With the start of Allsvenskan 2020 being delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the season finally began on 14 June. This tactical analysis will break down how the tactics of Jens Gustafsson’s Norrköping managed to come out 2-1 victors against Jens Nilsson’s Kalmar.
Norrköping were able to name Sead Hakšabanović, recently signed permanently from West Ham, after being on loan last season, on the left-wing. His transfer fee is thought to be a record-breaking transfer for Allsvenskan.
Meanwhile, Kalmar had lost one of their key players from last season in Rasmus Elm. However, they could call on Svante Ingelsson, loaned back to them from Serie A’s Udinese after moving there in 2019.
Norrköping’s flexible shape
Norrköping scored very early in this game and this allowed them to control the game completely in the first half. They were very compact off the ball, making it difficult for Kalmar to find space to progress the ball.
Off the ball, they took up shape as more of a 4-5-1 than the 4-3-3 depicted in the lineup graphic. When Kalmar attempted to build from deep, the home side would press them aggressively, but if they couldn’t win it, they’d drop into a mid-block, where their 4-5-1 shape would become apparent.
Above we see the bank of midfielders and defenders, with Christoffer Nyman the man up-front. Henrik Lokqvist had the ball just inside the Norrköping half but there were no passing options available for him that didn’t have attention from nearby opponents. This forced him to pass backwards.
As Kalmar switched the play, Norrköping shifted across. In doing so, they showed the flexibility of their defensive shape as the right-sided central midfielder, Maic Sema joined Nyman to press, whilst Jonathan Levi, the right-winger tightened up the gap, forming a midfield four. Norrköping were now defending in a 4-4-2 shape.
This shape then quickly shifted to a 4-3-3 as Norrköping sensed they could steal the ball. Hakšabanović raced forward to cut off a passing option, forming a front 3. Although he did not steal the ball, Kalmar subsequently lost it by playing a loose pass, so this pressure was key.
A major issue was that Kalmar didn’t have anybody dropping into space between the lines to move the ball through the middle. Although their wingbacks pushing up in possession meant they matched Norrköping for midfield bodies, their movement was too static and Norrköping’s structure limited space for them to play in.
This meant that progression only really came down the wings, where they’d put in crosses from deep which were largely dealt with by Filip Dagerstål, who won 63% of his aerial duels contested.
Whilst Kalmar were struggling to build play and hold the ball for long periods, Norrköping were doing so regularly.
Clever rotations and one and two touch passing meant they were able to create gaps to play through and as much as possible they tried to build from the back.
In this example, observe how the defence and midfield have positioned themselves with the ball at the feet of the goalkeeper.
The two central defenders have split to either side of the penalty area, whilst the fullbacks have pushed up higher and wider.
The midfield three have all come very short to receive the ball to feet, but all are marked closely. This has left space for a chipped pass to either of the fullbacks or to Hakšabanović, who has drifted into the centre. Kalmar failed to create anything like a similar amount of space in which they could progress the ball.
In this next example, Norrköping were able to find similar amounts of space further up the field.
With the ball just inside their own half, Lars Gerson plays the ball inside to Eric Smith, the midfield pivot. He had the opportunity to play the ball into Hakšabanović, highlighted in the blue area in the foreground. This would have had to have been an excellent, first-touch pass, but it was possible. The other option might have been to turn and carry the ball forwards, looking to pass to Jonathan Levi, who had drifted inside from the right and was in a similar amount of space. Instead, he played it back as they went for the patient build-up.
Norrköping moved the ball quickly from here, playing a quick combination between the centre backs and defensive midfielder, before finding Thern. The quick passing meant that they were able to manipulate Kalmar defenders.
Thern then charged into the space created for him, carrying the ball into the Kalmar half. He passed to Hakšabanović who turned and dribbled forwards, where he was subsequently fouled on the edge of the penalty box.
Patient build-up like this led to Norrköping dominating the ball with 64% of possession. Their average length of possession was also almost double that of Kalmar’s, with 21 seconds for the home team and 11 for the away.
Favouring the left
That combination of Thern and Hakšabanović was the key to Norrköping’s attack.
Their movement and link play was too slick for the Kalmar’s right-hand-side and with Thern pulling out wide to support his left-winger it meant that they were able to consistently overload that side, leaving the right-wing back of Kalmar exposed.
In this example, Hakšabanović had the ball on the touchline, in a one v one situation with Piotr Johansson. He took advantage of the Kalmar wingback’s poor body positioning and skipped past him on the inside, before driving towards the centre of the field.
As he came inside, this drew two other Kalmar players towards him, leaving Thern and Maic Sema in lots of space in a central area.
Hakšabanović took advantage of this space by passing the ball through the gap between the two players who came to press the ball. Sema subsequently played the ball back to Thern, whilst Hakšabanović sprinted into space in behind.
As Hakšabanović made this run forwards, Thern carried the ball for a few yards before slipping the ball through for the Montenegrin to run onto. This led to a good chance on goal which had to be saved by Lucas Hägg-Johansson in the Kalmar goal.
Passages of play like this were fairly common in the first half, as the left-sided players played the ball between each other in one and two touch passing combinations. Those passing combinations, added to Hakšabanović attempting to dribble often (11/13 dribbles completed) meant that Kalmar did not have the Norrköping left-hand side under control at any stage during the first half. This is supported by the fact that Norrköping generated 1.12 xG from the left-hand side, which equated to 59% of their total xG.
It was this combination between Thern and Hakšabanović that led to the opening goal, though ironically, they were both in central positions at the time, rather than the left. They were positioned centrally due to defending a goal-kick that Hägg-Johansson had directed towards the right flank. Norrköping won the ball back in the air before Thern released his teammate to score.
Kalmar dangerous counters in the second half
After a dominant first-half, Norrköping found themselves level due to a deflected free-kick. This meant they had to press more in the second half and were taking more risks in attack. Subsequently, this meant they were leaving more gaps and Kalmar played through them on a few occasions which they were unlucky not to score from.
This next example will show how Norrköping’s shape from the first half was nowhere near as solid.
In this instance, Kalmar had just recovered the ball after a Norrköping attack broke down. Sebastian Ring and Svante Ingelsson burst forwards as Eric Smith attempted to steal the ball back quickly. Unfortunately for him, he overcommitted.
Ingelsson was able to touch the ball past him and play the ball forwards into the path of Filip Sachpekidis.
Taking it in his stride, he took a quick touch inside Dagerstål, another who had overcommitted and had to turn and chase back. He then played the ball into space for Ring to run onto, with no defenders between him and the goal. The chance was saved, but this was Kalmar’s best of the match.
With Norrköping switching up their tactics by trying to win the ball back in a much more aggressive manner, Kalmar were able to utilise passes into space as a weapon. This was shown by the fact that they launched 4 counter attacks in the second half.
As above, 83% of their total xG was created through the centre, despite fewer attacks coming from the centre. This is largely due to their incisive counters.
The Kalmar equaliser changed the course of this game, but this analysis has shown that Norrköping came out deserved winners in the end. This is backed up by the xG scoreline being 2.2-0.46 in their favour. Kalmar may have had more space to counter in the second half, but the home side’s dominance of the ball eventually told as Nyman scored after a cross to the back-post. This was the start to the season that Jens Gustafsson would have been looking for, with the only negative being Hakšabanović having to be substituted due to picking up a knock. Gustafsson will hope to have the Montenegrin back quickly as with him in their team, Norrköping will be contenders at the top of the table.