Matchday 14 of the Swedish Allsvenskan season saw high flying Malmo travel to Falkenberg. Malmö went into this match hoping to extend their three-point lead over Norrköping at the top of the league. Their recent form has been formidable. In their previous six league matches, they have won all six, scored 19 goals and conceded just five.
Falkenberg, who started the match in 12th position, were hoping a win would move them away from the relegation places. With just one win since the second match of the season, they are in worrying form. Had results gone against them, Falkenberg could have found themselves bottom of the division.
This tactical analysis will provide analysis of the tactics of Falkenberg and Malmö. The focus of this analysis will be Falkenberg’s asymmetrical back three and how Malmö adapted to maximise playing with 10 men for most of the match.
Falkenberg Head Coach Hans Eklund freshened up his side with three changes from the team that drew 1-1 with Hammarby on Wednesday. Keeping with the same 3-4-3 formation, goalkeeper Johan Brattberg (#1) came in for Viktor Noring. Central midfielder Melker Nilsson (#28) and forward John Chibuike (#11) replaced Marcus Mathisen and Christoffer Carlsson.
Malmö Head Coach, former English Premier League and La Liga player, Jon Dahl Tomasson, made three changes to his side that defeated Helsingborg 4-1 midweek. 19-year-old right-winger Amin Sarr, and midfielders Fouad Bachirou and Erdal Rakip missed out. They were replaced by Søren Rieks (#5), Bonke Innocent (#20) and captain Anders Christiansen (#10).
Malmö played the opening period of the match in a 4-3-3 formation. However, this game plan had to be quickly changed. Eight minutes in Malmö’s on-loan striker Isaac Thelin (#7) was sent off for kicking out at an opponent. Malmö went to a 4-4-1 with attacking midfielder Ola Toivonen (#11) playing as the most advanced Malmö player.
Falkenberg attacking down the right
Falkenberg played in a 3-4-3 formation with three centre-backs and two holding midfielders. When defending, the three centre-backs were narrow and played as a typical back three. However, when in possession, the left centre-back and central centre-back positioned themselves as if playing in a back four. As the above image shows, the right centre-back played more advanced and wider than the left centre-back.
Here we see the Falkenberg right centre-back, van Looy (#20) on the ball. The right centre-back being high and wide has created an overload on Falkenberg’s right side. As the right centre-back advances with the ball, the right-midfielder, right-forward and striker make interchanging movements.
The Falkenberg right-forward makes a run into the wide area. This is to pull Malmö’s left-midfielder (circled), who has dropped back in line with his defence, away from his left-back. This would open a passing lane for a through ball for the Falkenberg striker. The Falkenberg right midfielder runs into the space ahead of the Malmö left-back (circled). This occupies the left-back preventing him from closing the passing lane.
This image shows the extent to which the movements worked. The Malmö left-midfielder has been drawn out wide enough and the left-back is distracted by the movements of the Falkenberg right-midfielder. A passing lane has been created and the striker is poised to make a run in behind.
However, the movement of the ball was too slow and Falkenberg were hesitant in playing it forward. This allowed Malmö’s central midfielder (circled) to shift across and shield his backline. Even at this point though the move is not dead.
Had the Falkenberg right-forward, who is now in the wide area, received the ball this would have drawn the Malmö left midfielder wider still. This would have provided more space for a penetrative pass either from the right forward or the right centre-back. Instead, as was typical of Falkenberg in this match, they recycled the ball allowing Malmö to remain in their shape.
As will be analysed in the next section, Malmö were very disciplined in keeping their shape and did not allow themselves to be easily dragged. This meant that Falkenberg’s movements rarely created any threat on goal.
This image shows a Falkenberg holding midfielder on the ball. The right centre-back is again wide and high up the pitch. Whilst the right centre-back is available for the ball, the midfielder elects instead to play a long ball into the Malmö box. This strategy proved equally as ineffective at creating shots on goal.
Malmö defending with 10 men
Having had a man sent off in the opening stages of the match, Malmö had to adapt their formation and style of play. They changed from their 4-3-3 to a 4-4-1 and became more patient out of possession. Instead of pressing with intensity high up the pitch as they began the match doing, they dropped off into a mid-block. Scoring just moments after the sending off gave Malmö a lead to defend so they were happy to give up possession and remain compact.
The image above shows the moments after a Falkenberg free-kick just outside their own box. Malmö have dropped off into a mid-block and it is only at this point were the Malmö forward begins to put any pressure on the ball.
All of Malmö’s players are within around 10-yards of a teammate and there is not much space between the defensive and midfield lines. This makes it difficult for Falkenberg to play centrally into feet and encourages them to either play a longer riskier pass or into wider areas. Malmö found both scenarios easy to deal with throughout the match.
This image shows Malmö setting a trap for Falkenberg’s centre-back (circled) who is on the ball. As the centre-back has had all his central passing options cut-off, he advances with the ball at his feet. The Malmö defensive and midfield line drop off. This encourages him to come even further forward with the ball and leaves less space in behind for the centre-back to aim a long ball.
As this is happening, the Malmö left midfielder angles his body to cut off the wide passing option whilst beginning to press the ball. This leaves the centre-back no option but to play towards the crowded middle area.
As this image shows, Malmö’s trap has led to Falkenberg having only one real option which is to play into the forward’s feet. All other passing options are covered, and he does not want to risk being dispossessed in that position.
The Malmö midfielder closest to the ball is positioned to prevent a vertical ball being played for the forwards to run onto. This allows the Malmö centre-backs to stay close to the forwards. Because Malmö made the pass into the forward’s feet predictable, and the centre-backs are well positioned, the pass is easily intercepted.
When possession was won back, Malmö played forward quickly and tried to exploit the area the advanced centre-back had vacated. Falkenberg’s two shots on target throughout the match are a testament to how well Malmö organised themselves when out of possession.
The Falkenberg set-plays, and in particular, free kicks, in this match were interesting not only for the attacking routines but also for the creative way in which Malmö defended them. The image above shows a Falkenberg freekick from just inside the Malmö half.
Falkenberg have seven players on the edge of the box split to the left and right. The three on the left are going to make runs into the penalty area to feed off any second balls. The group of four on the right are making movements to free up centre-back Johansson (#4) (circled).
Johansson has made a fast movement from the edge of the box, around the side of the group of three Malmö defenders. The Malmö defender closest to him is distracted by Johansson’s teammates’ movements in front of him. As the ball is played, Johansson sneaks in behind.
The Malmö defender in the middle of the three spots Johansson and tries to cover the space where Johansson is going to meet the ball. However, the Falkenberg player circled, who is standing in an offside position blocks his defensive run.
Johansson now has a free header which he tries to play across goal for the onrushing group of three Falkenberg players. This header, however, is intercepted and cleared by one of the three Malmö players circled at the edge of the box.
Having initially given Falkenberg an overload on either side of the box, Malmö were comfortable giving up this numerical advantage for the first ball. This meant they could crowd the most dangerous area, right in front of the goal, and intercept the second ball. If Falkenberg were going to get a shot at goal from the first ball, it would be from a much tougher angle to score from.
Malmö are now four points clear at the top of the Allsvenskan. Despite losing a man so early in the match, Malmö looked comfortable defending with inferior numbers. Goalkeeper, Dahlin (#27), only had two saves to make during the match and neither were particularly troubling. Malmö were also still able to create chances at the other end.
For Falkenberg Head Coach Hans Eklund, this result and performance must be frustrating. Although playing against a good Malmö team in top form, playing against 10 men for 82 minutes he will his team should have produced more.