Now or never for Norrköping
The conclusion to Allsvenskan 2018 is just around the corner with long time leaders, AIK, strong favourites to win a first ‘SM Guld’ since 2009. But closest challengers Norrköping are refusing to give in and can close the gap to just 3 points by beating Östersund. All to play for then at Östgötaporten.
Having occupied a top 3 place for the majority of the campaign, 2015 Champions Norrköping will be a little disappointed that the gap is as much as six points at this stage, especially having gone eleven games undefeated, a run that includes successive home wins over AIK (then unbeaten) and reigning champions Malmö.
But a failure to build on these two memorable results – Peking drew with both Sirius and Djurgården thereafter – leaves Norrköping, needing favours from other teams in addition to taking care of their own business, if they are to pip AIK and win a second title in four years.
Motivation for the hosts couldn’t be higher
Make no mistake about it though, AIK are suffering with a case of the title jitters – they’ve won three of the last six and drawn the last two. By the time they host Malmö on Monday evening, the gap could be down to three points which was unimaginable just two weeks ago when they were eight points clear and looked to have one hand on the trophy.
Hence, motivation for the hosts couldn’t be higher and after failing to take advantage of AIK’s previous slip-ups, Norrköping, with the advantage of playing 24 hours earlier, have the chance to put doubt in the minds of the AIK players for the first time this year – scenarios such as this don’t come along very often and it’s up to the hosts to make it count.
Östersund remain on course to equal last season’s fifth place and maybe go one better by finishing up fourth. But after a season of upheaval on and off the field, which saw manager Graham Potter leave for Swansea, the departure of their two best players - Ken Sema and Sami Ghoddos - and owner Daniel Kindberg arrested for suspected fraud, the club may be looking forward to the close season more than most.
Before then though they have the chance to have a major say in deciding the destination of the league title. Shortly after travelling to Norrköping for Sunday’s encounter, they’ll play host to AIK, by which time panic stations may have set in for their midweek opponents.
As for their own aspirations, well, the motivation is there to record their highest ever league finish in their history and, before losing their most recent match away at Häcken, a four-match winning streak had put them in with a fair chance of making it happen.
But playing the top three in their final four games may put pay to any hope of achieving that aim, especially since Malmö (4th) and Häcken (5th) are unlikely to drop many points between now and the end of the campaign.
An incentivised and highly focused Norrköping are rightly favourites considering their home record is the second best in the division - the odds are perhaps slightly high but reflective of the situation and opposition.
Despite the odds and the close proximity of the two sides in terms of league position, I’m backing Norrköping to claim a huge victory that’ll surely blow the title race wide open with just three games left to play.