The tie is effectively over following Athletic’s 6-0 triumph in the first leg, but that doesn’t mean the teams will be without motives in the return leg. Helsinki are eager to make amends for such a heavy defeat, whereas los Leones have got to try and restore the lost confidence after the 4-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid.
European campaign about to end
HJK Helsinki have been the dominant force in Finland for almost ten years now and that has allowed them to participate in Champions League qualifying stages season after season. However, the lack of serious opponents in domestic championship has left the team unprepared for matches against Europe’s top sides, so no wonder Helsinki are still attempting to qualify for the Champions League group stages. The double defeat to Celtic saw HJK drop out from Europe’s top competition, but they, nonetheless, continued their European campaign in Europa League. The Finnish side were completely outclassed and beaten 6-0 in the first leg at San Mames, with Athletic showing who is the boss here, and it is unlikely they will fare much better in the return leg. For the first time after quite a while, Helsinki sit in third place in the Finnish Veikkausliiga and that shows the team are far from desired form.
Boss Antti Muurinen has no fresh selection worries and is expected to field the same side that started the first leg.
Another poor start in La Liga
Athletic Bilbao have largely impressed in Europa League and Copa del Rey last term, but they just couldn’t find their form in the domestic championship. The same thing appears to be happening again as los Leones have easily reached Europa Leaue play-offs, while losing both games at the start of La Liga. In all fairness, the transfer saga surrounding Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente has affected the atmosphere in the side, but the team simply have got to rise above all the problems and focus only on what happens on the pitch. They clearly weren’t able to do so at the weekend, having recorded a 4-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid, which is why boss Marcelo Bielsa will be demanding a response in Finland. Los Leones have obviously already secured their passage into the next round, but a win in Helsinki can help them restore some of the lost confidence, which could be crucial for the remainder of the league campaign.
Ander Herrera, Gorka Iraizoz, Aritz Aduriz, Carlos Gurpegui and Andoni Iraola have stayed in Spain, just like Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente. Jonas Ramalho is doubtful with a bout of flu.
Helsinki were no match to Athletic at San Mames and I just don’t see how the Finns are going to show a massive improvement in this match. Athletic may be missing several starters, but with Herrera, Muniain and Susaeta in the side, they should have more than enough quality to record another victory over HJK.
Our prediction: Away win
Odds: 1.65 (13/20)