Nobody gave Sweden a chance at this summer’s Euros prior to the tournament beginning, and even now after topping their group they will likely continue to be underestimated. But the Swedes have been more than defensively solid enough to demonstrate that they could have what it takes to challenge even Europe’s elite at this tournament. Here is our tactical analysis of Sweden at Euro 2020.
system of play: 4-4-2
Janne Andersson has utilized a 4-4-2 in all three Euro 2020 matches so far, with inverted wingers in attack giving the shape a much more 4-2-2-2 look. Other than two goals conceded to perhaps the greatest striker in the world, Sweden have done a massive job defensively throughout the Euros and stopped both Spain and Slovakia from finding the back of the net. That defensive resilience has been led by Manchester United defender Victor Lindelof, and Chinese Super League centre-back Marcus Danielson. Robin Olsen’s also performed well in goal, as have the two fullbacks Mikael Lustig and Ludwig Augustinsson. While the midfield is not quite as illustrious it does however incorporate Sweden’s star Emil Forsberg, and veteran midfielder Sebastian Larsson, who’s made over 130 caps for the team. In central midfield, Albin Ekdal and Kristoffer Olsson have started all three games, with the more attack minded Viktor Claesson coming on in all three games to play a role on the wing. Alexander Isak has also been a regular up front, and has been partnered by Dejan Kulusevski, Marcus Berg and Robin Quaison at rotating moments. Other than Forsberg and Lindelof, Sweden lack the type of players that you would normally expect to top their group at the Euros. Despite that, Sweden have performed remarkable feats, coming out on top with a result in all three of their matches.
Their compact 4-4-2 system has been important to those results, inspiring both a solid defense and a charismatic attack. Their style of play within the system also works to suit the needs of players like Forsberg and Isak, which has been a massive help in leading their charge toward the top of Group E.
While their defensive stance is pretty standard of a 4-4-2, their build-up is certainly not. Sweden build out from the back using a back-three shape and adapt into a 3-5-1-1, to progress through the lines. Lustig, Lindelof and Danielson make up the back-three, as Augustinsson progresses high and wide on the left. This then allows Emil Forsberg to drift inside, where he will either pick up the ball in between the lines or drop all the way toward his defenders to receive the ball. The two central midfielders will also hang low to attract pressure onto themselves, allowing greater space for Forsberg to receive. Sweden emphasize the left in this build-up strategy, as pictured above.
At times, Lustig will also stay high and wide on the right, allowing Kristoffer Olsson to be part of the back-three instead. But the movement and rotation between Augustinsson and Forsberg always stays the same, as the Leipzig man rarely ever stays wide in these phases. The only other major thing to note about Sweden’s build-up is the occasional movement in deep of the second striker – the one not named Isak. Dejan Kulusevski performed this role in the Round of 16 against Ukraine, but more so to draw players out of position rather than to actually receive the ball. Sweden can keep possession and move the ball around nicely when they want to, they would just rather defend and hit their opposition on the break.
defensive principlesEmbed from Getty Images
While Sweden can get forward and strut their stuff, the basis of their group stage triumph has been reliant on their solid defense. Sweden strive to shut up shop and stop teams from progressing through the thirds and breaking lines. Even the strikers have an important role to play when defending, and often stagger themselves to track an opposition number six, without worrying too much about the presence of ball-playing centre-halves.
Sweden’s very compact 4-4-2 defense leaves no gaps in central areas for teams to play through, and forces opposition sides to attack around Sweden in the wide areas, and deliver crosses into the box. When we say very compact, we really mean it. If the ball is on one specific side, nearly every single player will also shuffle and position themselves to that side. This includes even far-sided wingers and fullbacks, who look to come to the middle rather than hold their width. On fast switches of play this could be an issue, particularly teams who are good at progressing into the wide areas. But against a team like Spain that were so patient in possession, they were able to shuffle rather seamlessly from side to side.Embed from Getty Images
Then within this shape, Sweden are also quite patient in winning the ball back. They look to let their shape do the work, rather than any sort of aggressive pressing to win the ball back on a tackle. In fact no team has completed fewer tackles per game (9.3) than the Swedes. They have however boasted an impressive interception rate of 12 per game, the joint third highest at the tournament, which showcases again the ease at which their shape and shuffling stunts the opposition from progressing vertically. Since teams are often forced wide, Sweden have also conceded the most crosses per game (33). But they’ve matched that wonderfully well, having completed 33.7 clearances per game – the most at the tournament.
Another key tactical note of Sweden’s defense is that their first mechanism for counter-pressing is usually the player that loses possession. If a pass is misplaced by the fullback, it will usually be that fullback who pressures immediately to win the ball back. If the Swedes become unsuccessful at regaining possession, they will resort back into their 4-4-2 shape and shut down the gaps. But their first instinct isn’t just to drop and find their shape again, instead to put pressure on the opposition, and look to win the ball back if they can.Embed from Getty Images
As we progress into the knockout stages, their resilient low-block may mean that opposition teams have better luck breaking them down in transition or set-pieces, where Andersson’s team are given less time to set up. But as far as the group stages go, only Robert Lewandowski’s managed to bag a goal against them…which is a super impressive feat.
attacking principlesEmbed from Getty Images
Despite topping their group, Sweden are by no means a possession-based team. They don’t like to have the ball for very long, and prefer to attack quickly through a very narrow shape. Their wingers will often invert into central areas, and link passes into the penalty area to the two strikers whenever possible.Embed from Getty Images
As the team’s narrowness in defense continues in attack, long balls are a natural fit that help Sweden achieve what they want. They look to engage their attacking players as quickly as they can, and through their narrowness have several options for knock downs and incisive play off the back of these moves. While Sweden had just 15% of the possession against Spain, they had arguably the best chance of the match through this long-passing approach, which eventually set Alexander Isak free on goal. Given that rough start, it’s no surprise then that no team has accumulated less possession at the tournament than Sweden’s shocking 35%. Despite that low amount of the ball, they’ve managed to score 4 goals in 3 games – a testament to their ability to create chances and then take them.
In Emil Forsberg and Seb Larsson, Andersson’s team have two outstanding set-piece deliverers who can then also naturally cross the ball to great effect. Operating in very inverted roles, the fullbacks also often advance into attacking positions to deliver balls into the box themselves and provide some width in an otherwise narrow team. In Dejan Kulusevski the Swedes also have a player with incredible dribbling and running power, which is a massive weapon for them to have as we progress into the Round of 16. They can play long passes into their big, tall strikers all they want, but if they’re having trouble breaking opposition sides down having a player like Kulusevski who can dribble past opponents will also be key. Finally, Alexander Isak has impressed throughout the tournament so far despite not scoring. At 6’4, his footwork and ability on the ball is quite remarkable. It gives him the ability to completely hold off opposition defenders and use his size and strength, while still retaining the ball and getting shots off from difficult situations. Thankfully Sweden haven’t needed his goals to progress, as the likes of Emil Forsberg have stepped up from that front instead.Embed from Getty Images
Statistically, their approach is also quite evident. They’ve won the fifth most amount of aerial duels at the tournament (18.7), many of which are won in attack by the front-two on long passes forward. Through these long, risky passes, Sweden have accumulated the worst passing percentage (70%) at the tournament, which is 5% worse than second to bottom Czech Republic. Despite that, their 9.3 shots per game tells a very different story, which plays into the fact that they play into the strengths of their players and look to take chances when they come along. Wasting no time at all in attack has been a significant strength for the Swedes, again having the best chance against Spain despite holding just 15% of the ball.
conclusionEmbed from Getty Images
Sweden have not been one of the most brilliant teams at this summer’s Euros, and topping their group is perhaps in equal part a failure of the other three nations. However, topping a group that many might have pegged them to finish bottom of is still an impressive achievement. Through a very succinct style of play involving narrowness in both attack and defense, Sweden have achieved more than the sum of their parts. They now head into the Round of 16 full of confidence, having only conceded goals to the world’s best striker. How far Sweden can go remains to be seen, but they should be commended for a formidable unbeaten run at the Group Stages of Euro 2020.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Sweden at this summer’s European Championships. Be sure to check out more of our Tactical Analyses, and follow on Twitter @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Also check out our subscription options if you enjoy this type of content, and keep an eye out for more great Euro 2020 content. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
You might also enjoy…
What a game. If you missed this one, seriously, go back and watch the explosion of emotions and hard-felt performances across the pitch in Chelsea’s narrow 3-2 win over Manchester City. The Citizens were dominant on the day going forward, yet Chelsea kept pushing and probing to take the lead not once, not twice, but three times. Their relentless goal-scoring when the odds seemed stacked against them ensured City always had an uphill battle to climb, and eventually became too big of a task for Gareth Taylor’s team. Here is our match analysis of the 2022 Women’s FA Cup Final between Chelsea and City.
A ‘Wide Warrior’ is a full-back who hasn’t quite kept up with the modern trends associated with their position. Rather than relying on attacking threat and potency to make their name, the ‘Wide Warrior’ continues to be an ever-present at the back, doing their best work closer to goal. They excel at the defensive side of the game above all else, even if they may offer certain advantages going forward (like a wing-back), or in half-spaces (like an inverted fullback). Further, not only do they excel at the defensive side of the game, their manager has made clear intentions for that to be the most important facet of their role within the team, restricting their attacking height.
How do you release the footballing demons (a.k.a. all of your thoughts on the beautiful game) out into the world? I know you have those thoughts, bursting inside of you, desperately clinging to the edge of your cliff brain, just waiting to get out. Do you share your thoughts on Twitter? Through podcasting? Writing? Do you bottle it up inside and never let it out? Regardless of whatever it is that would constitute as your “jam”, why not start your own website? Seriously, why not?
Currently in the process of chasing down a fourth Premier League title under Pep Guardiola, Kevin de Bruyne has taken charge of Manchester City’s dominance in the last few months, rising above the rest as a completely untouchable figurehead in the team. Last night saw the Belgian score four goals in a single match, taking his tally up to 15 for the season – his most in a single Premier League campaign. With that, we break down the tactical elements of Kevin de Bruyne’s masterclass against a normally stern Wolves defense, and how the Belgian led his team to a smashing 5-1 victory.
Seemingly in need of striker that could provide something different until the end of the season, Alvarez seemed like a logical fit. He would allow the Citizens the ability to change the complexions of a match in novel ways, offering a pace and power in behind that contrasts City’s current false nine, strikerless system. The small fee for a man so clearly potent in front of goal continues to be seen as an absolute bargain, and a move that should benefit City in the long-run. Or, so it seemed.
In one of those weird, everybody knows it’s going to happen inevitable football transfers, Erling Haaland has finally been granted his £64 million move to Manchester City from Borussia Dortmund. Pep Guardiola’s team already secured the services of Julian Alvarez back in January, with the Argentine set to join the club in the summer. But nevertheless, Haaland adds a new dimension to Manchester City, and provides something they would otherwise lack without him in a strikerless system. Here is why Erling Haaland is perfect for Manchester City.
After working under some of the most exceptional managers in his time as an assistant coach, Alfred Schreuder has been making headlines at Club Brugge this season, and now looks prepared to take over the helm at Ajax FC.
This season in the Canadian Premier League, Rhys Desmond will be bringing you the tactical minutiae behind every single match, team, and moment. Here is our tactical review of the Canadian Premier League’s fifth round of fixtures!
With one of the best midfielders in the world in Aurélien Tchouaméni, AS Monaco are now slowly making their way back to their best, and look set to finish within the top three again this season. As a result of being one of the world’s top emerging talents, conversations persist about possible next steps for the top-quality 22-year-old. With that, we decipher the best fit for the Monaco man if a move were to be made this summer.
Off-the-ball movement is, of course, the most important facet to the game. But saying that all passing patterns or attempts to make decision making automatic are “stupid” fails to account for the fact that these things don’t have to be trained in isolation. After all, if they were stupid, why would coaches like Jurgen Klopp or Ralph Hasenhuttl deploy them as training methods?
The Cavs started the season in a 3-4-2-1 formation, suffering two embarrassing losses to York and Atletico, and a stagnant draw against Forge. After realizing the slow-moving car wasn’t quite motoring the way he wanted it to, even despite the gas pedal being pressed, Wheeldon Jr. was right to identify a new vehicle. Now in a flexible 4-4-2 shape, Cavalry have been utterly dominant in both of their matches since, both in and out of possession. On this particular occasion, they completely stunted Edmonton’s progress going forward, and massively exploited space in exactly the right areas through staggering their personnel across the pitch. Here is a quick tactical analysis of Cavalry’s commanding 3-0 win over FC Edmonton.
For two seasons in a row now at Eintracht Frankfurt, Obite Evan Ndicka has been one of the best centre-backs in the Bundesliga. A massive factor behind Frankfurt’s fifth place finish in 2020-21 under Adi Hütter, followed by a stunning UEFA Europa League final charge in 2021-22, Obite Evan Ndicka is starting to now receive deserved attention as one of the most promising defenders in world football. With an eye for a goal, fantastic timing of decisions at the back, phenomenal dueling ability, and pace to sweep in behind defensive mistakes, all top European clubs should be tracking Ndicka’s progress at Frankfurt this season. But mysteriously, very few seem to be circling around the 22-year-old, and most clubs in need of a centre-back appear to have their eyes set on other targets. So with that, we attempt to find Obite Evan Ndicka’s next club, if a move were to be made ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.
Famous for their stunningly sound recruitment of young players, Borussia Dortmund have carried on the trend of snapping up some of the Bundesliga’s best with their latest signing of SC Freiburg’s Nico Schlotterbeck. The 22-year-old has been one of the best defenders in Germany this season, growing immensely from his 2020-21 campaign with Union Berlin, and massively developing his all-around game. Now one of the most accomplished defenders in a variety of categories, Dortmund were right to swoop in for a minimal €20 million fee. So with that, we analyze what Nico Schlotterbeck will bring to Borussia Dortmund ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.
As coaches, analysts, players, fans, and football obsessed individuals, we all want to grow our tactical understanding of the game. In fact, it’s one of the top five questions I get thrown my way on social media or email (links at the end of the article), where people either want to know how I developed my degree of tactical knowledge, or want to know how they too can take their tactical and analytical understanding to the next level. Here is a structured process that you can follow to develop your own tactical knowledge, and continuously learn about the game on repeat.
The enthralling back and forth encounter between Washington Spirit and OL Reign was full of non-stop energetic thrusts, between two high pressing, quick transitioning teams.