Matchday 12 of the Swedish Allsvenskan season saw 12th placed AIK travel to bottom of the league Kalmar. This was AIK’s new manager, Bartosz Grzelak’s, first game in charge having taken over on Friday. His chances of improving AIK’s recent form of one win in five were not helped by traffic problems on the way to the match. AIK were stuck on the team bus for an additional three and a half hours resulting in kick-off being delayed.
Kalmar, who survived relegation via the playoffs last season, began this game with just two wins from their opening 11 matches. Scoring goals has not been an issue for Kalmar but conceding goals has. Going into this match their defensive record was the worst in the league with 19 goals conceded in 11 matches with just one clean sheet.
Kalmar have used a variety of formations in recent weeks. In this match, they lined up in a 4-1-4-1. Manager, Nanne Bergstrand, made two changes to the Kalmar team from last week’s 2-2 draw with Mjällby. Erik Israelsson (#21) replaced Carl Gustavsson (#20) in defensive midfield. York Rafael (#16) came in at left-back replacing Isak Magnusson (#39). This meant Sebastian Ring (#3) moved from left-back to right-back.
Rikard Norling made just one personnel change to the AIK team that lost 1-0 to Djurgården last week. The experienced Rasmus Lindkvist (#20) came in at left-back with Eric Kahl (#29) moving to a more advanced wide position. AIK lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, a change from playing three at the back as they have done for much of the season. Former English Premier League player Sebastian Larsson (#7) played in midfield alongside Enoch Adu (#8).
Kalmar’s front five
Kalmar lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation but when in possession, they pushed several players forward ahead of the ball. This often created a front five playing up against AIK’s back four giving Kalmar numerical superiority high up the pitch.
Usually, this involved the central-forward, both wide-midfielders, one of the central midfielders and an advanced full-back. From these advanced starting positions, the forward players created synchronised movements to try and displace the AIK back four.
The above image shows the movements the Kalmar players make from their advanced starting points. On the right side, the right-midfielder makes an inside run across the path of the AIK left-back. This takes the left-back in the pitch leaving space for Kalmar’s right-back to advance into.
Kalmar’s left-midfielder is also making a run in the pitch, but his run is threatening in behind AIK’s backline. This run leaves space for Kalmar’s advanced left-back (out of shot) to run into and also forces the AIK backline to drop off.
As the wide players make their runs, the central-forward stays high in between the two centre-backs and makes a slight forward movement. This forces the AIK centre backs to deepen and offers an option for a long high ball direct from the centre-back in possession. Should the centre-back play up to the forward directly, the left and right midfielders’ movements would give him the option to flick the ball on or lay it back.
The Kalmar central midfielder that is on the same side of the pitch as the ball, started between AIK’s left centre-back and left-back. His run, from the blind side of the AIK central midfielder closest to him, was directly towards the ball. His run engaged the AIK midfielder who followed him towards the ball. As the next image shows, this helps separate the AIK midfield from their defence.
As this image shows, the inside the pitch runs from the wide midfielders has significantly compressed AIK’s backline and forced them to drop off towards their own goal. The central midfield player’s run towards the ball has moved the AIK central midfielder in the opposite direction. This has created a big gap between the AIK backline and midfield. This gap allows the left midfielder, who is now central, or the central-forward to drop short and receive the ball at feet.
On this occasion, the centre-back played the ball out wide to his right back. His right back now has space ahead of him and plenty of options. He could play an early ball in behind the AIK backline or dribble with the ball at his feet. The space he has ahead of him means he could cut inside to commit an AIK defender and link up with a teammate or drive down the outside to create a crossing opportunity.
AIK’s dynamic midfield movement
During this match, AIKs two central midfielders were willing to cover a lot of ground and make runs beyond their forward players and into wide areas. This was particularly true of Larsson (#7) and it is the former Arsenal man’s runs that will be analysed in this section.
This image shows a move that started on AIK’s left side and was swung to their right-back who is about to receive the ball. As the ball is played out to the right-back the AIK right-midfielder runs towards the ball bringing the Kalmar left-back with him.
Because AIK are playing with two central forwards, both of Kalmar’s centre-backs are occupied. This means the near sided centre-back cannot shift across to fully cover his left-back.
Larsson, seeing that the centre-backs are pinned, makes a run into the gap created by his right-midfielders movement towards the ball. The near sided centre-back, distracted by and looking at the near sided AIK forward, allows Larsson to make this deep run unchecked.
As the above image shows, Larsson is now making an unmarked run, through space his right-midfielder has created, beyond the Kalmar backline. His right-back plays a deep ball into the Kalmar box for him to run onto. The Kalmar defensive midfielder (circled) tries in vain to catch up with Larsson but is never able to make up the ground.
Larsson sprints on to the pass and receives it near the touchline. Both of the AIK forwards and the left-midfielder make runs into the box for Larsson to aim a cross at.
In this example, from a deeper position and later in the game, AIK attempt similar movements. As the ball is swung from AIK’s left to right, Larsson sneaks behind Kalmar’s central midfielders. As the ball is played to the right-back, the right midfielder makes the same movement as in the first example to draw the Kalmar left-back out of position.
This time, however, the left-back does not allow himself to get dragged out into the wide area. Instead, the Kalmar backline drops off allowing them to stay compact. Larsson makes a similar diagonal run as in the first example but this time it is in front of the Kalmar backline.
Larsson receives the ball in the half-space in front of the left centre-back. Larsson receiving the ball here means the centre-back must close him down. This creates a two on two with the AIK forwards and the Kalmar right-back and right centre-back. Larsson crosses from this deep position creating a chance from which the striker should score.
These types of movements created the best goalscoring opportunities for AIK throughout the match.
Kalmar’s long throw
Most of Kalmar’s most dangerous moments in the match came from their long throw-ins by Svante Ingelsson (#11). These were utilised anywhere in their final third and were always delivered into the box.
This image shows a Kalmar throw-in 30 yards from goal. Kalmar having five players in the box and three on the edge shows how big a threat Kalmar perceive their throws-in to be. Both centre-backs went forward for them with Viktor Elm (#23) being the target for the throw.
Before the ball was delivered, Elm moved away from the ball, behind the AIK defenders. As the throw was about to be delivered, he sprinted ball side of the defenders and tried to meet the ball in the air. As Elm was about to head the ball on, the Kalmar players in the box surrounded him to collect any second ball.
The three players outside the box positioned themselves to meet any clearance that may come out of the box. If the ball did clear the box, they put it back into the danger area. Kalmar scored from this scenario on this throw-in but it was wrongly ruled out for offside.
In this example, Kalmar elected to throw the ball short and then cross from feet. The AIK players have just pushed up from their six-yard box as the ball was thrown. This shows how deep they expected the ball to be thrown- even from over 40 yards out. This was the only time Kalmar had a throw-in in their final third that they did not put directly into the box.
Kalmar must be content with both their performance and the result given their current circumstance. They had the better chances to score and Bergstrand will be pleased to have kept only their second clean sheet of the season. Despite their attacking style, they did not often look in danger of conceding.
For AIK, it is now just one win in their previous six Allsvenskan games. Bartosz Grzelak has his work cut out to get last season’s Swedish Champions League entrants back up the table where they will feel they belong. Whilst their midfield movement was good and they enjoyed the bulk of possession, they rarely threatened Kalmar’s goal.