maanantai 4. toukokuuta 2020

Veikkausliiga team squads part 2 - Inter, HIFK, IFK Mariehamn, Haka, TPS & RoPS

This is the third post about Veikkausliiga 2020 squads and the player ages. You can find the first two here and I'd suggest reading those as well:

In this post I will take a quick look at the rosters of the remaining 6 Veikkausliiga teams. 

Inter Turku, Inter (2nd in 2019)

Inter had a very good season finishing second in 2019. They return less than 50% (about 43%) of their minutes from last season, so there is quite a lot of turnover in the squad.  That 43% means that only HJK returns less minutes from last year. The upcoming season will be well-respected coach Jose Riveiro's second season in charge of Inter.

Inter Squad in 2020

Inter's team is the 3rd oldest measured with average age and 6th oldest with median age. The reason can be seen from the graph as Annan, Moisander, Furuholm & Álvaro Muñiz skew the age distribution somewhat. Inter has quite many new faces and delightfully some very interesting and promising young players as well. 

18 year-old Noah Nurmi comes on a loan from Danish Superliga side Esbjerg and should be featured regularly. There are many other Finnish Youth National Team faces alongside him, so interesting to see how Riveiro will spread the minutes amongst his players.

Helsingin IFK, HIFK (7th in 2019)

HIFK finished comfortably in mid-table and was not in any danger of relegation last season. They return about 65% of their minutes but also have a lot of new faces for the upcoming season. Tor Thodesen starts his second season as the coach of HIFK.

HIFK Squad in 2020

HIFK's roster is one of the older ones in the league (5th oldest by average and 4th oldest by median). Thodesen did tend to give playing time to more senior guys as Joel Mattsson was the only U22 (or U24) player to play more than 50% of available minutes. Some new signings seem slightly risky but will be very interesting to see how Yaghoubi and Mattila, for example, perform with HIFK. 

The graph shows why Matias Hänninen, Jukka Halme and Jani Bäckman are respected by HIFK fans. Lots of years at the club amongst them. Not really sure what to expect from HIFK as a team in 2020.

IFK Mariehamn (6th in 2019)

IFK Mariehamn managed to get into the top six (Veikkausliiga Championship League) which is not bad. They return only about 45% of their minutes so there have been a lot of changes in their team this offseason

IFK Mariehamn Squad in 2020

Mariehamn's squad is quite young with a median age of 23.4 years. This ranks them as 3rd youngest for the upcoming season. Besides Oskari Forsman there are not any players over 30 in the squad who played any minutes last season and most of the remaining core is at their peak age or a little younger.

Mariehamn lost some good players and will most likely lose Dylan Murnane as well (he is listed as without a club in transfermarkt and therefore is not shown on the graph). They did get some experienced replacements like Mikko Sumusalo & Kalle Taimi to the full back positions though.

There are some new young players in the squad as well, like Niilo Mäenpää, Albion Ademi and Maximo Tolonen. Interested to see how they will do this season.

FC Haka, Haka (promoted from Ykkönen)

Haka's squad graph is quite different from the ones we have seen so far. They return about 80% of their minutes from last season. The season was very good as coach Teemu Tainio's squad dominated the Finnish second tier Ykkönen. Haka lost only once during during the 27 game season and beat TPS, who finished second, by 19 points.

Haka Squad in 2020

None of the players who return from last year's have turned 30 yet. They did sign Medo (the ex-KuPS and HJK player) and Hero Markkanen in the off-season to bring in some experience. 

Haka has some super-interesting young players in Popovitch, Friberg and Ojala. The obvious choice as the one to watch is Salomo Ojala who scored 23 goals with 4 assists during the season. That sums up to a whopping 1.18 scoring contribution per 90 minutes. Very interesting to see how that will transfer into Veikkausliiga.

Another young attacking prospect is Akseli Lehtojuuri. As the graph shows, he did not play a lot (only 231 minutes) but scored 3 goals for a 1.17 goals / 90. He is only 18 and also scored in the Finnish Cup this year.

Coach Tainio has received a lot of praise and for a good reason. Looking forward to seeing how Haka will play in Veikkausliiga.

Turun Palloseura, TPS (promoted from Ykkönen)

TPS managed to get a promotion after beating KPV for the spot in playoffs. They return 72% of their minutes from last season.

TPS Squad in 2020

The two over 30 players have some significant history with TPS and you have to respect Sami Rähmönen for sticking with the team. He has been with the TPS first team continuously since the 2005 season. Many others with long white lines here as well, so TPS seems to be quite sticky with the players. The current roster is in the older half of Veikkausliiga teams but as the graph shows, most of the players are in or near their peak age.

24 year-old Eliécer Espinosa was the team's top scorer in 2019 with 18 goals and 0.87 goals / 90. The bookmakers are not expecting much from TPS this season but interested to see how the team will fare in Veikkausliiga.

Rovaniemen Palloseura, RoPS (10th in 2019)

RoPS finished just above the relegation line last season. They have had a lot of turnover in the squad and return about 44% of last seasons minutes. Vesa Tauriainen is the new head coach after HJK snatched Toni Koskela back from Rovaniemi. He was promoted from RoPS/2 which is always nice to see.

RoPS Squad in 2020

The RoPS squad is not old but not super young either. HJK loanee Kalle Katz and Juho Hyvärinen played quite a lot of minutes as under 20 year olds. Katz renewed his loan from HJK for the upcoming season and is therefore shown as a red dot even though he did play for RoPS in 2019. There aren't many players over 30 in the squad and Boris Kokko and Eetu Muinonen are the only returning over 30's for this season. The new over 30's centre-back Tsiskaridze comes from Saudi Professional League.

RoPS has been giving young players a lot of minutes in the recent years. I noticed that Kalle Katz had dropped from my previous table of young players, so after adding him to the mix, RoPS tied FC Lahti with the most players U22 to play at least 5% of the maximum minutes in 2019.

RoPS is not expected to do very well this year so staying in the league would be a good result for them. Rasmus Degerman and Jussi Niska are two young defenders who have taken part in the Finnish Cup games this year. Interesting to see if they will get some minutes in Veikkausliiga also. 

sunnuntai 3. toukokuuta 2020

Veikkausliiga 2020 squads - HJK, KuPS, SJK, Ilves, Honka & Lahti

I wrote a quick primer earlier about the average ages of Veikkausliiga squads for the upcoming 2020 season. If you haven't read that one yet, I suggest reading it before this one. In this post I will take a little closer look at the rosters of 6 of 12 Veikkausliiga teams. 

All the squad plots have been inspired by this lovely piece and I will go through the logic of the graphs quickly:

- Green area shows "peak age" which is assumed to be 25-29. This is, of course, subjective and also varies by position.

- Colour of the dot shows if the player has joined the team within last year (colour = red) or has been with the team for over a year (colour = light blue).

- White line behind the dot shows the time a player has been with the team. NOTE: this is based on data, so some players might have been on a loan last year and transferred in January 2020 so their line & dot colour would not show correctly  in the graphs.

- X axis shows the ages of the players at the end of April 2020.

- Y axis shows the share of minutes played for the team in the previous season, or in other words percent involvement in Veikkausliiga 2019. The numbers do not take into account Europa League, UCL games or Finnish Cup.

Let's start off with HJK Helsinki.

Helsingin Jalkapalloklubi, HJK (5th in 2019)

HJK's last season was a huge disappointment. The signings did not work out and for this season the roster has been revamped a lot. HJK has the most new players as percentage of the squad (only about 37% of last year's minutes return for the new season).

HJK Squad in 2020

The large number of new players is easily spotted with the numerous red dots at the bottom of the graph. HJK's team for the upcoming season is the second oldest measured by median age. The team seems to have been built heavily to "win now" as HJK squad's probably should be. 

However, it is kind of shame to see so few young players on the roster and especially youngsters who could get significant minutes this season. Most likely younger players to be featured are Lucas Lingman and Eetu Vertainen. Santeri Väänänen showed promise before his injury and hopefully can find his way on to the field as he should. Enoch Banza came back from relegated KPV where he was loaned out last year and might have hard time getting a lot of playing time in HJK's strong lineup. 

Murillo, Schüller, Atom, Riski... And that is just some of the new signings, so definitely a lot of quality. Six of the new signings are close to or over 30 years old and while they will definitely strengthen the squad for 2020 season, it will be interesting to see how the squad will look for 2021. This season is extraordinary for HJK in the sense that they will not be featured in Europe. So the team has been built with the sole goal of regaining the Veikkausliiga trophy and looks very, very likely to do just that.

Kuopion Palloseura, KuPS (1st in 2019)

KuPS returns as the reigning champions after a successful campaign. Their team sees a lot less changes than HJK as they return about 53% of last season's minutes.

KuPS Squad in 2020

The team did lose the best left back in Veikkausliiga Luis Carlos Murillo to HJK but  still have a strong squad for 2020 season. KuPS gets Urho Nissilä back on a loan from Zulte Waregem which is a very nice addition. The KuPS team is quite young but most notably lacks many older players. Ats Purje and Ville Saxman are the only players over 30. The team looks quite solid and is one of the favourites again.

KuPS will be coached by Arne Erlandsen this season as Jani Honkavaara moved to Seinäjoki after the winning the title. There was some very early news about players dislike of the new coach's methods so it will be interesting to see how Erlandsen will manage eventually.

The only young player in the squad with meaningful minutes in 2019 was Tommi Jyry. Jyry had a long history with Honkavaara, so hopefully the youngster will see minutes in the upcoming season as well with Erlandsen at the helm (or should it be at the wheel nowadays). 

Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho, SJK (9th in 2019)

SJK's season did not go according to plans and coach Eremenko was fired during the 2019 season (not a new thing around Seinäjoki). The new coach Jani Honkavaara comes from KuPS and has high expectations. The SJK coaching position has been quite unstable in the past so let's see how long Honkavaara will stick.

SJK Squad in 2020

SJK's squad has quite many "new" players according to my classification and data. However, as was pointed to me in Twitter by @Selkasauna, many of the red dots are actually players who have been at SJK at some point. So although the graph looks quite red, in reality many of the players have played together at some point. The team is quite strong and has a nice combination of experience and youth. 

The squad has three players over 32 years, so definitely not the youngest team in the league. There is a lot of young talent available though, with many players in SJK II also looking to be featured in Veikkausliiga. SJK has made an effort to persuade young players to sign with them. A big part of this is the Kuortane football high school and this is a move I like very much. Hopefully the balancing with "winning now" and playing young talent can be accomplished.

Tampereen Ilves (4th in 2019)

Ilves had a good season in 2019 and was leading the pack in the end of summer but faded a little towards the end. Ilves returns almost 90% of minutes from 2019 so the squad has remained almost fully intact.

Ilves Squad in 2020

Ilves has the second youngest team measured with median age. The team does not change much so it will be very interesting to see if they will improve this season. The squad has a lot of peak age players but also some interesting young talent. After Hilander, the next oldest players on the roster are 27 so they should have plenty of good years still in the tank. Lauri Ala-Myllymäki is a very good player to be playing in Veikkausliiga and might move abroad soon.

Tiemoko Fofana played a lot and was quite efficient (5 goals & 2 assists). He came to Ilves in 2018 from Nordsjaelland (who by the way are a super interesting team focusing on growing young talent). Yusif Moussa also played more than 60% of maximum minutes so coach Wiss did not shy from using young players. The most intriguing player on the roster might be Naatan Skyttä who had about 0.5 scoring contribution in 530 minutes at 17 years old.

FC Honka (3rd in 2019)

Honka came in 3rd place and won the Europa League playoff in 2019. That means that Honka will have something to look forward when the season eventually gets under way. Honka returns about 70% of last years minutes and coach Vesa Vasara. So stability is definitely there, however age starts to become a problem as can be seen from the plot.

Honka Squad in 2020

Honka fields the oldest squad in Veikkausliiga 2020 by almost a full year. The problems with the age structure can be easily seen as solid Robert Ivanov was the only player under 29 who played more than 50% of available minutes. Ivanov is a good player but I cannot easily get over the fact that Honka has about zero peak age players and not many youngsters either. Arlind Sejdiu played only 320 minutes last year but was super efficient. Would be interesting to see how he performs with more responsibility and playing time. Otto Ollikainen is another interesting young player who comes over from HJK. Let's see if he gets any minutes this season after being on the verge of Veikkausliiga for a while.

Honka is again one of the favourites according to bookmakers but to me the squad age profile is just messed up. There does not seem to be much of a continuity plan in place and the roster building is not to my liking. I mean, they did sign some younger players in the offseason but still. Of course, now they have the opportunity to play in Europe with an experienced squad, but we should expect a some turnover in the squad during the next few years.

FC Lahti (8th in 2019)

Lahti ended up in 8th place and returns about 50% of their minutes from 2019. The new coach is Ilir Zeneli who previously coached FC Espoo.

Lahti Squad in 2020

Lahti is intriguing to me personally because they rely a lot on young players. It will be interesting to see how things go with Zeneli as the new head coach. In 2019 Lahti had the most players U22 with more than 5% of minutes played (see table below) and based on Zeneli's history this will most likely not change for the upcoming season. The squad is the youngest in Veikkausliiga by about a half a year measured with median age.  

Veikkausliiga U22 players with >5% involvement in their current team

There are some interesting new faces (Vahid Hambo, Kari Arkivuo to name a few) this year. Also "new" face in Mikko Kuningas who returns to Lahti after some time in Inter Turku. Lots of new stuff with the new coach and players so not fully sure what to expect. The bookmakers are not expecting much but should be interesting season never the less.

lauantai 2. toukokuuta 2020

Veikkausliiga 2020 - Team age profiles

I thought that I would switch to English just to hone my writing skills. This post is a primer for the next few blog posts where I will be looking more closely at Finnish Veikkausliiga teams squads for the upcoming season. I have used as the source for all data in this and upcoming posts. The data was updated at the end of April 2020.

I have long been a proponent of giving more playing time to younger players in Veikkausliiga. This is related to my overall strategic vision about Veikkausliiga where I think that most teams should give more responsibility to young players. This is based on the idea that increased playing time would benefit (and likely improve) the youngsters  most and also give the teams a better chance of collecting a pay check via future transfers.

The current average age of ALL squad players in Veikkausliiga is about 25 years. That does not sound too bad but to me is slightly concerning especially if you consider the "playing time"-weighted average ages shown a little later herein. Actually, according to CIES study of 31 European Football leagues, Veikkausliiga is on the younger end of the spectrum. With an average age of 25.3 years Veikkausliiga was the eight youngest of the 31 leagues.

However, what does concern is that, at least to me, Veikkausliiga should not be a league where most of the players are in their prime or beyond. Internationally Veikkausliiga is not seen as a very desirable landing place for prime age players for multiple reasons, so why would you try and recruit such players here? What I personally would like to see more is young talent, both homegrown and foreign, given the opportunity to shine earlier in their careers without forcing a move abroad at a very young age by not giving them playing time. 

Veikkausliiga squad players & share of playing time in previous season

The graph plots all players in Veikkausliiga based on their age and minutes played for the team in 2019. A lot of the dots are at 0% because there have been a lot of changes in many of the teams' rosters for this season.

I have highlighted players under 22 years who played more than 15% of their teams minutes last season. The list is worryingly short and only has 20 players in it. Lahti has 4 players on the list (Eemeli Virta, Teemu Jäntti, Jasin Assehnoun & Pyry Lampinen). Three other teams, HIFK, Ilves & RoPS have 3 players on the list. I have mentioned earlier that it would be great to see Naatan Skyttä of Ilves seeing more minutes. He has performed very well at a very young age.

Several teams had zero players U22 who had significant playing time last year. Honka, IFK Mariehamn, Inter Turku & Valkeakosken Haka had no players on the list. For Haka, there is a silver lining though, as they do have players like Anton Popovich, Salomo Ojala and Akseli Lehtojuuri on their squad. Ojala had a huge season in Ykkönen last year but has just turned 23 in April so is not highlighted above. Lehtojuuri is only 18 years old and has some stats that make me very curious. He played about 230 minutes of football in Ykkönen and scored 3 goals which makes me hope we will see a lot more of him this year even as the level of competition has gone up a notch.  

U22 players with more than 5% of max minutes 

The table gives some insight to teams tendencies and strategies. For example, Rovaniemi has been a good place for young, aspiring players for a while now. HJK signed coach Toni Koskela back from the arctic circle last year but this did not change RoPS's eagerness to give young talent opportunities. However, the top teams do not seem to play youngsters that much as last years top 6 (KuPS, Inter, Honka, Ilves, HJK & IFK Mariehamn) shows with Ilves being the lone outlier here.  

Lahti also gave U20 players significant minutes last season with Eemeli Virta and Jasin Assehnoun playing over 70% of all minutes. Since @oskarikarppinen  (thank you!) noticed some errors in my data regarding SJK's young players, I did an update to the table. SJK now also had four young players with quite significant playing time.

Team age profiles & squad sizes

So let's have a look at how Veikkausliiga teams rank based on average ages of their current squads.

Veikkausliiga 2020 - average ages of squads

The graph plots the average age and the percentage of new players in this years squad (as % of squad size). We can easily see a couple of points:

1) Honka really has quite an elderly group this year
2) Half of the teams have had 50% or more of their players join in 2020
3) Ilves and KuPS have the youngest groups (both teams are expected to do well this season)

Veikkausliiga 2020 - weighted average ages of squads

So here is the graph I referred in the beginning with weighted the x-axis (ages) by minutes played last season. Not a perfect measurement as we cannot yet know how the minutes will be distributed in 2020 season but it paints a slightly different picture anyway. We can see that Honka has really depended on the senior players in their squad and when we take the minutes played into consideration, Lahti and RoPS are the teams farthest on the left. These two teams gave quite significant responsibilities to younger players and that seems like a good bet to me. Generally the plots jump to the right when we weight with playing time meaning that most teams still rely mainly on the more experienced players.

Ilves is quite intriguing finding here as their squad for season 2020 is one of the youngest (measured by average age they are the youngest and median age second youngest). However, they also had some older players with a lot of playing time (not looking at you Mika Hilander) which moves the dot to the right. 

The age distribution of team squads

The white boxes show the lower and upper quartiles (25% and 75%) of the players' age distributions. The light blue vertical line in the box is the median age for the players in each team. Lahti and Ilves have the youngest teams measured by the median age of squad. Both teams' median is less than 23 years. On the other end of the spectrum, Honka, HIFK, SJK and HJK all have median ages >25 years. KuPS as a reigning Veikkausliiga champion has a little different approach compared to the other favourites (HJK, Honka especially) as their squad composition is more inclined towards younger players. 

Squad sizes & new faces for 2020

The squad sizes range from Inter Turku's 18 players to Kuopion Palloseura's 28. Ilves has the most players remaining from their squad last season with 18. Many teams have a lot of new players for the upcoming season and it will be interesting to see how the Covid-19 situation and no team practises in a long time will affect the teams in the beginning of the season.


Lots of new players for 2020 and different approaches to squad building is what strikes me most as a conclusion from this analysis. It will be interesting to see how the teams will distribute playing time this year and if we see any new young players break through. I will be writing more about the individual teams' squads in future posts.