Sweden: Scouting Report

Ahead of England’s game against Sweden on Tuesday night, I have decided to do a scouting report on the opposition and hopefully tell you a little bit about how they will play. England go into the game as hot favourites following a 1-0 victory over the reigning World and European champions Spain on Saturday, while Sweden come to Wembley on the back of a 2-0 defeat to Scandanavian rivals Denmark on Friday night. However, that was only their third defeat in their last 13 away matches and the last five matches between the two sides have ended in a draw, the last one finishing 2-2 in the group stages of the 2006 World Cup (including this goal!).

Line-up

The team for the match has already been confirmed by manager Erik Hamren, as they make five changes from their game against Denmark. Former Manchester City goalkeeeper Andreas Isaksson comes in for Johan Wiland, while in defence Blackburn left-back Martin Olsson replaces Behrang Safari and Celtic defender Daniel Majostorovic plays instead of West Brom centre-back Jonas Olsson. 35-year-old Anders Svensson is rested and in his place comes AZ Alkmaar defensive midfielder Pontus Wernbloom, and finally Rasmus Elm will play instead of Emir Bajrami.

Tactics

Here are a few points about the Swedish team:

  • Rasmus Elm is naturally a centre-midfielder and he is being asked to play on the right of a 4-2-3-1 (he is very similar to Jordan Henderson) and therefore will naturally come inside to his strongest position. He will look to play deeper than Larsson and I suspect he has been picked because of his defensive capabilites, so he can counter the attack-minded Leighton Baines, statistically one of the best attacking full-backs in Europe (or maybe Ashley Cole).
  • On the other side of the attacking trio, Sebastian Larsson will also look to come inside on his stronger right foot and his crosses and set-pieces will be a problem for England to deal with. His inswinging deliveries will most likely be aimed towards Ibrahimovic or Elmander, both players with good heading ability and suspect he will see a lot of the ball.
  • I believe that most of the Sweden’s attacks will come down their left hand side, a) because of Martin Olsson and Kim Kallstrom (explained in the next two points) and b) because they will look to attack England’s inexperienced full-back Kyle Walker. Walker is well-known for his offensive abilities but will have to prove his defensive skills on Tuesday night.
  • Anyone who has watched Martin Olsson play for Blackburn knows just how attack-minded he is and in fact he used to play as a left-winger. He will look to attack the space vacated by the left-winger Larsson and Walker will have to watch out for this. He could be asked to rein in his attacking instincts however, should Capello opt for a 4-3-3 with Sturridge/Johnson on that side.
  • Kim Kallstrom, the left-footed centre-midfielder, will also look to drift to the left and something to watch out for will be his diagonal crosses from deep aimed at (again) Ibrahimovic or Elmander. This is something very rare in the modern game (a non-offensive centre-midfielder drifting wide) and he will play a similar role to Charlie Adam at Blackpool and now Liverpool. Kallstrom will probably be given the task of playmaker, along with Larsson, as Elmander is not a true ‘No 10′ rather a second striker who will play much further up the field. The Lyon midfielder has been used to playing the defensive role with captain Anders Svensson in the side but he will have the holding midfielder Wernbloom, known for his tough tackling, next to him. Fabio Capello, the England manager, will probably hand Jack Rodwell the task of marking him, and this will be an interesting battle.
  • (Watch out, as Elm could in fact start on the left and Larsson on the right)
One man team?
Many England followers probably think that Sweden are very much a one-man team, and fair enough. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has won league titles in the last seven seasons at four different clubs in two different leagues (although the two with Juventus were later revoked in the Calciopoli scandal) and has scored 9 goals in 11 games for AC Milan this season. He is widely regarded as one of the world’s best strikers and rightly so. However, Sweden have been performing far better lately without ‘Ibracadabra’ in the side and have won their last 10 qualifying matches when he has not played (including against Spain in 2006 and Holland in 2011) and his form has dropped considerably since Hamren made him captain in 2009. In fact, they have won every single Euro qualifier in the last 10 years without him and only won 11 of every 20 games with him (credit goes to this brilliant article by the Swedish journalist Marcus Christenson) Many Swedish fans actually long for his retirement, so to say that Sweden are a one-man team is simply not true.
There are two possible reasons for this odd phenomenon.
  1. Many people believe that when Ibra plays, his team-mates feel they have to give him the ball every time they get it and so this makes their game predictable and him easy to mark. He is not a playmaker and their game would undoubtedly improve were they to spread it wide more or look to Larsson or Kallstrom to dictate the play.
  2. In a 4-2-3-1 formation, the lone front man should be able to combine the qualities of a pacy striker looking to get in behind the defence (eg. Javier Hernandez for Manchester United) and a deep-lying striker looking to get involved in the play (Wayne Rooney, David Villa) and the perfect examples of this are the two men fighting for the Real Madrid No 9 position, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain. Benzema has developed the ability to drop deep and combine with his team mates and Higuain is just as complete as the Frenchman. For this reason, I believe Ibrahimovic is not ideally suited to this role, and although he is by no means a target man, he is not a complete striker. The Swede usually plays alongside another striker in a 4-3-1-2 formation for Milan (Antonio Cassano, who unfortunately has a long-term injury/illness and so probably Robinho from now on) and Elmander is in a lot of ways similar to him.
Conclusion
To conclude, there are a number of things to look out for at Wembley on Tuesday; firstly, the full-backs Martin Olsson and Mikael Lustig providing the width as Elm and Larsson move centrally; secondly, Johan Elmander playing very high up as a second striker, as he is definitely not a No 10 in the Mesut Özil-mould; thirdly, Pontus Wernbloom tracking Frank Lampard from midfield and looking to break up the play à la Soctt Parker; finally, Bobby Zamora giving Olof Mellberg and Daniel Majostorovic a hard time in defence due to his ability in the air. This will be an interesting game and a test for England’s youngsters, so let’s hope the result they can provide a good performance.
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2 thoughts on “Sweden: Scouting Report”

  1. Good stuff. I’m now more interested in this match than I was before I read this. I don’t follow Ligue 1, nor do I pay much attention to Sweden, but I was under the impression (from FIFA 09, probably) that Kim Kallstrom was more of an attacking player. Was I just wrong about that, or did he make the move deeper recently?

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    1. Hi there, I hope you liked the article, just a brief summary of how I think they’ll play. To answer your question about Kallstrom, you certainly weren’t wrong about him. He has always been a centre-midfielder with attacking capabilites but never really been played in the No 10 role. At Lyon, he most often played alongside Jeremy Toulalan (who moved to Malaga in the summer) either in the ’2′ of a 4-2-3-1 or simply in the middle of a 4-4-2, and was the more attacking of the 2. The problem with a 4-4-2 is that it doesn’t really suit a No 10 player. EIther he plays in midfield, so they only have one defensive-minded midfielder and they can get overrun easily, or he plays in the hole behind a lone striker, in which case it is more of a 4-4-1-1 or even 4-2-3-1. To put it simply, he is more suited to a CM role than an AMC and his record of 17 goals in 171 matches for Lyon proves this.

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