Round 19 of matches in the Swedish Allsvenskan season saw a midweek relegation battle between 14th placed Helsingborg and 15th placed Kalmar. Both sides had managed just three wins each so far this season and have the worst goal difference in the league.
Despite their wretched form, a win for either side would have been enough to pull themselves up to twelfth. This would have put them above AIK in what is shaping up to be a five-team scrap to avoid relegation.
This tactical analysis will provide an analysis of the tactics of Helsingborg and Kalmar. The focus of the analysis will be how Kalmar limited Helsingborg’s chances early in the game by deploying a mid to low block and Helsingborg’s response to it.
Helsingborg manager, the former EPL, La Liga, and Serie A defender, Olof Mellberg, stuck with the five at the back which earned his side a valuable victory against Djurgården before the international break. His side lined up in a 5-3-2 formation. The only personnel change was Svensson (#15) replacing Alex Andersson up-front.
Kalmar manager, Nanne Bergstrand, also lined his side up in a 5-3-2 formation. He made three changes to the side that drew 3-3 away to Hammarby. Söderberg (#1) replaced Tobias Andersson in goal with centre-back Elm (#23) and forward George (#24) coming into the starting line-up.
Kalmar’s mid to low block
Kalmar spent the majority of the first half, and large parts of the second, defending in a mid or low block. Kalmar were comfortable with Helsingborg having the ball in their own half and Helsingborg enjoyed the bulk of the possession (58%).
Whilst 58% possession shows how dominant Helsingborg were, it also shows how difficult Kalmar made it for Helsingborg to break them down. Although Helsingborg scored, this was one of only two shots on target from open play in the entire half.
As the above image shows, Kalmar set up their block in a 5-2-3 formation. The three centre-backs stayed within the width of the penalty box and covered the two Helsingborg forwards. Kalmar’s two wingers tucked in beside the centre-backs and covered the two Helsingborg wingers.
Kalmar had two of their three midfielders stay in the central area. This shielded the Helsingborg’s forwards and made it difficult for Helsingborg’s central midfielders to get on the ball. The two Kalmar forwards were joined by one of their central midfielders. This created a front three which narrowed and dropped off the Helsingborg backline. This allowed Helsingborg’s back three to possess the ball under little pressure in their own half.
This image shows the Helsingborg right centre-back about to receive a pass from his central centre-back. As Kalmar had crowded the centre of the pitch, Helsingborg usually played the easier pass into a wide area. When this wide pass was played, and a Kalmar forward was close enough to affect the receiving player’s touch, this was the trigger for Kalmar to press.
The ball-sided forward pressed the ball with intensity as the players behind him shifted over to that side of the pitch. As the image shows, the two Helsingborg players ahead of the ball in the wide-area are picked up and unable to receive the ball. This usually resulted in the Helsingborg player having to play a backwards pass.
Helsingborg, having been encouraged to play down the sides of Kalmar and then pressed into playing backwards, usually ended up playing a high long ball in behind Kalmar’s backline. When the Kalmar backline read that a long ball was about to be played, they dropped off five to ten yards to defend the space behind them. These longer passes typically ran out of play or where simply headed clear by the Kalmar defense.
As the first half progressed, Helsingborg did develop more effective strategies in overcoming the Kalmar defensive block. This will be covered in the next section.
Helsingborg play into the block
Instead of playing around the outside of Kalmar’s block and being forced back, Helsingborg began to be braver in possession and, instead, played directly into it. The image above shows the moments after the ball has been quickly switched from Helsingborg’s right centre-back to their left centre-back.
Due to the speed of the switch, larger than usual gaps have appeared between the Kalmar lines. Instead of playing the easier pass to the central midfielder that has peeled off into wide area, the left centre-back plays into the defensive midfielder.
As the above image shows, the result of this pass into pressure is that it forces the Kalmar midfield to collapse on ball. This creates more space in the wide area and enough time for the central midfielder on the ball to progress with it under no immediate pressure.
The movement of the central midfielder who receives the ball in the wide area is also important. His high starting position, behind the two Kalmar defensive midfielders and in the half-space, attracts the Kalmar right centre-back (circled) towards him. This creates space behind him for the Helsingborg forwards to exploit.
The pass from the Helsingborg defensive midfielder breaks the Kalmar midfield line. As the central midfielder progresses with the ball, the furthest forward Helsingborg forward makes a run across the two far sided Kalmar central defenders. The right central-defender has still not recovered his position and the right-winger is preoccupied by the Helsingborg left-winger.
This opens up a big enough gap for a through ball for the forward to run onto. The forward receives the ball in the box and cuts it back across the face of the Kalmar goal. Unfortunately for Helsingborg, none of their forward players made runs into the box so the well-worked opportunity was wasted.
Helsingborg will be pleased that, in terms of possession, they controlled large parts of this game. However, for all their possession, they did not create as many chances as they would have liked, and they struggled to breakdown Kalmar’s defensive block.
Whilst Kalmar will be disappointed to concede a goal on the counterattack, from a defensive point of view, they will be happy with their performance. Their mid to low block was well set up and only occasionally did Helsingborg manage to break it down.
From an attacking standpoint, Kalmar were very ineffective in possession and caused Helsingborg no real problems in the first half. They upped their intensity in the second half though and if either team was going to score a winner, it was Kalmar.