The second round of qualifying for the group stage of UEFA Champions League brought us a chance to see Copenhagen FC against The New Saints.

The first leg in Wales brought us a very routine win for Danish champions. The final result was 0:2, but we could see a very aggressive and passionate play by TNS. The revenge showed some very interesting tactical details used by Staale Solbakken, who also gave a chance to the young promising winger, Mohamed Daramy, who really impressed.

The following tactical analysis will show Solbakken’s new or probably modified ideas which could worry Red Star Belgrade’s manager, Vladan Milojevic. This tactical analysis will also show some defensive and offensive principles used by TNS, Welsh eight-time consecutive champion.


Champions League 2019/2020: Copenhagen FC vs The New Saints – tactical analysis
Credit: Wyscout

The lineups were partially expectable, mostly because of Staale Solbakken’s routine to play a classic narrow 4-4-2 formation with two fantastic link-up target men and two inverted wingers on the wings, but there were some interesting changes compared to their last Danish Super League match against Horsens.

It was interesting to see seventeen-year-old player, Mohamed Daramy, who is the FC Copenhagen’s youngest goalscorer in their history, and who really impressed in this match. Staale Solbakken also chose Pieros Sotiriu as a Jonas Wind’s partner upfront. It was a pretty logical decision, considering his good form and fact that Dame N’Doye played in the starting lineup against Horsens in Danish Super League.

The New Saints’s manager, Scott Ruscoe, changed his formation compared to the first leg in Wales. He transformed TNS’s 4-5-1 to the 4-2-3-1 formation, with Ryan Brobbel who played as an advanced playmaker with free roam movement. It was also interesting to see Daniel Redmond, who is generally natural midfielder, but who played as a left-back in this match.

Fantastic organization of the defensive block and spacing between the lines

Considering the TNS’s uncertain and pretty uncreative midfield line in situations when the ball had to go forward, Staale Solbakken decided to set up the pretty high block with expressed small spaces between the defensive and midfield lines.

The defensive line was placed on about 60 meters from the TNS’s goal, with the midfield line placed only 4/5 meters in front of them.

One of the ideas was to stop Brobbel’s very good movement in halfspaces and between the lines. In the picture below, you can also see how Daramy went out to press the TNS’s left-back. That was only one part of a great pressing organization used by FC Copenhagen.

Champions League 2019/2020: Copenhagen FC vs The New Saints – tactical analysis
Copenhagen’s very well organized defensive 4-4-2 formation.

Amazing way to exploit your attacking fullbacks

The Skov Olsen’s departure is extremely unsuitable for FC Copenhagen because of his individual quality, ability to be a game-changer in every possible moment and his systemic difference compared to the others.

This second leg showed that his replacement or replacements will be more adjusted to Solbakken’s system and idea to use his fullbacks as a secret weapon.

Considering the characteristics of the Copenhagen’s the left (Pierre Bengtsoon) and the right fullback (Karlo Bartolec), and their abilities to attack the space with and without the ball, the Solbakken’s ideas were:

  1. To open them a large space to go forward and to attack the depth,
  2. To plug them in a later build-up, when the ball was already on the opponent’s half, or
  3. To cover them using the central midfielders as pivots which gave them the freedom to stay up front.


Champions League 2019/2020: Copenhagen FC vs The New Saints – tactical analysis
Karlo Bartolec’s attack to the opened space.

In the picture above, you can see a typical way for a fullback to attack the depth from the second plan situation. The key man was definitely Mohamed Daramy, who cut inside and positioned himself deeper in the middle with an idea to confuse his guard, drag him out of his position and also made the space for the fullback to attack the created space.


Champions League 2019/2020: Copenhagen FC vs The New Saints – tactical analysis
Plugging Bengtsson to the later build-up after his great off the ball movement.

This picture shows how Zeca plugged Bengtsson in Copenhagen’s later build-up when the ball was already on the opponent’s half.

This attack started on the right side, but Bengtsson followed everything, positioned himself pretty high upfront waiting for the ball. When the Solbakken’s squad decided to change the side of the play, Bengtsson was ready to get it and continued the action.


Champions League 2019/2020: Copenhagen FC vs The New Saints – tactical analysis
Zeca covers Bengtsson as a pivot.

In the picture above, you can see how Staale Solbakken used his main playmaker (or deep-lying playmaker, according to the situation) as a pivot with an idea to cover Bengtsson’s very high upfront position, and also to reduce the space between the left centre-back and Bengtsson.

There were also some examples of this on the other side, where Stage used to be a Bartolec’s cover.

The system is first and foremost – calmness and safe play, without sobbing

Staale Solbakken is known as a coach who cherishes discipline, good organization and some strict rules in his football system, so any popping out of the system could cost his team so much.

The most expressed rules of Solbakken’s football system are community and organization, so Nikolaj Thomsen showed that on the pitch.

Champions League 2019/2020: Copenhagen FC vs The New Saints – tactical analysis

As you can see, after stealing the ball Thomsen had the space he could attack, but the problem was support. In the picture above you can see that only Jonas Wind was in front of him, but you also can see five TNS’s players who surrounded Thomsen, and three more players who were waiting to press him. Thomsen saw that and drifted wide just to keep the ball safe and to start a new action.

Champions League 2019/2020: Copenhagen FC vs The New Saints – tactical analysis
The situation when Thomsen started a new action after he kept the ball safe.

Symbols of some ideas

As I mentioned before, Scott Ruscoe changed his formation from structural 4-5-1 to 4-2-3-1 (only in the offensive phase) with higher positioned wingers, who often played very narrow and near Brobbel who was the key man for TNS’s play. One of Ruscoe’s idea was also to use Brobbel’s good movement between the lines and his ability to come deeper in the midfield to collect the ball and start or continue some action.

In the picture below the angle that the camera recorded was perfect to show the positioning of TNS’s players.

Champions League 2019/2020: Copenhagen FC vs The New Saints – tactical analysis
The New Saints’s very narrow positioned attacking midfield.

In every situation when Copenhagen was having the ball, The New Saints was transforming to their defensive 4-3-3 formation with the wingers positioned very wide and withdrawn, as a fullback. Ruscoe insisted to very narrow positioning of the defensive line, with an intention to improve their defending of halfspaces, and with an idea to make space for the wingers to withdraw.

With a setting of that type of defending, Ruscoe had 6 defenders almost in the same line, two pairs of the fullbacks, the wingers who were pressing and defending 1vs1 and their covers, natural fullbacks.

Champions League 2019/2020: Copenhagen FC vs The New Saints – tactical analysis
Scott Ruscoe’s defensive 4-3-3 formation with the withdrawn wingers.

Solbakken’s 4-3-3 pressing

The New Saints insisted on plugging their goalkeeper in the organization of the attack, so Staale Solbakken found a way to press them very high and force the long ball forward which they can easily collect.

The idea was to push the completely defensive line to the half-line, to put the corrector who generally has the ability to intercept the ball and pull it forward when it is necessary, and to position one of the central midfielders between Jonas Wind and Daramy, as a pressing midfielder. Considering the Thomsen’s level of aggression in play, Solbakken used him as a pressing midfielder, and also put Stage as a deep-lying playmaker with the corrector role.

Sometimes, TNS’s players tried to build-up the attack with short passes, and every time one of Copenhagen’s midfielders intercepted them.

Champions League 2019/2020: Copenhagen FC vs The New Saints – tactical analysis
Copenhagen’s 4-3-3 pressing in the situation when TNS’s goalkeeper had the ball.


The level of quality and experience was definitely important in this second leg of the Champions League’s second qualifying round, but also Solbakken’s amazing tactics won.

The organization, community and discipline of play will probably make the difference for Copenhagen in the next qualifying round against Serbian champion – Red Star.

Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

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