Anel Ahmedhodžić: Is he good enough to play for a possession-based team like Atalanta?
There has been a lot of speculation in the media recently in Sweden about the future of Malmo’s highly-rated centre-back Anel Ahmedhodžić. Reliable transfer expert Fabrizio Romano has come out within the last two weeks and claimed that the Bosnian international is in advanced talks with a move to Atalanta.
The journalist also mentioned that both Chelsea and Manchester United had scouted him already and are also interested, but a move to Italy seems very likely when the summer transfer window opens.
The ex-Nottingham Forest defender has been extremely impressive for Malmo since joining the club in 2019 and was a vital component of the team which won the 2020 Allsvenskan by nine points with the second-best defence in the division. His excellent performances were rewarded by getting a call up to the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team, despite playing with Sweden at underage level and even making his debut in an international friendly, but similar to Declan Rice’s situation, he changed allegiance.
If a move to Atalanta is to be completed, the Bergamo-based club may be able to secure his signature for quite cheap as his value is just €3 million according to Transfermarkt.
This article will be a tactical analysis of the player in the form of a scout report. It will be an analysis of the player’s strengths and weaknesses as well as looking to see if his style of play would suit the tactics of a possession-oriented team like Atalanta.
The 21-year-old is very well-built in terms of physicality, standing at 6 ft 4 and weighing 185lb, or 84kg. From extensive scouting of the centre-back for this piece, it is very evident that Ahmedhodžić uses his body very well when in defensive duels, shrugging opponents off the ball, using his wide frame to block shots, etc.
The Bosnian is right-footed and has played on the right side of a two-man central defensive partnership in 84 percent of his games for Malmo. The club’s current manager, Jon Dahl Tomasson, who formerly played as a striker for Newcastle United and Milan, has deployed a 4-2-3-1 in 58 percent of Malmo’s games this season in all competitions.
In this 4-2-3-1, Ahmedhodžić is used as a right centre-back, typically partnering next to the experienced Danish international Lasse Nielsen, flanked by Eric Larsson as the right fullback and Jonas Knudsen as the left fullback.
As Malmo tends to push their fullbacks high when they are in positional attacks, Ahmedhodžić is tasked with pushing across and covering the wide areas, which he does rather well, which we will go into further detail with. This is certainly something that would benefit Atalanta should he move to Italy and play on the right of back three.
From the player’s heatmap we can see this:
From the heat map, we can also gauge that Malmo play a high-line with their possession-based system and so the 21-year-old is no stranger to pushing very high up the pitch to keep a high line for possession and counterpressing purposes.
Ahmedhodžić has quite a few deficiencies in his game, which we will delve deeper into later in this scout report but is certainly quite a well-rounded centre-back and from watching him thoroughly, you can see why many top clubs are keeping a close eye on him.
I compared the Bosnian to every centre-back in European football from the past calendar year playing in the top-flight divisions of their respective leagues and who have played a minimum of 500 minutes, using a few different metrics for central defenders. He came up rather impressively, whilst taking into consideration the difference in the quality of the Allsvenskan compared to the top five European leagues.
Arguably the most impressive statistic was his passing accuracy (P%) which stands at 90.48 percent in the last 12 months, one of the best passing accuracies for any centre-back in European football.
We can also see that the Malmo star has a tendency to give away fouls though with an average of 0.64 fouls per 90 (F/90), which is quite a worrying statistic.
One of his better metrics is his aerial duel success rate (AD%) of 63.98 percent, whilst competing in 4.24 aerial duels per 90.
Ahmedhodžić plays roughly 6.91 long balls per 90 (LP/90) with a success rate (LP%) of 64.36 percent which is well above average in Europe’s top-flight divisions.
Finally, he comes up solid in his tackling metrics too if not slightly average with a tackle success rate (T) of 46.43 percent.
Ball progression perfect for a possession-based system
Disregarding the obvious need to judge a centre-back on his defensive attributes, Ahmedhodžić was incredible for Malmo last season in their title-winning campaign in terms of progressing the ball from the backline through to the midfield.
As we already touched on, Malmo are a team who like having the ball so being capable of playing with the ball at his feet is very important, just as it would be if he moved to Atalanta or another possession-based side.
Ahmedhodžić had the seventh-highest amount of passes last season in the Swedish league out of every player in all positions, which is a fantastic return. He also had the fourth-highest amount of attempted progressive passes in the league with 344, as we can see from the table below:
When in the build-up phase or in a positional attack in the middle third, Tomasson instructs his double-pivot to stay positioned behind the opposition’s first line of pressure, meaning it is up to the centre-backs and fullbacks when circulating the ball to break this first line.
Ahmedhodžić does this incredibly well and is prone to take risks when breaking this first line of pressure, but these risks are usually always calculated beforehand with his exceptional passing accuracy from the past 12 months.
A centre-back capable of playing through an opponent’s press can be so useful for teams when in possession and a team like Atalanta would certainly benefit from his cheap services.
Here is an example of Ahmedhodžić playing out from the back under a high press from the opposition. The centre-forward has angled his run to cut off the passing lanes back inside and force him to play out to the ball-near fullback, but he opts to play to the pivot player who dropped short despite being a much riskier passing option.
The pivot player invites pressure from the opposition’s winger before bouncing the ball out to the right-back which allows the fullback clear progression to drive forward, easily beating the high press that all started with Ahmedhodžić’s comfortability on the ball and the belief in his own ability.
Again, we can see an example of Ahmedhodžić breaking through the opposition’s first line of pressure here when they are defending in a mid-block.
The obvious and risk-averse passing lane would be out to the right-back but Malmo’s attacking midfielder has popped up on the far side in space and so the Bosnian drills a wonderful low pass into his feet, beating the opposition’s first two defensive lines and progressing his side very high up the pitch.
Long passing ability
Another superb trait that Ahmedhodžić has is the ability to spray the ball and find players out wide to stretch the play or else play balls over the top to forwards who are attacking the depth of the pitch.
This is something that Liverpool have missed quite badly since the injury to Virgil van Dijk occurred near the start of the season. When a team is struggling to play through an opponent’s defensive structure, having a central defender who can switch the ball and stretch the opposition vertically and horizontally to create space is so important, which is what the Malmo defender gives his side.
His accuracy from long passes is quite high as we already discussed earlier in the article, and the Bosnian boasts a 64.36 percent accuracy from these long balls.
In this recent scenario from the Svenska Cupen, Malmo were struggling to break down their opponent’s narrow and compact low block. As we can see from this image, GAIS have blocked or are tight to all the nearest passing lanes and so Ahmedhodžić decides to switch the play quickly rather than play backwards and try to invite the opposition to come out and press.
By switching the play successfully, he forces the defending players to have to shift across quickly in their block, which can create gaps for the attacking team to exploit.
This is an example of Ahmedhodžić horizontally stretching his opponents with an excellent long ball out to the fullback, but he is also well-equipped to stretch them vertically too.
Here we can see a situation where Ahmedhodžić stretched the opposition vertically in their 5-3-2 mid-block. There are no short progressive passing lanes available whilst there are only two risk-averse options so the centre-back sees one of the Malmo forwards making a run in behind the opponent’s backline and decides to play over the top to success.
Having a defender with the quality and comfortability to play these long passes when a defending team are tough to break down is very useful and would benefit any possession-based side.
Now, as Ahmedhodžić is a centre-back, his first duty ultimately is to defend. He is a good defender and can be difficult to get by. There are a lot of deficiencies in his game from a defensive point of view, some which can be coached out of him, some which are due to his physical build, but he is still a solid defender at the back and has been for the Swedish giants for quite some time now.
As we spoke about previously, when Malmo are in a positional attack, playing inside the opposition’s half with the ball, Tomasson likes his fullbacks to push onwards up the flanks while the wingers invert, as is typical of most systems in possession nowadays.
This of course leaves a team exposed out wide for the opposition to counterattack into so centre-backs need to be quick off the mark to cover the wide areas.
The problem with this of course is that, whilst Ahmedhodžić is quite successful covering the wide areas for the ball-near fullback, he is not the mobile centre-back and when isolated in these situations against a tricky winger or forward, it can spell serious trouble for Malmo, which we can see from the following picture:
The forward has managed to skip past the Bosnian’s challenges and Malmo are in extreme danger of scoring.
One area that Ahmedhodžić is quite useful is in terms of blocking shots. In Allsvenskan last season, the 21-year-old ranked in eighth place for the most amount of blocked shots over the course of the campaign.
The reason he was so efficient at shot-blocking is because of his frame. The Bosnian international uses his wide frame to full capacity when the opposition is bearing down on goal in order to get a nick onto the ball and prevent it from going goal-bound.
Weaknesses and areas to improve
As with any scout report, it is extremely important to highlight where a player is quite weak in his overall play. Ahmedhodžić has weaker elements to his game which have cost Malmo goals in the past, and whilst these are not entirely his fault, may discourage a top team from buying him.
One of these is his mobility. Very much like Manchester United’s Harry Maguire, if the ball is played in behind Ahmedhodžić or the forward beats him in a 1v1 duel, the centre-back can find himself in serious danger.
He lacks mobility and can be quite easy to turn if the player on the ball can shift his feet and his body quickly enough.
Here, the opposition’s forward has been slipped in behind Ahmedhodžić and is about to hit a strike at the goal, which ends up hitting the net as it turns out. However, as we can see, Ahmedhodžić has not even turned around by the time the ball-carrier has the ball under control.
He can get caught out quite a lot from this and so despite being very efficient with the ball at his feet, his ability to make up ground on an attacking player that has gotten in behind the backline is poor, which can be troublesome in a team who play a high-line.
One area he definitely needs to improve on is his aggressiveness in the air against bigger centre-forwards. Standing at 6 ft 4, Ahmedhodžić is efficient at winning his aerial duels for the most part but against a more physical centre-forward, he can be rather timid and easily dominated.
This scenario occurred on the defender’s first game for the Bosnian national team. He failed to deal with Josh Magennis who dominated him in the air and flicked a header on for Niall McGinn who slotted home.
For such a massive player, he tends to shy away at times from tough aerial challenges or just any physical challenges for that matter, which is an area he desperately needs to improve on if he is to make it in a top-five European league, particularly in a league like Serie A where there is an abundance of target men up top.
With the right coaching, Ahmedhodžić could certainly play for a team in a top-five league in Europe. As was stated from the start, it is looking likely that he makes the transfer to Atalanta in the summer which could be an excellent move for him.
His ball-playing ability would suit Gian Piero Gasperini’s side down to a tee, but his defending inefficiencies are worrying due to the high-line that Atalanta plays. However, with the right coaching, the 21-year-old could turn into a fantastic asset in Italy and won’t be much of a risk considering his low transfer value.