As mentioned in my previous article analysing Sweden’s opening fixture against Ukraine, Erik Hamren appears to have a settled starting eleven suited to his expansive 4-2-3-1 formation and a bench full to the brim with efficiency, technical ability and enthusiasm. With Hamren’s side having a much calmer pre-game preparation than Ukraine many would be forgiven for perceiving Hamren’s job bar the pre match team talk on June 11th to be all but complete however as is so often found with tournament football there is always one more decision to be made. If Sweden’s most recent pre tournament warm up match against Serbia has given us any indication into Hamren’s starting eleven for the Ukraine fixture it is this, Kim Kallstrom and Anders Svensson will be the preferred pairing of holding midfielders who will take the role of anchoring the midfield and distributing an array of passes to the more creative members of the squad for example Seb Larsson who is expected to start the tournament on the left hand side of Hamren’s attacking trio. Joining the Sunderland midfielder in this attacking trio is none other than PSV Eindhoven’s Ola Toivonen who has proven himself to the be the form player heading into the tournament with goals in Sweden’s last two matches against Iceland and Serbia. Toivonen after having a terrific season in the Eredivisie with PSV this season is essentially the lynchpin of Hamren’s attacking trio who will play just behind the lone striker Zlatan with Hamren hoping the two will be able to portray the attacking understanding the two have displayed in the warm up matches come the start of the tournament. Toivonen often played as a striker at PSV seems to relish the attacking midfield role as not only does it create chances for others but with a physically domineering figure with as nimble feet as Zlatan it often creates chances for Toivonen himself which could take the defences of Ukraine, France and England collectively by surprise. The final decision left for Hamren to make now in his preparation for Euro 2012 is just who will complete the attacking trio, will it be Emir Bajrami of FC Twente or his Dutch Eredivisie counterpart AZ Alkmaar’s Rasmus Elm. With Elm appearing to have been Hamren’s preferred selection with the Alkmaar man being given a starting spot in Sweden’s final two qualifying fixtures and then again as recently as against Iceland and Serbia it looks as if Emir Bajrami will have to settle for a spot on the bench for the opening of Sweden’s Euro 2012 campaign. However Hamren is known to value Bajrami as a player who can create chances for both Ibrahimovic and Elmander and to a lesser extent Toivonen should he be found in an attacking position which could be an incredibly useful entity in tournament football should a goal be needed late on in a match. With there still be a significant amount of time between now and June 11th for Hamren to make his decision I suspect it is the one which is causing him the most trouble but performances in the final training sessions will no doubt help Hamren choose the man to complete his dynamic attacking trio.
Why Choose Rasmus Elm?
Elm at the moderately tender age of twenty four has had what can only be described as his breakthrough year at AZ with him scoring ten goals from midfield in thirty one Eredivisie appearances, along with this impressive goal tally is a total of eight Eredivisie assists and it is this impressive form that has attracted significant interest from Manchester United and much more recently Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool who are looking to revolutionise their side under the former Swansea coach by bringing in players with high creative qualities and Elm fits this bill perfectly. Elm often playing in a centralised attacking midfield role for his club fits in perfectly to Hamren’s three attacking midfielders who will sit just behind Zlatan, it is expected that should the game require it the two wider players of this trio may well move wider to support the wing backs in particular on the left hand side with the pace of Martin Olsson looking to be utilised at all costs. Elm’s ability of a superb passer of the ball is in absolutely no doubt and it is this that could create chances for Sweden if Elm can find the visionary runs made by Ibrahimovic however it is not just the passing ability of Elm that has impressed Hamren but rather his dribbling ability with fantastic close control. This is surprising for a man of 6ft as it is not often that taller players have quick enough feet to keep control of the ball whilst dribbling past defenders yet it is something Elm accomplishes with relative ease and a quality that Hamren would find easy to introduce to his 4-2-3-1 system with there being a great emphasis on individuality and creativity with Hamren wanting all his players to feel comfortable trying things whilst on the ball in order to create an attacking chance. Whilst Elm may not be a player renowned for his pace it is his close control that makes up for this and which is what is making him the current favourite to claim the final spot in the attacking trio of Hamren’s Sweden side. It seems somewhat elementary to point out but with Rasmus Elm’s impressive stature it is to be expected that he will be of significant use from a Swedish perspective at both attacking and defensive set pieces with a certain aerial threat being present which could prove to be a vital component in the decision should Hamren elect to start Rasmus Elm over Emir Bajrami.
Why Choose Emir Bajrami?
Bajrami like Rasmus Elm is just twenty four years of age and played an integral part in Sweden’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign scoring a goal in the 5-0 domination of Finland but has found himself second choice to both Rasmus Elm and Seb Larsson in the attacking trio of Hamren’s 4-2-3-1 in recent times however despite this there is still hope that he may yet make the Swedish starting eleven for the opening fixture against Ukraine. Bajrami has had a mixed season at FC Twente which has been partially disrupted by injuries particularly in the earlier parts of the season where he was plagued by a recurring back problem, despite this Bajrami still managed to make twenty two appearances in this seasons Eredivisie in which he contributed four goals and two assists which is considerably less than Elm but on the evidence of less games played. Bajrami would add a completely different dynamic to the attacking trio if he was selected ahead of Elm, he takes advantage of his lack of height fully with a quick nimble footed game based heavily on pace to beat an opponent, this could well prove to be crucial to Sweden if he is selected as a starting midfielder should he play on either the right hand side of the midfield three or the left. Should he be placed on the left hand side then he will be able to complement Martin Olsson’s pace admirably with his own which could well cause the Oleh Gusev the Ukrainian right back a number of problems despite the pace he has at his disposal. If Bajrami was to be deployed on the right hand side of the midfield trio he will bring pace to an otherwise slow right hand side with Mikael Lustig at right back, this would pose a problem to the Ukrainian defence as it would be facing significant pace from both flanks. It is this pace that could force Hamren into placing Bajrami into the starting eleven against Ukraine however the feeling is still there that Rasmus Elm is the preferred option based on his better domestic record this season and his recent international performances.
I am writing this article in the knowledge that Erik Hamren definitely favours Rasmus Elm and it is more probable that the AZ midfielder will be part of the starting eleven that will line up to face Ukraine in just four days time however i still feel there is a case for Bajrami to be given a starting role particularly in the Ukraine fixture where his pace could undo a makeshift Ukrainian back line which has been decimated by illness and injury alas i feel this will not be the case. Emir Bajrami will undoubtedly play a part in Sweden’s tournament as it progresses with fatigue setting in amongst the squad, the introduction of his pace after sixty minutes of a match may well make the difference against a fatigued defence and this in itself illustrates the importance of having a strong squad in International tournaments and this is exactly what Erik Hamren has at his disposal. With not long to go now until the opening fixtures of Group D Erik Hamren is in a position that most coaches would be envious of, he is just days away from a major international tournament and only has one major decision to make regarding his team selection with the general consensus being that this decision has already been eight percent made. The time for speculation however is now all but over with us finally having some football to sink our journalistic teeth into and it will be incredibly interesting to see come June 11th who will complete Erik Hamren’s attacking trio, Rasmus Elm or Emir Bajrami.