Top of the table Malmo welcomed struggling Falkenberg to the Eleda Stadion on Matchday 17 of the Allsvenskan season. Malmö began the match on a superb run of form with eight wins from their previous nine matches. They were hoping another win would extend their four-point lead over second-placed Elfsborg.
Falkenberg’s form coming into this match could not have been more different. Their previous 14 matches have produced just one win. They are now floating precariously above the relegation zone. When the sides met just two weeks ago Malmö ran out 1-0 winners despite playing over 80 minutes with just 10 men.
Malmö lined up for this match in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Perhaps with one eye on their Europa League qualifier on Wednesday, Malmö head coach, Former EPL and La Liga striker, Jon Dahl Tomasson made six changes to his side.
Missing out from last weekend’s 2-2 draw at Mjällby were suspended centre-back Ahmedhodžić and left-back Knudson. They were replaced by Nielson (#24) and Safari (#4). Central midfielders Lewicki (#6) and Bachirou (#21) replaced Rakip and Innocent. 19-year-old Sarr (#39) began on the right replacing Berget. Thelin (#7) replaced Nalic up-front having served his three-game suspension from being sent in off in the previous meeting between the sides.
Falkenberg manager Hans Eklund lined his team up in a 5-3-2 with no personnel changes to his side that drew 1-1 with AIK last weekend. Whilst Falkenberg typically play with three centre-backs, their wide players are usually more advanced creating a 3-4-3. This was very much a back five for most of the match with Wede (#6) and Englund (#25) playing either side of the three central defenders.
Falkenberg’s low block
The above image shows Malmö in possession of the ball just outside Falkenberg’s defensive third. Falkenberg are sitting in their low block with a flat back five just in front of the penalty box. Their midfield three are 10-yards advanced of the defensive line and the front two are 10-yards advanced of the midfield.
With all 10 outfield players within 10-yards of a teammate, this leaves little room for Malmö to break lines or play into the centre of the pitch. Falkenberg’s forwards dropping back onto Malmö’s central midfielders means any switch of play along the ground must go backwards first via Malmö’s centre backs. This gives Falkenberg plenty of time to shift to the other side of the pitch.
Typically from these positions, Malmö either went back to their centre-backs or crossed from these deep positions. Falkenberg dealt comfortably with both.
Malmö put in 37 crosses in this match. Of these 37, only 16 even reached a Malmö player and rarely did Falkenberg look threatened by them. As the image above shows, these crosses were mainly delivered from very wide or deep areas.
As the first image in this section shows, when the ball was in these areas, Falkenberg seemed almost to encourage Malmö to cross. They did this by only half-pressing the ball whilst denying Malmö the space to play passes into the centre of the pitch.
Falkenberg’s backline being so deep and their goalkeeper being off his line meant there was little space for Malmö to hit these crosses into. Falkenberg’s centre-backs also had a height advantage over their direct opponents. Despite so many attempts, these crosses produced little in the way of goal scoring opportunities for Malmö.
The above image shows a rare occasion where Malmö were been able to find space in the centre of the pitch in front of the Falkenberg box. This was done by a quick switch of play from Malmö’s left side to their right-back (circled). The switch was played over the Falkenberg’s forward’s heads.
This quick switch opened a gap between two of Falkenberg’s central midfielders. The right-back was then able to play into his attacking midfield players feet.
When Malmö were able to get into these positions, Falkenberg, again, elected not to fully press the ball. This was to encourage Malmö to take on a shot from outside the box instead of working it into areas where they would have an even better chance of scoring.
To encourage the shot from distance, instead of throwing themselves in front of the ball, the Falkenberg centre-backs nearest the ball dropped off slightly. They also split apart leaving a clear shot at goal. This was advantageous to Falkenberg for several reasons.
A centre-back pressing the ball would allow the opportunity for Malmö to play around him and create a chance closer to goal. If he were to press straight on, he could also be used to bend the ball around with the goalkeeper unsighted.
By splitting apart the goalkeeper has a clear sight of the ball and can set himself for the shot. With the centre-backs blocking the corners of the goal, the shot was inevitably hit straight at him.
Whilst Malmö enjoyed 65% of the possession, both of their goals came from counter-attacks. They created little in the way of clear goalscoring opportunities when Falkenberg had dropped into their low block. It was when Falkenberg pushed players forward that Malmö were at their most dangerous. Although Falkenberg defended deep for large spells, they did push players forward for set-plays and when they began chasing the game.
Malmö’s first goal came on the back of a Falkenberg freekick in Malmö’s defensive third. Falkenberg had sent all 10 outfield players forward for it and Malmö countered at pace and scored. Their second goal also came from a counter-attack when Falkenberg began pushing more players forward in search of an equaliser.
The above image shows the opening phase of the move that led to Malmö’s second goal. Malmö did not rest on their one-goal advantage and were brave in leaving players high up the pitch during Falkenberg attacks. Four of Malmö’s attacking players are ahead of Falkenberg’s midfield three.
The Falkenberg attack led to a shot at goal which the Malmö goalkeeper collected. The Malmö goalkeeper, almost immediately, looked to find his advanced attacking midfield player with a long throw. The attacking midfielder had stayed high during the Falkenberg attack in the space between Falkenberg’s defensive line and midfield.
Falkenberg had left four players to defend on the half-way line. When the Malmö attacking midfielder received the ball, this forced one of the Falkenberg defenders to press him. This, as the next image will show, created a three on three.
By receiving the ball and then playing it out wide, the attacking midfielder has not only drawn a centre-back out of position towards him, but he has also forced the left-centre back to engage the ball out wide. As the left centre-back presses the ball, Malmö’s attacking midfielder makes a driving run between the left centre-back and central centre-back.
The attacking midfielders run attracts the central centre-back towards him. With Malmö’s left forward (#5) occupying the right-back, the Malmö forward, Thelin (#7), is left wide open. A through ball is played for Thelin to run onto and he finished clinically.
Had Falkenberg’s backline decided to drop off and narrow, instead of engaging the ball straight away, they would have left less space between themselves for a through ball. This may have allowed them to slow down the attack and given their midfield time to recover.
Hans Eklund will be both pleased with how his Falkenberg sides game plan limited Malmö’s chances but also frustrated at losing two goals on the counter-attack. Their low block was well organised and Malmö failed repeatedly at breaking it down. Naturally, Falkenberg both created and conceded more goalscoring opportunities when they began to open up and attack more freely. Had they not conceded the first goal by sending everyone forward for a freekick, they may well have come away with a point.
With the overwhelming bulk of possession, Malmö may feel they could have created more clear cut chances in the earlier stages of the game. They were, however, clinical when Falkenberg were out their defensive shape. This result makes it nine wins from 10 and, Elfsborg losing, means they are now seven points clear at the top of the division.