After Sweden’s disappointing failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the then head coach Lars Lagerback was dismissed from his post after a nine year reign in charge of the Swedish national team. Gone were the days of Lagerback’s rigid 4-4-2 formation which after an extended period of qualifying for consecutive International tournaments had become stale and ineffective with the enigmatic Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic often lamenting the lack of creativity within the Lagerback system which many believe to be the reason Zlatan retired from International football. Erik Hamren a manager with a CV to rival any involved with Scandinavian football was selected as Lagerback’s long term replacement and with this appointment came a change in emphasis for Swedish football with attacking play now in the forefront of the players and staff’s thinking, Hamren’s refreshing approach to creating chances of one’s own back rather than waiting for a counter attacking opportunity after withstanding pressure was one which appealed to Zlatan and even saw the striker return from his sabbatical on the International stage as Hamren’s captain.
Erik Hamren has often been known to be a manager driven by success with the fifty four year old winning League titles in both Norway and Denmark with Rosenborg and Aalborg respectively. This success has come as a result of a football system based on flair with an emphasis on attacking play. Hamren feels that the way a player expresses himself on the ball is hugely important, he feels that if players are allowed to express themselves on the pitch then they will feel more comfortable on the pitch which will in turn help the team achieve better results whilst at the same time play attractive football. This is a complete contrast to how Lars Lagerback ran the Swedish national team in the decade previously, Hamren’s approach has essentially seen the shackles taken off the players with his less compact and more expansive system allowing the players freedom, as previously mentioned this has had a profound effect on Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has taken to his role as captain of the side like a duck to water. Hamren has approached the job with a certain degree of pragmatism openly admitting that he adapts his tactical plan to suit his key players in particular Zlatan, whilst this doesn’t conform to the tradition efficient, conservative Swedish approach it has certainly paid dividends as we can see from Sweden’s Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.
Sweden after the disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign were drawn into qualifying group E which included European heavyweights, World Cup finalists in South Africa and many people’s favourites for the European Championship’s themselves, the Netherlands. Alongside the Dutch were Hungary, Finland, Moldova and San Marino. Under normal circumstances it would be expected that Sweden would escape this qualifying group with ease however the inclusion of the Dutch made that less than likely. The Erik Hamren era started excellently with two performances of the highest order in home games against Hungary and San Marino where eight goals were scored without a single being conceded, this free flowing attacking football that Hamren had brought to the Swedish equation excited fans and the media alike with many seeing them as potential candidates for the best runners up place which would see them qualify for the tournament in Poland and Ukraine automatically. However what followed was a certain crash back down to earth in the shape of a 4-1 defeat at the Amsterdam ArenA with the Swedes free scoring football being halted by Huntelaar and Afellay who got two goals apiece. However the gloom was not over the Rasunda Stadium for much longer with Erik Hamren’s squad winning three consecutive qualifying fixtures which included putting four goals past Moldova away and five past Finland at home. Hamren’s dedication to making sure his player’s were comfortable with the system that was being played was a hugely significant factor to these colossal victories with many recognizing that in his latter days as coach Lagerback had simply not taken the time to approach his players and adapt to them, it was more a case of the newer players coming in would have to adapt to Lagerback’s 4-4-2 and in modern football that simply bar the odd case does not work. A 2-1 loss in Hungary was next to come for Sweden however this was to be the final slip up on their route to Euro 2012 with Hamren leading a Kim Kallstrom inspired side to yet another three consecutive wins, in which ten goals were scored including three in a victory at home against the Netherland’s in a game which Ibrahimovic could not take part. The five goals scored in the campaign by Zlatan Ibrahimovic proved to be vital as Sweden finished the group in second place with twenty four points and a goal difference of positive twenty which saw Hamren’s team avoid the drama and uncertainty of the play offs with their qualification for Euro 2012 as best runners up.
Hamren’s System for this summer
It is expected that Erik Hamren will lead Sweden into this summer’s tournament with the intention of using the same system and style of play that saw his side put three goals past the high flying Netherlands. The Hamren 4-2-3-1 system not only allows for solidity at the back with the centre halves (which I expect to be the veteran Olof Mellberg and West Brom’s Jonas Olsson) being aided by the wingbacks who are expected to provide an attacking outlet not just a defensive one. The two central “holding midfielders” if you will sit just in front of the back four which guards the defensive against counter attacks when Martin Olsson on the left and Celtic’s Mikael Lustig on the right have gone forward in attack, the two holding midfielders are also expected to provide an element of creativity which will come from Lyon’s Kim Kallstrom and either Sebastian Larsson or Anders Svensson depending on which of the pairing’s Hamren feels is required in the match. What often happens with the two holding midfielder’s is that one will move forward slightly and sit essentially in the centre circle where he can almost play a quarter back role distributing passes to either Ibrahimovic up front or even the wing backs making forward runs, this in qualifying was the job taken up by Kallstrom. The attacking trio then play just off the lone striker, these three are often the links between the two holding midfielders and the striker whether it be Zlatan or Elmander, this trio can either be Toivonen, Svensson and Bajrami or even Toivonen, Larsson and Bajrami with Elm and Wilhelmsson being rotation options from the bench albeit Elm can also play in the holding midfield role if required. The central of these three players is the lynchpin of the forward system with him sticking to his position just behind the lone striker, the two midfielders on either side of him have an option as to whether they stay in their assigned positions or drift to the wide areas to support Olsson and Lustig, this contributes to the fluidity of the system which Hamren has cultivated and has seen Sweden score thirty one goals in ten qualifying fixtures. Finally the lone striker is expected to be the captain Ibrahimovic, following on from his five goals in qualifying for the tournament he is hoping for service from the attacking midfielders which will provide him opportunities to score goals, whilst he is the main striker a lot of Sweden’s goals in Hamren’s system do come from the midfielders rather than Zlatan himself. Sweden being drawn in Group D for Euro 2012 alongside England, France and co-host’s Ukraine may well find it difficult to break down France with the 4-2-3-1 system due to the fact France have quick defensive left and right backs in the form of Gael Clichy and Newcastle United target Mathieu Debuchy respectively. This may also be the case against England with Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole however as we know games between Sweden and England look set to end in draws. The fixture against Ukraine on June 11th will be in Erik Hamren’s mind a huge opportunity to win, Hamren will be under no illusions, it will be a tough game against a team in their own country but it is a game that Sweden has a very good chance of winning if the 4-2-3-1 system is followed. A victory in that opening fixture would then relieve a lot of pressure heading into matches against outside tournament favourites France and England.
Expected Starting Line up