Iceland has produced some talented football players over the years, most notably Eiður Guðjohnsen and Gylfi Sigurðsson, with the former winning two Premier League titles with Chelsea under Portuguese boss Jose Mourinho, whilst the latter is arguably the nation’s best player, playing under Carlo Ancelotti.
The national side has reached relative success recently, qualifying for their first-ever World Cup finals back in 2018, but mainly due to their small population, top talent is few and far between. However, there is one Icelandic player who is tipped for great things if he can manage to develop as expected – Ísak Bergmann Jóhannesson, son of former Leicester City player Jóhannes Guðjónsson.
Jóhannesson currently plays for IFK Norrkoping in the Allsvenskan and has turned quite a few heads with his performances for the Swedish club. The Icelander is merely 17 years old but has already made his international debut, coming off the bench in a UEFA Nations League game against England back in November 2020.
According to reports, Jóhannesson has been scouted by numerous top clubs recently, including Juventus, Liverpool, and Manchester United, with each club keeping a watchful eye on the youngster’s development over the coming months. He was also featured in the Guardian’s Next Generation series for the year 2020.
In this tactical analysis article, which will be in the form of a scout report, we will take a look at Johannesson’s all-round style of play, as well as his weaknesses. It will also be an analysis of how the teenage sensation fits into Norrkoping’s tactics.
One of the most interesting aspects of the youngster, mainly from a tactical perspective, is his versatility in terms of playing in a number of roles already in professional football. In the Allsvenskan 2020, former Norrkoping manager Jens Gustafsson used Jóhannesson in numerous positions in the midfield and the front-line. He even filled in at left-back in one of their final games of last season.
Gustafsson has since been replaced after four years in charge with Rikard Norling so it will be interesting to see if the new manager uses Johannesson’s versatility to the same extent as his predecessor.
Last season, 18 percent of the left-footer’s games were up front, usually as part of a two-man strike partnership, whilst 26 percent were on the flanks, 13 percent being on the left, and 13 percent on the right. The 17-year-old also played 24 percent of his games in the centre of the park, generally as a left central midfielder in a 4-1-4-1.
From this visual representation, we can see the vast array of positions that Jóhannesson has played for Norrkoping in the past calendar year. The bigger the circle, the more he played in that position.
Generally, in the bigger games, Jóhannesson is deployed out wide, whereas, in matches against lesser opposition to Norrkoping, who finished 6th in the Allsvenskan 2020, the youngster is played in a central position or even up front.
His heat map also shows how versatile the teenager and one can see that Jóhannesson is involved in quite a lot of action particularly over on the left flank and left halfspace which are the areas of the pitch that he predominantly operates in when playing.
At 5’11” and weighing 67kg, Jóhannesson is a well-built player and because of his age, there is still the potential for his body to potentially grow slightly more than it already has. He possesses a wide array of skills but perhaps his best is his tidiness in possession and ability to play under pressure which aids Norrkoping in their play. We will delve deeper into these qualities later in the scout report.
In comparison with the rest of the league’s players who are under the age of 20, Jóhannesson ranks considerably higher on numerous metrics including assists per 90 (A/90), key passes per 90 (KP/90), percentage of successful dribbles (DR%), passing accuracy (P%) and also passes to the final third (P3/90), which can be seen from the following data representation:
Passing angles and playing between the lines
When Norrkoping have possession of the ball, they play a very expansive style of football, one which is very interesting to watch from an analytical standpoint. Last season, their shape constantly changed when they were in the attacking phases of play. Typically, they used a 3-1-5-1/3-1-4-2 when they were in a positional attack.
In this highly-expansive possession structure, they overloaded players between the lines in a very similar system to RB Leipzig under Julian Nagelsmann. This structure suits Jóhannesson down to a tee as he excels when receiving balls between the lines, allowing him to take it on the half-turn and play forward or else play out to the advanced fullback on the flanks.
He allows himself to receive so many passes by creating excellent and intelligent passing angles for his teammates to play line-breaking passes through the opposition.
By creating good passing angles in between the lines, he is allowing Norrkoping to have the option of playing forward centrally through their opponent’s defensive structure as quickly as possible.
In the scenario shown in the previous image, Jóhannesson has spotted a gap between the opposition’s two central midfield players as a result of their inability to cut off passing lanes between the lines. He pushes into the space between them and gives his team a very useful progressive passing option to play forward quickly through their opponent’s block.
Again here, the central midfielder has stepped out to close down the ball-carrier and so Jóhannesson drops slightly to receive in the space left by the pressing midfielder, which then allows him to link up with the fullback on the flank and progress forward.
From these positions, the 17-year-old can be very dangerous at threading through balls in behind a defensive line. He has great vision for such a young player and is very capable of creating high-quality chances for his team. Last season, he had an average of 0.61 key passes per 90 in the Allsvenskan and an expected assists rate per 90 (xA/90) of 0.2, which was one of the highest in the division in 2020.
Spatial awareness and tactical intelligence
One of the most important aspects of a young footballer’s development in the modern game is their ability to grow their tactical understanding alongside their technique.
For such a young player on the scene, Jóhannesson is already showing a very clear understanding of the tactical side of football such as his comprehension of space and finding where space is likely to be before it has even opened up.
In this image, Jóhannesson has made a run into space on the flank before it has even developed as he scanned the situation around him and saw that due to the passage of play unfolding, the opposition’s fullback would be attracted to the winger which would leave space on the flank for him to make a run into.
The Icelander shows a clear understanding of the tactical instructions bestowed upon him by his manager. His versatility at Norrkoping has shown this to be true as he has been trusted to play a number of positions all over the park, as already stated in an earlier section.
Although his favoured position seems to be through the centre as a central midfielder, Jóhannesson is able to adapt his game to the manager’s instructions.
In this image, the youngster was given an instruction to hold the width on the left side of the pitch as the opposition were defending in a very narrow and compact low block. By Jóhannesson holding the width, he was stretching that defensive block as well as offering an option out wide to cross if there were no players available centrally.
Generally, when he plays out wide or in the centre of the park, Jóhannesson drifts close to the ball to get involved in the play, however, in this situation, he was very tactically disciplined in his positioning and executed his manager’s instructions.
Play on the flanks
When Jóhannesson has the ball in the wide areas of the pitch, he likes to attack in two ways. Firstly, he makes lots of penetrative runs in the halfspace underlapping the fullback on his side, and secondly, he drops off and looks to play an outswinging ball into the box, giving himself plenty of room to pick the right pass.
Whether it be from playing as an advanced midfielder in a 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 or as a winger, Jóhannesson likes to play in the halfspace in close proximity with the fullback and the other central midfielders. As we already touched on before, when he receives the ball, he looks to link up with the fullback.
When he plays the ball into the fullback, Jóhannesson then tends to make a penetrative run in behind the opposition’s backline, to find room to cross the ball on the fullback/wingback’s blindside. He currently averages 3.7 crosses per 90, with a success rate of 24.74 percent, so essentially just one in four of his crosses reaches a teammate, which can be drastically improved.
This image is an example of Jóhannesson making an excellent blindside run in the halfspace in between the opposition’s fullback and ball-near centre-back. From here the ball-carrier can slip him in at the assist zone where he is in an optimal position to cross the ball, usually on the floor.
These halfspace runs from central midfielders are the kind of runs that Manchester City are so skilled at before cutting the ball back in the box and allowing a player to take a high-quality shot on goal.
However, he does not always make these runs. A lot of the time, Jóhannesson drops off when the opposition’s block has collapsed back into their own penalty area in order to deliver a deep outswinging ball from the edge of the box.
He takes a lot of Norrkoping’s set-pieces, including corners and free-kicks and so positioning himself in deeper positions allows him to receive the ball and have time to kill the ball and deliver in a set-piece type fashion.
Here, the opposition are parked in their own box from the second phase of a corner kick. Jóhannesson positioned himself at the edge of the 18-yard box and received the ball from a back pass.
He usually does this over on the left flank as he is left-footed and can deliver an outswinging ball. This really suits his style of play and he is very adept at crossing from these types of situations due to his set-piece specialty. By delivering a good outswinging cross, it also makes it very difficult for the goalkeeper to judge the situation for whether to leave his line or stay put.
Johannesson’s defensive game is quite good, hence why he has been trusted to fill in at left-back in some games. This, once again, links into his game intelligence from a tactical standpoint.
On average, he manages to compete in 4.62 defensive duels per 90, winning 42.1 percent of them, but more impressively, he has also averaged 3.44 interceptions per 90 since the beginning of last season.
Jóhannesson has quite a decent build in terms of his physique as we already mentioned earlier in this scout report, which allows him to press his opponents aggressively, cutting off passing lanes behind him using his frame.
Here, we can see Jóhannesson using his frame to full capacity to intercept an opponent in a 1v1 duel. He got very tight to the ball-carrier, forcing him to try and take him on but with his excellent stance while pressing, he stopped the player in his tracks.
The Icelander averages 4.7 ball recoveries per game with 51.2 percent coming in the opposition’s half of the field, showing that he is very good at counter-pressing also, as the last image shows, and always tracks back to recover balls that he has lost.
Again here, Jóhannesson has angled his run from in to out in order to cut off the fullback’s inside passing lanes, whilst also applying a cover shadow to the pivot in midfield, showing a more clear understanding of his defensive duties, which is an extremely important skill for a young player.
Area to improve
Jóhannesson is quite good in every aspect of his game and possesses no standout or significant weaknesses, but there are areas in which he could improve on, as with every young player.
One of these areas is his risk-taking. Whilst being very patient and tidy in possession is never necessarily a bad trait to have for any midfielder, Jóhannesson tends to play very safely even when he does not need to.
In the Allsvenskan last year, the youngster only averaged 8.31 forward passes per 90 despite being an advanced central midfielder and winger for the majority of those games. In fact, he averaged more back passes per 90 than forward passes with 9.23, showing that he tends to be very safe in possession and does not like to risk giving up possession.
This image shows a scenario where Jóhannesson has a great opportunity to progress his team forward and put them in a much better position on the pitch. He has three free passing options, down the line, an inside pass to the centre of the pitch, or else a square pass to his diagonal right.
He chooses the option to his diagonal right, but this was the safest of the three options. It is these kinds of situations in which the youngster needs to take more risks and stop himself from always taking the easy option. Sometimes the easy option is essential for ball retention, but when there are free players in optimal passing positions, Jóhannesson needs to try and feel more comfortable with his own ability to find them in order to progress his side forward.
Jóhannesson looks to be a fantastic player at just 17 years of age and from watching him, one can see why some of the biggest clubs in world football are currently after his signature. His ability to hold possession and play in tight spaces as well as maintaining the ball under pressure make him very easy on the eye.
With the right coaching and the right move, the Icelander could go on to play for one of Europe’s best teams in just a matter of a few seasons providing he chooses the right career path and continues his projected development. However, right now, it is also important for him to remain level-headed in Sweden for the next couple of months during all this transfer talk, but he is certainly one to watch for the future.