Continuing their tradition of being World Cup regulars, this new-look Sweden side has the potential to cause issues in Russia.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has retired, and although his gigantic ego would have loved to market a return, this team’s system can work without him. Emil Forsberg and Andreas Granqvist are the star players of this Sweden side, but this system is team-based, and a dangerous one at that – just ask the Italians.
Sweden play a narrow 4-4-2 system with two natural strikers up front, and they are one of the more direct sides at the tournament.
They like to play through the middle then use the wide areas in the final third, with Ola Toivonen and Marcus Berg both being capable six-yard-box strikers. Emil Forsberg plays on the left-hand side, and he is really the only player with any license to be creative. Ludwig Augustinsson will overlap on the left and look to provide quick crosses in towards the front man, while Forsberg uses his two-footed ability to create chances from the half-space.
In midfield, Viktor Claesson offers pace and direct running on the right-hand side, and Jimmy Durmaz provides a more creative option from the bench. Seb Larsson hasn’t been great in the last few seasons in English football, but he embodies the Swedish revival in recent years. He is a hard worker who loves to arrive late, and his set-piece delivery will be huge in Russia as tournament football can often come down to set pieces. Most importantly, he provides a stern structure in midfield alongside Albin Ekdal, who is also the creative hub of this team. Sweden though do not really retain possession, and they only averaged 46% possession per game in qualifying.
At the back, Sweden are solid, well drilled and their full-backs are both good going forwards. Due to Sweden’s defensive outlook, their full-backs will likely cross from deep rather than get to the byline, but with two targets to hit, Augustinsson and Lustig may bag some assists. While Sweden’s strikers are both good inside the box, they are also hard working and will look to run the channels. Janne Andersson likes his team to play with fluidity in the final third as 4-4-2 can be a predictable formation, and Sweden’s team all buy into this.
Very few teams are as reliant on set plays as Sweden, with seven of their 27 goals in qualifying coming from them. Seb Larsson has a good delivery though, and Sweden’s height makes them dangerous even when they are not controlling possession.
Tactically, Sweden’s narrow 4-4-2 aims to congest the middle and allow them to gain control without actually having the ball. When they win the ball, they often try to keep it and allow their more attacking players to move into good positions. Essentially, Sweden aims to frustrate their opponents, and they should not be underestimated by anyone.
Sweden’s shape is excellent, and even though they lack creativity, they still have some key things they do to create chances. Essentially, Andersson’s system tells the Sweden players exactly what to do in the final third, but it still works quite effectively for them.
Defensively, Sweden have a unit where everyone gets back and works for the team, and teams will have to work very hard to score against them. Sweden have amazing team spirit, and their backs to the wall defending in the second leg in Italy won the hearts of the nation back, after a couple of disappointing tournaments.
Sweden also have variety in their wide roles, with Forsberg being more of a wide playmaker, and Claesson offering some more direct running. This ensures that Sweden will create chances in different ways, which gives the poacher Marcus Berg a chance to be relevant in every game. The striker has grown into his role outside of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s shadow, and Sweden have benefitted from this.
Andersson’s system compensates for a lack of natural creativity by being rigid and telling players where to pass the ball and where to create chances from, but Sweden do still lack creativity. They will put a lot of crosses into the box, but better teams can generally cope with this, which means they will be very reliant on Emil Forsberg to do anything.
Most of the transitions run through Albin Ekdal, and if he is pressed well, Sweden may struggle to advance the ball after they win it in midfield. He is also quite injury prone, and his absence would potentially kill this system.
Unknown player to look out for – Andersson rarely rotates his team, but if he does, Palermo’s Oscar Hiljemark could get a chance to show what he can do.