The Swedish Allsvenskan entered matchday three this weekend with a clash between two of its biggest clubs. Reigning champions Djurgården travelled to Norrköping hoping to put a dent in their hosts’ 100% record. Last season’s fixture came on the final day of the 2019 season. Djurgården, needing at least a draw to win the league, found themselves 2-0 down after 14 minutes. On that occasion, they were able to score two second-half goals without reply to clinch the championship. There would be no such comeback this time around. First-half goals from Christoffer Nyman (#5) and Rasmus Lauritsen (#3) were added to by Jonathan Levi (#10) in the 83rd minute to give Norrköping a convincing 3-0 win.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at Norrköping’s tactics and how manager Jens Gustafsson kept their perfect start to the new campaign going. We will also do an analysis of Djurgården and the problems head coaches Kim Bergstrand and Thomas Lagerlöfmay may have to solve to replicate last season’s Allsvenskan title-winning success.
Norrköping lined up unchanged from the team that put four past Vs AIK last weekend. They were 4-0 up by half time in that game and held out for an impressive 4-1 victory. Hakšabanović, who made his loan deal from English Premier League side West Ham permanent this month, started in left midfield. In a change from last season’s 3-4-3, Gustafsson has stuck with his new 4-1-4-1 formation. As we will see in the next section, at times, it is closer to a 4-1-2-2-1 when they have the ball.
Djurgardens, who will enter next season’s UEFA Champions League at the first qualifying round stage, made three changes to the team that lost midweek. Elliot Käck (#5) replaced Jonathan Augustinsson at left-back for his first appearance of the season. Erik Berg (#21), who scored in the first game of season regained his place at centre-back. Edward Chilufya (#14) who started the first game playing on the left also regained his starting spot but in the central forward position after missing out midweek.
Norrköping in possession
As can be seen in the above image, Djurgården (dark blue) drop into a mid-block with a 4-2-3-1 formation. The Djurgården striker Chilufya only half presses, allowing the centre-backs to have the ball. Djurgården’s attacking midfielder (circled) Holmberg (#17) performs a kind of man-marking job on Norrköping’s defensive midfielder Smith (#6). At this stage of the match, Djurgården looked comfortable without the ball.
Norrköping’s main playmaker was not allowed time on the ball and there were no passing lanes into more advanced positions. Whilst Norrköping’s full-backs provided a good amount of width, they were not advanced enough to cause Djurgården any real threat. If the ball was played into them, Djurgården could shift across in time and remain compact.
Due to not being able to get a comfortable possession, defensive midfielder Smith began dropping deeper to get the ball. Djurgården were not willing to come out of their mid-block structure to follow Smith so he was able to pick up the ball easily. As shown above, we see Smith dropping and collecting the ball from the goalkeeper, allowing the centre-backs to split wide. The centre-backs now being much wider apart make it easier to swing the ball from side to side. This stretches Djurgården more, opening passing lanes. It also allows the full-backs to progress higher up the field and put pressure on Djurgården’s backline.
This image above shows the moments just after the Norrköping right centre-back (out of shot) has played into the right-sided attacking midfielder. The defensive midfielder, having dropped between centre-backs, is now progressing up the pitch. The full-backs have both pushed on allowing the attacking midfielders to occupy more central positions. Now Norrköping have four players attacking Djurgården’s backline as well as plenty support for the man on the ball.
In this example, Norrköping’s left attacking midfielder drags Djurgården’s right-back inside. This allows the right attacking midfielder to play the ball in behind the right-back for Norrköping’s left back to run on to.
Here, similar movements ahead of the ball resulting in Norrköping’s opening goal. Norrköping’s central attacking midfielder is slightly more advanced. The left and right attacking midfielders have moved from wide areas into the half-spaces and the striker, Nyman (#5), is threatening in behind. Djurgården’s left-back is distracted by Norrköping’s right attacking midfielder, Levi (#10). Levi’s movement, and (probably) the fact he has picked the ball up in that space before, take the left-back’s attention away from Nyman. Nyman takes advantage of this by making a sharp movement away from the nearest centre-back towards the left-back. Nyman then opens his body on the half-turn and demands the ball in behind.
Even at this point, due to Nyman’s speed, strength, and positioning, it would be very hard for the left-back to recover. The centre-back, on this occasion, misses out Levi. He plays a perfect high ball in behind for Nyman to run onto and he finishes well.
From the outset of this match, it was clear Djurgården were going to try and play over and/or wide of Norrköping’s compact midfield. Occasionally, long balls were hit into their central striker for midfielders to play of off, but more frequently it was long diagonals over the full-backs’ heads that were attempted.
Here we see just how compact Norrköping’s midfield can be. This allowed Djurgården little space to play into any of their more advanced players centrally. Djurgaden’s front three pushed up high and wide to stretch Norrköping’s back four both vertically and horizontally. This width isolated Norrköping’s full-backs, creating one-on-ones in the wide areas. Instead of attempting an intricate pass into their attacking midfielders’ or strikers’ feet, Djurgården hit a long diagonal for their wide forward to run onto. This was not Djurgården’s response to running out of ideas but a deliberate approach.
The above image shows a different scenario but the same direct approach from Djurgarden. Norrköping are out of their shape having just lost the ball. As soon as possession was won back, the Djurgården’s left forward got himself high and wide. The right-back then played a long diagonal pass to him.
As the ball is travelling from the right-back to the left-forward, the Djurgården left-back makes an overlapping run. The left-forward dribbles at the Norrköping right-back creating a two vs one. Instead of making supporting runs towards the ball, the striker and attacking midfielder make straight runs towards the box. This isolates the Norrköping right-back by not dragging the central defenders towards him. It would also put them in a position to attack a cross should Djurgården’s be able to work the ball into a crossing opportunity.
Whether originating from a counter or longer build-up attack, or with the wide forwards receiving the ball in the middle or final third, this always appeared to be the purpose – get the ball in advanced wide areas and create an opportunity to cross.
As the above visual shows, Djurgården attempted 21 crosses in the match (almost double what Norrköping attempted). Out of these 21 crosses, only 5 (24%) of these crosses found a Djurgården player and none resulted in a shot on target. Norrköping’s goalkeeper, Pettersson, came out to claim one and the rest were dealt with easily by defenders. Despite the lack of success, Djuargarden persisted with this game plan throughout and repeated it too often for it not to be deliberate.
Crosses from the right side generally came from Djurgården’s right-back, Witry (#16), after an overlapping run. The image above shows a cross coming in from the opposite side. Whilst Djurgården’s left-back did make overlapping runs, he was more often there to offer back-up support to left-forward Bärkroth (#19). Bärkroth, as this image shows, had success in creating room to cross by dribbling and deceiving his direct opponent.
Djurgården did well to create the crossing opportunities which meant the crosses were hit under just medium pressure from a defender. However, despite creating time and space to deliver the ball, the quality of the crosses was generally poor. Even had the deliveries been better, Djurgården still would have struggled to create many clear chances from them.
Djurgården’s build-up play was slow enough to allow Norrköping to position themselves to defend the cross. As the image above shows, seven defenders plus the goalkeeper, are within the 18-yard box. Five of those players are positioned centrally between the six-yard box and penalty spot. They have also been able to set their body shapes to defend the cross. This allows them to both see the ball and clear it away from goal should it come their way.
Djurgården have also only committed two players to the box, both of whom are being picked up easily by defenders. Working the ball to wide areas and crossing it is an understandable approach to use against Norrköping’s defensive set-up. Unfortunately for Djurgården, Norrköping dealt with these situations all too easily: either by winning the ball from the original long diagonal or defending the eventual cross. Too often for Djurgården, this resulted in a turnover of possession without a shot at goal.
Norrköping were impressive against the current Allsvenskan champions and earned a well-deserved win. Their build-up play created good quality chances and they looked organised and solid in defence. Their two-time Allsvenskan goalkeeper of the year, Isak Pettersson, looked very assured on the rare occasions he was called into action. Already a full Swedish international at 23, he looks like a great prospect for the future. Unfortunately for Norrköping, he confirmed this week that he would not be renewing his contract which runs out at the end of this season.
Djurgården’s preferred style of sitting of their opponents, being well organised, and hitting on the counterattack makes things particularly hard for them when they concede the first goal. In addition to their playing style, the six-month interlude between seasons and then having to play three games in quick succession, do not help any team that falls behind and has to chase a game – only two of the 19 games played so far in the Allsvenskan have been won from a losing position.
Whilst it’s very early days, there is plenty for Kim Bergstrand and Thomas Lagerlöfmay to ponder. They’ve now played just 10% of this season’s matches but have conceded 26% of the number of goals conceded during the whole of last season. Thye also rarely threatened at the other end. Losing two of their best players from last season – centre-back Marcus Danielson and the league’s top scorer Mohamed Turay, may prove too much for Djurgården’s to repeat last season’s success.