England take on Sweden in the Quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup as both teams will go against each other to join France and Belgium in the Semifinals. Sweden overcame Switzerland in their previous round and have garnered a reputation for being a sturdy, defensive unit that is hard to break down in their 4-4-2. I shall look to break down their tactics here and see how England can overcome them in this piece.
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Sweden 4-4-2: Manager- Janne Andersson
Olsen; Lustig, Lindelof, Granqvist, Augustinsson; Claesson, Svensson, Ekdal, Forsberg; Berg, Toivonen
To be compact is the key:
Sweden, set up in their 4-4-2, are primarily a counterattacking side. This is not to be mistaken as a negative as they are well capable of exhibiting good patterns when they have possession of the ball as I shall explain in a bit. The underlying principle behind this team and their setup is to constrict space as much as possible. All the players are well drilled in maintaining both vertical and horizontal compactness. The most impressive feature of this Swedish side is their ability to traverse laterally to cover space whenever there is a switch in play/when the ball is moved from side to side.
The most common and logical method to exploit a side that plays a compact formation is to stretch the wings and find spaces in between. Sweden play with a clear focus to block off the centre and force the opponent to the sides, from where they can mostly only play crosses into the box. Both of Sweden’s centrebacks are good in aerial duels, especially Andreas Granqvist, who has been one of the better defenders of the tournament so far, even chipping in with a couple of penalties for his side. Victor Lindelof looks home in this setup and has been quietly impressive as well.
Sweden know their limitations and are well equipped to deal with the possible ways their opponents try to overcome them. High intensity and work rate is on show from every Swedish player to ensure that the spaces relative to the teammates is not large enough to allow a pass through to the next line of defense. Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen deserve praise for the amount of defensive work they put in. They are mostly involved in blocking off the passing lane to the holding midfielder, forcing the opposition to move to the sides to progress the ball. Both Claesson and Forsberg, their wide midifelders, are well versed in pressing the opposition and covering space with relation to their teammate and the ball.
The high press:
Sweden press high in the initial stages of the game, which was on display against Switzerland in their last match. They usually press high and intensely in the opening stages of the game before they settle back in their mid/low block based on the opponent. This is a bit reminiscent of Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, who start off the game vigorously by pressing the opponent and trying to force mistakes before settling down in their defensive shape.
The high press is coordinated by the two forwards, Berg and Toivonen. There are a number of situational man orientations with each striker taking on their direct opponent centreback. The ball near wide midfielder moves forward to cover both the ball near central midfielder and the fullback. The access to both these players is maintained by proper positioning. Both Ekdal and Svensson move forward to cover the opposition central midfielders, with the fullbacks Augustinsson and Lustig following suit in behind them in their respective flanks.
This high press led to a couple of chances for Sweden against Switzerland which they were unable to convert.
Patterns in possession play:
Sweden exhibit some very neat patterns when they have possession of the ball. It is typical of a side that plays in a 4-4-2 relying on wide playmakers, a target man and a runner from midfield. They are old-school in the sense that they try to make use of knockdowns from their tall strikers. They make simple yet intelligent runs that supplement these plays to get in behind the opposition defense. This is a very efficient pattern that they exhibit leading to multiple chances for them in this tournament, as illustrated below.
Berg drops a bit deep to head a long ball from the defense/goalkeeper to Toivonen or an onrushing midfielder, usually Svensson. Both the strikers are in close proximity in this instance, and having come deep to receive the long ball from the back, they drag the opponent centrebacks along with them. This creates space in behind the defense to run into. Svensson or Ekdal, based on whoever receives the ball, play it into Toivonen immediately, who can find the run of Berg in behind the defense to latch onto.
Another feature of Sweden’s play is their ability to play out from the back if they are faced with pressure. Lindelof and Granqvist are both very good on the ball, capable of finding their teammates with accuracy even when pressed. Augustinsson and Lustig both spread out wide to stretch the pitch and are usually the recipients of the ball from the centrebacks. Long balls down the line for the strikers running the channels are common. Forsberg usually drops down more frequently than Claesson to receive possession of the ball. Forsberg’s ability on the ball, press resistance and decision making make him the ideal candidate for being the playmaker of the side. He usually bails them out in tight situations while also being the prime candidate to make the pass into the final third more often than not for Sweden.
When the opponents sit back against Sweden and shut down the centre, Granqvist is usually unafraid to carry the ball into midfield before making a pass. Lindelof does the same but to a lesser extent. This dribble from the centrebacks is aimed at drawing out the opposition to make passes into space for their midfielders to receive. In such scenarios, Forsberg and Claesson tuck in a bit, allowing the likes of Augustinsson and Lusting to overlap, once the ball has been advanced into the final third.
Sweden also make use of opposing runs from players in the same line to create space. This usually creates space for midfielders making runs from deep or a striker dropping off to receive the ball, free of pressure. This was evident from their goal scored by Forsberg against Switzerland where Forsberg was able to receive the ball outside the box, without any player covering him.
Packing the box for the cross:
When Sweden are able to pin the opposition down in their box, Lusting and Augustinsson make overlap on the flanks to cross the ball. Claesson usually tucks into the box when Lustig has it on the right, or when Forsberg/Augustinsson cross from the left side. Ekdal in particular always makes a late run into the box if there is a chance in the far post. Sweden rely primarily on these situations to fashion chances for themselves, standing true to the ideology that if there are more men packed into the box, there is more of a chance for one of them to get on the end of a cross.
Sweden have a set blueprint on how to play and stick to it dearly. They are an efficient team that are hard to break down and take their chances on the counter. They are good in setpieces, both in defending them and attacking them as well, while having a very good penalty taker in the form of their captain, Andreas Granqvist. Being the underdog in their games works to their favour as they are able to sacrifice possession completely and look to hit the opponent on the break, something they are quite good at. They must not be underestimated as they have shown to be capable of good possession play as well. All in all, it stands to be a very interesting game against England later today.