Stina Blackstenius: the Sweden striker with a “natural ability” in front of goal – scout report
Sweden have been near the summit of international women’s football for some time now, with many of their players dotted around Europe’s top clubs. Bayern Munich Frauen have defender Hanna Glas and forward Sofia Jakobsson on their books, Chelsea Women are captained by Magdalena Eriksson and also have left-back Jonna Andersson in their team, whilst Kosovare Asllani is with Real Madrid Femenino and Fridolina Rolfo has this summer joined Barcelona Femeni.
However, one who initially played abroad (with Montpellier Feminines) before moving back home is 25-year-old striker Stina Blackstenius. She has established herself this season as a key player for BK Hacken, having moved from Damallsvenskan rivals Linkopings for the 2020 campaign, and was Sweden’s top scorer at the recent Tokyo Olympics, netting five goals. Based in Gothenburg, Hacken’s squad list also includes former Manchester United Women defender Lotta Okvist, Sweden goalkeeper Jennifer Falk and Denmark’s ex-Aston Villa Women striker Stine Larsen, who joined after leaving the WSL side this summer.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at the impact Blackstenius has had on Hacken’s tactics, through her positioning, link-up play and how she leads the line, seeing why she has become so important for them. The scout report will also show where she can continue to improve as her career progresses.
We will begin by looking at Stina Blackstenius’ positioning during matches. This will give us a good assessment of her movement and spatial awareness, both of which are critical in a striker’s game.
Here, we see Blackstenius, in the yellow circle, ahead of the ball, which is a common occurrence when she is on the field. As a result, her teammates always have a forward passing option available to them, meaning they can continue their attacks even when being closed down by opposing defenders. In their Olympics opening round win against the USA, this was a really important quality for Sweden to have, as the USA’s defence left spaces open for them to exploit. As Blackstenius thrives on these opportunities, the USA allowed Sweden to play to their strengths, which was part of the reason for Sweden’s win.
However, we can see how Blackstenius is individually key here. She sees the gap, pointing to where she wants the ball to go. The fact that her body is angled towards the goal shows how she is always on the front foot, seeing where she can create problems, and this is why she is such a dangerous opponent. She averages 8.48 touches in the penalty area per game, highlighting how much time she spends in the goal area during matches.
Even when the defence are closing her down, Blackstenius creates her own space, as has happened here. The ball is on the far side of the pitch, with the Hacken striker initially defended closely by USA centre-backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Tierna Davidson. However, just before the ball enters the box, Blackstenius pulls back, whilst the defenders continue their run towards their goal line, creating the space we see the Sweden striker in now. This gives her time to control the ball once she has received it, increasing the quality and potency of her eventual shot. Whilst her positioning here is not unusual, it is her ability to create space that ensures her ability to shoot at goal here. When she is in the opposing goal area, she constantly moves around, making it difficult to mark her, and her spatial awareness allows her to see where the defenders go and receive the ball away from them.
When she has been closed down this season, she has won 38.9% of her offensive duels, showing that she is not afraid to take players on if they do limit her options. This means she is a good player when in open and contained space, demonstrating her quality in different situations.
That awareness also allows Blackstenius to get into the right areas to affect the game. She is a typical striker in that she likes to score close range efforts and tidy up rebounds, and constantly looks to make late moves to meet crosses close to the posts. This image shows the second goal Sweden scored against the USA, with Blackstenius netting from inside the six yard area. She has scored 14 goals for Hacken in the current 2021 season, at an average of 0.82 per game, whilst her expected goals (xG) value is 0.85. She is therefore meeting her target on the whole, and these numbers reflect her alertness and ability to react to what is happening around her.
However, whilst we have so far seen the positives of her positioning around the pitch, there is one area where she can still improve. When she is pulled out to the wings, she then struggles when making crosses into the box, lacking the necessary quality, and her crossing accuracy for the 2021 season is only 17.8%. In this image, she needs to find one of her Hacken teammates, but her attempt only comes back outside the box, as the arrow shows, allowing Linkopings to win and clear the ball.
Therefore, as her career progresses, Blackstenius needs to work on this element of her game, as, even though it is not a regularity for her to be on the wings, Hacken struggle to make opportunities count when she is the one trying to set up a chance in the box.
Leading the line
Stina Blackstenius’ positioning enables her to play at the tip of her team’s attack. Hacken have used a 4-2-3-1 formation in 51% of their games so far this season, with Blackstenius often asked to get behind defenders and create passing options for the rest of the team.
This was particularly important when facing teams who sat back and tried to prevent Hacken creating opportunities, as AIK did here. AIK were alive to the threat of Blackstenius, who is in her usual position at the top of the field, and tried to limit the service into her. However, whilst Hacken usually play ground passes into her, as is their preferred style of play, Blackstenius now needs to give them a different way of transferring the ball behind the defence.
Her ability to run through gaps proved essential in this, as it allowed high balls to be played over the top and enabled Hacken to break their opponents down in an alternative way. Therefore, Blackstenius can change her game to fit what is happening around her, and this is another reason she is so important for her team.
She does the same thing when with Sweden, as she has run ahead here to offer a passing option behind Australia’s defence in their Olympic semi-final. Sweden are not short of attacking options, with Juventus Femmenile’s Lina Hurtig and the aforementioned Rolfo, Asllani, Jakobsson and new Everton Women striker Anna Anvegard all capable of playing alongside Blackstenius, but Sweden opted to make the Hacken striker their main target player throughout the Olympics. This is because of her ability to make these runs behind defenders, allowing her team to pass forward with pace, and both Hacken and Sweden carry more of a threat with her on the pitch as a result.
Blackstenius doesn’t just start high up the field and stay there for entire games; she also drops back to help out when needed. Here, in Hacken’s game against Kristianstads, Blackstenius has come back to the halfway line, helping them to keep the ball under pressure.
Once Hacken move the ball into space, Blackstenius instantly runs forward to take up a high position again. She ignores the ball at this point, but this is not due to a selfish desire to score the goal; it is actually because she knows what her job is, especially as she is the only striker in the team. Therefore, she leaves her teammates to move the ball around, and gets into the right place to receive it behind the defence when they are ready. This type of play, with every player knowing their strengths and roles in the team, is why Hacken have proven difficult to play against.
However, again, there are areas of her game that she can work on. Here, she is once again advancing forwards and stretching the play, but loses control of the ball and allows Linkopings to clear their lines. It seems like a small point to criticise, but that is because Blackstenius is such a good player. Hacken currently sit second in the Damallsvenskan table, six points behind leaders Rosengard, so having more quality with the ball in these situations could help to make up that difference.
We have so far looked at Stina Blackstenius’ positioning and ability to lead the line, but she does more than that. One key quality which is not noticed so much is her link-up play, working with teammates to create opportunities. Hacken have used a 3-4-1-2 formation 17% of the time this season, so Blackstenius has, on occasion, had a strike partner to help her.
This partnership gives Hacken several different tactical options. Firstly, the basic idea is that whoever is playing alongside Blackstenius drops back to offer the shorter passing option to the midfielders, which in turn allows the striker to stay higher up the field and get in between the defenders. Therefore, whilst Blackstenius is not alone at the top of the pitch, she is still the one tasked with stretching the play.
One thing we saw in the last section was that the Sweden striker comes back to help out if the ball is in a congested part of the pitch, but this formation makes that unnecessary, as her attacking teammate comes back instead. Blackstenius therefore doesn’t use up energy running back and forth, and can instead focus on keeping the defenders pinned back and maintaining the gap between them and the midfielders, ensuring Hacken can continue passing through the thirds, as is their preferred style of play.
In this way, Blackstenius and her attacking partner in effect become their own small unit within the team, working in close proximity to each other and creating goalscoring opportunities. Here, Blackstenius plays the ball through the defensive gap for her teammate to meet behind the defence, leading to a shot at goal. If Blackstenius were on her own in this situation, she would have run through and shot at goal herself, but having another player alongside her gives Hacken another option for when that isn’t possible.
Linkopings here are unable to prevent the two combining to create this chance, as one defender has come to meet the ball and another hasn’t, which means the gap is open for Hacken to exploit. However, the vision of Blackstenius to see and perfectly weight the pass shows that she doesn’t just score goals, but creates them too. She has already made four assists this season, at an average of 0.24 per game, and has an expected assists (xA) value of 0.23, so, again, she is performing around the levels expected of her, and it also adds another element to her overall game.
When either Hacken or Sweden are counter-attacking, Blackstenius uses her pace to get up the field and stay ahead of the ball, meaning there is a passing option ready for when the player in possession is closed down. This we know is one of Blackstenius’ main qualities, but, once she gets the ball here, she stops her run, keeping possession and allowing her teammates to run ahead of her, as the blue arrows show both Rolfo and Jakobsson doing here.
The reason for this is that Australia could have easily surrounded Blackstenius if she had attacked alone, so, by waiting, Sweden have increased their numbers, and got either side of the defence to prevent them moving forwards. Australia used Everton’s Hayley Raso and Arsenal Women’s Steph Catley as wing-backs during the Olympics, so Sweden knew there would be space either side of the back three.
For Blackstenius, this shows her quick-thinking with the ball, and demonstrates another way that she brings others into the game. Her ability to link up play in different situations, as has been shown in this section, is another reason that she is a well-rounded and talented striker.
In conclusion, we have looked in this analysis at Sweden striker Stina Blackstenius, focusing on three different aspects of her game. We have found multiple reasons why she is such a highly-rated player, and why she is a prolific goalscorer when given opportunities to do so. She has not been linked with a move to any clubs this summer, so Hacken appear to be safe from a transfer at the moment, but there is no doubting that big clubs will come looking if she keeps up her form this season, and continues to make her name on the international stage during next summer’s Euro 2022 tournament in England.