The final game of matchday 22 in the 2020 Eliteserien saw Haugesund travel to the SR-Bank Arena to take on Viking. This tactical analysis will look at the tactics employed by both Viking and Haugesund during the match. The analysis will focus mainly on how Viking failed to take advantage of a fast start, and how Haugesund adapted their tactics to limit the threat in the second half.
Viking manager Bjarne Berntsen set up his team in a 4-3-3 formation with Iven Austbø as the goalkeeper. Sondre Flem Bjørshol started at right-back, with Henrik Heggheim and Axel Óskar Andrésson the centre-backs, and Will Helland Vevatne at left-back. Joe Bell anchored the midfield behind Ylldren Ibrahimaj and Fredrik Torsteinbø. Veton Berisha (who was once on trial with Man City) speared the attack, with Yann-Erik de Lanlay and Zymer Bytyqi (formerly of UEFA Champions League side Red Bull Salzburg) the right and left-wingers.
Jostein Grindhaug set up his Haugesund side in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Helge Valvatne Sandvik starting in goal. Ulrik Fredriksen played as right-back, with Fredrik Knudsen and Benjamin Hansen the centre-backs, and Alexander Stølås at left-back. Kevin Martin Krygård played as the defensive-midfielder, with Thore Pedersen and Bruno Leite playing centrally ahead of him. Niklas Sandberg and Kristoffer Velde started as the right and left-midfielders, with Ibrahima Wadji the sole striker.
Viking were the dominant force in the early part of the game with Berntsen setting his team up to attack down both flanks. Both full-backs pushed high and Viking attacked in essentially a 2-3-2-3 formation or at times something resembling a 3-4-3 with Bell sitting in the backline.
The most noticeable thing about Viking’s attacking style was how they often completely vacated the centre of the pitch (shaded blue) during build-up play, a style similar to that of EPL side Leeds United.
Here we can see how Viking’s central midfield players have pushed up onto Haugesund’s defensive line and that the full-backs are hugging the touchline. In this instance, Bell has joined the attack, and Viking are essentially set up in a 4-0-6 formation with the full-backs also willing to join the attack and create overloads on the flanks.
With Haugesund remaining dedicated to their mid-block, Viking found it easy to get in behind the first defensive line and with each member of the second defensive line occupied by a Viking player, Haugesund’s full-backs were unable to engage the overlapping wide runners of their opponents.
With Haugesund’s defensive shape allowing their opponent’s full-backs to position themselves between the lines, Viking also excelled in creating space in behind for their full-backs to attack.
Here, Haugesund’s mid-block is seen in full effect. With the Viking ball-carrier crossing the halfway line, two of Haugesund midfield players have looked to engage. This creates yet more space for Viking’s full-backs to operate in. One of Viking’s front three, Bytyqi drops to receive the ball into his feet and is followed by the Haugesund full-back who is determined not to allow Viking’s key player the space to dictate. This movement towards the ball creates an abundance of space for Viking’s left-back to move into.
Note also how the same situation could easily occur on the opposite side of the pitch with Viking’s right-back also positioned between the lines.
In order to avoid these situations, Grindhaug instructed his side to change to a low-block when Viking’s centre-backs were in possession. This prompted Viking to focus their attacks more down the right flank hoping to take advantage of the attacking nature/lack of discipline of Haugesund’s left-sided players.
Here we see a perfect example of why Viking chose to focus on the right flank. Note how the body positions of the Haugesund left-sided players differ to their teammates. With these two players both facing forward, and rather flat-footed, it becomes easy for Viking’s right-back to get in behind. The overall threat of the attacking situation then relies solely on the quality of pass from the Viking centre-back, which in this instance was good.
In the final example, we can again see how Viking have completely vacated the centre of the pitch. With Viking committing so many players beyond this first line of Haugesund’s defence, it meant they would create numerical superiority once their full-back’s gained possession in behind their opposition counterparts. The quality of the final ball from Viking’s full-backs was however lacking, and they struggled to create any big chances despite the ease in which they could progress the ball on the flanks.
Viking’s press and counter-attacks
This part of the tactical analysis will look at how Viking complimented their attacking tactics with an aggressive press and counter-press, and how Haugesund were able to overcome it.
Viking pressed intensely for the majority of the match (recording a PPDA of 6.9), with the front three often joined by one or two of their midfielders as they pressed Haugesund’s defenders in possession. Viking’s press was space-oriented in that they would allow one of the centre-backs (usually Hansen) to have the ball whilst looking to cut off progressive lanes to the full-backs or centre-midfielders.
Upon losing the ball, Viking would utilise a man-oriented counter-press in that the closest player would quickly engage the possessor looking to force a quick turnover of possession before Haugesund were able to adopt their attacking shape.
The counter-press of Viking had some early success and they won the ball back in midfield on several occasions during the first quarter of the match. Having won the ball, Viking transitioned with great pace with at least one of the midfielders joining the front three.
In the above image, we can see how two Viking players are in close proximity to the Haugesund possessor and engage at high speed and intensity. The Haugesund player attempts to release the ball quickly but his pass is blocked and falls to the feet of Bytyqi. The two Viking midfielders quickly push forward and create a counter-attacking 4 v 4 for their team.
Viking also looked dangerous in counter-attacks from deeper, especially from Haugesund’s attacking set-pieces. Viking adopted their man-oriented press when Haugesund were deep in their half and used the pace of their midfielders and attackers to create overloads upon winning the ball back in such situations.
The above image, taken following Viking recovering possession during the second phase of a Haugesund corner, shows how the pace of Viking’s attacking players allows them to get beyond the retreating defenders and, in this case, create a 3 v 1 situation.
This situation developed into the best goal-scoring opportunity of the match and, with a better first touch from Torsteinbø, would have resulted in Viking taking the lead and most probably winning the game.
As the first half developed, Haugesund began to find it easier to beat the press. They did this in two ways, either through playing long for the impressive Wadji to get in behind or by a short passing sequence, again ultimately landing at the feet of the Haugesund centre-forward.
The above image shows Viking adopting their space-oriented pressing tactics. Berisha and one of the midfield players looks to close off the passing lanes both between the two centre-backs and into central midfield, whilst the wide attackers aim to prevent the passing options into the full-backs.
Synchronised movements of two Haugesund players allows them to play past the first line of pressing and progress play into their opponent’s half. The first of these movements is for the non-possessing centre-back to move beyond the pressing line, whilst the second is for one of the midfielders to drop deeper and receive the ball into feet.
A quick exchange of passes allows the second Haugesund centre-back to receive the ball in between the lines (shaded area) and play forward under limited pressure. A third movement follows, that of Wadji dropping deeper to receive possession and results in Haugesund having possession in their opponent’s half with five Viking players ahead of the ball.
The sole goal of the game came after a similar passing sequence to this, with Haugesund able to play beyond the press into midfield and from there play a threaded through ball for Wadji to run onto and finish calmly.
Haugesund’s second-half control
With their one-goal lead, Haugesund did a terrific job of limiting Viking’s threat in the second half. Grindhaug altered his team’s defensive structure when Viking were building up from the back, switching to a 4-4-1-1 mid-block with Leite (circled in the below image) pushing up to form a pressing duo with Wadji as soon as Viking crossed the half-way line.
In the image, we can see how this becomes a 4-4-2 with Viking having possession in the middle third. Haugesund are willing to give up a big space between their midfield line and the front pair, knowing that Viking will be pushing their midfielders onto the defensive line. The key here is the limited space afforded in between the banks of four which is a fair bit more compact than it was during the first half.
This is turn makes it harder for the Viking full-backs to position themselves between the lines, and with Leite pressing Bell or the centre-backs of Viking, the passes are played quicker and therefore in front of Haugesund’s defensive lines.
A second change Grindhaug made to his team’s defensive organisation was for one of the two deeper central-midfielders to cover the wings when a Viking full-back had moved beyond their opposite winger.
The image shows an example of a Haugesund central midfielder (circled yellow) moving across to cover the flank, the green circled area highlighting where he would likely have been positioned during the first half. The key to this change was knowing that Viking would continue to vacate the central areas and therefore Haugesund could rely on having only one central-midfielder marshalling this area when the other departed.
These two changes to Haugesund’s defensive tactics left Viking often being forced to cross the ball early and from deep. These early crosses were easily defended as the away side boasted numerical and physical superiority over their opponents in the penalty area.
Upon analysis of these changes, Viking are left with two obvious options. The first being to focus play centrally and between the lines, asking Bytyqi to play in the half-spaces for example. Berntsen, however, opted for the second option which was to bolster his team’s physicality and continue to accept the invitation to cross early by making four substitutions and increasing the overall height of his attackers.
Viking continued to prove rather wasteful in attack with their overall crossing quality sub-standard. They also struggled to maintain a series of attacks due to Wadji’s impressive performance leading the line. The pace of Haugesund’s centre-forward allowed him to stretch the play and offer a long pass option. Though, it was his strength and hold-up play which proved most influential.
The above image shows a typical occasion in which Wadji picked up a position deep of the opposition centre-backs. From this position, he is able to hold up the ball effectively and wait for support. Haugesund didn’t attempt to overload in transition, instead, they looked to get one or two players close to Wadji whilst one of the wide players looked to stretch the play.
Wadji’s performance was a stellar example of how a lone striker should play in a team using conservative tactics with his strength, pace and work rate allowing Haugesund to maintain control of the second half whilst giving up a large possession share (65%-35%).
Viking started the match well and really ought to have taken the lead themselves, their aggressive press and attacking full-backs creating opportunities in the first half. With a 1-0 lead, Haugesund made tactical changes that allowed them to control the second half despite being regularly out of possession and must be credited with a textbook away performance.
The result ends any hopes of Viking making a late charge for the European qualification spots and relieves any relegation worries for Haugesund, both teams now well set for a mid-table finish.