With many tipping Aalesund to be 'dark horses' in the Eliteserien this year, it has been surprising to see the club fail to win any of their opening 5 fixtures. At the heart of this run of poor form is a leaky defence that has now conceded 17 goals in this opening run of games.
We welcome Glimt's B-Lag trener Tom Dent to the site, who will be contributing regularly this season, to provide some analysis on Aalesund & a tactical tweak that saw them look to tighten up their defence having shipped 11 goals in their first 2 Eliteserien games.
by Tom Dent
Welcome to what I hope is the first of many tactical analyses throughout the 2020 Eliteserien season. This year, I hope to be able to provide some insight into different Norwegian clubs & look into why things happen, what happens, and the consequence of it all.
First, a little disclaimer... I am a coach, but these pieces will be purely based on my own opinions. I am not on any training pitch, so I have no idea what is said or worked on in training with other clubs. However, I have approached this in the form of an opposition coach report with you lovely readers being the players I am presenting to, so I will try and help you see how things happen, and hopefully give a little understanding for the why.
My first analysis is a deep dive into Aalesund, and how their recent tactical tweak between matches 2 & 4 of the Eliteserien season so far has sured up a previously leaky defence that had shipped 11 goals in their first 2 matches.
A brief background on Aalesund before we begin. The club is managed by former Nottingham Forest legend Lars Bohinen. He took his 1-3-5-2 formation from previous club Sandefjord to Aalesund and got them promoted, breaking all records in 2019. Goals were scored for fun, the defence was rarely troubled, and they were considered to play a good solid brand of football.
Many have tipped AaFK to stay up, finishing comfortably in midtable this season, and with good reason. The classy Niklas Castro is by far their best attacker, and with a group of players who have played together for a sustained period of time, not many changes in the XI between the OBOS & Eliteserien seasons were expected. However, a 4-1 defeat to local rivals Molde in game one followed by a hammering away at KBK (7-2) set the alarm bells ringing.
So What Happened?
Taking a purely tactical view, there are many benefits with playing a 1-3-5-2 system. With 9 players essentially down the middle of the pitch, it is a very good system in possession to create overloads around the ball carrier. With 2 strikers in place as well, it can ask questions of the opposition of who they are going to leave to cover the strikers, reducing the number of players that go and attack.
However, the biggest flaw up to now is that their pressure on the ball carrier has been mixed, leaving the side vulnerable for what the Norwegians call vending av spill (VAS). With their wing backs having been reluctant to press when the ball has been switched, it has left a very big hole for opposition full backs to come into
This was brutally exposed against KBK, and while the goals came from many other areas, chance upon chance was created in this way. So it was clear that a change was needed somewhere, and with credit to manager Lars Bohinen, he made it.
Bohinen sacrificed one of his strikers to reinforce the midfield, lining up in a 1-5-4-1 to begin with against Brann leading to a 2-2 draw, but to better affect against Strømsgodset away (1-1), where they should really have got more than the one point they traveled home with. By adding to the midfield line, it was a lot more difficult to come to chances in the same way, with better support to the wing back, and more denial of players getting into space beyond the midfield line.
Another added benefit in switching to this system, is that when AaFK see the opportunity to engage higher up the pitch, one of their two CMs can travel and press the opposition central defender. This then naturally creates a 1-5-3-2 in principle, but with the press coming from deeper in the first phase, it makes the opponent less prepared to find a way out of it, and acts a trigger to the rest of AaFK to push up the pitch and compress the pitch making it harder for opponents to play through.
Compare this to their pressure against KBK, where their back 5 wasn’t so keen to stand higher, which led to problems regaining the ball directly, or indirectly from the long ball
Halfway to hell
The signs from all of the above show that AaFK will be a lot more of a tough cookie to break down through their use of their front and midfield lines of the team. However, the back 5 of AaFK now need to work out if they are going to stand higher and be braver or pull the team down with them and defend the box more.
The halfway house that they showing at the moment is just going to cause more problems in the coming weeks against some of the better teams, as they will feed off all the space available in the 'mellomrom' (space between defensive and midfield line).
At the moment it is clear the front 5 want to do something different to the back 5. This insecurity within the back 5 standing so high and feeling unsure where to be should they meet a quick striker, has already led to some rather comical goals. Whilst a lot better against Strømsgodset, there were still signs where simple mistakes were made which could easily have led to goals
There were still signs in their two home games against Brann and Mjøndalen that individual mistakes by the back 5 could have led, or did lead, to some easy goals conceded. This is demonstrated not least by the second goal against Mjøndalen. Once this intense period of games comes to a conclusion, it is clear that AaFK will need long hours on the training ground more than ever to correct these errors in play.
In conclusion, a lot of credit should go to Lars and his team for identifying areas of weakness in his team, and getting the team organised so quickly during this intense stage of the season.
The signs are that the changes are having a positive effect on the overall defensive structure of the team, and it is now a case of working hard on his back 5 to put the team’s plan fully into practice.
You can follow Tom on Twitter here
* Editor's note... Tom's article could not have come at a better time, with AaFK slumping to a 1-3 home defeat to Mjøndalen in their most recent game. After the match, manager Lars Bohinen lamented the fact that his side were unable to defend out wide on the pitch. You can read that report which backs up Tom's analysis, here.