Sweden approach their second group game of Euro 2012 on the back of a surprising 2-1 defeat to co-hosts Ukraine, gone are the positive vibes emitted by a hugely impressive qualifying campaign with Erik Hamren’s side under huge pressure to avoid a second straight defeat which would see them eliminated from the tournament before it has really started. What was most surprising and also concerning from a Swedish perspective was the almost subconscious style shift in Sweden’s play against Ukraine, the fluid football introduced by Erik Hamren that had been so visible in qualifying was in the majority not in operation with Sweden without noticing slipping back into the ways of Lars Lagerback’s conservative system with the focus on long passing, solidity and counter attacks. This took me and i expect many others by surprise and it appears that Sweden have essentially a “monkey” on their back when it comes to tournament football in which they switch back to what they know in order to succeed. England on the other hand are heading into this game in surprisingly good spirits after what can only be described as a positive result against France on Monday afternoon, opinion appears to be split on Roy Hodgson’s England with some believing it to have been a thoroughly professional performances in which the job was done whilst others oppose this by questioning England’s attacking prowess with not many chances being created. It did look to me however that it was the first time for a number of years that England had entered a tournament fixture with a game plan, gone was the dreary displays in South Africa replaced with the individual flair of players such as Young, Welbeck and Oxlade-Chamberlain, all of whom will have to be kept under wraps by Mellberg and co if Sweden are to avoid elimination from Euro 2012.
Sweden after the Ukraine result will certainly have to improve if they are to gain a positive result against England, eyebrows were raised at the inclusion of Markus Rosenberg in the starting eleven against Ukraine with many believing that Hamren should have for one game utilised Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the long striker with Toivonen, Elm and Larsson making up the attacking trio, although another option if Hamren was set on using Elm and Kallstrom as the two anchoring midfielders he could have chosen Bajrami to play in the attacking trio instead. One positive for Hamren and Sweden collectively is the ten minute cameo played by Johan Elmander on Monday evening, this showed that the Galatasaray forward was back to a level of acceptable match fitness and it is widely expected he will start as the lone striker on Friday evening against England with Ibrahimovic remaining in his preferred role of central attacking midfielder for the national team. The exclusion of Elmander from the starting line up against Ukraine may well have contributed to the rather disjointed Swedish display with the side not used to the presence of Rosenberg as the lone front man, this would explain the tendency to resort to long passing and counter attacks which somewhat plagued Hamren’s plans for their opening group fixture. The return of Elmander to the starting line up against England will allow Sweden to return to the system that was used in their successful qualifying campaign, Elmander playing as the long striker feeding off support from Ibrahimovic and Larsson in particular, this would see the enigmatic Zlatan drift into an attacking position depending on the game situation leaving Larsson and Toivonen as an attacking two with the system essentially now being a 4-2-2-2, this would allow the relatively high physical presence of Elmander to create chances for Ibrahimovic who would get much more opportunities similar to the volley he struck with venom late on against Ukraine which caused Andriy Pyatov considerable problems. Sweden do however have one minor advantage over England heading into this match in the sense they will be more used to their surroundings having played their opening game in the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv, the Swedes have already experienced firsthand the heat and the playing surface in Kyiv however there is not too much difference between Donetsk and Kyiv in terms of climate with it seeming more likely that adjusting to the playing surface may play a more significant part in England’s match preparation. I must stress however that the effect this will have will be rather insignificant with players at the highest level having to play on different types of playing surface week in week out throughout their respective domestic campaigns. Interestingly for me one of the most disappointing Swedish performances came from Blackburn’s Martin Olsson playing at left back, much was expected of the Rovers man with his pace being thought to be a key element in the tactical battle against Ukraine with Oleh Gusev being expected to be tested however that did not prove to be the case with Olsson producing one of the more nervous displays of his season. A certain unwillingness to get forward was evident in Olsson’s game with his defensive positioning being called into question throughout the course of the match, Andriy Yarmolenko’s freedom to put in the cross for Ukraine’s equaliser has been blamed on Olsson’s inability to close down the Dynamo Kyiv winger with more gusto. Roy Hodgson upon seeing this below par performance may wish to consider moving Oxlade-Chamberlain onto the right hand side rather than James Milner with the young Arsenal star’s nimble feet, pace and trickery potentially turning Olsson inside and out which could potentially swing the match in England’s favour.
England for the first time entered an International tournament with both national hope and expectations at an all time low with many sceptics even predicting England would not progress past the group stages of this summer’s European Championships. England now under the leadership of Roy Hodgson surprised many of these sceptics, myself included with a performance of solidity and efficiency against the technically superior French with England managing on the whole to keep players of the highest calibre in Samir Nasri, Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema quiet. As previously mentioned it appeared that England were playing with and certainly sticking to a clear game plan for the first time in several tournaments. With the added attacking impetus of Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain England do have the options available to score goals and create chances despite the lack of creativity that was on display against Laurent Blanc’s France, Sweden seemingly low on confidence and on Monday’s evidence also energy Hodgson will be hoping that the pace of young and the youthful enthusiasm of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Welbeck will be enough to cause the Swedes considerable problems at the back especially when the form of Martin Olsson and Andreas Granqvist appears to be so underwhelming. One worry for England however is the physical affect the match in Donetsk on Monday had on their squad with both the Captain Steven Gerrard and his partner in the centre of the three lions midfield Scott Parker both suffering from high levels of fatigue which is not surprising when you analyse their high workload against France. It is widely reported that Roy Hodgson may wish to hedge his bets by resting either one or both Gerrard and Parker for the match against Sweden however with progression through the group stages not yet assured and with Sweden desperate to redeem themselves after the poor performance against Ukraine it may well be a risk on Hodgson’s part breaking up an as yet successful central midfield partnership. With Wayne Rooney still suspended for one more competitive game it is expected that Danny Welbeck will once again start as the lone centre forward feeding off support from Ashley Young, and the young Manchester United forwards movement and considerable ability when holding up the ball the battle between him and the Swedish backline could well prove to be crucial in determining the outcome of the match. England will be buoyed by the strong performance of Joleon Lescott and John Terry as a central defensive partnership against the French with them keeping players of the highest order quiet, it is expected that Elmander will be certainly less mobile than Nasri and Ribery and this could well play into the hands of John Terry who now in his thirty first year will not have the pace that he was once blessed with, Lescott will have to keep in constant communication with Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole in order to keep track of the movement of Ola Toivonen and Seb Larsson specifically with Zlatan preferring to take a rather more statutory role in the attacking midfield position, one key factor in the match will be whether or not Sweden adapt their 4-2-3-1 system by having Larsson and Toivonen playing in a wider position to not only test Cole and Johnson’s defensive ability but also to protect Lustig and Olsson against attacking reinforcements on either side.
Sweden Vs England
Erik Hamren will be determined to eradicate any of the conservative play he saw from his side on Monday evening against Ukraine, it is imperative that Sweden play to the 4-2-3-1 system Hamren has introduced and has had so much success with in order for them to stand a chance of defeating England come Friday evening, this is of such importance for the simple fact that the players Hamren has picked suit his system of fluid football and not the Lars Lagerback defensive mentality and as was illustrated against Ukraine when Sweden tried to play in the conservative manner of which they are used to in International tournaments they did not have the personnel to do it effectively, this also can be attributed to the negativity surrounding Martin Olsson’s performance with him being a predominantly attacking left back and was left ineffective due to the in the most part negative mentality portrayed by Sweden on the night. England may wish to take advantage of this by essentially going for the jugular from the off with the pace of Young and Oxlade-Chamberlain against a nervous defence being bound to cause problems. England themselves will have to be more adventurous against the Swedes than they were against France for the simple reasoning they need to win this game, not one national team would relish having to play Ukraine on match day three in front of their own fans in a winner takes all encounter. There is still room for some positivity for Erik Hamren, first of all he now has his first choice lone striker back to match fitness and this will in theory return Sweden to a more settled state which saw them put in some fantastic displays in qualifying, there was also a few glimpses of the attacking football Erik Hamren is such an advocate of in the match against Ukraine and one could well put their conservative spells in the match down to tournament nerves which would indeed need to be extinguished before their clash with England. Erik Hamren should he want Rasmus Elm in a more attacking position which he favoured in the latter stages of the Ukraine fixture with Sweden needing a goal, has the option of starting Anders Svensson in the anchoring midfield role with Elm pushing up and becoming part of the attacking midfield trio however this would then pose the problem who would drop out with a likely resolution being Elmander left on the bench from the start if he is not yet fully fit and Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing as the lone striker with his power and skill potentially causing Lescott and the at times this season cumbersome John Terry problems at the heart of the English defence.
On paper this has the potential to be an intriguing tactical battle which could well be decided by which team scores first, recent history suggests that competitive games between Sweden and England will more than likely be a draw with England and Sweden playing out draws in Japan and Germany at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups respectively. With both sides needing a win this match could go two ways, both sides being extremely conservative in order to not give anything away and then try to snatch a win by a single goal late on or it could be a match filled with attacking flair with both teams trying to dominate the other in terms of possession and the creation of clear cut chances. If Hodgson decides to keep with the 4-5-1 system used against France there is a chance that Welbeck could become isolated especially against the physical defending style of Olof Mellberg and England to prevent this would have to switch essentially to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Young, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Milner essentially forming an attacking three which would replicate Erik Hamren’s Swedish system. There is a chance that if that happened both systems would directly cancel each other out and we would then be facing a game with few goals but it would create an intense tactical battle as to who would break rank first or what bit of individual brilliance would separate the two sides. I also think another factor to consider is Danny Welbeck with the return of Wayne Rooney on match day three may well feel he is playing for his place in the team and this may well provoke a performance of an even higher work ethic which will cause the Swedes significant problems with Welbeck on his day being as challenging as any striker on the continent. With both Sweden and England having come up against significantly more technically gifted teams in the shape of Ukraine and France it will be interesting to see which side will take the ascendency in the technical ability department at the Olympic Stadium on Friday evening with this having the potential to decide the result. I do think that the crux of this result depends on the systems both coaches choose, and whether or not their side stick to the game plan with England having displayed a greater ability in doing just that in the tournament so far. I think that England’s greater ability on paper and currently high levels of confidence may well see them take all three points in Kyiv with Sweden having to pull of something dramatic to keep their Euro 2012 campaign on track.