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BK Häcken 2023: Coping without Stine Larsen - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

“A genuine team player”: How BK Häcken have tactically adjusted to cope without Stine Larsen – scout report

When asked to describe striker Stine Larsen, Denmark and former BK Häcken teammate Mille Gejl used the phrase “the ultimate team player”, which is incredibly high praise from one player to give to another and shows the high esteem within which she is held.

There is little doubt over Larsen’s talent, but what makes her such an intelligent player is the way in which she operates, with her often making moves and creating spaces for others without being noticed, and that is why, despite not being a double-digit goalscorer for Häcken since joining them in 2021 from Aston Villa Women, she is someone that they hold in very high regard.

It was therefore a huge blow for the Swedish side when the news came out last month that, just three games into the 2023 Damallsvenskan season, Larsen had joined the long list of female players to have suffered an ACL injury, with the announcement of her long-term absence coming just days before England captain Leah Williamson’s. With Häcken allowing last season’s club top scorer Pauline Hammarlund to depart in January for Fiorentina Femmenile, there was suddenly some concern as to how they would deal with the losses of their two first-choice centre forwards.

Häcken, to their credit, have found a way of playing without them and are still picking up results, with the decision being to use Canada forward Clarissa Larisey in the central attacking role and to change their tactics to suit her abilities. This tactical analysis will look at how they have made that transition and why it has helped them to maintain their strong start to the campaign.

With Stine Larsen

The most obvious thing to see when watching Larsen play is that she is not someone who tends to drop back as often, with her very much at home when playing in advanced areas and looking to get into spaces behind opposing defensive lines.

BK Häcken 2023: Coping without Stine Larsen - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
BK Häcken have tended to play long direct balls with Stine Larsen on the field.

As a result, BK Häcken have more often than not deployed a direct style of play that sees them move the ball towards her at the earliest opportunity, allowing her to break behind opponents before they have had a chance to close off the gaps ahead of her.

However, there is more to her play than that, with many who have studied her performances noting that she doesn’t only stay in the central channel and instead drifts out towards both wings as well. This is evident in this situation, during the game against Vittsjö, with the ball just inside the opposing half and already being sent towards the Denmark international, but whilst staying inside the far channel due to Larsen moving over towards that side of the field.

Therefore, even though she doesn’t drop back a great deal of the time, Larsen is still a fairly mobile attacker.

BK Häcken 2023: Coping without Stine Larsen - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
BK Häcken have used Stine Larsen to create spaces for other players to move into.

Having that mobility allows Häcken to implement the next layer of their attacking play into their game plan, with them using Larsen’s strong positional qualities to manipulate opposing defenders into leaving spaces open. Here, newly-promoted Växjö have several players tightly shadowing the Danish striker, but Häcken have no intention of moving the ball towards her and instead right-back Hanna Wijk passes it towards Rosa Kafaji, in the white circle.

The key point here is that, when they get into these areas of the field, Häcken like to have two waves in their attack, with Larsen the first and those immediately behind her, usually Kafaji and former Everton Women striker Anna Anvegård, never far away and providing the second.

This might seem like a strange way to set up, but it means that the latter two have open spaces to receive the ball in and shoot at goal, and, even though Kafaji is unable to find the back of the net on this occasion, the fact that she has netted four times and Anvegård three demonstrates how using them in these roles gives them more opportunities to score goals and allows them to play to their strengths.

BK Häcken 2023: Coping without Stine Larsen - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
BK Häcken have relied on Stine Larsen’s ability to make the right decision at the right time.

It might appear from this that Larsen is restricted to simply being a support act for those behind her, but that would be too simplistic a conclusion to make. Instead, what Häcken rely on her for is the ability to judge when to hold her position and when to move forward and play the starring role, and that comes back to the clever way in which she operates on the field.

In this case, with Kafaji once again looking to test Växjö’s goalkeeper, Larsen reads the situation and knows that there is a chance here for her to move forward and either meet her teammate’s pass or to get on the end of a rebound and so she advances into the open space and successfully converts the opportunity for her side at the second attempt.

This vision and ability to recognise what she needs to do at different moments in the game is another aspect of her performances that has led to praise being sent in her direction. It is something that her teammates have relied on from her throughout her career, with WSL fans noting how she was always a handful to play against when at Aston Villa, and the fact that Växjö defender Maria Møller Thomsen was unable to react in time to her run here showed that the unpredictable nature of her game is what makes her such a valued member of her domestic and national teams.

With Clarissa Larisey

Therefore, the injury that she suffered really was a major blow to BK Häcken’s hopes for the season, given everything that she brings to the table, and they knew that she was not going to be an easy player to replace.

BK Häcken 2023: Coping without Stine Larsen - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
BK Häcken have been playing with a different style of play since Clarissa Larisey has started for them.

The simple fact is that there isn’t anyone else at the club who can do what Larsen does, and so manager Robert Vilahamn opted to be inventive and to start Larisey in her place.

The young Canada star only joined the club in January from SWPL 1 giants Celtic Women, but there are high hopes for her both at club and international level, with her scoring 12 goals during her half-season in Glasgow and many expecting her to be included in Canada’s squad at the World Cup this summer. Indeed, upon securing her signature, the club’s head of women’s football, Christian Lundström, stated that they had followed her progress for a long time and were excited to see her develop during her time in Gothenburg.

Nevertheless, she is a very different profile of player to Larsen, in that she is not as strong aerially and is at her best when the ball is played towards her on the ground. This meant that Häcken needed to instigate a major stylistic change in order to allow her to play at her full potential, but the faith that they had in her meant that it was something that they were prepared to do.

It did take time for the rest of the squad to get used to the new tactics though, with the game against Kalmar the first with Larisey at the top of the field, and it was clear that some players were unsure of when to pass forwards and didn’t want to risk possession being conceded.

In this case, Elin Rubensson has an opportunity to move the ball forwards, as the white arrow shows, with Kafaji in space and ready to control the ball, turn and send it forwards again, but Rubensson instead opted to play across the field towards Australia international Aivi Luik, who then passes towards left-back Anna Linnea Sandberg on the far side of the field, and these sideways passes were common in their early matches as they got used to the new style.

BK Häcken 2023: Coping without Stine Larsen - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
BK Häcken have grown to like playing with their new style of play.

However, as they have got more used to the tactics, there have been stronger individual performances and signs that players are adjusting to what is now required of them. One player who has really taken to it is Anvegård, with her no longer staying so close to Larisey, having recognised that the Canadian doesn’t need the same support as Larsen, and so dropping back to get on the ball in deeper areas.

This added freedom that has been afforded to key players has led to links being formed between the midfield and forward areas, as is clear to see here against Örebro, and it has helped to make Häcken’s overall play look much crisper and sharper as they move the ball around the field. It may not be something that they envisaged having to turn to at the start of the campaign, but the players have taken to it well, and having the ability to turn to it does mean that they now have a little more tactical flexibility than they had before, which is never a bad thing.

BK Häcken 2023: Coping without Stine Larsen - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
BK Häcken’s counterattacks have been a key weapon for them in the last few games.

The ability to play through the thirds has been particularly useful during their counterattacks, when they have successfully dislodged the ball inside their own third and are looking to move it out of danger and instigate their own attack.

Executing these sequences well comes down to players being confident in what they are doing, with each person involved needing to know where they can be of use and where they will send the ball next, and what helps Häcken with this is that aforementioned freedom that the forwards have had to drop back and get into the gaps between different ranks. Now, natural progression lines such as this occur, meaning that, when Rubensson wins the ball, she can see the route for it to travel along, with Anvegård and Kafaji helping to transfer it into Larisey’s path, all before Örebro have had a chance to react.

Having pace also helps, and that is something else that Häcken have looked to increase this season, not only through the addition of Larisey but also through the loan signing of Manchester City Women’s Julie Blakstad. The Norway international is another to have had a huge impact in these situations, with her first-touch passing and identification of space again helping Häcken to keep possession and create plenty of goalscoring opportunities, and the fact that 33.2% of their counterattacks this season have led to a shot on goal shows that the players are making the most of these passages of play and are using them to create more problems for their opponents.

Possible replacements

Nevertheless, whilst it is a very positive thing to have this fallback option, there is a possibility that that is all it is, with BK Häcken potentially waiting until the summer window opens and then entering the market in their search for another striker, and one who might fit the profile of Larsen and who would enable the team to revert to their previous style.

BK Häcken 2023: Coping without Stine Larsen - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Comparison of Stine Larsen’s and Clarissa Larisey’s shot maps at BK Häcken for the 2023 Damallsvenskan season.

This is because both Larsen and Larisey offer different things on the field, as has been the key message throughout this scout report, and that is no more evident than when looking at the areas that they shoot at goal from. As is clear in this graphic, Larsen plays in a much tighter area of the box than the Canadian, who likes to shoot at goal from slightly wider angles, and Häcken may feel that, whilst their current free-flowing style of play is producing results, there will come a time when their opponents work out how to contain it and they need to go back to what they did before.

BK Häcken 2023: Coping without Stine Larsen - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Atlanta Primus’ shot assists map at London City Lionesses for the 2022/2023 Women’s Championship season.

If that is on the minds of the club’s decision-makers, then one player to look at is Jamaica forward Atlanta Primus, who has recently completed her domestic season with English second tier side London City Lionesses. They were one of the promotion frontrunners in the Women’s Championship until the final few rounds of the campaign, when they fell away, but there were still a number of players who stood out for them during their strong fight for a place in the WSL.

Primus was undoubtedly one of them, with her finding the net on eight occasions in 2022/23, but it is her ability to bring others into the game that would interest Häcken more, with this graphic indicating her shot assists throughout the season, and it is clear from the variety of direction and length in the arrows that she has good vision and knows where the opportunities are for her team.

Her passing accuracy of 79% shows that she doesn’t often fail to find an intended target, and the fact that she picked up three assists during the campaign means that she might be a good player to bring in if Häcken wanted someone else who could stay in advanced areas and work with those around them.

BK Häcken 2023: Coping without Stine Larsen - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Roselord Borgella’s heatmap at Dijon Féminines for the 2022/2023 Division 1 Féminine season.

Another name to consider is that of Roselord Borgella, who would perhaps offer a little more pace than Primus and who would also have more chance of becoming available in the summer, due to the Haiti striker currently featuring for a Dijon Féminines side at risk of relegation from the Division 1 Féminine.

She has only scored two times this season, but what might interest Häcken about her is her ability to run into all three channels on the field, meaning that she would offer the same versatility as Larsen shows inside the final third, as was highlighted at the beginning of the analysis.

She is also someone who can get on the ball and move it forward on her own if needed, with her registering a 63.6% success rate for dribbles made so far, and that might make her an attractive option for Häcken if they wanted a player who offered the same runs as Larsen but who was as comfortable in open areas as Larisey is.

BK Häcken 2023: Coping without Stine Larsen - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Malene Sørensen’s shot map at Thy-Thisted Q for the 2022/2023 Gjensidige Kvindeligaen season.

If they wanted to stay in Scandinavia and continue their theme of signing good Danish players, then one name that might spark their interest is Malene Sørensen. Currently plying her trade for Thy-Thisted Q in her native country, Sørensen has been one of her side’s key players during their progression into the Championship stages of the 2022/23 Gjensidige Kvindeligaen campaign.

As this graphic indicates, Sørensen is capable of testing opposing goalkeepers from all different angles and directions, and that might attract Häcken’s interest if they did decide to look for a target player who would put the opposition under constant pressure. She has only found the net on eight occasions this season, but, given that her side have scored just 23 as a team, that is not a bad return, and the fact that she has picked up three assists shows that she can set up chances for others too.


In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked at BK Häcken, detailing how they have changed their tactics around and how they have coped with the loss to injury of Denmark striker Stine Larsen.

To their credit, the form that they have been in this season, with them not losing since the opening day against Djurgårdens and currently sitting top of the Damallsvenskan table on goal difference, shows that they are still picking up results and putting on performances in her absence, and the transition between styles has not proven so far to have affected their overall rhythm.

Nevertheless, if the coaching staff did decide that this was not a sustainable way of playing, then the scout report has also picked out three players who they could look to sign when the summer transfer window opens, with all three picked for different reasons but all sharing something stylistically with Larsen.

Häcken may well have their own target in mind, or they might decide that the new style of play works for them and opt not to make a move for another player, but, either way, their fans will hope that their form continues for a long time yet, and it certainly appears as if the players have adjusted well to losing one of their star names.