Allsvenskan 2020: Malmo FF vs Hammarby – tactical analysis
In the midweek fixture of Allsvenskan 2020, Malmo FF faced Hammarby at the Stadion, winning the game by three goals to nil. Tactically, a few individuals have helped the team a lot while – including the new signing: Ola Toivonen.
In this tactical analysis, we will reveal the tactics of Jon Dahl Tomasson and Stefan Billborn. This analysis will particularly focus on Malmö’s dominance on the game, they were clearly the better side overall.
Tomasson played his team in a 4-2-3-1, this was a very strong squad as most key players were involved. Without Fouad Bachirou and Søren Rieks in the squad, Bonke Innocent and Anders Christiansen partnered as the pivots. Marcus Antonsson was the left-winger. Oscar Lewicki continued to play as a centre-back given the absence of Lasse Nielsen.
Hammarby played in a 4-2-3-1 as well. A few changes were made comparing to the Göteborg game. Tim Söderström, Darijan Bojanić and Abdul Khalili were the players did not start in the last game.
Hammarby defensive style of play
Although the shape on the team sheet was a 4-2-3-1, Hammarby were actually defending in a 4-4-2. Pressing high was not the priority of the team, the most important was to use the wingers to control the Malmö full-backs. It was a man-marking approach on Eric Larsson and Jonas Knudsen to avoid these two players becoming the free player.
From Malmö’s perspective, this strategy would help Tomasson’s men to manipulate the opponent’s positions and creating spaces. The below shape was a 4-4-2, but the horizontal distances of players were large – mainly as a consequence of man-marking the Malmö full-backs. This loose shape has allowed the home team to play into the box at times.
We expected the intention of Billborn would be as follow. In some previous games, Malmö tended to pass to the full-backs with the diagonal passes. Without the supportive runs from wingers, the ball could be trapped on the full-backs and it was the momentum to regain possession.
For example, Anel Ahmedhodžić passed to Larsson in this case. It was vital for Söderström to press the right-back initially to close the angle for the next move. Larsson simply did not have a progressive option ahead, so returning the ball was readable for the defenders. If the return pass was soft, bouncing or misplaced, this was a good chance for Hammarby to press and potentially start a counter-attack. The standard of Malmö was quite good in this game, they seldom gave away passes in this pattern.
This was an example of why the pressing of Hammarby seldom succeeds. Because of the man-marking system, the wingers were occupied by Malmö full-backs, being eliminated in the press. One of the midfielders was tasked to mark Toivonen, the attacking midfielder who tended to stay higher in the build-up. Therefore, Hammarby often pressed with three players only.
Consequently, a free player was always available in the four-man build-up of Malmö. Plus, no purposeful shadowing efforts from the pressing player to guide the ball allowed the Himmelsblåtts to find the free player.
Brilliance of Ahmedhodžić, Christiansen, and Toivonen
Although we saw the setups of Billborn, Malmö were just too good for them. Three key individuals – Ahmedhodžić, Christiansen and Toivonen were the key of almost all attacks, all having a strong performance and helped the team to win all points.
In general, the setup of Malmö was demonstrated in this image. Larsson was not in the picture as he pushed into an advanced position, high and wide. This allowed the right-winger – Jo Inge Berget to operate as a false-winger. Toivonen and the 29-year-old winger were the two players manipulating or occupying the midfield, also had the ability to stretch and manipulate the Hammarby midfield. On the far side, Antonsson might flexibly come narrow or move wide to support Knudsen and Isaac Kiese Thelin.
The build-up shape was varied across situations. It would be a 2-2 combination, but Christiansen preferred to move to the half-spaces. This would help the former Chievo Verona player to escape from the first line marking, creating rooms to execute his excellent out-balls.
As the partner of Christiansen, Innocent would stay in front of the centre-backs, mainly protecting the defence and picking the second balls. This avoided the centre-backs being exposed even transitions occurred in the central third.
The two players on the right – Ahmedhodžić and Christiansen were very strong on the ball. For a team trying to defend Malmö, they would want to get Lewicki and Innocent on the ball instead of these two. On some occasions, Hammarby guided the ball to the left flank, where the personnel to play the out-ball was suboptimal comparing to the opposite flank. However, they were not quick and intense enough to trap the ball, allowing the Di blåe to escape.
Without committing everyone in the press, it was impossible to cover both centre-backs. This example was a case that Hammarby failed to suffocate the attack on Malmö’s left flank. Lewicki could evade from the press by playing to his partner – Ahmedhodžić.
The rest were the qualities of Ahmedhodžić and Toivonen. The centre-backs took a heavy touch that generated the angle for the next pass. Meanwhile, the Toivonen appeared between the lines at the right timing. It was not an easy pass as many players were in front of the passer, might be blocking his vision too. But, this was Ahmedhodžić, who possessed the ability to weight a line-breaking ball to Toivonen, bypassed at least five players.
Toivonen is a quick decision-maker. Soon he received the ball, he released the running Antonsson within a second and the Di blåe were already near the penalty box.
Another important player in the first phase was Christiansen, who had a very good passing range and technique. Recalling from the Hammarby defence section, they were trying to force the full-back to return the pass so to deny the attack. If the receiver was Christiansen, the creativity was here to create something.
In this example, Larsson did exactly what the opponents expected – played a return pass. Christiansen received the pass, closing by the opposition, but still played an excellent pass to Kiese Thelin with his first touch. The former Bayer Leverkusen player also released the third man, who was Larsson with a first-time pass. Again, Malmö entered the final third.
This was the quality of Christiansen. Average players may only notice Innocent and Inge Berget, both were tightly marked. Even some could read the passing lane to Kiese Thelin, but not many could execute the first-time pass when under pressure.
A key passing trait of Christiansen was his diagonal pass. These were quite accurate as a reliable source for Malmö to enter the offensive third. In deeper areas, the skipper could find the far side player directly from the half-spaces. If this was near the penalty box, then, he could hit either flank. An example here – releasing Larsson, who was the main player to attack from the right flank.
A small flaw of these passes was the relatively large body action – he needed spaces to swing the foot, adjusting his waist before hitting the ball. If Christiansen was under tight marking, we might not see the same passes as frequent as in this game.
Toivonen is class, he improved a lot by gaining experiences in the Premier League and Ligue1. Even playing as an attacking midfielder, the way he dictated play was so difficult to defend. Apart from connecting Ahmedhodžić’s passes as explained in the above analysis, Toivonen was also phenomenal near the final third.
Here, Toivonen was jogging towards the penalty box at first, staying at the centre-backs (#5)’s blindside created the dynamism of movements. When moving forward, Toivonen kept scanning the pitch and noticed the situation of Knudsen. The left-back was not ready for a cross, he needed support. Therefore, the Malmö #11 suddenly changed his direction to open the passing lane for the ball. Benefited from exploiting the blindside of the defender, Toivonen arrived at the spaces lot early.
After receiving the ball, the next move of Toivonen was not included in this image but it was important to mention. He used the outside of his boot to play the pass to Kiese Thelin! This was difficult but useful, it hid the intention until the last moment of the pass, maintained the unpredictability of the attack.
Malmö defensive style of play
When defending, Tomasson’s team tended to operate in a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2. They did not have to push very high to press as the opponents were quite direct, and Malmö players were quite fine in the aerial duels. The only dangerous moment was a ball targeted spaces behind the defence, which was an awkward situation for Ahmedhodžić to defend.
In the first half, the positioning of Inge Berget off-the-ball was a bit weird as he seemed to be a torn segment of the defence. When the majority of the block was pressing at the centre, he did not maintain compactness or shutting the passing lanes to the wide player. Instead, the Malmö right-winger tried to be clever and tended to lurk around the passing lane to the left-back – never successfully caught the pass.
Below was an example, because of this positioning of Inge Berget, the wide passing lane was opened, and this was one of the situations that Hammarby entered the offensive third.
In the second half, Inge Berget might be aware of the situation in the first half, amended his positioning. Now, the defensive shape of Malmö was still a 4-3-3, but more balanced and leaned on the ball-side.
The block was set deeper and the players were more conservative, also lowered the engagement line. Sometimes Hammarby could find the free full-back on the ball, but the quality of pass seldom troubled the Malmö defence. This was common because of the structural issue of a 4-3-3, relatively weaker horizontal coverage.
In this example, Hammarby tried accessing the final third by playing a long ball. The Malmö backline was deep enough to track the runners and reorganize the defence.
Transitions and the second balls
In the transitions, Malmö would suffer because of the spaces behind the full-backs. Sometimes Christiansen moved higher to press or counter-press, Larsson would have to position himself narrowly as a compensate. This would leave the player in the outer zone without marking.
This offensive transition of Hammarby was a reference. Larsson went narrow but has left a player behind him. The passer was good enough to find this player to trigger the counter-attack.
The work of ethics of pair of pivots should never be underestimated. Christiansen and Innocent were very hardworking, fighting for every ball on the pitch. Their presence helped Malmö to control the transitions better, as the instant pressure on the ball was guaranteed during possession turnover. The goal from Kiese Thelin could be attributed to a recovery in the transitions.
Here, Hammarby tried passing the ball inward but failed because of the heavy pressure in the counter-pressing. Christiansen sprinted to challenge the first receiver, though he failed to win the ball, the quality of next pass was adversely affected. This allowed Innocent to won the second challenge and initiated a counter-counter-attack.
Another example here, David Ousted rolled the ball, tried to initiate the counter-attack. Christiansen reacted instantly to press the ball, not only on the initial receiver but also the second receiver. The skipper might not win the ball back because defending was not his strength. However, this continuous pressure has forced heavy touches or poor passes, enabling his teammates to recover possession.
Innocent had a very nice game, especially he was the replacing Bachirou as the pivot. The Nigerian midfielder contributed a lot in picking the second balls, or even converting these opportunities into an attack. This was more commonly seen in the second half because the oppositions were more direct.
For example, Innocent threw himself to win the aerial duels here, headed the ball to Kiese Thelin. Given three players were operating behind the midfield, this transformed a Hammarby attack into a Malmö attack quickly. The 13 recoveries of Innocent in this game was also the highest figure among the whole team.
Malmö were playing quite well today, especially the key players were in-form and contributing a lot to the attack. Credits must be given to the keeper – Johan Dahlin, who made a super save that potentially twisted the plot of this game. Another important for Tomasson and his team on Sunday, as they will take on Sirius away from home.