On Sunday July 31, 2022, Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson became the first non-Canadian player to make 100 appearances in the Canadian Premier League. As an integral member to the league’s best side, Jönsson has arguably been the player of the season so far, featuring in all but one match. What’s more – he’s played admirably in not one but two positions this season, splitting his playing time between the right-side of centre-back and defensive midfield. Here is an analysis of one of the CANPL’s best players – 26-year-old Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson.
IN POSSESSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson is a smooth operator in possession, and one of the keys to helping the Hammers progress through the thirds, play out from the back, and circulate the ball. He’s completed more passes than any other Canadian Premier League player this season, alongside the highest success rate of players with 5+ appearances (93%).
Jönsson’s brilliance in possession extends beyond just short and simple passes, to holding rank as one of the best long, progressive passers out from the back in the league. His long pass success rate of 76.0% reaches higher than any other defender in the league, and over ten percent more than Hojabrpour’s 65% – the man operating in the Swede’s old position. This is why we initially had the Forge midfielder listed as a ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker‘ in the early stages of 2022, completely dictating the tempo of Forge’s play and pulling the strings from deep. As he’s now firmly evolved into a centre-back, we’ve kept him with that ‘Ball-Playing Centre-Half’ tag to illustrate his importance and success in playing out from the back.
Always scanning the field, the Swedish pro is astutely aware about how much time and space he has on the ball in any given situation. He can then use that information to decide on the next course of action – whether that be playing a progressive pass through the thirds, a simple sideways one to his centre-back partner or Rama down the right, or even whether that be carrying the ball forward.
In certain moments, such as when Hojabrpour drops into a back-three, Achinioti-Jönsson is then given more license to carry the ball forward into the half-spaces. This allows the Swedish defender to draw attention toward his close control, where new spaces will open in the opposition’s low-block.
As you can see from Achinioti-Jönsson’s heatmap, those adventures frequently end just inside the opposition’s half, where the low-block tightens up.
The one down-side is that this kind of shape and positioning then pushes AJ (as he’s known in my notes) into wider positions than would be most advantageous for his progressive capabilities. Closer to the touch-line in a condensed area, he’s then forced into making sideways or back-passes more often than not, rather than creating the opportunity for penetrative passes as hoped. Oddly enough, the big Swede made a habit of drifting wide even in the ‘Anchor’ role, where he wanted to contribute to every phase of possession. This ensured he always remained in close proximity to both wide overloads and moments of defensive transition, helping the team thrive at every turn.
But such a strong carrier of the ball, AJ can even just simply break an opposition’s press out from the back through his poise and precision on the ball, even at times carrying the first pass on goal kicks all the way out of the box until the opposition feel enticed to pressure. When deployed at the base of a midfield three, Jönsson would often drop in between or to the outside of the two centre-backs to pick up possession and dictate the play, where the likes of Metusala and Samuel could then take more moments to carry the ball forward.
Out from the back, the 26-year-old is also integral to switching play right to left, frequently finding Ashtone Morgan or Kwasi Poku down the left wing to immediately go toe to toe with the opposition’s right-back.
This is where his long passing range shines, and where he can often create chances for his teammates right into the final third. In their recent 1-0 win over Halifax, Achinioti-Jönsson played something of a perfect game, completing all 16 of his long-passing attempts.
Between the technical quality to back up the skill and expertise in timing his moments of progressiveness, he’s just an exceptional progressor of the ball from anywhere on the pitch. That brilliance can be showcased at both the heart of defense, or the heart of midfield, making him an undeniable star for Forge FC.
OUT OF POSSESSIONEmbed from Getty Images
It’s no mystery why Achinioti-Jönsson was able to make such a seamless transition into defense. Standing at 6’2, Jönsson possesses the imposing physical frame to frighten opposition forwards, and bully them off the ball. But he’s no slouch in possessing the mobility to play against any speedy striker, fantastically sweeping long passes in behind and going toe-to-toe against any opponent. He lacks the absolute acceleration of the speediest defenders in the league, but his big brains always help him to win the race and make the necessary block.
In addition to his excellent awareness and ability to give himself half a yard to defend passes over the top, he’s also exceptional in timing his challenges. The Swedish defender has won 2.2 tackles per game this season, with a 63% success rate. That equates to being dribbled past just 0.6 times per match – remaining an impossible figure to get past in Forge’s high-line. His fantastic scanning of the field again comes into effect in helping him win a high degree of challenges.
AJ is fantastic in covering out wide to help an advancing full-back, pressuring the moment the ball advances into that area. He’s also astute about when and how to pressure players receiving with their back to goal, never afraid to step out of position and win the ball higher up the pitch.
But he will be more likely to help organize the sturdy Forge defensive line instead, acting as a key leader in a relatively young defense (Morgan aside). Even within the team’s high press, this role in organizing the line remains imperative. Forge endeavour to compact and narrow the field quickly and immediately in the final third after losing the ball, and the defensive unit will prepare themselves to push up the field to match their teammates when the time is right.
This then means that if the press is broken, passes over the top can be played behind the Hamilton defense. Luckily for Forge, AJ is particularly adept at covering those spaces and reacting to long-passes over the top, as illustrated by his 1.5 interceptions per game in a high-possession team. Forge have found their way toward just 14 goals conceded in the league this season, which is a massive testament to the likes of Achinioti-Jönsson and their ability to hold a resolute high line to remarkable heights.
In central midfield, his imperativeness only continues. As the ‘Anchor’ that glues the midfield together, he then allows for greater fluidity in the final third for the likes of Bekker and Hojabrpour, allowing them to work magic higher up the pitch. This allowed Hojabrpour to even become something of a ‘Box-to-Box Midfielder’ earlier in the season, where Aboubacar Sissoko has since thrived since Jönsson’s positional switch. The ‘Anchoring’ role is also imperative in terms of timing movement into the box to defend crosses and add an extra body in the box, to which the Swede manages to fantastic effect. Being so solid in both positions, Achinioti-Jönsson’s versatility even affords the ability for Forge to drop into a back-three at any given moment.
In every facet of the game, it seems as though Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson always knows exactly where to be. That separates him from 99% of the other players in the Canadian Premier League, where he’d be more than ready to play for a top MLS team or even attain higher heights back in Europe.
In and out of possession, Alexander Achninioti-Jönsson plays an essential role to Forge’s success. Through his exceptional awareness of how to cover space and how to help his team progress through the thirds, he’s been a massive part of Forge’s recent rise toward the top of the table – where they’ve scored 38 and conceded just 14 goals in 17 games. Forge FC can consider themselves lucky to have kept hold of such a fantastic player all the way from Sweden since the start of their CPL journey in 2019, as the versatile Swede could easily play anywhere in the world. For now, he’s one of our own, and Forge look likely to challenge for another CPL title with Achninioti-Jönsson as an integral component of the team.
So there it is! A player analysis of one of my CPL favourites, Alexander Achninioti-Jönsson. Be sure to check out more of our Player Analyses, CANPL content, and don’t forget to follow on social media @mastermindsite and @desmondrhys to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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