Allsvenskan 2020: IK Sirius vs IFK Norrkoping – tactical analysis
IFK Norrkoping had a very nice start in Allsvenskan 2020, after claiming a point on Malmö FF and beating Örebro SK in the midweek fixture, they continued to sit top of the league. Jens Gustafsson’s team faced another tough opponent on Sunday – Sirius at the Studenternas IP. This time, the performance was slightly below par, and Henrik Rydström’s team had all the points.
Sirius started in a 4-2-3-1, some changes were made after the loss to AIK. Stefano Holmquist Vecchia and Karl Larson returned to the squad, starting as the left-winger and the right-back respectively.
Norrköping were playing in a 4-5-1. It was a similar lineup to the previous one, but Simon Thern was injured, so Ísak Bergmann Jóhannesson came inward and played as a midfielder. Thern’s replacement was Andreas Blomqvist, who was the right-winger.
Norrköping’s passive block
Norrköping had a higher average PPDA of 21.6 in this game, just like playing against Malmö, Gustafsson’s men seldom pressed aggressively and committed every man to press. It was because the pressing intensity was often too low, only 12.5% of the recoveries were made in the offensive third.
This was because the press was not well-structured. When facing an opponent who could move the ball smoothly like Sirius, they suffered. Apart from Christoffer Nyman, the Norrköping wingers also initiated the press but the movements of players were easily manipulated by the oppositions. The press needs clearer objectives and principles – such as guiding the directions or forcing a player to get on the ball.
If not, the situation would be as follow. Blomqvist pressed Hjalmar Ekdal alone, without any curved runs to shield an option, his defensive cover was exposed. Since both Holmquist Vecchia and Axel Björnström were the options, the right-back was confused when he pushed higher. Therefore, he was late to jump onto the receiver and Sirius progressed.
Since the pressing was flawed, Norrköping were happier to sit in a block to wait for the opponents. The shape could be interpreted as a 4-3-3 or a 4-5-1, depending on how the lines were drawn. What we were highlighting was the close proximity of the midfield trio, which always stayed narrowly at the centre to deny central access.
Therefore, when the wingers pushed higher, passing lanes to the half-spaces were available. This required the full-backs to step up and mark the receiver tightly – a factor that made Sirius could not generate huge benefits through the vertical passes. In this case, Henrik Castegren stuck Holmquist Vecchia closely and suffocated the development of the attack.
Although the block was quite compact, it was always an issue when the pressuring intensity was low. Capitalizing on the comfortable environment allowed by Norrköping players, Sirius could break into the block and create something in it. Nyman was not defending much as he was an emphasis in the offensive transitions. It was more like a zonal system as the players were keener on defending spaces instead of tracking targets.
In this example, Norrköping did quite fine in terms of the defensive shape. It was a compact 4-5-1 at the centre, with a narrow midfield to shield the central spaces. The wingers also tucked into the half-spaces to maintain compactness. However, no pressure on the ball. Not from Nyman or Alexander Fransson. Consequently, the opponent could find Holmquist Vecchia in the block, who was free because of the zonal system adopted.
Sirius positional plays
Sirius were playing out from the back, dominating 58% possession, and passed 622 times in this game. The players were sharp and the way they played was entertaining. After 90 minutes, their 3.97 xG was rewarded by four goals.
The below image has shown the top passing links and average positions of players. Note how Sirius opened their shape to attack, including splitting the centre-backs wide, pushing the full-backs high and dropping a pivot as the second layer. The expansion of the shape was an important element of all positional plays.
Also, the interconnectedness of players was extremely strong. Not only the back four were circulating the ball, but they were also interacting with the midfielders. The duo – Adam Hellborg and Elias Andersson were exchanging passes with each other too, and they also linked with the wingers. The positional plays were the strength of the team and this was how they create chances in the open plays.
Apart from dropping Hellborg between the centre-backs, the other two midfielders also showed good awareness to support teammates. If the opponents were not pressing, Hellborg could form a second layer of the triangular shape of the 2-1 build-up, releasing the centre-backs to the half-spaces. This would help Sirius to find the full-backs or connecting the progressive options with vertical passes.
In case Norrköping were pressing high, both Hellborg and Andersson were unavailable, Sirius would also add the additional man as the resort. The #99 attacking midfielder – Nahom Girmai Netabay was good at reading the spaces and exploiting them. So, the below image was a scenario which the double-pivot were marked by a Peking respectively.
The crisis was solved because Girmai Netabay came deep to receive the ball. Even an opponent was behind to pressure him, the Sirius #99 was calm to find Ekdal.
And, Ekdal quickly connected Axel Björnström, who was stretching the defensive shape at flank. Note how active was Girmai Netabay, who already ran forward and got rid of the marker again. This allowed the left-back to have two options – Girmai Netabay and Holmquist Vecchia. The attacking midfielder was found initially then he released the left-winger. All of these were done within one to two touches, but the passing strengths, directions and angles were well-controlled, leading to the smooth attack.
Throughout the game, the connections of the three players on the left – Holmquist Vecchia, Björnström and Andersson was extremely strong. When one was on the ball, the other two never hesitated to support, always offered the carriers with two options. This was a reason that the left flank had 32 positional attacks in total, more than the total of the other two (24).
Holmquist Vecchia was phenomenal today. Apart from his tireless movements to support and connect his teammates, the left-winger also possessed physical superiority and qualitative superiority. Castegren suffered a lot from Holmquist Vecchia’s presence, because of his pace and skills.
By statistics, Holmquist Vecchia was also outstanding. His 15 dribbles almost reached the whole Norrköping team (16). Looking at the graph below which summarized the positions of these dribbles, most of them were inside the offensive third and if not, they were nearby. The dribbles were converted to 11 progressive runs, which was impressive and a strong stat to support the purposeful action of this player.
When facing the midblock, which was compact and the Norrköping players were reluctant to press, Sirius also had the strategy to develop an attack. The key was to capitalize on spaces between the lines. All Blåsvarts were aware of this and this tactic worked very well.
The wingers could move narrow to provide the passing options at the centre. Including this example, Yukiya Sugita moved inward to the half-spaces, scanning the positions of teammates and noticed the passing lane was blocked. This was okay because Andersson was staying between another two lines as an option – a positional superiority that avoided the markers. All passes were completed with the first-touch, too quick for the Pekings to anticipate.
Apart from moving the ball by players between the lines, we also investigated the positionings of players in this analysis. It was crazy as Sirius were attacking like a 2-2-6 shape, pushing the full-backs high while keeping the front four high and narrow. The shape was drawn below.
Basically, the front four did a great job to stay between the lines, occupying the whole block. This would free the outer zone for the full-backs, who might be combining or releasing the wingers. Since Holmquist Vecchia was quick, the dynamism of movements was difficult for Norrköping to defend.
In fact, if the Pekings were more aggressive to press or pushing players higher for the transitions, this might not function well. In this game, this insane attacking shape has worked because of the passiveness and conservativeness of the opponents – Nyman was the only player staying high, always underloaded against the centre-backs.
In the second half, the Sirius wingers were instructed to roam their positions further, even joining the attack on the opposite side. This has completely released Sugita, the loanee from Tractor FC had an excellent game, scored a goal and created many opportunities.
Because of the inward movements, the defensive shape of Norrköping was often disrupted – the full-back might need to track the wingers. The worst case is this example, which Lars Gerson tried to approach the target but reluctant to stay close. The Pekings suffered from the loose markings a lot. Although Mohammed Saeid was the striker, the Sirius #26 did not hesitate and immediately exploited the spaces created by Sugita. Soon, he was released by the Japanese winger.
The same concept also applied to the goal of Sugita. Joining the attack on the left flank, the right-winger was unmarked and free to try a long-range effort.
Sirius: defensive system and pressing
Sirius were also defending very well, the players were committed to the duties and they knew what the principles were. In general, the shape could be a 4-1-2-3, using a midfield trio to mirror Norrköping’s. The players always stayed at the central zone initially, this was vital to prevent the penetrations and overloaded the midfield.
What impressed me were the curved-runs used during the press. The press was not initiated by Saeid, instead, the wingers. Since we explained the compact shape at the central zone, this suggested the wide zones were unoccupied and it was a potential loophole. The opposition full-backs were the free players, as a result.
This was not an issue because of the clever curved-runs. The wingers were always aware to cover the full-backs when pressuring the centre-backs. As an example, Holmquist Vecchia curved shadow the right-back before jumping to the central target. This would cut the passing lane and forced the ball to the other way, which bought time for his teammates to read.
Norrköping offensive inefficacy
In general, the attack of Norrköping was not too good. As mentioned, the pressing of Sirius was quite successful and troubled the first phase of the Pekings. As mentioned, the wide zones were always free and the full-backs might be the best solution to break the press. Only on some occasions, Norrköping have managed to move the ball out with this strategy. In other situations, they played long aimlessly and gave away possession.
Here, the right-back: Castegren was the free player to progress. The majority of Blåsvarts were absorbed centrally and leaving the wide players unmarked.
The youngster from Premier League club West Ham – Sead Hakšabanović is their best player. Usually, we expect the winger to get involved and getting the ball more. However, the issue of Norrköping was the failure to connect him.
This could be attributed to body orientations and team structure. Even when the free player received the ball in the first phase, the pass has travelled long distances, allowing the opponents to read it. The angle of the pass might require the receiver to drop, or the ball was bouncing and needed adjustments. Because of these reasons, Norrköping could not be connected instantly.
Sirius might notice the exposure of the wide zones, hence, the full-backs were instructed to step out early. This was more common after the water break, including in this example. The Blåsvarts committed the front players to defend the centre, while the full-backs were stepping out early more often. This further prohibited the receiver from finding Hakšabanović because of the pressure. The Pekings might know spaces were available behind the full-backs, they just could not use it.
In the second half, Norrköping improved by using the target man more. Nyman fit this role quite well, he has demonstrated this attribute previously. The first 45 was chaotic, the long balls were forced to play without clear intentions, too difficult for the striker. After the break, these passes were used purposefully.
This was an example, Nyman was found by a direct pass. The Norrköping striker was good at laying-off to the free man, who could continue the attack. Since the initial pass has bypassed the first and second lines quickly, the Pekings were attacking the backline directly. The second goal was also applying the same concept, just moving the situation higher in the penalty box.
The performance of Sirius were really impressive and it was a convincing one. They deserved a win. The playing style of Rydström’s team was so attractive, the competent movements in the positional plays were almost the textbook standard. By contrast, it was a bit disappointed to see Norrköping losing all points. Maybe we could have expected more from Hakšabanović, but in general, the passive defensive style has made the Pekings suffered a lot, is it possible to see more aggressive pressuring efforts in the future?