Matchday 18 of the Allsvenskan season saw Hacken travel to the Swedish capital to take on struggling AIK. AIK, Swedish champions in 2018 and top of the league at this stage last season, started this game in 12th spot. They were hoping last weekends 2-0 win over bottom-placed Helsingborg, their first win in eight, would kickstart their season.
Häcken, meanwhile, had four wins from their last five matches and found themselves starting the match in third place. A win could see them leapfrog Elfsborg in second and possibly gain ground to top of the table Malmö.
This tactical analysis will provide analysis of the tactics of AIK and Häcken. The focus of the analysis will be how AIK’s central midfielders occupied the half-spaces and how Häcken attacking with four forwards led them to victory.
Recently appointed AIK coach, Bartosz Grzelak, set his side up in a 3-5-2 formation. Whilst consistently playing with two up-front in his time at AIK so far, he began his tenure with a back four. The switch to a back three has coincided with an upturn in results.
Grzelak made two personnel changes to his side that defeated Helsingborg 2-0 last weekend. Eric Kahl (#29) replaced Heradi Rashidi on the left-wing and teenager Paulos Abraham made way for new signing from Filip Rogić (#22). Rogic lined up alongside former EPL player Sebastian Larsson (#7) in central midfield. New signing and former Celtic player, Mikael Lustig, was named as a substitute.
Häcken began this match in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Head coach, Andreas Alm, elected to make just one change to his side that defeated Norrköping 1-0 on Monday night. However, an injury to forward Søderlund in the warm-up meant he was replaced at the last minute by Jasse Tuominen (#10). Alexander Faltsetas (#6) started ahead of Berggren in defensive midfield.
AIK central midfielders in the half-spaces
The above image shows the typical positioning of AIK’s three midfield players (circled in black). Goitom (#36), who has temporarily switched positions with Rogic, is occupying the left half-space. Larsson (#7) is occupying the right half-space whilst defensive midfielder, Adu (#8), has dropped deep in the central area.
Häcken’s attacking midfielder, circled, helps the Häcken front line press AIK’s backline when they have possession. This leaves the two Häcken defensive midfielders to cover AIK’s midfield three. Because of their positioning, in three separate lateral zones, Häcken’s midfielders cannot cover all three of them. This means when one of them receives the ball and is pressed, there is always an open midfielder for them to pass to.
From these positions, the two central midfielders can also make various supporting movements for the forward players.
This image shows Rogic occupying the half-space in an advanced position. The ball has just been worked from AIK’s right to left side. Because Rogic has positioned himself wide of the two Häcken defensive midfield players, they are unable to pick him up. With AIK playing with two forwards, the Häcken centre back is pinned by the near sided forward and also unable to pick Rogic up.
When the ball is passed out to the AIK left-back in the wide area, the Häcken right-back is forced to press him. This leaves Rogic free to run into the space behind the right-back where he should receive the ball. However, AIK moved the ball too slowly on this occasion and an opportunity to get in behind Häcken was missed.
The above image again shows Rogić in the left half-space, but this time, just as he is about to receive the ball. The ball has travelled from Larsson in the right half-space via defensive midfielder Adu. Again, because the two central midfielders are in the half-spaces and not right on top of each other, it is impossible for the Häcken defensive midfielders to pick them up.
Adu’s pass to Rogić has broken the Häcken midfield line and Rogić is now able to drive with the ball at Häcken’s back four. He has his two forward players and his left-back out wide for support.
With the left-back making a supporting run, the Häcken right-back is unable to press Rogic. The back four are forced to drop off allowing Rogic to dribble unopposed until he is within 25 yards of goal. From here he can deliver a dangerous cross into the box.
Häcken front four
The image above shows the average positions of where Häcken players touched the ball during the match. Although described as a 4-2-3-1 formation, when in possession, it is closer to a 2-4-4. The Häcken full-backs push up high and wide, often beyond the midfield two. This allows Häcken’s striker, attacking midfielder and wide forwards to play high and very narrow.
As the above image shows, when Häcken have the ball, all four of their attackers (circled) are beyond AIKs midfield line. Not only does this cause AIK’s three centre backs to be outnumbered, but it also means the four Häcken attackers are close enough to each other that they can link up. They pass to each other and create counter-movements to drag the oppositions defenders out of position.
This image shows the build-up to Häcken’s goal. The two most central attacking players simultaneously move towards the man in possession. This simple movement attracts the two closest central defenders towards them.
As the ball is played into one of the forwards that has moved towards the ball, Irandust (#19), makes a run in behind. The forward player receiving the pass from midfield plays a first-time pass into the gap that has been created. Irandust runs onto this pass and is through on goal. He carries the ball forward and finishes from inside the box.
One of AIK’s best chances from the match came from a well-worked corner early in the first half. This was to be one of just two corners they won throughout the match and the only one with a rehearsed routine. The other was a quickly taken kick before the Häcken players could organise themselves.
The image above shows the moments just before Larsson delivers an out-swinging ball from AIK’s right side. Häcken are defending the corner with a mix of zonal and man-making. With four men covering the most dangerous area, in front of the goal, there are not enough players available to mark all the AIK players in the box.
AIK have crowded the central area of the box with five players and have one, Rogic, at the back post. As the ball is about to be delivered, Rogic makes a movement behind the Häcken player closest to the back post. This means the Häcken player does not see him and he can make his next movement unimpeded.
As Rogic has made his initial movement, the five central AIK players all make runs towards the goal. Rogic then sprints into the space near the penalty spot that they have vacated. Larsson delivers a firm, out-swinging cross for Rogic to meet.
As the image above shows, just before Rogic makes contact with the ball, the five AIK players have made screening runs. These runs have created a barrier between Rogic and the defending Häcken players. Rogic now has a shot at goal, 11 yards out, under minimum defensive pressure.
Unfortunately for AIK, this well worked corner did not result in a goal. Rogic had to stretch for the ball just enough that he pulled his shot slightly wide of the target.
AIK are now in 13th position in the Allsvenskan, just one point above the relegation playoff place and three above automatic relegation. This must be a concern with 12 games to go. Whilst they have been competitive in almost every game this season, and often dominate in terms of possession, they are not creating or taking enough chances. Their goalscoring record is now the worst in the Allsvenskan.
Häcken moved up to second place in the league with this victory, six points of the top, and have won five of their previous six games. Their formidable form appears to have arrived at the right time of the season. With their perfect blend of solid defence, with the joint fewest goals conceded, and positive, attacking play, they have a chance of pushing Malmo all the way for the title.