The midweek fixtures in the Swedish Allsvenskan threw up an important clash at the top end of the table. Djurgarden travelled to Hacken knowing a win would see them leapfrog their hosts into second place. For Häcken, a win would have put them within 7 points of league leaders Malmö.
Häcken’s recent form has been disappointing, having picked up just one win in their last six games. That win came against relegation-threatened Falkenberg. Djurgården, meanwhile, entered this game full of confidence having scored seven goals in their previous two outings. Three of those coming in an impressive 3-2 victory over Malmö.
Häcken head coach Andreas Alm set his side up in a 4-3-3 and made just two personnel changes from Saturdays 2-2 draw at home to Mjällby. Johan Hammar (#3) and Ahmed Yasin (#7) both came back into the side with former Barcelona player, Godswill Ekpolo (#5), starting at right-back.
Djurgården lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation with just one enforced change from Saturdays 4-0 win over Sirius. Suspended Jesper Karlstrom was replaced by Magnus Eriksson (#7). This meant Ulvestad (#23) moved back into his usual defensive midfield position alongside one-time youth team player with EFL club Middlesbrough, Curtis Edwards.
Häcken’s movement in wide areas
Both Häcken and Djurgården created the majority of their goalscoring opportunities through crosses or cutbacks. These usually came from deliberate, well-worked, phases of play in the wide-areas. Whilst similar in outcome, the two sides had distinctly different approaches to achieving the same goal.
This section will analyse the link-up play and player rotations that Häcken used to create crossing opportunities. The next section will examine how Djurgården’s crosses came on the back of long-diagonal passes into the wide-areas.
The above image shows the moments before Häcken launch an attack down their left wide-area. Typically, Häcken kept their full-backs in advanced positions whilst in possession. This allowed their full-backs to link-up with their wide forwards.
Here, Häcken’s left centre-back plays a pass into the feet of his left-forward. The left-forward takes his first touch inside the pitch. His first touch draws the Djurgården right-back towards him and leaves space behind the right-back.
The left-forward’s first touch inside the pitch is a trigger for his left-back to make an overlapping run. Simultaneous to this run, Häcken’s central-forward makes a short darting run towards the ball which allows the left-forward and central-forward to link up.
The left-forward passes to the central forward whose positioning and body shape allows him to play a first time pass in behind Djurgården’s right-back. The overlapping Häcken left-back runs onto the pass and cuts the ball back across the goal creating a goalscoring opportunity.
The above tactical diagram shows a typical example of the player rotations Häcken utilised to create space in wide-areas. In this example, the right centre-back has possession of the ball. The right-sided central midfielder makes a movement in between the right centre-back and the right-back.
This movement by the central midfielder allows his right-back to move even higher up the pitch. The right-back advancing means the right-back and right-forward are effectively doubling up on the Djurgården left-back. Häcken’s right-forward then makes a movement towards the Djurgarden left-back to engage him, then moves towards the ball to drag the left-back out of position.
The central midfielder showing for the ball in the right-back position not only allows the right-back to advance but also prevents the Djurgården left-forward from simply tracking the right-backs run. With the Djurgården left-back now out of position, this leaves the right-back wide open. There is also now space behind the left-back for a central midfielder to make a run in behind.
The above image shows the moments after the movements in the tactical diagram have occurred. The central midfielder was pressed in such a way by the Djurgården left-forward that he was unable to play a ball to his right-back directly. Instead, he played a high ball into his central midfielder who had made a run in behind the Djurgården left-back.
When the onrushing central midfielder received the ball, he bounced it out wide to his right-back. With the right-forward having drawn the Djurgården left-back out of position and the Djurgården left-forward unable to track him, the Häcken right-back has plenty room to deliver a cross.
On some occasion these rotations were adapted slightly, for example, the central midfielder dropped centrally between the centre-backs instead of going into a wide area. This allowed the centre backs to split wide, and the full-backs to push up. With the fullbacks being high and providing the width, the wide forwards were able to play more centrally.
These adaptable rotations and clever link-up movements created lots of crossing opportunities, especially from the full-backs, throughout the match.
Djurgården’s long diagonals
Djurgården appeared to have a similar game plan to Häcken’s in that they wanted to work the ball into deep, wide-areas to create opportunities to cross. What differed from Häcken is how Djurgården got the ball into these areas.
Djurgården were at times more direct than Häcken and looked to switch the play via long, high, diagonal balls, usually aimed over the opposite full-backs head. The quickness of when these passes were delivered varied. At times they would be played immediately after a turnover of possession. At other times, they came after longer periods of possession that moved Häcken’s players out of position first.
To create space for his right-back, the right-forward makes a run across the Häcken left-back towards the central area. This movement drags the left-back centrally, creating space for the ball to be played into and giving the Djurgården right-back more time to control it.
As the right-back controls the ball, the Häcken left-back tries to recover and close-down the right-back. The left-back rushes to prevent the right-back from crossing the ball and leaves the right-forward unmarked. The right-forward recycles his run to support his right-back. The right-back then lays the ball to his right-forward who crosses from a deep position.
The above image shows Djurgården facing a completely different scenario from the first image in this section. Instead of Häcken being set in a block, they are spread out, having pressed Djurgården intently in Djurgården’s half of the pitch. Although facing a different scenario, the aim, to play a long diagonal behind the full-back, remained the same.
By being patient and keeping possession, particularly between their central midfielders and centre-backs, Djurgården enticed Häcken’s front players to press. This means the Häcken right-forward (circled) is struggling to catch the Djurgården left-back who has made a run behind the Häcken right-back.
The Djurgården left-forward has moved inside the pitch and is occupying the Häcken right-back. This leaves plenty of space for the central midfielder to aim his diagonal pass at. On this occasion, the Häcken right-forward and right-back recovered in time to make completing a cross difficult. Being 2-0 up at this point, Djurgården were happy to keep possession. Instead of attempting a cross the left-back instead played a backwards pass to a teammate.
Whilst on this occasion they kept possession, there were occasions Djurgården’s approach could be viewed as wasteful. Often, especially early in the game, they turned over possession numerous times. However, as the game wore on, they were more selective of when they played these long diagonals.
Häcken, having had the majority of possession and created good opportunities from crosses, will be disappointed that they could not trouble the Djurgården goalkeeper more. Their recent form has been disastrous. With only one win from their previous seven matches, Häcken will have to turn things around quickly if they want to claim a European spot.
Djurgården will be pleased with the way they implemented their game plan and how well they controlled the match in its closing stages. Whilst challenging for the league would require a monumental collapse by Malmö, this at least puts Djurgården in the driving seat to claim second spot.