After clinching a deserved title win last week, Midtjylland came into this game with full joy and ecstasy. They faced a tricky opposition in Aarhus GF, who had already defeated them at their backyard a couple of weeks back. This was a huge game for Aarhus GF as they have been putting huge pressure on Copenhagen for the 2nd spot, that could give them an opportunity to compete in the Europa League next season.
Aarhus GF came out victorious comfortably with a scoreline of 3-0 to take them two points within Copenhagen. In this tactical analysis, we will be looking into the tactics deployed by both teams. Let’s begin the analysis.
Midtjylland lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation that saw them make as many as 7 personnel changes from their title-clinching victory against Copenhagen a few days back. Ronnie Schwartz led the attack in place of Sory Kaba. Evander and Onyeka made their way back into the team for Anders Dreyer and Madsen. The whole backline was changed completely with Dal Hende, Nicolaisen, Manjrekar James and Dion Cools being the back-4.
AGF went into a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation from 4-3-3 after their 1-0 loss in the previous game. They went for an extra striker in the form of Patrick Mortensen in place of a midfielder, Nicolai Poulsen. The onus was on Benjamin Hvidt and Bror Blume to handle the midfield in the absence of Poulsen.
AGF without possession
AGF pressed Midtjylland higher as they tried to build out from the back. Mortensson would press one of the center-backs and Helenius would cover-shadow one of the central midfielders who would drop deep. It could be either Onyeka or Cajuste. The wide midfielders would press the full-backs with one of the central midfielders pushing higher.
The press would be triggered at times as they always would not make a man-man press. When the ball goes to a particular wing the players in that wing would employ man-man press with the others orienting with the formation systematically.
They had a decent PPDA of 12.4 as they would look at the right moments to force Midtjylland into making mistakes. They would press in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 formation like how they do in the image below. One of the 2 forwards would press a center-back when he has the ball while the other would mark cover shadow a CDM. The 2 forwards interchanges this role among themselves.
After the first goal, they maintained a mid-block with a high line that saw a tight zonal marking like Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid which made central penetration difficult for Midtjylland. Though at times their players found space, in the image above, in between the lines they failed to capitalize on that. Even the data suggests that almost 77% of their attacks came down the left-wing.
Midtjylland on the ball
Like they always do, Midtjylland would try to play direct passes from their full-backs to the forwards in space between the opposition full-back and centre-back. In the image below we can see an example of that. A ball from the right-back and Schwartz make a run into space. But in that instance, the ball is cleared by the defender.
In the example below, we can see that Mabil drops into the midfield which drags AGF’s left-back to follow him. Because of this, he has vacated a huge space into which Schwartz makes a run.
Like discussed before they would often try to build from the back and progress the play. Most of the time they were successful in thwarting the high press of AGF by working their way from their own-third to the middle-third. The image below has the passes made by the Midtjylland’s keeper.
Midtjylland would also try to break the play in the midfield and counter-attack similar to teams like Liverpool, Dortmund, etc. In the image below, we can see Onyeka breaking the play in the midfield and immediately Midtjylland counter. This has been one of their main strengths this season where they would break the play and immediately hit the opposition.
In the above example, they counter immediately. We can see Schwartz asking to play a through ball to him on this occasion but Onyeka didn’t spot him and drives on his own and loses the ball. Midtjylland’s decision making in the final third let them down in this match. Midtjylland also missed the presence of Sory Kaba in the first-half. Playing a long ball to him and after he wins the offensive duel, he threads a pass to one of the forwards making a run behind. Schwartz is not very strong aerially and this deprived Midtjylland to play a tactic that they did for the better part of the season. After Kaba’s introduction, he added that extra dimensionality, but Midtjylland’s decision making in the final-third coupled with AGF’s determined defending helped AGF to shut out the threats.
Midtjylland without possession
Midtjylland pressed very high by deploying a man-man, high intense pressing. Their pressing shape would be of 4-4-2 where the CAM, Evander, would join Schwartz to press one of the centre-backs while the wingers would press the full-backs.
Their intensity can be shown by their PPDA value of just 5.1. The value also went as low as 3 during the 60-75 minute phase. The defence too marked players man-man, with the 2 centre-backs covering Mortenson and Helenius while the full-backs covering the wide wingers. Midtjylland is pretty much known to be having a compact structure when they defend. Therefore they tend to leave a lot of space in the wings for the opposition. There were instances in this season where they would struggle against teams that had good wingers and midfielders can cross well. AGF is one such team who are dangerous from these areas.
Even in the reverse fixture a few weeks back they would take advantage of these spaces given to them by Midtjylland which resulted in a comeback win for them.
AGF on the ball
AGF would try to win the ball in the midfield and immediately they would try to play a ball to one of their forwards making a run in behind the Midtjylland’s defence. We can see that in the example below where after the midfielder wins the ball, the forward who has made a run signals him to play a long pass to him.
Once they win the ball the midfielders would always find the wingers staying on the blindside of the full-backs. Their direct approach meant that they preferred not to build from the back and would ask their keeper to play long balls to Mortensen. The image below shows his pass map beyond their middle-third.
Their first goal was scored similarly. After winning the ball in the midfield, the midfielder puts in a pass into the space for the wide midfielder. He would then immediately beat a defender, pressing him, by getting past him. After that, he would play a cut-back pass to his teammate (black arrow) who would then lay a cross (white arrow) to Mortensen, who was at the far post. Mortensen meets the cross and scores a wonderful team goal.
Their plan was to always exploit these spaces behind Midtjylland’s high line defence. An example of that is given in the image below.
They used Midtjylland’s man-man system to their advantage by deploying 3rd man runs during 4v4 situations. In the image below we can see that Mortensen receives the ball and flicks it to Helenius to his left. Here in the near wing, Ankersen makes a well-timed run and Helenius puts a through ball to him.
Midtjylland struggle to deal with corners
A team that is one of the best in the league in dealing with corners was ironically struggling on that day with set-pieces. The new-look back-line was all over the place when they were called upon to act. Eventually, AGF’s 2nd and 3rd goal came right after a corner.
Midtjylland went with a combination of zonal and man-man marking inside the box. All their 11 players were positioned inside to defend the corner. This left a huge space outside the box. Thorsteinsson, who picked the corner, rolled the ball into space outside the box and Hojor Nielsen scored a banger from that space.
In the above example, Midtjylland again failed to clear the ball from the corner properly. We can see Mortenssen, circled, having no marker beside him. After his teammate shoots the ball the rebound from the defender falls onto his feet and he scores the 3rd goal for his team.
Aarhus GF tactically outclassed a comparatively weaker Midtjylland team by 3-0. The xG stats also say AGF were the deserving winners in the evening, 2.43-1.07. Although Midtjylland lost, they will be least bothered about this result as they looked forward to UEFA Champions League nights next season. AGF meanwhile are within 2 points of 2nd place Copenhagen fighting for a spot in the Europa League with 3 games to go.