It's been a long winter since the end of the last Finnish football season. Saturday 26th October saw the final round of fixtures, which had little bearing on the final outcome. HJK had sewn up the title, the silver and bronze medal positions were already decided, while JJK were long since relegated (they finished twelve points behind eleventh placed RoPS).
So this season starts on Sunday April 6th 2014, with a staggered schedule. Six teams get their seasons started, the three matches being played at grounds with artificial pitches. HJK host Jaro, RoPS play VPS and MYPA take on Honka. In fact HJK start with four home games in their first five... The rest of the sides join in a week later. The teams that finished in the top six last year will play seventeen home matches in 2014, while those in the bottom half will play sixteen.
The 2013 Veikkausliiga champions
The pre-season Liigacup (league cup) was won by newcomers SJK after a 1-0 win against VPS, who had been drawn together in group four, both matches ending in a 2-3 away win. HJK fielded a youth side in their semi-final against SJK and were beaten 1-0, while Inter Turku had the best group stage record with three wins out of four.
The European contenders this year will be HJK in the second qualifying round of the Champions League, while Honka, VPS and RoPS will enter the Europa League at qualifying round one. MYPA were elected as the Fair Play representative, and are also set to enter in round one, and will find out in May. Honka's entry isn't confirmed yet, as their ongoing financial problems have led to IFK Mariehamn being invited to apply to take their place. After last year's abysmal showing, where every participant was eliminated at the first stage, the Finnish clubs will need to pull their fingers out to improve the co-efficient.
For any UK-based Veikkausliiga fans, there was good news this week with the news that VeikkausTV, the Finnish betting site, will be showing fifty live matches this season, starting with the opening day match between HJK and Jaro. I'm not aware yet of pricing or whether the site is viewable in the UK. If not, I'll recommend some sites that allow your computer to think it's in Finland... Don't forget that ETS is the only English language site authorised to show match highlights!
New boys SJK celebrate their Liigacup victory
Last year, I did a page looking at all the new kits for the season. Unfortunately, some of the clubs are yet to release any decent photos of their wardrobes, while some appear to be using the same kits as last season. I'll try and put a page together at some point as plenty of clubs have moved onto new kit manufacturers.
So what can we expect this year? Some of the young talent has moved abroad, there have been plenty of managerial changes and new faces could make big names for themselves. Below we'll look at the twelve teams taking part, along with a brief update on the changes at each club. The teams are listed in order of their final position in 2013.
A fifth consecutive title came, but it was fairly underwhelming in the end. Rumours that manager Sixten Boström would be replaced subsided, but the question remains if whether HJK can push on in Europe after feebly falling to Estonians Nomme Kalju. Zeneli, Pohjanpalo and Sumusalo have gone, but Baah, Lampi and Heikkinen will shore up the rear. Mikael Forssell and Demba Savage are likely to remain the key threats up front, and they have signed Danish goalkeeper Michael Tørnes. Something has to go horribly wrong to prevent another championship.
Another winter of financial troubles with talk of big debts, but this time they lost their manager too. Finland legend Shefki Kuqi has taken his first manager job, but will be taking over a much different side to the one that challenged for the title. Väyrynen,Yaghoubi, Palazuelos, Meite and Baah have left - it's hard to see any real challenge. They have some decent young players, and may survive by virtue of teams in bigger struggle... If they are granted a licence to compete in 2014.
A surprising (but well deserved) third place finish brings Europa League football, and perhaps an outside bet for a higher finish this season. They have retained key players Sillanpää, Strandvall and Morrissey, and signed Timi Lahti from HJK. They reached the Liigacup final, with captain Strandvall the key man, and if Morrissey can score like he did in 2012, they'll have a good league season.
Possibly the side with the most exciting attacking options, if they stay fit... Petteri Forsell is back, Luis Solignac and Josef Ibrahim ended 2013 scoring hatloads, and they were the second top scorers in the division (with the second worst defence). Red card magnet Darren Purse has left, Duarte Tammilehto has joined, and at the time of writing, they're second favourites for the title.
After a poor start to 2013, Lahti recovered with a great run including seven wins in nine games under Juha Malinen. They're now under the guidance of former MYPA coach Toni Korkeakunnas, and with a mostly unchanged squad, they'll do fine. Elder statesman Rafael (35) scored sixteen goals last year, and could well carry the burden again.
Sexy football is back! Former Finland manager Antti Muurinen has taken the reins, and will be trying to bring a Brazilian flavour to the league after signing a partnership deal with Fluminense (borrowing three young players). Several squad members have signed new deals, but Muurinen will need to work hard to inspire more than a top-six finish.
Surprisingly ended 2013 in seventh after a mediocre season, with rare highlights including a win at HJK and reaching the Suomen Cup final. The retirement of top scorer Ilja Venäläinen will hit hard, while various attempts to recruit replacements have fallen through. There's a decent crop of youth players, but the club will be hoping not to have to rely on them too heavily. Also heavily in debt, but it's unlikely to affect league status.
A major budget shortfall after poor performance in Europe and over-extending the wage bill has led to mass player departures and uncertainty. Wayne Brown has remained, but several youngsters and untested imports will fill out the squad. A good win over AC Oulu in the Suomen Cup will need to be built on in order to avoid a year of struggle on the pitch as well as off it.
Another turbulent year, with poor performances, a lack of goals and little creativity. But the return of Mika Ojala and Joni Aho will make Inter resemble their 2012 silver medallist position. Irakli Sirbiladze can be dangerous on his day, but last year seemed disinterested while the signing of Tamas Gruborovics didn't create as much as was expected. Unlikely to trouble either end of the table.
2013 started well, with Hendrik Helmke on top form and Shahdon Winchester settling in well, but it tailed off dangerously in the autumn. Now Alexei Eremenko's side have those two players back, but they have lost others (Banner, Skrabb, Jonke). Goalkeeper Jesse Öst can be superb on the right day, but will be very busy. Will struggle.
The Cup winners are now managed by the well-travelled (and well-respected) Juha Malinen and are looking to build on a solid defence. They will need to improve the forwards, after only scoring 25 goals in 33 games last year. Their home form was decent, but hopefully Europe won't prove too much of a distraction, where home games are likely to be played in Oulu.
Their first season in the top division in their current guise, SJK have recruited well ahead of the campaign, signing several experienced players with top flight experience. Winnig the Liigacup final is a grand start, but they'll face far greater challenges. They have a large British influence on the staff, and are coached by former Derby midfielder Simo Valakari.
So that's the line-up for 2014 - don't forget to check back every week for updates. Day job depending, I still plan to do weekly round-ups with highlights. Follow us on Twitter for the latest updates and scores as well. For those of you who like a bet, good luck!