPS have made the right coaching hire, and that they aren’t stripped to the bones before the start of next season.

Thanks for reading, please follow me on Twitter!

2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – September update

2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – September update

A couple of weeks after the transfer window slammed shut, it’s time to, once again, take stock of the prospect situation in the top two tiers of Finnish football. If this is your first time here, I’ve already posted two lists this season (July and August), and with the season wrapping up in early October, I suppose we can call this the penultimate list of the season.

In terms of outgoing prospects the transfer window was slow compared to previous years – the last remaining blue chipper was moved in a significant deal, but nothing else of note happened except for FC Nordsjaelland snapping up a couple of promising teenagers who were probably a couple of seasons away from debuting in Finland but will probably now go straight into the Danish club’s first team setup (I kid, but not really). There was some whispers surrounding Lauri Ala-Myllymäki and Lucas Lingman, but never really anything that amounted to more than speculation. Winter will be busier, with contracts ending and teams rebuilding from the top up, so interesting times ahead!

A reminder that the I’m only covering players owned by a team in Finland, so notable prospects like Kaan Kairinen, Jude Arthur and so forth are disregarded. I’m also only interested in players younger than 23, and since age is tricky since it changes all the time, I’m going to use age seasons instead (that is, if you’re born in 2000, your age season in 2019 is 19). A reminder that I’m heavily favouring minutes played over most other statistics, as I think that it is what’s most important for young players. I’m also weighing minutes at the top tier higher than minutes at Ykkönen level, because of course I am.

2019 Graduates:

Lassi Lappalainen, Bologna

The list:

Rank (previous) Name Age Team Minutes Primary Position
1 (1) Lucas Lingman 21 RoPS 1986 MC
Lingman has proven himself as a good, creative passer, who is equally as capable at carrying the ball up the field as he is at passing it. He has been one of the most consistent players for a team that has gone through a lot of changes in the past two years, and he has established himself as a starter for the U21 national team in the process. With one more season left on his contract, I wonder if HJK would be interested enough to A) pay up, and B) swallow their pride.
2 (2) Lauri Ala-Myllymäki 22 Ilves 1874 AMC/CF
I’ve been harping on about Ala-Myllymäki’s xG overperformance, and how his goal amount is bloated from a bunch of penalties – these things remain true (although, his non-penalty goals are regressing towards his xG). He does a lot of other things well, and I think it’s likely that he’ll become a full international as soon as the national team play a friendly, so there’s reason to believe that he’ll attract interest from abroad.
3 (12) Ilmari Niskanen 22 KuPS 1935 RW
Last month Niskanen was pumpkining a bit, which led me to prepare something of a descent in the rankings, then he woke up and started both scoring and assisting like last season. 4 goals and 6 assists at this point of the season is a surprisingly good total, and his upturn in form has been critical for a KuPS side starting to look like potential league winners. I think he belongs to the top tier of prospects, but that’s mostly because the top tier no longer contains any slam dunk prospects like it did only a year-or-so ago. He remains a deadly threat from out wide, but the Nikolai Alho comp won’t go away.
4 (3) Jasin-Amin Assehnoun 21 Lahti 1558 LW
Is Assehnoun a winger or a wing back? It doesn’t really matter, I don’t think, as he excels both in attack and in defence. In searching for comps, a young Santeri Hostikka with better defending came up as an intriguing comp, with Eero Tamminen being a less glamorous alternative.
5 (7) Salomo Ojala 22 Haka 1688 CF
I’m still not convinced about the upside, but it’s impossible to dismiss the kind of dominance he’s displaying. I don’t think it’s an impossibility that he’ll get a national team call-up in one of the traditional January friendlies, which would be an opportunity for him to show his ability against tougher opposition.
6 (21) Santeri Väänänen 17 HJK 562 MC
I’ve been skirting around it for a while, and so I’ve arrived at this: I think Väänänen is probably the best young player playing regularly at this level, depending on your definition of young. If I had to choose between Väänänen and almost any other player, I’d go with Väänänen, except if I wanted to win in the immediate future, in which case I’d go with someone like Lingman instead. I don’t see it as an impossibility that he’ll get picked up in the January window, though, which also adds to the helium.
7 (4) Juho Hyvärinen 19 RoPS 2017 RB
Unless he gets injured, Hyvärinen will likely end the season as the U22 outfielder with the most minutes played in the top two tiers of Finnish football. He seemingly has another year left on his contract, so next season will be crucial in determining how far he’ll go in his career.
8 (5) Kalle Katz 19 RoPS (HJK) 1419 CB
Last season, Katz showed his ability to carry the ball upfield, logging one of the highest dribbling seasons for a centre half since 2013. This season, his dribbling has been restricted, which is something I think is a bad thing, because he is going to need it if he’s going to keep playing centre half – mainly because his aerial ability is going to present a potential weakness that will have to be countered with a strength in some other facet of his game. If he can hone his on the ball ability, he has the potential to become a really interesting player, if not, he’ll probably have to grow a couple of centimeters.
9 (9) Akseli Ollila 19 EIF 1664 LW
Ollila was good last season, and has shown ample development this year – although his end product is better, what’s more impressive are the overall improvements in his game. He’s essentially EIF’s primary attacking weapon, which is pretty big for a 19-year old.
10 (8) Severi Kähkönen 19 Jaro 1154 AMC
Kähkönen’s numbers look especially gaudy because he (according to InStat) has played in centre midfield more than he has further forward, which means that he is being compared to midfielders rather than attacking midfielders/wingers in my setup. Either way, he’s doing a lot in attack, in a variety of ways, which is encouraging. For his sake, I fear he’ll play at Ykkönen level again next year, which will obviously be Jaro’s gain.
11 (10) Anthony Olusanya 19 Jaro 1141 LW/CF
Olusanya has played an intriguing season for a Jaro team in ascent and has shown impressive growth compared to last season. Whether he’s a centre forward or a left winger will be one of the questions that will impact his career. At this point, I like Ollila more because his game seems more rounded, but I think both will have an opportunity to play on a bigger stage than currently.
12 (14) Yussif Moussa 21 Ilves 1197 MC/AMC
Moussa does most of his work in the opposition half, where he can be a threat with his shooting and dribbling. For a player with such an attacking profile, he does a lot of tackling, which is makes the package pretty interesting.
13 (N/A) Luis Henrique 21 HIFK 786 CF
Henrique joined HIFK fairly late, but has been a very positive addition to the new look Helsinki side, having an immediate impact by scoring or assisting at a pace of roughly once a game. Statistically, he profiles as 2016 Mikael Forssell – as a striker who gets few shots, but from good areas, with good creative numbers – which is high praise indeed. The numbers don’t yet include this weekends’ game, so with two more goals in his back pocket, the comp might get even more flattering.
14 (13) Tommi Jyry 20 KuPS 1052 MC
Jyry profiles as a good ball shuttler, who is capable of progressing the ball either through carrying or passing it. He has some end product, but has the potential to get more and the same can be said for his defending.
15 (11) Aapo Mäenpää 21 IFK Mariehamn 1382 RB
After a rough 2018, Mäenpää has returned strongly. He is an active defender, who is very capable in the air, and is decent enough on the ball. Kalle Taimi as a comp seems fair, and with age on his side, there’s potential for more.
16 (6) Eemeli Virta 19 Lahti 1548 MC
At the start of the season, I would have predicted Lahti to be one of the teams to struggle this season. They haven’t been great, but they haven’t really been involved in the relegation scrap all season, which should be considered a fairly successful all round performance. Virta has been one of the players on which Lahti have leaned the hardest, and he deserves a lot of credit for the performances he has put out. He intercepts a lot, wins headers, and moves the ball around neatly. It’s all a little Aleksi Paananen, but that isn’t a terrible comp for a young player.
17 (16) Eetu Vertainen 20 HJK 1101 CF
Vertainen finally managed to score his first goal of the season in August, with a placed finish after a bit of opportunistic penalty-box-hanging, something that doesn’t really change the trajectory of his season, but should get a load off his back. In fact, I hope it gives him more confidence to be less involved, and to stay in the box more, as that has traditionally been his weakness. Has the talent for more, and will get another chance to prove so next season, even if I think a move could be beneficial.
18 (18) Enoch Banza 19 KPV (HJK) 1178 RW
2019 has been a success for Banza in one aspect only, unfortunately, and that is that he has been able to stay fit enough to accumulate a decent workload of minutes at the Veikkausliiga level. He hasn’t exactly performed to expectations, and I’m not sure he’ll get a chance to play for HJK next year either. That shouldn’t discourage him, as there are ample examples of players with his exact profile who have gone abroad after only a season of good form after having left HJK, but he needs to take the next opportunity before time starts to run out.
19 (20) Anttoni Huttunen 18 MyPa 1535 LW
Huttunen is out for the season, but has shown enough that there should be clubs hovering if his contract situation would allow for a move in the offseason. Has trained with the HIFK first team this season, apparently, so that would seem like a natural potential destination.
20 (15) Axel Vidjeskog 18 Jaro 1063 LW
Vidjeskog is younger than Kähkönen and Olusanya, has played less, and has been less impressive, I think. That isn’t to say that he hasn’t been impressive, just that he’s facing stiff competition. Statistically, he compares fairly well to a younger Lauri Ala-Myllymäki  – if that’s who Vidjeskog is at 18, then I’m intrigued to see in which direction he’s going to develop.
21 (27) Jeremiah Streng 18 SJK 696 CF
Streng has battled his way into the first team, and at the moments seems like the primary option up front for SJK. Although it hasn’t been an inevitability, competition hasn’t exactly been fierce, with Matheus Batista not impressing and Billy Ions struggling with fitness. Streng isn’t the main culprit for SJK’s struggles to score, but it is something that can’t be dismissed. That being said, he has looked good at times – he moves well in the box, and has a tendency to get on the end of crosses (which is something that young players can struggle with at first), and SJK’s conservative approach in attack does him few favors. Although it’s early to draw that comparison, one should remember that Benjamin Källman didn’t exactly impress in his first season in the Veikkausliiga before breaking out in a big way in his second. Hopefully SJK will be patient with Streng, because the upside is big.
22 (N/A) Pyry Lampinen 17 Lahti 437 CF
Much of what I wrote about Streng could be repeated for Lampinen, except he scored with his first two shots for Lahti. He has been given a lot of responsibility in his first season in the top tier, but there are caveats involving questionable recruiting. He’s been played on the right a bit, which is something I don’t think he looks particularly suited for, but could be good for his development long term. The Källman reminder is relevant here as well.
23 (22) Matias Tamminen 18 RoPS 630 CF
Tamminen is third in this tier of players, but the ordering could just as well be any other way. He’s getting his feet wet and has scored a couple of goals already. Seems to have more of a poacher’s instinct than Lampinen or Streng – his second goal of the season, and his performances for KTP last season are testament to this – but it’s still early so we’ll see. Lex Källman persists in his case also.
24 (19) Teemu Jäntti 19 Lahti 831 MC
Jäntti has played a fair bit for a player his age, and he has a bunch of interesting characteristics – he’s dynamic, has a good shot and can carry the ball – but he hasn’t yet been able to put it all together. Isn’t a great passer, which adds to it, but there’s promise there if he can learn to harness it. His goal this weekend is something I think he could do more of – arriving late in the box from a counter.
25 (30) Daniel Rantanen 21 EIF 1765 MC
I’m unsure about Rantanen, but you can’t dismiss the numbers he is putting up. He’s scoring (albeit only against MyPa) and assisting, and he has the passing range to go far, but he can look a little laborious, which makes me wonder about whether he has the legs to play at a higher level. Is very similar to Anton Popovits in playing style and ability, so could be an option for teams looking at him (or Haka, if they are unable to lock him down).
26 (N/A) Naatan Skyttä 17 Ilves 268 AMC
I generally don’t like to add guys until they’ve played something approaching enough, and Skyttä hasn’t, but in the brief moments he has had on the pitch, he has stood out big time. His numbers are irrelevant at this point, but he simply looks like he belongs. If I’d do this list on talent alone, I’d be hard pressed to find someone to place above him. I don’t think there’s a reason not to play him for Ilves, and I think he could have contributed more than some of the alternatives, which is sad. Next year, he’ll be their best and most important player, unless someone snaps him up first.
27 (N/A) Elias Mastokangas 18 Inter 257 AMC
Mastokangas is in almost exactly the same position as Skyttä – he’s played little, but looked really good when he’s played. The primary reason behind his low amount of playing time is less his ability and more the inherent conservatism of a title chase. I liked him a lot when he made his first appearances two years ago, and am willing to make an exception for him.
28 (25) Evans Mensah 21 HJK 868 RW
I think it’s possible that HJK won’t exercise the option for 2020 in Mensah’s contract, which isn’t to say that he doesn’t have promise, but that he just has struggled to find any kind of consistency. He can dribble, he likes a shot, and is a generally *good* footballer, but has struggled in key games, and seems to perform best against the worst opponents, which isn’t optimal.
29 (23) Niklas Jokelainen 19 RoPS 775 CF
Jokelainen hasn’t really been getting into the RoPS team lately – I wonder if it’s due to availability or whether there’s something else going on behind the scenes. Look under the hood and he’s actually been pretty good, just hasn’t scored from the chances he’s gotten. He’s better than this, but time will tell if he’ll get the chance to prove it.
30 (23) Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan 20 RoPS (HJK) 527 LW
Of the group of young wingers on the books at HJK, I think Kouassivi-Benissan is the most likely to become a productive player for them. Efforts to make a right back out of him have been unsuccessful, and his best performances so far have been further forward on the wing. Already scored his first goal for RoPS, and will hopefully play a big part in the rest of their season. Jasin-Amin Assehnoun with 1000 less minutes seems like a tempting comp.
31 (31) Martti Haukioja 19 VPS 1408 LB
Haukioja has been a surprisingly good attacking outlet for VPS, but his defense has left some room for improvement. Not sure he has the engine to be able to do both effectively, but if he does, he could become a good player.
32 (24) Mehdi El-Moutacim 19 EIF 2085 GK
El-Moutacim is the U22 leader in minutes played in the top two tiers. His passing can be a bit erratic, mostly because he keeps attempting high risk-low reward passes, but I think it shows confidence and personality.
33 (42) Mauro Severino 20 TPV 758 RW
Severino has been good on his return to TPV, and I think he’s looked good whenever I’ve seen him play. Hopefully he’ll get another chance at Veikkausliiga level.
34 (32) Omar Jama 21 EIF 1700 MC
I’m admittedly a fan of Jama, and there are plenty of good reasons to be just that. I think he would fit a lot of the better Veikkausliiga teams quite well. At EIF he anchors their midfield, but has also been capable of chipping in with a couple of assists. His defensive output leaves something to be desired, and that might be the big holdup.
35 (34) Kevin Larsson 18 HIFK 476 RW
Larsson hasn’t been in the side a lot lately – hopefully he’ll see some more minutes now that HIFK don’t have a lot to play for.
36 (N/A) Ville Tikkanen 20 SJK 581 CB
Last year, there was something of a competition between Tikkanen, Katz and Valtteri Vesiaho: for two spots in the U19 Euros starting XI defence, and for the prestigious placement on this here list. Vesiaho and Tikkanen ended up playing the bulk of the U19 Euros minutes, but Katz was placed higher on the list. It’s taken Tikkanen a while to get back on the pitch for SJK, but he’s there now, and he’s been pretty good.
37 (N/A) Joonas Sundman 21 SJK 948 LB
Sundman is like the left sided Aapo Mäenpää – good in the air, fairly solid defensively, could do with some more end product. I’m unsure about the upside, but full back is a problem position for the national team, so small improvements have the possibility to carry him surprisingly far.
38 (29) Mikko Kuningas 22 Inter 1615 MC
Again, Kuningas is a competent Veikkausliiga player, and an important cog in a well working Inter machinery. He’s being played at wing back occasionally, and he is still a good creator for a midfielder, but I’m getting the feeling that he might be reaching his ceiling.
39 (46) Diogo Tomas 22 Ilves 760 CB
Tomas is something of a personal favorite of mine, which is why he gets a bit of leeway. He’s great in the air, and I think he’s a very capable defender – especially one-on-one. Has been playing more recently, which is nice to see.
40 (N/A) Maximo Tolonen 18 SJK 397 AMC
It hasn’t exactly worked out for Tolonen. He’s still young, and he’s been patiently waiting for an opportunity to break into the SJK first team, but being benched in favour of Jesse Sarajärvi can only mean one (or two) of two things: not showing enough in training and/or games or absolutely blatant nepotism. The talent is there – he’s still a key performer for the Finland U19 team – but we’re still waiting for it to materialise.
41 (33) Tuomas Ollila 19 KTP 1588 LB
Ollila is the left sided version of Hyvärinen, in that he has some defensive deficiencies but makes up for it by being effective in attack. Has some major struggles in the air, which is troubling for a full back, and probably makes him more suitable as a wing back.
42 (35) Johannes Kytilä 19 MyPa 1990 CB
Kytilä has the third most minutes of all outfielders at Ykkönen level this year and hasn’t always looked great to be honest. He has the size, and is competent in challenges, but can look slow and is a key part of a defence that’s just too easy to break down. Youth is a good excuse, but not for forever.
43 (36) Momodou Sarr 19 VPS 1534 CF/RW
Sarr is having a fascinating season in that his scoring and assisting is at a fairly decent level, but everything else is less promising. In the brief moments I’ve seen him play, he hasn’t looked particularly convincing, which is why he’s a bit lower than his playing time would suggest.
44 (37) Tiemoko Fofana 20 Ilves 1318 CF
I fear Fofana would have needed to play better for Ilves to maintain their title challenge. He doesn’t get enough action in the box, even though whenever I watch him play, it looks like he should. His creativity numbers are pretty decent, though, so maybe that’s what keeps him in the team.
45 (45) Simon Lindholm 18 EIF 743 MC
I still struggle to place Lindholm, as I’ve yet to see him stand out in any way. A conservative placement based on playing time until this changes.
46 (50) Joonas Lakkamäki 17 MuSa 816 RB
Little has changed from last month: Lakkamäki is a youth international full back who has been playing a fair bit so far this season. Can struggle a bit in the air, and with runs in behind, but is diligent defensively as long as the play stays in front of him.
47 (39) Teppo Marttinen 22 KPV 1610 GK
Marttinen had a bit of a mare versus HJK this month, but he’s still the young goalkeeper with the most played minutes in the top tier. I still prefer that to sitting on the bench for a better team, or not playing at all.
48 (N/A) Tuukka Andberg 21 HIFK 603 CB
Andberg has been around for a while. It took some time for him to get in the side this year, but he has showed some good   – if inconsistent – performances and been rewarded with a call up to the U21 national team.
49 (41) Rony Huhtala 21 MyPa 1301 CF
Huhtala is good, alright? You’re just going to have to take my word for it. Is on a hot streak, and will need to stay hot if MyPa are going to stay up.
50 (N/A) Joakim Latonen 21 TPS 1057 LW
Latonen struggled to get into the side last year in the Veikkausliiga, and has not been an automatic started this year either. He’s an active shooter and a good creator, and I hope he’ll keep his place in the side next year.

Bubbling under:

Samuel Uusitalo – has received a fair bit of playing time for Jaro as injuries have piled up and has looked a strong defender in the brief time I’ve seen him play.

Jyri Kiuru – has started two consecutive games for SJK under Brian Page – I’m not a huge fan to be honest, but on the other hand, me being a fan hasn’t really helped Rony Huhtala either, so who knows.

Altin Zeqiri – moved to Lahti during the summer, has played a little, and has looked sharp.

Thanks for reading, the final list of the season will appear in about a month, so follow me on Twitter to get it fresh out of the oven!

2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – August update

2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – August update

A month ago, I relaunched my prospect Power Ranking series that I started last season. Since then, the market has been fairly quiet, more quiet than last season, even if the top player from last month’s list, Lassi Lappalainen, moved to Bologna, and then from there on loan to Impact Montreal.

With Lappalainen’s move, the ranks of top tier prospects is getting a little thin. Lucas Lingman and Lauri Ala-Myllymäki are arguably the two young players you could see making a move this month, even if neither of their teams will want to sell, and from that tier to the next, there’s quite a large gap. That’s mostly because of a couple of factors. Firstly, there have been a large amount of prospect sales in the past couple of years. It seems like Finland is slowly rehabilitating its reputation as a breeding ground for interesting footballers, which is a very good thing! Secondly, a lot of highly touted young players have failed to live up to expectations, either due to bad form, injuries or personal problems, and are therefore either not listed at all, or lower down than you would maybe have thought last year, or the year before.

Development isn’t linear, though, so a lot of the players I’m a little down on at the moment have ample time to turn it around. Albion Ademi, for example, simply hasn’t played enough this season to be considered – had he played even 500 minutes at roughly the same level as last season, he’d probably be in the top 10. It feels like guys like Eetu Vertainen and Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan are just a successful loan away from bouncing back (Kouassivi-Benissan has actually gone on loan, whereas Vertainen hasn’t). Sometimes things happen that are sub-optimal, and the way you respond to them will determine how far you go in whatever you’re doing, so I’m preaching patience.

There’s also an interesting generation of young players bubbling under – specifically attackers. Guys like Pyry Lampinen, Matias Tamminen, Sampo Ala and Jeremiah Streng are already getting starts for their respective teams. Elias Mastokangas, Arlind Sejdiu, Naatan Skyttä, Eetu Rissanen, Martin Salin, Eemeli Raittinen, Tomi Kult, Taaniel Usta are only some of the names that are starting to feel more relevant by the minute. Now it’s just up to the teams to start leaning even harder on them, to see if they bend or break.

A reminder that the I’m only covering players owned by a team in Finland, so notable prospects like Kaan Kairinen, Jude Arthur and so forth are disregarded. I’m also only interested in players younger than 23, and since age is tricky since it changes all the time, I’m going to use age seasons instead (that is, if you’re born in 2000, your age season in 2019 is 19). A reminder that I’m heavily favouring minutes played over most other statistics, as I think that it is what’s most important for young players. I’m also weighing minutes at the top tier higher than minutes at Ykkönen level, because of course I am.

2019 Graduates:

Lassi Lappalainen, Bologna

The list:

Rank (previous) Name Age Team Minutes Primary Position
1 (2) Lucas Lingman 21 RoPS 1705 MC
Lingman and Ala-Myllymäki have similar claims to the throne at the moment, and I consider them to be something of a tier of their own, as players who should probably move in this window (but probably won’t) to continue to develop. Ilmari Niskanen would be a part of this tier if he wouldn’t be showing signs of stagnation. Lingman did well against Aberdeen, and is a legitimate spark at this level. The next step is going to be HJK wether any of us like it or not, isn’t it, but I think he’d be well suited for something like the Netherlands as well.
2 (3) Lauri Ala-Myllymäki 22 Ilves 1498 AMC/CF
Too many of his goals have been penalties and direct free kicks for my liking (not that either of those categories of goals are bad, just that they are unequally distributed, and we’re projecting here), but there’s more to his game than that (he does a ton of defensive work for a forward) and there’s a strong feeling of him carrying the team on his back at times. It’s a nice story, and winning the league before heading abroad would be a nice ending of this chapter.
3 (8) Jasin-Amin Assehnoun 21 Lahti 1273 LW
Assehnoun is breaking out in a big way this season. Most metrics are looking positive, with dribbling being his strongest suit. At the moment, he mostly provides for his teammates (or shoots from pretty poor locations) so would like to see him become more of a goal threat by getting into the box more. I think there are the raw materials for a good player here, he just needs to keep going to establish himself.
4 (4) Juho Hyvärinen 19 RoPS 1736 RB
Hyvärinen is intriguing because he seems to have a lot of tools in his toolbox, the question is whether he can start to use more of them at the same time. At the moment, for a poor RoPS side, he doesn’t stand out in any particular way – which could be considered natural for a right back. But at some point he is going to have to step up, or run the risk of becoming just another guy with potential. I think he needs a move, and I wonder if he’s going to get it.
5 (7) Kalle Katz 19 RoPS (HJK) 1288 CB
Katz and Hyvärinen are similar in many ways, in that they both have a ton of potential, but similarly have a lot of questions to answer, mostly off the ball. Katz isn’t great in the air, and the more he plays, the more opponents are going to start exploiting it. He compensates by being good at carrying the ball, and passing it out of the back. Only thing is, his team isn’t always set up to utilise it. Could be better suited to play for HJK, questions is whether he will be allowed to do so.
6 (14) Eemeli Virta 19 Lahti 1405 MC
Virta gets a bit of a boost for being one of the lynchpins in Lahti’s midfield. Lahti have surprised me a little bit, by being… competent and Virta has played a big part in that. He is a good technician and a calm passer, and does a lot of defensive work for a midfielder (93d percentile in interceptions). A player to follow.
7 (18) Salomo Ojala 22 FC Haka 1430 CF
I struggle to place Ojala, not because he isn’t performing, but because I’m not sure what his upside is. At 22, it’s a fairly late breakout, and we’ve seen players with a similarish profile be ok-only at the next level. The question for Ojala is going to be whether he’s got another gear, or whether he’s going to establish himself in the Ilari Mettälä/Aristote Mboma tier of good-not-great Veikkausliiga centre forwards. Next year will be instructive, this year, let’s just enjoy the emergence of an Ykkönen level superstar.
8 (12) Severi Kähkönen 19 Jaro 869 AMC
After last month’s update, I wanted to have a closer look at Kähkönen so I watched a couple of Jaro matches, and to be honest, I liked what I saw. As I’m typing this, thinking about him, he strikes me as a Sebastian Mannström type player – quick head, quick feet, capable of receiving in tight spaces and making good decisions on the ball. Can pass, dribble and has scored a couple of goals. It’s still early, but I’d be intrigued to see how he’d look one level higher.
9 (25) Akseli Ollila 19 EIF 1288 LW
I was conservative in my placement of Ollila in the previous list, because his numbers were sort of mediocre-ish, his team was struggling, and I simply hadn’t seen him play. After watching him for a couple of games in July, I’m back on the hype train – slightly. Versus MuSa, he was absolutely unstoppable – the kind of performance that makes you sit up and pay attention. He’s young, and he has a lot nice abilities – not least of which, a tendency to score goals. He feels a bit like Lassi Lappalainen in that he can dribble some, but stands out more through smart movement off the ball.
10 (11) Anthony Olusanya 19 Jaro 1041 CF/LW
Olusanya has had a good start to the season, and he has a lot of the intangible attributes required to become a regular goalscorer like finding him in the right place at the right time, and timing his runs behind the defensive line. He does seem a little less polished than Ollila and Kähkönen, which is why he’s placed at the end of this group. Either way, 0.55 goals per 90 is something to pay attention to.
11 (17) Aapo Mäenpää 21 IFK Mariehamn 1148 RB
In terms of defensive activity, Mäenpää is putting up some really strong numbers – tackles, interceptions, challenges, aerial duels. He’s struggling somewhat with his passing, but as a lock on the right hand side, he’s a key component of IFK Mariehamn’s defence.
12 (5) Ilmari Niskanen 22 KuPS 1657 RW
As the clock strikes twelve, is Niskanen turning into a pumpkin? Was last season just a mirage? Does he have some kind of unreported lingering injury issue? He finally scored his first goal of the season in July, but he did it in such a way that I wonder if it’s going to do him more harm than good, as long shooting is an activity he should spend as little time doing as possible. Get in the box, man, where you were last season!
13 (10) Tommi Jyry 20 KuPS 931 MC
Jyry is a handy midfielder, a good passer who is fairly quick and covers a lot of ground. At the moment, though, he profiles as an Aleksi Paananen-type player, which is fairly decent in isolation, but I would like to see him add some more defensive activity, or end product, to show that he has something more in his locker.
14 (35) Yussif Moussa 21 Ilves 935 MC/AMC
I’ve watched Moussa play a little bit in the past month, and I like what I see. He seems to have a bit of everything in his locker: he shoots a lot, he tackles a lot, he intercepts a bit, he’s on the ball a lot. The big question seems to be what his best position is, but at the moment, he looks like a contributor either way.
15 (15) Axel Vidjeskog 18 Jaro 800 AMC
Stays in place for only playing 70 minutes in July. Not a criticism per se, but as Kähkönen and Olusanya have started to make themselves indispensable for a Jaro in ascendancy, Vidjeskog has ridden the bench.
16 (6) Eetu Vertainen 20 HJK 1056 CF
Vertainen only played around an hour in July, and that hour was a fairly wretched hour of football. He seemed to be dropped from the squad even before HJK started splurging some of that Lappalainen cash on attacking talent. It’s a sad state of affairs in many ways, and I really think he’d do well to go on loan somewhere. The thing that keeps my hope alive is how dominant he looked for Klubi 04 last season in the brief moments he played there – when, seemingly, he was allowed to play to his strengths as a teams’ most important attacking player. A spell at a side lower down the table could do wonders for his confidence.
17 (9) Niklas Jokelainen 19 RoPS 772 CF
Not unlike Vertainen, Jokelainen has suffered from some bad luck/bad finishing this season. Unfortunately, not unlike Vertainen, that means he’ll probably get less playing time as a result – indeed, Jokelainen has been forced to ride the pine a bit in the past month. When he plays, he’s a shot happy, dribbly, left footed striker – a lazy comparison would be… a left footed Eetu Vertainen.
18 (21) Enoch Banza 19 KPV (HJK) 1128 RW
When Enoch Banza debuted for HJK he looked like an explosive, exciting wing prospect. Since then, he’s struggled to add to his repertoire, which is why he’s been sent on loan for the season. Statistically, he’s struggling to hit the 50th percentile in most metrics – with completed dribbles and goals scored (barely) the exceptions. I still want more from him.
19 (34) Teemu Jäntti 19 Lahti 813 MC
Jäntti plays with impressive intensity and covers a lot of ground, but seems to lack a little something in terms of game intelligence. Being able to cover a variety of positions makes him a valuable piece in Lahti’s squad building. In theory, him and Virta should make for a good midfield partnership.
20 (16) Anttoni Huttunen 19 MyPA 1385 LW
Huttunen has been a rare spark for a struggling MyPA, serving as a key creative outlet on the left of their midfield. He can look his age, though, and although he has shown that he can contribute in flashes, I would like to see some more consistency from him.
21 (24) Santeri Väänänen 17 HJK 418 MC
I’m still looking for Väänänen to play a bit more to have him rise any higher. In fairness, with a couple of hundred minutes more, he’d probably be in the top 5, but he’ll have to earn it. Progress in the Europa League Qualifiers has benefitted him, as it forced HJK to rotate the squad more than usually. He’s always had bite, but now he’s started to the nice touches going forward he’s showed for the youth national team. Alex Ring is probably the closest comp at this point, but he’ll have time to establish himself as his own player if he stays at HJK.
22 (N/A) Matias Tamminen 18 RoPS 483 CF
Tamminen scored his first Veikkausliiga goal in July with a deft finish/lucky deflection – and followed it up with a nicely taken goal last week. Like so many players considered for this list, he is still mostly projection, but he’s played a decent amount for his age, and is starting to hit some level of form. He’s got the build of a good centre forward, but has some work to do to convert that size into shots and goals.
23 (30) Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan 20 RoPS (HJK) 408 RB/LW
After some early season struggles, Kouassivi-Benissan was loaned out to RoPS, which is a move I endorse wholeheartedly. At his best, he can be a wonderful attacking player, capable of carrying the ball forward at pace and finishing from different angles. At HJK, he hasn’t found that type of form yet, but in a less pressured environment (and maybe further forward) he might have the opportunity to do so.
24 (13) Mehdi El-Moutacim 19 EIF 1709 GK
El-Moutacim remains the young goalkeeper making the most noise in the top two tiers of Finnish football, although it is something of a barren field at the moment. His passing is good, but he’s struggled some with some of the more traditional aspects of goalkeeping. He’s plenty experienced for his age though, and can expect to get better the more he plays.
25 (22) Evans Mensah 21 HJK 677 RW
Mensah has played in a lot of HJK’s most important games this season, and has really struggled to make an impact. According to rumours, he was being shipped out of the club during the winter, but with little interest in his services, he stayed. In the Veikkausliiga, he is a perfectly good player, but I’m still waiting for him to take a step up.
26 (26) Sampo Ala 17 RoPS 314 CF
Ala barely played in July so stays in place. Has managed to get on the end of a decent amount of good chances in brief playing time.
27 (N/A) Jeremiah Streng 18 SJK 372 CF
Burst onto the scene during the winter cup games, but has struggled to retain his place in the side during the summer. Seems to be well thought of, and seems like a genuine centre forward prospect. Has looked decent in what little playing time he has received. Good in the air, especially for his age, and is capable of finding space in the box.
28 (23) Niilo Mäenpää 21 Inter 918 MC/AMC
Stands out more for his defensive work than anything else. Is used as something of a monkey wrench for Inter, as he’s played a lot of different positions. Not the most exciting profile, but has contributed well to the form of high-flying Inter.
29 (20) Mikko Kuningas 22 Inter 1426 MC/AMC
Much like Mäenpää, Kuningas benefits from playing a fair bit for a well functioning side. Statistically, he’s always stood out due to his end product, and he has been a creative force once again this season even if his goals have dried up a bit. Is probably one of the better players on this list, but I question whether there’s much unfulfilled upside left.
30 (32) Daniel Rantanen 21 EIF 1396 MC
Rantanen looks a man reborn for EIF – or, reborn as himself at least, as he’s still mostly himself. He has good passing range, his long cross field passes to Akseli Ollila can be a weapon, and he likes a shot, especially from range. He has end product, which is a nice, rare bonus from midfield. Not sure if he’s more than just a good Ykkönen midfielder, though.
31 (19) Martti Haukioja 19 VPS 1408 LB
Haukioja has played a lot for VPS this year, but has struggled to make an impact, much as the rest of his teammates. Is very young, which is easy to forget, considering he made his debut in 2016, so will get a chance to bounce back.
32 (27) Omar Jama 21 EIF 1358 MC
Jama seems like a classic high floor/low ceiling kind of prospect. Can look a little bored, almost, with the tempo at Ykkönen level. Would like to see him bounce back to the league next year, because he has a bunch of interesting attributes – namely, being a good passer and decent dribbler.
33 (33) Tuomas Ollila 19 KTP 1271 LB
Is coming to his own a little bit at KTP, it seems. Can be a genuine attacking threat if allowed to progress up his flank. Has a very good cross on him. Suffers from being a bit on the short side for a defender.
34 (31) Kevin Larsson 18 HIFK 465 RW
It feels like both Larsson and Joel Mattsson are probably going to lose their places in the side as HIFK’s signings settle. I hope not – both have promise, but their performances have been inconsistent. I’ve been surprised by the amount of playing time Larsson has been given, and I’ve yet to really get what kind of player he is. One to follow up on.
35 (29) Johannes Kytilä 19 MyPA 1703 CB
Is playing all the minutes for what is essentially the worst team in the top two tiers. Has a bit of prospect pedigree, but hasn’t been able to convert it into consistent quality performances quite yet.
36 (28) Momodou Sarr 19 VPS 1269 CF/RW
Sarr seems to be playing mostly due to the lack of options at VPS. He looks pretty overmatched at the moment, even if his playing a lot. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have potential, just that it’s difficult to know whether he does or not.
37 (39) Tiemoko Fofana 20 Ilves 1015 CF
Has played a fair bit for Ilves, and looks a decent player, but has yet to really start to contribute with shots and goals. Not to lean into the basic trope about African players, but he looks very capable of smartly using his body to shield the ball.
38 (37) Tommi Jäntti 19 RoPS 596 AMC
Biggest moment of his season (and maybe career) so far has been the away goal at Aberdeen. Isn’t playing a lot, but is in the team consistently. Not exactly sure what to think of him.
39 (N/A) Teppo Marttinen 22 KPV 1327 GK
Marttinen has played a lot of football for his age, which isn’t something a lot of the young goalkeepers considered can say. I’m not entirely convinced about his potential, but he’s liked enough to play, which is a good thing.
40 (42) Alexander Jibrin 21 AC Oulu 1385 CB
Jibrin is like a poor man’s Kalle Katz in some ways – an aggressive defender who can carry the ball forward, but is a little weak in the air.
41 (40) Rony Huhtala 21 MyPA 1146 CF
Huhtala has been a consistent producer of xG at Ykkönen level for three seasons now, yet has been plagued by playing for bad teams ever since leaving Honka in 2017. Still think he is far better than he’s given credit for, and I will die on this hill.
42 (N/A) Mauro Severino 20 TPV 440 RW
I like Severino a lot, but three Veikkausliiga teams have already given up on him in around two years. He looks good when he plays, but I wonder about his representation, or whether there’s something else that makes it difficult to deal with him. Can hopefully settle down and show what he can do. Is tricky and a regular producer of shots when he plays.
43 (41) Joel Mattsson 20 HIFK 1097 RW
Mattsson, much like Haukioja, seems to have been around for ages yet is only 20. Still haven’t figured out what he’s supposed to be good at, though, except doing a lot of defensive work and being quite good in the air (apparently).
44 (36) Paavo Voutilainen 20 EIF 1425 CB
Is playing a lot, but I’m not sure if he’s being challenged. He’s playing in a back three, with a lot of experience around him. Doesn’t stand out in any way, but that can be a good thing for a centre half.
45 (N/A) Simon Lindholm 17 EIF 676 MC
Lindholm is a funny looking player. He’s really tall, and can look a little clumsy, but he’s a surprisingly good dribbler. Not quite sure how to place him yet, and he could yet move both forward or back on the pitch, depending on what his strengths and weaknesses are as a player – he has the frame to do both.
46 (44) Diogo Tomas 22 Ilves 550 CB/CF
Has mostly been used as a late weapon in attack from the bench due to his impressive aerial ability. Maybe needs a move if he isn’t going to play, because he’s definitely good enough to start.
47 (47) Jonas Häkkinen 20 VPS 1420 MC/CB
Häkkinen is a versatile defensive player who is good on the ball for a defender. He’s playing for a terrible team, though, which docks him some imaginary points.
48 (43) Anton Eerola 20 KTP 1311 MC
Eerola is a bit of a unit, and he’s quite decent at using his size to his advantage. He intercepts a lot, tackles quite a lot, wins a lot of aerial duels, contests a lot of challenges. He is a bit limited in his passing, but serves a purpose in defence.
49 (46) Antti Ulmanen 20 EIF 799 CF
Ulmanen has been… alright for EIF. There aren’t a ton of young centre forwards playing regularly at either of the top two levels, so he gets the nod for being one of them.
50 (N/A) Joonas Lakkamäki 17 MuSa 528 RB
Lakkamäki is a youth international right back, and it’s starting to look like he might be breaking through at Ykkönen level as well. Haven’t seen a lot of him to be honest, but will keep an eye out.

Bubbling under

Elias Mastokangas – scored his first senior goal, and has started a couple of games – a personal favourite of mine since a couple of years back.

Taaniel Usta – scored on his debut for KTP, looks quick and physical for his age.

Pyry Lampinen – managed to score two goals in two starts in July, needs to play more though.

John Fagerström – is a bit older, but has looked good after his switch to center forward, could be a candidate to do a Salomo Ojala next season.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be trying to update the list at a monthly pace, so follow me on Twitter if you’re interested!

Who is Lassi Lappalainen?

Who is Lassi Lappalainen?

After a month-or-so of speculation, last week it was confirmed that Lassi Lappalainen had been sold to Bologna, from which he was immediately loaned to Montreal Impact for the rest of the season. Lappalainen follows the path laid out by Saku Ylätupa, Timo Stavitski and Leo Väisänen, having come through the HJK youth system before moving to RoPS to hone his development before moving abroad. Of the four aforementioned, Lappalainen is the only player to provide any sort of actual, concrete, non-monetary benefit for HJK, as he has appeared in 16 Veikkausliiga games this season, after a handful of games as a sub in the preceding years.

Lappalainen has had a meteoric rise in the past two years. After a short loan spell at RoPS in 2017, he returned for 2018, and instantly became the teams’ most important player. He made his debut for the Finland national team in early 2019, and has since locked down a place in the squad, even in competitive fixtures. For now, he serves as an impact substitution (a role that suits him well), but he has looked comfortable, and will likely soon establish himself as one of the starting options on the left hand side of attack/midfield.

Lappalainen is a prime example of how important a it is for young players to play for organisations that value individual player development, who are ready to build around the strengths of young players. The key move in Lappalainen’s career was his first loan to RoPS in late summer of 2017, as he immediately found himself in a team that were capable of unlocking his latent strengths. He went from a question mark to one of the most fearsome players in the league in one moment, just because he was allowed to play to his strengths.


Lappalainen’s major strength is his pace. It could be considered deceptive because his overall habitus is quite laid back and borderline lethargic, but when he gets going, there isn’t a player in the league that can catch up with him. He is a good dribbler, but if the circumstances are right, he is more of a threat getting on the end of passes behind the line. As a finisher, he has the same type of swagger that Thierry Henry had, preferring to give the goalkeeper the eyes before passing it past him over powering it into the goal – which is also why he can frustrate a bit in front of goal, as when he fails, it can look a little silly. I think it’s a positive trait, though, because it shows a desire to keep a cool head, and something that should develop with age and maturity.


Looking at his shot maps, it might look like Lappalainen struggles to get shots from the best scoring zones, but what they don’t convey is the sheer volume of chances he gets one-on-one with the goalkeeper. For RoPS last season, a long ball over the top from left back Taye Taiwo for Lappalainen to get on the end of was one of their main goal threats.


This season, he has been able to correct that trend somewhat, by adding a couple of high quality chances from central areas close to the goal, but his overall volume has suffered as a consequence. This is likely due to a couple of things: playing for HJK means that you are automatically afforded less space in behind, due to them being the clear favourites in every game they play, and the fact that HJK started the season playing in a way that was a little sub-optimal for a speedster like Lappalainen, emphasizing a very patient build-up over attacking quickly.


Having played for the Finnish national team, Lappalainen has proven himself ready to take the next step in his career. For HJK, it is a good deal financially (the rumored price is 1M€ plus a slice of any future transfer fee), but a slight let down from a sporting perspective – after all, he is not only the top prospect in Finnish league football, but has also been one of the best players in the league overall over the past two years, yet HJK could never quite get the level of performance from him that he produced for RoPS. Money in the bank is a good thing objectively, but it does very little for you on the pitch unless you can invest it wisely. For Lappalainen, the move is a good one. The difference between the Veikkausliiga and Serie A is large enough that a year in Canada is more than optimal for him to get some more experience at a moderately higher level. For Bologna, it represents a fairly cheap upside bet (they recently bought Andreas Skov Olsen for a reported 6M€ – a better prospect for sure, but six times better?) with the chance of becoming an impact player for them in the future. For Montreal Impact, it’s a chance to see an exciting young player, if only for a brief spell, who has the potential to be a game winner for them. It also provides a rare opportunity to see how steep the difference is between the leagues in question – if Lappalainen hits the ground running, it might help convince MLS sides to pay more attention to the Finnish market, where prices are lower than the rest of North Europe – something I believe to be a good idea for all parties involved.

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2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – July update

2019 Finnish League Prospects Power Ranking – July update

Last season, I started documenting prospects in an exercise that I found quite rewarding. Since I started the series, we’ve seen almost 10 established young players (Ulrich Meleke, Onni Valakari, Benjamin Källman, Marius Noubissi, Leo Väisänen, Rasmus Karjalainen, Sterling Yateke, Santeri Hostikka, Samu Volotinen) move abroad to greater things, most of them coming from the top end of the ranking. Apart from those players, there has been a fair amount of domestic upward movement from the mid-to-bottom section of the list as well – i.e. Väinö Vehkonen and Nooa Laine getting picked up by HJK or the glut of players moving to RoPS.

In any case, I thought I’d continue this exercise this season as well, with one caveat. I haven’t had the time to follow either the Veikkausliiga or Ykkönen at anything approaching the same level I did last season, so any observation will mostly be based on prior knowledge and data from this season. On the other hand, the data I will be using will be of better quality than last season, as I will be using InStat’s full dataset, including location data for all events.

Since last season, some high profile players have also exceeded the age threshold I arbitrarily set last season (23) – Sebastian Dahlström, Eero-Matti Auvinen, Hanson Boakai, Joonas Vahtera being the ones mentioned in the final version of the 2018 list.

As this exercise is based on games played in the top two tiers of Finnish football, I’ll try to avoid getting influenced by national team performances, even if it can be hard at times. While I’m also trying to discount games played in Europe, it’s a little harder, and so will allow some slight biases to creep in from those games. In summary, this also means that players who haven’t played at either domestic level won’t be mentioned. The major point of the list is to try to gauge prospect value through looking at stats, so it would feel kind of pointless if there weren’t any stats to look at. This all means that this first list of the season is going to look quite different to the one I wrote last autumn, especially considering we’re only just over halfway through the first stage of the league season, and since Klubi 04 and JJK, who were heavily represented last season, are no longer eligible.

So here goes. A reminder that the I’m only covering players owned by a team in Finland, so notable prospects like Sergei Eremenko, Kaan Kairinen, Jude Arthur and so forth are disregarded. I’m also only interested in players younger than 23, and since age is tricky since it changes all the time, I’m going to use age seasons instead (that is, if you’re born in 2000, your age season in 2019 is 19). A reminder that I’m heavily favouring minutes played over most other statistics, as I think that it is what’s most important for young players. I’m also weighing minutes at the top tier higher than minutes at Ykkönen level, because of course I am.

Rank (previous) Name Age Team Minutes Primary Position
1 (1) Lassi Lappalainen 21 HJK 1401 LW
After a true breakout season for RoPS, Lappalainen has returned to HJK and looked… more vulnerable? He was always going to get less space playing for HJK, and will need to figure out how to be more effective with what little he gets. He’s still very dangerous, and probably the most valuable asset in the Veikkausliiga, but is a bit of a square peg in a round hole at the moment. A move is on the horizon, and it makes a lot of sense for all parties.
2 (5) Lucas Lingman 21 RoPS 1419 MC
Is there a player in the league who is more important for his team than Lingman is for RoPS? At the moment, he’s doing everything – advancing the ball through passing, carrying the ball, creating, tackling, intercepting. He’s largely been carrying the team since he arrived – essentially playing every single minute he’s available for – and there are surely greater things waiting for him. Do look up his sumptuous through ball for RoPS’ only goal away at Aberdeen this Thursday.
3 (8) Lauri Ala-Myllymäki 22 Ilves 1032 AMC
I thought Ala-Myllymäki was heading abroad at the end of the season, and that he didn’t surely wasn’t for the wont of trying, seeing as he signed a two year extension with Ilves pretty late into the new year. In any case, he’s back with a vengeance. Ilves are flying high, and he’s playing a big part in their success. At the moment, he’s overperforming his xG quite a bit, but there’s more to his game then scoring, so no worries. Rumours are starting to swirl, and for good reason.
4 (9) Juho Hyvärinen 19 RoPS 1355 RB
Hyvärinen is an interesting player, in that he is still very young, but has been around for so long that his development has been quite visible to follow. When he came up, he excelled in the air, subsequently he has developed into more of an attacking threat, especially with the ball at his feet, running at pace. There are still massive questions about his game, but for now, being 19 and playing your third full season at the domestic top level, and performing well, is enough to carry you pretty far.
5 (2) Ilmari Niskanen 22 KuPS 1388 RW
Ilmari Niskanen is – unless he can do something about it – essentially Nikolai Alho. Right sided winger, loves a cross, doesn’t really score enough, flatters to deceive, loved by his club’s social media team. It’s not a bad thing to be, but there is potential for more. Last season was a pretty good one in terms of end product, but an exceptional one by expected end product – the start to this season hasn’t exactly indicated any change to that pattern, which is a shame. I would love to see him kick it up a gear.
6 (7) Eetu Vertainen 20 HJK 999 CF
Vertainen should probably have been loaned out last season. The pressure he’s under right now is massive, and he just doesn’t have enough of a track record in the past to refer to when he isn’t hitting the target in the now. His xG numbers are roughly fine, mind you, so continuing in the same way is essentially sort of what he should be doing, but the monkey on his shoulder is probably screaming for him to mix it up.
7 (20) Kalle Katz 19 RoPS (HJK) 907 CB
I’m an admittedly big fan of Kalle Katz, and that sort of kept me from hyping him too much last season as I didn’t want my biases to colour my analysis. I was also weary because he was benched in favour of Ville Tikkanen and Valtteri Vesiaho in the U19 Euros last summer, which is valuable information in its own right. Well, at this point, both Vesiaho and Tikkanen are playing third tier football while Katz is holding his own for RoPS. He has visible faults, which is probably what has held him back: his lack of size can be problematic in the air. But his strengths are worth building a team around: he’s an excellent passer, an aggressive tackler and an overall athlete (unlike Vesiaho, for example).
8 (N/A) Jasin-Amin Assehnoun 19 Lahti 978 LW
Assehnoun debuted last season for a Lahti in decline. He didn’t do much, mostly playing a seemingly unfamiliar wing-back position, but clocked a fair amount of minutes. During the winter he got called up to the U-21 national team setup, and has been an important player for Lahti so far in 2019. Would like to see more end product – naturally – but he is ranked this highly mostly due to being second in the league in successful dribbles. That’s fun, and has historically been a good thing for a player.
9 (34) Niklas Jokelainen 19 RoPS 653 CF
RoPS are on the lookout for a new striker according to media reports. I hope they’re unsuccessful in their search because I think Niklas Jokelainen and Matias Tamminen are worth extended looks, especially Jokelainen in the short term. For the year, he’s at 0.4 xG per 90, which is plenty good enough – even if he’s only scoring at a rate of 0.15 per 90 at the moment. There’s much to like about his game, and he’s in the right type of environment to cash in on his promise.
10 (27) Tommi Jyry 20 KuPS 683 MC
Shows up as an excellent passer. He’s handy at progressing the ball. Was unfortunately injured this past week, but seems to have recovered as he played in the Europa League Qualifier this Thursday.
11 (N/A) Anthony Olusanya 19 Jaro 595 CF
Olusanya got a couple of brief mentions last season for being a rare, young attacker in an Ykkönen deprived of just that. This season he seems to have taken some major strides forward, both in terms of personal development as well as literally, as he was mostly played on the right wing last season, while being deployed more as a centre forward now. That move seems to have payed off, as he is third in xG per 90 (0.58) in Ykkönen while assisting 0.54 per 90. Interesting.
12 (N/A) Severi Kähkönen 19 Jaro 528 AMC
I want to keep Kähkönen and Olusanya sort of grouped, because they’re the same age, play for the same team, play in roughly the same areas of the pitch, and are both having excellent starts to the season. Both appeared last season, and both showed some glimpses of promise, but this season has been something else so far, for both of them. Olusanya has the upper hand because he has a couple of assists already, but in truth, the difference is negligible because of the small sample size. Next month, it will be bigger, though, and we will be much the wiser. For now, suffice to say that Jaro should be excited about their current crop of youngsters.
13 (N/A) Mehdi El-Moutacim 19 EIF 1231 GK
Mehdi El-Moutacim played pretty well for a high-flying EIF last season when he played, but ended up sitting on the bench quite a lot due to the good form of Jonathan Jäntti. This season, Jäntti – by far the best goalkeeper in Ykkönen last season – has gone to AC Kajaani (of all places) and El-Moutacim has taken over full-time. He’s not been quite as good as he was last season, and he is on the short side for a goalie, but he’s interesting for many reasons. With Markus Uusitalo, Miika Töyräs, Teppo Marttinen and Rasmus Leislahti sitting on the bench for their respective teams, he takes over as the foremost goalkeeping prospect in the top two tiers.
14 (N/A) Eemeli Virta 19 Lahti 958 MC
Last season, Teemu Jäntti came into the Lahti first team setup, and played a fair bit as a sort of utility player, logging minutes at left back, centre back, central midfield, attacking midfield etc. His profile was kind of boring, but he got a bunch of playing time. Toward the end of the season, his place in the team had been taken by Eemeli Virta, and at this point in time, Virta has surpassed Jäntti in importance for Lahti, as well as in how highly rated he is. He profiles as a better passer and a more active defender, and although he doesn’t do much to excite, he’s constructing a decent platform on which to build.
15 (N/A) Axel Vidjeskog 18 Jaro 705 AMC
It’s nice to see Jaro embracing an identity revolving around their youth products. Vidjeskog, Kähkönen and Olusanya have all played an important part in their success so far. Vidjeskog is the youngest of the three, and he’s playing more of a withdrawn role. That being said, he’s still accumulating a fair amount of shots and chances created. A good start for an interesting player.
16 (N/A) Anttoni Huttunen 18 MyPA 1001 AMC
Huttunen is playing a lot in his age 18 season, albeit for a fairly dysfunctional team. He does most of his work in the opposition half, and would probably benefit from getting to spend more time there. At the moment, nothing really stands out – he’s shooting a fair bit, but mostly from distance, creating a fair amount of chances, passing a fair amount into the opposition box – but he’s young and improving.
17 (N/A) Aapo Mäenpää 21 IFK Mariehamn 969 RB
I thought Aapo Mäenpää looked an interesting prospect in 2017, but he struggled to repeat in 2018. In 2019, he has already surpassed his 2018 minute total, and his overall numbers are trending up. He isn’t a huge threat going forward – maybe by design, as left back Dylan Murnane is one of IFK Mariehamn’s key weapons going forward – but is winning more aerial duels than anyone in the league per 90.
18 (N/A) Salomo Ojala 22 FC Haka 1024 CF
Last season I followed Ojala a fair bit, but was put off by the low shot numbers (1.8 per 90), and although he ended up scoring pretty high in xG (0.36) it didn’t feel like enough to warrant a mention, especially at his age. This season, though, things are a little different. His shots are up to 3.1, his xG at 0.5, and he’s scoring at a better rate as well. It’s starting to feel more like a breakout, and even if he’s getting on slightly in age, there’s still time to take the step up.
19 (35) Martti Haukioja 20 VPS 1177 LB
Haukioja moved to VPS this winter, in a move that must feel like a mistake at this stage of the season (of course it’s possible that Ilves just didn’t want to extend him). For VPS, Haukioja has sort of surprisingly been quite an attacking outlet, leading the league’s under 22s in passes into the opposition box, although it hasn’t converted into end product so far. Defensively there are some holes in his game, and I wonder if he’s going to have to move central at some point due to his size.
20 (26) Mikko Kuningas 22 Inter 1093 MC
It feels like Kuningas is stagnating a bit. He has consistently been used more every season since breaking into the league in 2015, and is currently projected to exceed his 2018 total. It’s just that all his other numbers are trending down – shots, defensive activity, even passes. He’s still doing a fair bit of creating, but he’s passing less into the box and the final third. He’s completing his passes at a higher rate, which suggests that he’s being used in a more conservative manner – and overall, Inter are very different now compared to last season, so that may be the reason. Unfortunately I haven’t seen him play a lot, because he’s always been a player that has a certain feel to him and I wonder if he still does.
21 (25) Enoch Banza KPV/HJK 812 RW
Banza is playing a lot at the moment, which is nice, but he isn’t exactly displaying a lot of signs that he’ll be stepping into the HJK starting lineup next season. He’s not a bad player at all, but I’m still waiting for something more – more shots, more chances created, more goals, more dribbles, more something – because it’s all a little middle-of-the-pack at the moment.
22 (32) Evans Mensah 21 HJK 497 RW
I don’t quite know what to think of Evans Mensah. Since he joined HJK, he’s been fairly hyped, and he’s consistently had a fair amount of end product, but there’s always been a lingering feeling about him that he mostly just performs against the bottom feeders. I can remember notable performances against JJK and PS Kemi but I struggle to remember anything beyond that. That’s obviously true about most players – it’s easier to play against poorer opponents – but in his case it feels especially poignant. Has started the season well, is still very young, and there are some positive indications (his xG/Shot is higher now than it has been before, a problem in previous seasons), so maybe this is his season?
23 (N/A) Niilo Mäenpää 21 Inter 754 AMC
Mäenpää is a fairly nondescript midfielder who doesn’t really excel at any particular facet of the game, but does well enough overall that he keeps playing. Seems to be liked enough by the new look Inter setup, which bodes well for the future, but would still like to see something pop for him.
24 (15) Santeri Väänänen 17 HJK 196 MC
I’ll admit, Väänänen’s placement is not at all influenced by his statistics, but he’s looked quite bright for HJK so far, and he’s lauded as one of the biggest prospects of his generation. That Toni Koskela has given him a couple of starts already shows that his organisation has trust in him, and that he’ll be given a chance to repay that trust this season. Will rise quickly if his playing time does.
25 (17) Akseli Ollila 19 EIF 838 LW
Ollila was a welcome breath of fresh air last season, in an Ykkönen devoid of interesting attacking talents. This season, he seems to have regressed a bit, as he’s no longer overperforming his xG. Is still an interesting player, and would expect him to play in the Veikkausliiga next season.
26 (N/A) Sampo Ala 17 RoPS 305 CF
Ala is the player born 2002 with the most minutes in the league this season – and he’s already scored his first goal! That’s about it, though, as he’s mostly looking a little overmatched. At the moment it’s better than nothing!
27 (30) Omar Jama 21 EIF 1079 MC
Jama took a step down this season in search for playing time, which is respectable in its own right but a bit worrying for the sake of his development. He’s a metronomic passer and an active dribbler but suffers from being a little light in terms of physicality. Would need to add some dimensions to his game in order to go further, but as he is, I think he’s a perfectly fine Veikkausliiga-level midfielder.
28 (N/A) Momodou Sarr 19 VPS 941 RW
Like most of VPS players on this list, Sarr is here because he is young and is playing a lot. Unfortunately, there isn’t a huge amount that’s worth noting about his statistics. He’s shooting less than once per 90, isn’t creating a lot, nor is he dribbling or winning a lot of headers. Will get a chance to develop, and will get a bump up the chart if he does.
29 (N/A) Johannes Kytilä 19 MyPA 1228 CB
I’m not a huge fan of Johannes Kytilä, but there’s enough there to be interested: he’s young, he’s big and he’s playing a lot (albeit for a bad team). He isn’t a particularly accomplished passer – or he isn’t allowed to be because he’s hoofing it long so often. Either way, the question is whether his step is quick enough to go further – at the moment, he’s picking up a lot of interceptions, but that sort of happens when you’re the worse team more often than not.
30 (13) Kevin Kouassivi-Benissan 20 HJK 317 RWB
Kouassivi-Benissan hasn’t quite broken into the HJK first team, even if he’s played a handful of matches for them. A loan wouldn’t be an awful thing for him, and I could see it being beneficial for whichever team picks him up. Can be a force with the ball at his feet, and it feels like that part of his game has been a bit restricted so far this season for HJK.
31 (N/A) Kevin Larsson 18 HIFK 428 RW
Young attacking midfielder who signed for HIFK this season. A bit surprised to see him play as much as he has, but pleasantly so. Hasn’t showed much yet, but he has time.
32 (N/A) Daniel Rantanen 21 EIF 1182 MC
I’m unsure about Rantanen but in theory I think he fits well alongside Omar Jama. Rantanen is a worse passer than Jama, but offers more going forward. He likes a shot, sometimes too much, and has contributed with 0.38 assists per 90 so far this season. If he can keep it up, maybe it suggests he’s figured something out?
33 (N/A) Tuomas Ollila 19 KTP 847 LB
Ollila is an energetic full back, with a nice burst of pace. I thought he looked pretty decent for Klubi 04 last season, and he’s playing a fair bit in 2019 as well.
34 (19) Teemu Jäntti 19 Lahti 641 MC
Jäntti’s calling card is his versatility, which is also what makes it difficult to analyse him based on statistics, as it’s difficult to know what to compare him to. Last season he played large parts further forward, this season he’s being deployed more conservatively which means he sees more of the ball, but does less with it. Should try to shed the utility label and find a niche that works for him.
35 (N/A) Yussif Moussa 21 Ilves 634 AMC
Moussa is a shot-happy young midfielder for Ilves, with decent chance creation numbers and decent defensive activity. Something like a Mosa-lite, maybe?
36 (46) Paavo Voutilainen 20 KTP 947 CB
After struggling to break into the FC Lahti team for a couple of seasons, Voutilainen decided to take a step back in order to get a better chance of taking two steps forward. A member of the Finnish team at the U19 Euros last summer, Voutilainen has some stock as a prospect, and it’s nice to see him finally play regularly. He’s a good passer, but has some work to do in terms of his defensive ability.
37 (44) Tommi Jäntti 19 RoPS 485 AMC
Jäntti is ostensibly more of an attacking midfielder, but hasn’t shown enough so far to convince me that he’ll be much more than a Veikkausliiga-player. Needs more end product (wrote this before he scored a potentially crucial goal away at Aberdeen!)
38 (N/A) Matias Lahti 20 EIF/Inter 869 MC
Lahti came out of nowhere to start a handful of games for Inter last season. This year he’s been loaned out to EIF for some additional experience, where he seems to be enjoying himself. He’s doing well both defensively, while contributing in attack, so there’s a decent chance that Inter might have some use for him next season if he keeps up the pace.
39 (N/A) Tiemoko Fofana 20 Ilves 712 CF
Fofana had a memorable debut last season, scoring a penalty and getting injured for the rest of the season. This season he’s playing alright for his age, hovering around 2 shots per 90 and 0.3 xG/NPG per 09, in around 700 minutes. If Ilves want to stay on top of the league, he’s going to have to get better at getting into scoring positions.
40 (48) Rony Huhtala 21 MyPA 953 CF
I tried to include Huhtala as much as I could last season because I really like him, but he ended up suffering a goal-drought for the ages and so a higher placement wasn’t warranted. The thing is, though, that he’s pretty unique in Finland, and that’s something that someone’s going to pick up on at some point, and when they do, I believe he has the raw materials to go far. He’s like a Finnish Jamie Vardy – quick, energetic, tireless – and would be well suited for a team playing an active press or a lot of counters.
41 (36) Joel Mattsson 20 HIFK 627 RW
Mattsson joined HIFK this season from IFK Mariehamn, and has been rewarded with a fair amount of playing time. Like Nikolas Saira, he feels a little too much like a tweener type – not quite enough end product to be a winger, not quite good enough defensively to be a right back. Can hopefully pull it together in Helsinki, HIFK need some young success stories.
42 (N/A) Alexander Jibrin 21 AC Oulu 1042 CB
After a year as something of an understudy, Jibrin has stepped into the AC Oulu backline permanently this season. He looks a capable player – decent defensive numbers, alright in the air, capable passer – but needs to show more in order to move further up on the list.
43 (N/A) Anton Eerola 20 KTP 928 MC
Eerola is an all-rounder in midfield, who stands out in the interception stat. One to follow.
44 (12) Diogo Tomas 22 Ilves 351 CB
Biggest dropper on the list, mostly because he’s out of the team more this season than he was last season, and you can’t say Ilves are looking worse for it. Defensive statistics still like him though – he’s good in the air, has a high amount of interceptions and tackles.
45 (N/A) Juhani Pikkarainen 21 KPV 487 CB
Profiles as a decent passer whose pretty good in the air. The form of his team raises some question marks, but his youth provides some solace for the time being.
46 (N/A) Antti Ulmanen 20 EIF 634 CF
Hasn’t achieved major success so far this season, but has played more than last season, which is something. Will need to start scoring if EIF want to climb the table, and his 0.2 xG per 90 isn’t exactly an indication of that happening any time soon.
47 (N/A) Jonas Häkkinen 20 VPS 1171 MC
Häkkinen has the 6th most minutes among under 22s, and profiles as a decent passer whose pretty good in the air. The form of his team raises some question marks, but his youth provides some solace for the time being.
48 (N/A) Samu Alanko 21 VPS 862 LW
Alanko left VPS for the Austrian lower leagues a couple of years ago, and returned last season. He hasn’t been great this season for a struggling Vepsu, but stranger things have happened than a 21 year old left winger suddenly developing into a star (see: Karjalainen, Rasmus).
49 (N/A) Nuutti Laaksonen 20 MyPA 930 RB
Laaksonen debuted for Lahti last season, but was deemed surplus to requirement after his contract ended in December. Playing time is easier to come by at MyPA, naturally, and he’ll want to make the most of the opportunity. Wins a fair amount of his headers, and contributes defensively, but the way his team plays doesn’t exactly give him a huge amount of licence to show what he can do in attack.
50 (N/A) Nikolas Saira 20 HIFK 932 LW
Saira has played a fair amount already for a player his age, and although that’s usually a good thing, in his case I’m not so sure. I’m still not quite sure I know what he’s about, as he doesn’t look particularly quick nor technical for a winger, and he has never really stood out statistically.

Bubbling under

So that’s the first prospect list of the season. As it’s still fairly early, some notable players have been left out due to not playing enough. Here is a list of the ones foremost on my mind:

Abion Ademi, Elias Mastokangas, Arlind Sejdiu, Naatan Skyttä, Pyry Lampinen, Eetu Rissanen, Martin Salin, Eemeli Raittinen, Jeremiah Streng, Maximo Tolonen, Matias Tamminen, Tomi Kult, Valtteri Vesiaho, Ville Tikkanen

Thanks for reading, I’ll be trying to update the list at a monthly pace, so follow me on Twitter if you’re interested!

What to think of Sebastian Dahlström in 2019

What to think of Sebastian Dahlström in 2019

Sebastian Dahlström debuted in 2016, and immediately raised some eyebrows with his performances. He was a dynamic presence in the middle of the pitch who wasn’t afraid of getting forward when the opportunity presented itself. For his team, 2016 was difficult, but he had given the public a taste of what was to come.

In 2017, Dahlström arrived.


It was maybe difficult to tell at the time, especially considering the star-studded company he kept at the heart of midfield for HJK, but he was having one of the top central midfield seasons in recent Veikkausliiga history, at least in terms of attacking output. He certainly didn’t have the name recognition of Moshtagh Yaghoubi or Anthony Annan, but he was staking his claim for a place in the starting XI.

Granted, Dahlström has been deployed in a variety of different roles throughout his time at HJK, sometimes playing further forward as a #10, but he has mostly been played in a midfield two. His probing, positive passing, and well timed runs into the box became a staple of a HJK that romped the league, and 2018 looked like it was going to be the season for him to break out as one of the true household names in Finnish football.

And maybe he did. Dahlström debuted for the senior national team in January of 2019, a well deserved recognition for his performances for both HJK and the U-21’s. He played an important part in a HJK side that ended up winning the league by a clear margin. But something was different.


After a couple of seasons of demonstrable growth in attack, there was a sudden drop-off in 2018. Goals were down, assists were down, xG was down, xA was down, shots and key passes were down, and those are only the attacking statistics. Defensive interventions were down, secondary shot assists were down, dribbles were down. The only things that were higher than 2017 were tackles (at the expense of interceptions) and aerial duel wins. What happened?




There are some indications that Dahlström was deployed slightly differently than previous seasons, with less licence to go forward and a more aggressive defensive role, or that the midfield deployment was different in general. This aggressive defending, however, is not something that can be seen on the team level, as HJK posted lower scores in both PPDA and Opposition Pass% in 2017 than 2018 – indicating that they were more actively trying to hinder their opponents’ passing game the prior year.

Dahlström’s chance creation locations also show an interesting development. In 2016, he mostly created from deeper central locations, while in 2017 he managed to get closer to goal and occasionally even into the box before giving the ball to his team-mate. In 2018, however, the areas from which he created chances has a much wider spread. In 2017, he seemed to have a stronger presence in the middle, whereas in 2018 there was a more pronounced horizontal focus in front of the box.


Compare and contrast to Moshtagh Yaghoubi, who – when playing alongside Annan – arguably played the same role as Dahlström. There isn’t the same central focus (in 2018 he played some as a left winger which can be seen from the map), but rather more of a spread, with a vertical band in the left half-space in 2017.


In terms of shot locations, for Dahlström 2018 and 2017 were pretty similar, although there were a few more shots from further out, and some fewer shots from inside of the box in 2018. Generally, the big difference seems to be the volume, rather than the quality.


Again, comparing to Yaghoubi, you can see how the two players differ. Yaghoubi is a more active shooter, known for his long shots but almost allergic to the box.


So what could possibly be the reason for this kind of development? Maybe Dahlström was carrying a knock in 2018 that stunted his dynamism? Or maybe it was a purely tactical decision, a preference for him to stay more disciplined in his positioning. The worst case scenario would probably be some type of regression in his development as a player, or that 2017 was just a period of unsustainably high production. The optimistic take would be to put it down to a lack of stimuli from essentially playing alongside the same players, under the same manager for an extended period of time. Maybe he’ll get a boost from being one of the first names on the team sheet while playing next to Kaan Kairinen rather than Annan or Yaghoubi.

If, however, it can be traced to a tactical decision, it would probably be worth it to consider reversing that decision, because although Dahlström was a perfectly decent midfielder in 2018, he can be an exceptional talent – potentially one of the best players in the league – if allowed to contribute more significantly in attack. Having an extra runner from deep can be especially effective against a low block, as long as you can live with the gaps it can leave in your midfield. If you ask me, it’s a risk worth taking.