Whilst form is impossible to judge at this stage, Copenhagen’s results in recent games had certainly been better than their opponent’s. Randers had won just one of their previous five whilst Copenhagen won three of their last five domestic matches, losing just one. Their impressive domestic run has also been replicated in the Europa League. A famous 3-1 victory at Celtic earning them a spot in the last 16. The previous meeting between the sides back in August was won in the narrowest of circumstances – a 90th-minute own goal giving Copenhagen a 1-0 win.
In this last game before the Superliga splits, Randers needed to win to have any chance of being in the top half. Copenhagen entered the game hoping a win would keep them in touch with the top of the table Midtjylland and a coveted Champions League spot. In this tactical analysis, we will look at the attacking tactics of Copenhagen and do an analysis of how Randers were forced to adjust their game plan.
Both teams set up in their usual 4-4-2 systems. Copenhagen in a traditional 4-4-2 with their wide midfielders supporting the attackers. Randers began with a diamond in midfield which could be described as a 4-1-3-2. Lauenborg (#14) got closer to the two strikers with Rømer (#6) sitting back. The left midfielder, Greve (#22) and right midfielder, Kehinde (#21), tucked in to complete the diamond shape. They did, however, change this during the match to a straightforward 4-4-2.
Copenhagen’s attacking movement
Copenhagen showed intelligent movements against Randers’ back four to create space, particularly in wide areas. These movements involved the wide midfielder moving from an advanced, wide position and dropping into the half-spaces in front of the Randers’ full-backs.
The example above shows a play that began on Copenhagen’s left and has been switched to the right via Copenhagen’s playmaker Zeca (#10). When Zeca received the ball, he was pressed from behind by one of Randers’ forwards. This opened up a spare centre-back, in this case, Nelsson (#25).
As Zeca looked to pass to Nelsson, this was the trigger for Pep Biel (#16), to move inside. Randers left-back, Kopplin (#15), followed Pep Biel, opening up space for Varela (#2) to run into.
Here we see how much space this movement has created for the advanced right-back. As the left-back desperately tries to recover, Copenhagen have created a four on three in the middle of the pitch.
The two forwards and two wide midfielders all make forward runs beyond the Randers backline. This same movement recreated further up the field resulted in Copenhagen’s second goal.
Copenhagen’s attacking movement variations
Using the same initial movements of the wide midfielder moving inside, Copenhagen had two other variations. In the example above, the wide midfielder receives the ball instead of it being played into the channel for the full-back. Perhaps because of Copenhagen’s earlier success in getting in behind by going down the outside, the left-back is preoccupied with Varela. To avoid being beaten down the sides again, the left-back passes on Pep Biel to his centre-back.
This overcompensation allows Copenhagen to create a two on one on the near sided centre-back. As the ball is played into Pep Biel, the centre-back presses the ball leaving the forward, Kaufmann, open. Pep Biel then slides the ball through into Kaufmann who is in on goal.
In this variation, Copenhagen are attempting to counter-attack with a quick long ball. Pep Biel makes a similar inside run but is missed out by a high ball to Kaufmann. Pep Biel’s movement gives Kaufmann the option to lay the ball back to him. The second striker, Daramy, running in behind gives Kaufmann the option to head the ball on.
These three variations of the same movements were highly effective in the early stages of the game. Randers were eventually able to adapt but only after conceding the two goals that effectively won it for Copenhagen. Randers did adjust though and all but nullified Copenhagen’s threat.
Randers’ defensive structure
In the opening stages of the game, Randers played with a compact midfield diamond and aimed to force Copenhagen down the sides. The image above shows Copenhagen’s central midfielder in possession.
Randers narrowed their wide midfielders and allowed their forwards to remain ahead of the ball. When Copenhagen’s midfield received the ball, one Randers forward pressed him from behind.
This image shows just how compact Randers are willing to be when the ball is on one side of the field. All four midfielders are in their right channel and the left-back has followed Pep Biel to the opposite side of the pitch. This leaves them very exposed to a switch of play if the ball is not defended right.
Randers’ forwards being ahead of the ball and their midfielders being compact allowed Copenhagen to switch the ball via their central midfielders too easily. Although the forwards pressed the midfielders from behind, this opened a spare centre-back. When this happened, the diamond became stretched and Copenhagen were able to exploit the Randers’ full-backs.
Randers’ defensive adjustments
Randers adjusted extremely well to Copenhagen’s attacking threat – albeit too late to win the game. During the first 30 minutes of the match, Copenhagen had an xG of 1.21. For the next 60 minutes, after Randers’ adjustments, the xG was less than 0.01. Even with 58% possession in the second half, Randers did not allow Copenhagen any goalscoring opportunities. This was done largely by two tactical changes.
As the image above shows, Randers switched from a diamond to a flat midfield. This allowed them to cover more width of the pitch and not be exploited so easily by a switch in play.
To accommodate this, the second change made was the forwards dropping deeper in front of the midfield. This shielded Copenhagen’s midfield and made it more difficult for them to get on the ball.
This example shows just how deep Zeca is now having to drop to get on the ball. Him having dropped so far towards his own goal allows Randers midfield to keep their shape and therefore not allow any gaps to appear.
This was key to nullifying Copenhagen’s dangerous movements from wide areas.
Now when Pep Biel moves into the half-space there is not a big gap between Randers’ left midfielder and near sided central midfielder. The left midfielder can now also shield a pass into Copenhagen’s right back.
If a pass does make it to the right-back, the left-back is now in a good position to cover it having not been dragged too centrally. This closing off of the passing lanes delays the Copenhagen player on the ball and allows their striker to press, win back the ball back and create a dangerous counter-attack.
Without any sustained periods of possession or attempts to break Copenhagen down, Randers still posed a threat going forward. The main source of their chances came from counter-attacking with long passes and crosses from deep into the box.
The image above shows the moments just after Randers have won back possession – Copenhagen players immediately collapse on the player with the ball. Instead of trying to be too clever with his pass, the player in possession simply plays away from the danger to the first open player he sees.
Because so many Copenhagen players press the ball, a pass away from the press usually finds a teammate in space. The player receiving the pass then looks to play forward quickly.
When Copenhagen’s backline is caught high, the two Randers forwards and closest midfielders make runs in behind. In this situation, Randers hit a high, long, somewhat hopeful ball over the top of them.
Most of the time this resulted in an easy regain of possession for Copenhagen.
Alternatively, and with more success, one of the forwards shows towards the ball. The player in possession plays up to the striker with midfielders making supporting runs. The forward, even when in space, lays the ball back the way he is facing to the oncoming midfield support. The midfielder then attempts to play a through ball.
Randers’ crosses from deep
Randers didn’t try to break Copenhagen down with intricate passing in the final third. Instead, when quick counter-attacks weren’t available, they would work the ball into wide areas looking to cross it. Although, as the Wyscout data shows, Randers did cross the ball when beyond the edge of the box, crosses from further out seemed to be the deliberate strategy.
Even when opportunities arose to cross from closer to the goal line, they would work the ball back. These crosses from the edge of the final third turned out to be the most effective.
The above image shows the moments before Randers goal. The ball had been worked deeper down their left before being played back to midfielder Rømer. With the two forwards and an advanced midfielder making runs towards the far side of the goal area, Rømer then swung the ball towards the back post. Riis (#9) rose to score with a header.
Whilst it ultimately came too late, Randers showed great tactical flexibility to counter Copenhagen’s attacking threat. Thomas Thomasberg, the Randers coach, must be frustrated he did not set his team up to play this way from the start but must take credit for his in-game reaction. Almost entirely nullifying Copenhagen’s attacking threat for 60 minutes was impressive and they could well have got something from the game.
Copenhagen’s coach, Ståle Solbakken, who played a season in the English Premier League, on the other hand, must be disappointed that they could not come up with more attacking solutions. Other than Zeca’s near-flawless display, and flashes of brilliance from the young Kaufmann, Copenhagen’s win was a somewhat underwhelming performance.