In the recent match-up in 2020 Allsvenskan, Elfsborg hosted Djurgarden as both teams were vying to get back to the top-4. Elfsborg came into the game looking to bounce back after a humiliating 6-0 defeat at the hands of Hacken. While Djurgaden looked to make it two wins in as many matches.
Elfsborg lined-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that became very narrow without the ball with a flat 4-5-1 shape. After a red card in the last match, Simon Strand had to make way for Christopher McVey who occupied the right-back spot for this game.
Djurgarden seemed to be lining up in a 4-4-2 formation but they went with an attacking 4-3-3 shape. With the arrival of Augustinsson to the left-back position, Elliot Käck moved up into the winger role and Jonathan Ring shifted to the opposite wing. The image above shows that Curtis Edwards seemed to be lining up front along with Holinberg, but he was more of No. 10 who dropped into the midfield during the build-up.
Elfsborg without possession
Elfsborg without the ball was in a very narrow shape. Their wingers Alm and Karlsson were playing just behind their striker, Frick. Olsson who is a CAM would drop into the midfield to make their defensive shape into a 4-3-2-1 structure, similar to a Christmas tree. This would eventually drop into the flat 4-5-1 formation that we mentioned before.
This shape of theirs would move zonally from one wing to the other. When the ball shifts to the other wings, the midfielders and the forwards would move towards that wing and try to squeeze the space for opposition players.
In the image below, we can see that their midfield has completely occupied their right-wing. Their left central-midfielder has moved into the central space due to this zonal marking.
They didn’t press with high intensity either as they tried to defend in a mid-block. This can be said by their PPDA value which is just 18.8 for the entire match. Although this goes up to 14.6 in the 2nd half as Elfsborg showed much more intention to win the match. Hence they shifted to a more expansive 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-2 formation from a flat 4-5-1.
Djurgarden with possession
With possession, Djurgarden went into a 2-3-5 shape with the full-backs inverting and playing in the midfield. This is similar to how Manchester City go about when they try to build their play under Pep Guardiola.
As the game passed on due to the compact shape of Elfsborg, Djurgarden was unable to link the attack and defence effectively. Hence, they decide to drop KarlStrom back into the midfield to shift to a 2-4-4 shape.
Since they didn’t have much of the central space to penetrate Elfsborg, they would try to bombard the boxes with crosses from their full-backs or wingers. The image contains the crosses delivered by them. A lot of black lines indicate that most of them were intercepted by the opponent.
Over 42% of Djurgarden’s attack came from their left-flank as they used Käck to get into advanced positions with space outside the box and deliver crosses. When we look into the average positions of the Elfsborg players we can see that their positions, especially the midfielders’, were skewed to their right-flank.
As said before due to the zonal marking, their players would shift flanks based on the location of the ball. This can prove that Djurgarden mostly kept building up from their left-flank. The image shows the average locations of those players and we can see the skewness.
They would try to build from the back against the press of Elfsbrog. Their centre-backs would split giving the space for one of their defensive-midfielder to drop. This would put Elfsborg’s forward in a dilemma as to whether press the defender or cover-shadow the midfielder. The full-backs too are positioned higher because of this extra support offered by the midfielder.
As we said before they would try to stretch the field as much as they can like how Manchester City would. This open space for them in the half-spaces. In the image, we can see Ring having the ball after receiving it in the wing. Immediately, Edwards signals to him to pass the ball as he moves into that space (red arrow).
They would also try to play balls in behind the defence by pinning the defenders with their forward line. This gave the likes of Käck to work with a huge amount of space. When the full-back comes out to press him, another huge space is vacated by that full-back which the forward can use.
This tactic is used in a similar fashion by Liverpool to put balls in the space for their forwards. In the example below, we can see how Djurgarden tried to use that approach.
But it was intercepted by the Elfsborg’s defence for most parts of the game. Djurgarden’s decision making in the final third let them down big time in the game.
Djurgarden without possession
Djurgarden would try to win the ball immediately after conceding possession. They averaged a PPDA of 9.1 in the match. As they would try to press in a 4-4-2 shape, with one of the forwards marking one of the centre-backs while the other forward would mark the central-midfielder who would drop deep.
In the 2nd half, Djurgarden decided to change the way of pressing, when they pressed higher, by asking Edwards to press the other centre-back and one of the CM to come up higher to mark the defensive midfielder.
In the image below we can see that Edwards marks Nilsen and follows him to ensure that the defenders do not play the ball to him and the passing lane to him is shut as they dropped into a mid-block.
This is similar to how Manchester United press in a 4-2-3-1 formation with their No. 10 marking the defensive midfielder while the likes of the wingers pressing the full-backs.
Elfsborg with possession
Elfsborg also tried to build the play from the back like how Djurgarden did. They also tried to play long-balls to one of their forwards in the wings where they have found space. In the image below, we can see that one of the forwards has found space at the blindside of the full-back. Now with a simple long-ball, Elfsborg gets a 2v1 advantage in the wing when the full-back advances forward.
Due to some issues in the pressing of Djurgarden in the first half, Elfsborg also found it easy to build from the back. When Djurgarden pressed high with two forwards, they tried to mark one of the defensive midfielders with one of their forwards.
But Elfsborg had another midfielder to drop and this created a numerical advantage to build-up efficiently as the other players were confused whom to press when they were in a 2v1 situation.
They also tried to shift their right-back into a 3rd centre-back. This ensured that their left-back stayed higher and positioned himself as a wing-back while the winger on the right-side dropped back as a wing-back to provide width.
This ensured that the forward line had a CAM and they pinned the 4 defenders narrow. Now a long-ball is played into space for the forward as he makes a run.
Karlson, being one of the forwards, would always stay on the blindside of the right-back and wait for the ball to come at him. We can see 2 different examples where he found himself in such positions and both of them led to a shot on target.
Elfsborg also tried to hit Djurgarden on the counter as they tried to lure them forward, break the play and hit them on transition.
In the example below, after clearing a cross into the box, Elfsborg worked their way out when Djurgarden counter-pressed. This took out 8 Djurgarden players and they were in a 2v1 situation immediately.
Both the teams struggled to create quality goal-scoring chances in the match as their questionable decision making and some good defending nullified each other. Elfsborg emerged victorious as they grabbed a late winner courtesy of an own goal from Une Larsson. The win took them to the 2nd spot behind leaders Norrkopping as both of them are tied at 20 points albeit Elfsborg playing 2 matches more.