Following the 13:0 aggregate win over Bangor City, Helsinki were eliminated from the Champions League qualifying stages after losing both games to Dinamo Zagreb and they now face another tough task. Schalke are slowly raising their form and the Germans clearly want to make it to Europa League group stages.
Helsinki struggling against stronger sides
Helsinki have been the dominant force in Finnish football over the last decade, but they would have liked to have done more in Europe, that’s for sure. There is an obvious reason for HJK’s struggles in Europe and that is the lack of big games in Finland. The team play sides much inferior to them week in week out on domestic stage, so it is little wonder that they largely struggle on international stage. HJK have been in impressive form this season and after their 13:0 aggregate win over weak Bangor City, many believed that they would be able to eliminate Dinamo Zagreb, but they instead lost both games and easily went down to the Croats. Helsinki now face even tougher task as they are set to host the team that reached Champions League semi-finals last season, so I really doubt that even the artificial pitch at Sonera Stadium will help them get something from this game.
Defender Valtteri Moren is set to miss out with a knee ligament injury, while Rami Hakanpaa and Timi Lahti are also unavailable.
Schalke raising their form
Last season was a real rollercoaster ride for Schalke as the team had major problems in Bundesliga but managed to reach Champions League semi-finals, beating the likes of Valencia and Inter in the process. Talented coach Ralf Rangnick was appointed midway through the season to replace Felix Magath and he did extremely well, so everybody expects Schalke to have another successful season this term. After selling keeper Manuel Neuer to Bayern Munich and getting rid of some fringe players, Schalke brought Ralf Fahrmann, who already looks to be a very good replacement for Neuer, while the captures of Christian Fuchs and Lewis Holtby from Mainz look like an excellent piece of business as well. Ralf Rangnick’s side did lose their opening game to Stuttgart, but they then hammered Koln 5:1, with Huntelaar and Raul proving they are hitting top form in the best possible time.
The boss faces some selection problems before the trip to Helsinki as Christoph Metzelder and Peer Kluge are out through injuries, while Benedict Howedes is doubtful. Jeferson Farfan, Tim Hoogland and Christoph Moritz have all resumed training, but are unlikely to feature due to the lack of match fitness.
Helsinki are clearly the force to be reckoned with on domestic stage, but the double defeat to Dinamo Zagreb proved that they still have a lot to learn when it comes to European competitions. Schalke, on the other hand, are looking very good at the moment and they should have no problems winning this game. Our advice is to take the odds on away win as soon as possible before the prices drop even further.
Our prediction: Away win
Odds: 1.62 (8/13)
Bookmaker: Stan James