“A proven winner”: Why Fortuna Hjørring manager Brian Sørensen could be a shrewd appointment by Everton – tactical analysis
It is fair to say that 2021/2022 has not been a happy time for Everton Women and will not be a season that their fans will recall with much fondness. The initial excitement over high-profile additions like Italy midfielder Aurora Galli from Juventus Femminile, Sweden’s young star Hanna Bennison from Rosengård and ex-Atlético Madrid Femenino forward Toni Duggan was quickly ended after it became clear that they would not be challenging at the top of the WSL as hoped and would instead face a relegation battle.
Both Willie Kirk and former Lyon Féminin boss Jean-Luc Vasseur have tried unsuccessfully to arrest their poor form, and the club have now announced who will be next into the hot seat, with Brian Sørensen, currently in charge of Gjensidige Kvindeligaen side Fortuna Hjørring, being handed an initial two-year deal last week, taking over formally in the summer. This is a bold appointment by Everton and an interesting move for the Dane, given that Fortuna are currently on course to secure a place in next season’s Champions League, but he clearly feels that he is the person who can turn the WSL strugglers around and get them challenging for a place in the top four once again.
This tactical analysis will look in closer detail at what we can expect Everton to look like under his leadership, with a focus on Fortuna’s style of play during the current campaign. The article will focus on their attack, midfield and defence in turn, providing a comprehensive insight into Sørensen’s preferred tactics and coaching philosophy, and will also compare Fortuna’s and Everton’s statistics from the current season, seeing where the Dane will improve them.
Final third play
Despite having plenty of talented attackers in the squad, Everton Women have struggled in front of goal this season, having scored just 15 times in 19 WSL games. Therefore, something that Brian Sørensen will need to improve is his new team’s productivity and efficiency in the final third.
At Fortuna Hjørring this season, players have been encouraged to get forward and join attacks, with the full-backs regularly moving into dangerous areas of the field. It is often the case that they will have players both on the wings and in the half-spaces, and the full-backs and wingers alternate in terms of which has each role. In this case, Australia left-back Angela Beard is inside the pitch and she has become a pivot in Fortuna’s attack, with them now able to give her plenty of passing options in different directions, utilising the space available and making it harder for Nordsjælland in this case to get tight to the ball or any individual attacker. This is one reason that Fortuna have been so potent in front of goal this season, having netted 38 times in 16 games.
This theme of creating multiple passing options is reiterated here, with the ball this time on the far side of the pitch and three players once again making themselves available to receive it. However, the key aspect here is their individual positions, with Romania forward Florentina Olar getting in between the Brøndby defenders and becoming the main goalscoring threat, whilst Denmark midfielder Olivia Holdt has stayed back and taken up a playmaker role and Beard has made herself available for a longer pass on the nearside. With this setup in place, Fortuna have three different ways of shooting at goal, and Brøndby have no way of telling which of the three will be taken until the initial pass is made.
However, whilst it is all very well seeing the spaces, there still needs to be a determination from the individual players to make the runs and give the defenders something to think about, and Sørensen is often heard shouting “who’s running?” from the side of the pitch. In this case, Nordsjælland have come forward and tried to limit Fortuna’s options with the ball but have left space open behind them in the process. A second player has noticed this and made the run behind, allowing the ball to be played through the gap and the shot at goal to be taken, and this is the reason that opponents have to be wary when defending against Sørensen’s teams.
Therefore, whilst his attacking tactics revolve around creating passing options around the pitch and keeping the ball moving, he also relies on players to be brave and make runs into dangerous spaces when they appear, allowing the ball to keep travelling forwards and attacking momentum to be kept, even if the chance doesn’t lead to anything. This positivity is something that we perhaps haven’t seen enough of from Everton this season, but, with this new mindset in place, we could see them make more forward passes and pose more of a threat in 2022/2023.
Role of the midfielders
The midfielders arguably have the most important role in Brian Sørensen’s tactics, because they are required to be good at every aspect of the game and are key to the team’s ability to adapt to different game styles.
It has often been the case at Fortuna Hjørring that Australia’s Claire Wheeler and one other (in this case Sofie Lundgaard, wearing number nine), will stay around the centre circle and keep an eye on the positions of the ball and the opposing attackers. Wheeler in particular has been very good in a box-to-box role this season and is often seen offering shorter passing options, supporting attacks and moving into holes around the pitch.
However, the key qualities that Sørensen’s midfielders need to have are a wide range of passing and an excellent spatial awareness, because Fortuna’s attacks often start from them receiving the ball and turning to find the best passing option higher up the field, and that sometimes requires an aerial pass across the field or a shorter pass to an attacker who has come to offer a deeper option.
On most occasions, Fortuna look to keep the ball on the ground and move it around at pace, ensuring that there are less opportunities for opponents to intercept it. Here, they have moved the ball through Nordsjælland with just three passes, taking three opponents out of the game and getting themselves into a position where they can look to create a goalscoring opportunity. This would not have come about without the midfielders first noticing where the space was and then where their teammates were, indicating just how important they have been to Fortuna this season and the key role they play in Sørensen’s tactics.
We have already mentioned that Everton Women’s players don’t seem to have this level of understanding about what to do at each moment of the game, and this is something that will likely improve once Sørensen does formally take charge, making them a better side with the ball.
When Fortuna lose possession, they defend from the front, and this again comes mostly from the midfielders. Here, they have looked to press their opponents in turn, following the route of the ball, taking time away from Brøndby and forcing them to move the ball around quicker than they might have ordinarily preferred to. The fact that there are two Fortuna players here also means that Brøndby have no space with which to play forwards, meaning that the ball now has to go either sideways or backwards, slowing their attack down and allowing the Fortuna defenders to get back and ensure that there are no spaces left open.
This type of organisation when out of possession is something that Everton need, with them having conceded 35 goals this season. This number is only beaten by Leicester City Women (48) and Birmingham City Women (43), both of whom are below Everton in the table, so there is a desperate need for their new coach to come in and make them harder to score against. As this section has shown, Sørensen has a good idea tactically of how to keep the ball further away from their goal and ensure that there are less chances for opponents to break them down, so will help them in this area of the game.
When his team are in their own third, Brian Sørensen uses basic principles of making the pitch as big as possible when in possession and then narrowing and limiting spaces once they lose the ball, and this is something that has been very noticeable in Fortuna Hjørring’s games this season.
Here, we see the two full-backs pushing up the wings and providing the centre-backs with forward passing options, allowing Fortuna to build attacks from the back and move the ball away from their goal. However, the key role here is played by the two midfielders, indicated by the yellow line, who have both dropped back in this situation. However, this time, it is not to offer a shorter passing option, but to occupy the three Nordsjælland players who would otherwise be pressing the defenders and trying to win the ball here. As a result of the two midfielders getting back, the three forwards are now forced to stay narrow and not press the ball, giving the defenders more time and space to pass the ball around the pitch.
Some would argue that this is actually what Nordsjælland want to happen, as passing the ball out to the wings gives the attackers a better chance of isolating individual players. However, whilst this is true, it would also mean that the attackers would be pressing the ball here, looking to force a mistake, but they aren’t. Therefore, we come back to the midfielders having a big influence on Fortuna being able to stretch across the pitch and play out from the back.
As mentioned, Fortuna narrow up once they lose the ball, with two lines often formed as they set up in a low block. This also allows them to double up on each wing, with the winger and full-back working together and creating 2-v-1 situations against the opposing attackers when the ball is on their side of the pitch.
However, whilst this works in theory, it is something that Fortuna haven’t quite mastered in practice, as they have tended to leave themselves a little too open at the back once the full-back closest to the ball has gone to close it down. Brøndby in this situation took full advantage of the open spaces to score a goal, and this shows how susceptible Fortuna can be at the back when in this formation and how Everton Women need to stay aware of this potential issue if they also look to set up in the same way.
This is not the only way that Sørensen’s teams defend though, with this situation showing Beard staying close to the other defenders and not allowing spaces to be opened up centrally. Instead, Olar has come back to fill in as a fifth defender, moving into the space on the outside to prevent Brøndby from getting too close to the goal area. Therefore, it is likely that we will see a mix of the Everton full-backs getting out to the wings and the wingers helping out when needed, and this organised setup, although having a few problems here and there, could be what helps them to concede less goals.
We have looked at how Brian Sørensen likes his teams to play in attack, midfield and defence, but perhaps the best way to see exactly how he will improve Everton Women next season is through looking at both Fortuna Hjørring’s and Everton’s statistics for the current season, making some direct comparisons between them.
The first thing to point out is that Fortuna average more possession than Everton per game, with Fortuna having 58.93% whilst Everton have just 51.37%. This could be for tactical reasons as well as Everton not looking after the ball well enough, but it does seem likely that this will improve next season, with Fortuna’s higher percentage of offensive duels won (38.20% to 31.90%) showing that Sørensen gets his players onto the front foot and they win the ball back in dangerous areas on more occasions, and this will also be key to Everton creating more chances and possibly scoring more goals in the long run.
It is also worth noting that Everton are a better defensive side overall than Fortuna, with a higher percentage of defensive and aerial battles won (65.70% to 62.30% and 46.90% to 46.20% respectively) and more interceptions made (46.59 to 44.5). Therefore, the foundations are there for Sørensen to work with, which is important. However, what he needs to improve is the number of goals they concede, with Fortuna only letting in 14 this season whilst Everton, as mentioned, have conceded 35, and it is likely to be the overall structure of their defensive setup where we will likely see the most changes made.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked at the different tactics used by Brian Sørensen at Fortuna Hjørring this season, seeing how he could improve Everton Women’s fortunes when he joins them officially in the summer. What has been clear to everyone this season is that Everton have needed someone to come in and bring together the immense wealth of talent already at the club, and Sørensen’s proven track record of creating squad harmony makes him, in the eyes of the board, the perfect man for the job, and the number of trophies he has won and Champions League experience could make him a really shrewd appointment by the club.
There will be changes in the summer, with some players not fitting his model, and others given new roles or asked to play a little differently than we are perhaps used to seeing from them. However, it will be interesting to see just how he uses the squad and assembles a team capable of competing, with Everton needing to kick on next season and once again challenge for the top spots in the WSL.