Nathalie Björn 2023/24: Where the Sweden int’l must improve to become a consistent world-class defender – scout report
Rumours have been circulating during the last days of the transfer market about a potential transfer of the Swedish international Nathalie Björn from WSL’s Everton Women to the Primera División’s Real Madrid Women.
This move was expected to be completed with the highest transfer fee for a defender in women’s football, breaking the record of having one of Sweden’s best defensive players. However, things looked blurry following the decline of the first offer, and the negotiations were finally postponed to the upcoming transfer window.
But despite this failure of negotiations, looking at the player’s abilities, strengths, and areas to improve, as well as analysing her performances with Sweden and with Everton, wouldn’t harm and would provide extra insight about them.
Moreover, this tactical analysis and scout report will try to answer whether Björn deserves to be transferred with the highest fee for a defender or whether she is becoming an overrated defender. The analysis will also examine Real Madrid’s defensive players and tactics while assessing Björn’s ability to fit in the team and provide an addition.
Björn started her footballing career in Sweden at Vaksala SK in 2012. Then, she played for IK Sirius, AIK, Eskilstuna United, and finally Rosengård while not leaving the Damallsvenskan. Her first move outside Sweden took place in 2021 when she moved to Everton and played in the WSL for two seasons. The first one was not so good in terms of results since the team finished 10th in the standings, while the second season was better, finishing sixth just behind Aston Villa and Manchester City.
Defensive abilities and passing
The 26-year-old centre-back has been an instrumental defender for Sweden so far, with key performances in big tournaments, and the latest World Cup has been the most recent proof of what Björn represents for Sweden’s defensive compactness. She is a modern defender who is quick in movements, decisions, and in passing, as opposed to many defenders, and who knows how to provide accurate passes throughout games with outstanding consistency.
With 84.5% of accurate passes on average, Björn always helps her teams’ build-up phase with simple and through passes toward the right wing, knowing she usually plays as a right centre-back.
But at the same time, she is a defender with excellent long-passing techniques, and she executes these crosses with rapidity, accuracy, and fluidity most of the time. Although the statistics do not reflect this remarkable ability of Björn, with just a 43.5% long passing accuracy average, she crosses the ball very efficiently. Usually, she helps switch the game from one side to the other, creating numerical superiority for her team.
The following example highlights Björn’s ability to spot her unmarked teammate and provide her with a critical long pass in space, creating a numerical superiority inside the final third and contributing directly to building the team’s attack. Björn often attempts this type of cross in a clean and outstanding.
In addition to this type of cross, Björn can also advance and play in a high defensive bloc, acting like a midfielder and distributing the ball to both sides.
The following example shows how these crosses coming from the back can create a whole attack for Sweden in this case, as Björn’s pass instructs the concerned player to advance on that right wing and go for a cross or penetrate inside the penalty box.
Exploiting these crosses and through passes a bit further at Sweden, Everton, or Real Madrid in the near future would help these teams in a significant way from a playmaking perspective, as Björn is a player who uses her feet very well and reads the game with a thorough vision.
From a defensive perspective, we can say that Björn is a solid defender with excellent physical strength and ability to win duels, with an average of 57.4% and 52.1% for aerial duels. These numbers certainly need some improvements, and Björn’s defensive decisions need some revisions at times as well.
Björn can be excellent in one-on-one situations even after the opponent dribbles past her since she has the ability to usually save the situation with a sliding tackle to clear the ball away. This example highlights this ability to catch an attacking player who has already got some meters away from her, using a well-timed sliding tackle.
Nevertheless, Björn tends to mistime these sliding tackles at times, and opponents often find a way to avoid these tackles with dribbles. The next image sheds light on a remarkable episode showing Björn’s tackling attempt to intercept the ball from a USWNT player. However, Björn’s tackle was made a bit early, and the opponent had the time to dribble past her and benefit from a lot of space left by Björn.
Such attempts can sometimes lead to significant defensive issues, especially when the defender tries to anticipate an action while leaving space behind her, and no one covers it. This picture shows another wrongly-timed tackle from Björn and focuses on the space left by the Swedish defender for the West Ham player.
Indeed, these cases do not happen so often, and Björn usually defends well. Yet, avoiding these mistakes is necessary for turning Björn into a world-class defender.
Regarding errors, Björn can also make wrong anticipations to pass in dangerous situations, which may lead to issues. In the following action, she attempted to intercept a pass close to her. However, she miscalculated the distance separating her from the ball and the time needed to reach the ball, leading to conceding a dangerous action since the opposing striker was left alone near the penalty box.
This being said, Björn cannot avoid making mistakes, and the same applies to all defenders worldwide. However, she can commit fewer errors and is already progressing from one season to the other. Björn is excellent in anticipation when marking players from behind.
She usually succeeds in intercepting passes coming to them by anticipating those passes well, as she does not hesitate or delay the anticipation process. Her aggressiveness in such situations also helps and makes her win duels in a remarkable way. Björn’s anticipations in these cases provide greater chances of more possession time.
Apart from anticipations and tackling, Björn can play in different types of defences and copes excellently with high and low defensive blocs. Her positioning is usually good enough, and she can be crucial sometimes, especially when the team is put in complicated situations. She has the tactical awareness needed to move well without the ball and imagine her opponents’ next move, which helps her win sometimes and sometimes helps her save her team from conceding goals.
Björn made this clearance near the goal line after running without the ball while the goalkeeper was going out in a duel with the striker. Björn was, therefore, intelligent enough to continue her run and cover for the goal, estimating that the striker could get away from the goalkeeper. These crucial clearances and awareness of dangers always help defenders become more mature and indispensable in a team.
Performances with Sweden vs Performances with Everton
It is always a bit complicated to compare a defender’s performance with different teams and determine when the player performs better. Björn is one of the defenders who do their best to be decisive in her team’s defensive performance no matter how powerful that defensive line is.
The Swedish international has usually been impactful with Sweden and helped with crucial defending, playmaking, and scoring headers at times too.
But at a club team level, Björn has always strived to make her teams’ defensive lines more solid and organised despite being unable to improve a whole team’s defence. Nevertheless, her efforts were noticeable on numerous occasions, especially when it comes to covering for her teammates or blocking shots, such as in the example we saw above.
Therefore, it is safe to say that Björn’s positive impact appears a bit more when she plays at Everton. From 2021 to early 2023, Björn blocked 22 shots so far, which exceeds her blocked shots when playing for Sweden by a high margin.
It should be emphasised that playing with the Swedish national team is never easy because the team usually faces some of the most powerful footballing nations either in big tournaments or in qualifiers, which impacts Björn’s statistics and lead her to commit more mistakes at an international level.
Despite that, Björn is becoming a defensive pillar for Sweden and progressing gradually to become indispensable for the team.
During the latest Women’s World Cup, Björn interpreted a new role and succeeded in it, providing an additional positioning option since she was used as a right-back most of the time.
Playing Björn in this position guarantees more defensive compactness and extensively exploits the latter’s passing and playmaking abilities. This stresses Björn’s intelligence and quick adaptability to unexpected situations, a characteristic of big players.
Although Björn will not always need to occupy that position, this ability to play as a centre-back and as a right-back will undoubtedly increase the player’s value and attract more interest from clubs to obtain her services.
Possible challenges at Real Madrid
With defenders like Rocío Gálvez, Ivana Andrés, and Kathellen being Björn’s potential teammates if she moves to Real Madrid, the Swedish defender has the chance to become a first-choice defender alongside Andrés or Gálvez since these two defenders have a bit of advantage over Kathellen.
Nevertheless, Björn must work hard at Everton and after moving to Real Madrid too (if the deal takes place) in order to guarantee a starting spot. Playing in the Spanish Liga F might indeed be less competitive and challenging than the WSL at the moment. Yet, this doesn’t mean that Björn will guarantee an easy adaptation to the Spanish playing style.
The Primera División can get a bit more physical than the WSL, and coping with the higher level of aggressivity shouldn’t be underestimated since Björn did not play with teams outside Sweden or England before. If she keeps improving, Björn can become an influential player at Real Madrid because she has the abilities needed to cope with the team’s playing system and the league’s differences.
Regardless, hard work will determine whether Björn succeeds in her Spanish adventure or fails to adapt and moves quickly to another team.
Nathalie Björn will have the chance to move to a bigger club than Everton during the upcoming transfer market after the failure to reach an agreement with Real Madrid during this transfer market. Therefore, she must keep performing well and reduce the number of defensive mistakes per match.
We cannot say that Björn is overrated because she is one of Sweden’s best defensive players. However, she needs to make a few improvements in timing, anticipations, and sliding tackles mainly to become a consistent world-class defender and earn the highest salaries.