Isak Johannesson is a wide forward playing for Norrkoping in the Swedish Allsvenskan. Having only recently turned 17, his impressive performances in Norrköping’s storming start to the season have been drawing attention. The Icelandic under 19 international was instrumental in his sides 3-1 victory against Göteborg last week. He contributed with the opening goal and an assist in an impressive win that put Norrköping four points clear at the top of the table.
Jóhannesson made his debut at the end of the 2019 league season appearing as a substitute at just 16 years old in a comfortable 4-0 Norrköping win. This season he has featured in all but one of Norrköping’s seven league matches, four of which he started. Whilst Jóhannesson has represented Iceland at youth levels, he also qualifies to play for England. This is because he was born in England whilst his dad, former English Premier League and La Liga player Joey Guðjónsson, was playing for Aston Villa.
Role in Norrköping team
As the above image shows, Norrköping head coach Jens Gustafsson usually sets his side up in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Typically, Jóhannesson (#27) will play on the right of a midfield four in an attacking role. Whilst Jóhannesson is an attacking player, he does have defensive duties which we will cover in the next sections.
Jóhannesson’s main role in the team is to create and/or finish goalscoring opportunities. He has an xG of 0.91 and an xA of 1.54. This means he is predicted to contribute to at least one goal, either by scoring or assisting, in every game. This is an impressive stat that shows he is adding value to the team. In fact, albeit at an early stage of the season, the only player in Allsvenskan with more assists is his teammate and former West Ham United player Sead Hakšabanović. Many of the goalscoring opportunities he creates are crosses-something we will analyse in the next section.
Crossing, whether from open play or set pieces, looks to be a key component of Jóhannesson’s game. It is his crosses that have been his biggest contribution to his team’s success, in terms of contribution to goals, so far. As the above image shows, he has completed 34 crosses so far this season. This averages out at 5.01 crosses per 90 minutes. This is the most in the league and the most in his team by quite some distance.
In terms of accuracy, 32.4% of the crosses he attempts find a teammate. From the 34 attempts, three have resulted in a Norrköping goal. This means should he attempt 11 crosses in a game, Norrköping can expect to score one goal. Interestingly, all three of the goals scored from his crosses have been from crosses along the ground. This section will break down a typical example of how he provides these crosses.
This image shows the moments before Jóhannesson receives the ball to provide a first-time cross for his teammate to score. It is the final phase of a quick counterattack – something we will look at in a later section. Having ran past the opposition left-winger (circled) when his team regained possession, Jóhannesson has slowed his run to stay onside. This allows his teammate to dribble with the ball.
His teammate dribbling forward commits the centre-back, which means the left-back is drawn closer to the centre-back to provide cover. Jóhannesson keeps his width, so is now in space and out of the left-backs vision. When the ball is played for him to run onto, the left-back does not know he is there, allowing him an extra pivotal second to get on the ball.
Jóhannesson’s pace allows him to run beyond the back four and onto the ball. Instead of simply lashing at the ball or hitting the first teammate he sees, he remains poised and picks out the perfect pass. His awareness is very impressive as he misses out his forward who has made a clever run to the front area.
This run has dragged the centre-back with him allowing space for the left forward to run into. Jóhannesson aims for this space at the back of the six-yard box. He knows his teammate will be arriving there as he has looked up and scanned the pitch whilst running onto the pass from his teammate.
Jóhannesson’s delivery is inch-perfect. The cross is strong enough to take out the goalkeeper and all the recovering opposition players. It is also slow enough that it is almost waiting there for his teammate to run onto and tap into an open goal. Impressively, this cross was with his weaker right foot.
This attack provides an almost perfect summary of Jóhannesson’s abilities. He had the initial pace and energy to run past his direct opponent, who never got near him again. He then had the positional intelligence to keep his width followed with great awareness of where his teammates were on the pitch. He then completed the move with a technically perfect cross.
In addition to his crosses from open play, Jóhannesson has also been handed the responsibility of taking corner kicks on several occasions so far this season. These corners, when crossed, are always inswingers from the right with his preferred left foot. They are delivered with consistency to dangerous areas, curling towards the goal, and powerful enough to prevent the goalkeeper from coming out to claim them.
The two images above, from separate matches, serve to highlight the consistency of Jóhannesson’s delivery. Both images, from two separate games, show the moments just after the ball is kicked. Both corners have been preceded by similar movements by his teammates and in both, Jóhannesson’s curling delivery finds his teammates head in almost the exact same spot – near the edge of the six-yard box and in line with the near post. The power in the cross means that when his onrushing teammate meets the ball, it only has to be guided towards the goal without the player having to generate power. The speed of the ball and the curve, enough that if left untouched would find its way into the goal, means the goalkeeper must remain on his line. This gives more space in front of the goal for his teammates to attack.
Good set-piece delivery is always a dangerous weapon to have. This is especially true in a team that appears to value them (corner kicks in particular) so highly. Norrköping display well thought out and rehearsed routines on a weekly basis. Jóhannesson’s ability in these situations may go a long way in securing him his starting place in the team.
Counter Attacking Threat
It would be remiss to analyse Jóhannesson’s game without highlighting his willingness to run for his team during matches. Set pieces aside, his contribution to goal-scoring chances often come after lung-busting runs from deep in his teams own half as they spring a counterattack.
As this section will show, he is willing to drop deep to defend as part of his team’s defensive unit in a mid or low block before breaking forward with extreme pace. In fact, he has won the ball back for his team in his teams own defensive third almost as much as he has in the final third.
This image shows the starting phase of a Norrköping counterattack. The Norrköping left-back is just about to intercept the ball. Notice how deep Jóhannesson (circled in the middle of pitch) is positioned. He has dropped to his defensive third of the pitch and is behind the ball. As soon as it is clear is teammate is going to intercept the ball Jóhannesson begins his forward run.
Within seconds of the ball being recovered, it has been played out to Norrköping’s left forward. Jóhannesson has his head down and is running full pace towards the opposition goal. At this point, all four opposition midfield players are closer to their goal than Jóhannesson is.
The wide forward (out of shot) received the ball and dribbled 10 yards or so with the ball. When the wide player looks up, Jóhannesson is ahead of him and available at the edge of the box. At this point, having outrun his opponent’s entire midfield and most of their defence, there is just one defender between him and the goal. When he receives the ball his excellent first touch takes him past the defender and he finishes clinically.
This was a similar scenario to the one where Jóhannesson assisted the goal with a cross and shows his importance to Norrköping’s counter-attacks. As much as his sublime finish emphasised his ability in this instance, his desire to get forward to contribute to goals and the pace at which he does it, are equally as impressive and important to his team. Counterattacking is a part of deliberate tactics deployed by Norrköping and Jóhannesson fits into it perfectly.
Having only turned 17 in March, Jóhannesson has a long way to go before proving he belongs at the top level of football. The early signs of great potential are their though. His athleticism, awareness, and technical ability are as good as almost anyone in the league he is currently playing in.
It may not be long before clubs in Europe’s more prestigious leagues come looking, but at this stage in his career, he appears to be in the right place. Norrköping have gradually introduced him to first-team football and have given him opportunities which he has grabbed with both hands. He seems a good fit for Norrköping’s style of play and he will surely get enough playing time this season to continue developing. Should he and Norrköping keep up their impressive start to the season he may even grace the Champions League next season. If he continues on his current trajectory, that will be where he belongs.