A strong start:

Through ten games of the regular season now and I must admit that I am quite happy with the progress we are making. Each game provides an opportunity to learn and to develop our style and the players at the club – some of whom are detailed below. The league is shaping up nicely, with a bit of a gap opening at the top between the four of us back to Malmo in fifth, who can score but also concede at a highly concerning rate. Further down, AIK are seemingly settling for mid table obscurity, just four years after winning the title – with a ninth placed finish from last year not looking too much worse than where they’ll be this season. At the bottom, it’s almost a credit – to me – to see the job that I’d done with Sundsvall, given their current plight. They spent quite a bit of money (in context) over the summer but have failed to score anywhere near enough goals to get points on the board.


We got off to a strong start against Djurgardens as Paulo Vitor nodded before Okkels took full advantage of a third man run – complete with shocking full back play – to put us two up just after the break. A horrific mistake by Macagno, passing directly to their forward, who slotted it into the empty net made a more nervy last twenty than I wanted and, with only 39% of the ball, I possibly would’ve wanted a more controlled start to the season than this. 1.35xG vs 0.71xGA – with a huge proportion of that coming from their goal – was a decent starting point though. We then visited AIK where Vitor, again, netted from set pieces, sandwiching a goal for Brusberg. He wasn’t intended to be thrust into the team so early but an injury for Riasco left me no choice. I always try to use penalties as a way of improving games for new players, particularly those – like Isak – who are on scoring droughts. If the player has good body language and is doing ok, I’ll choose them – which, in this instance, worked really well as the record signing opened his account for us in an easy win where we only allowed 0.22xGA. Concerningly, our match momentum, from three nil up, shows us absorbing a lot of pressure, albeit not shots, and, in future, I’d like us to be able to find a way to exploit these numbers thrown forward. Okkels’ wonder goal opened the scoring before his shot, that cannoned off the post, was tucked away by Kenyan Noor Ouma, who had enjoyed a strong start to the season. In the last minute, we conceded from a corner but that was no more than a consolation. Brusberg, again, from the penalty spot, opened the scoring before substitute Rapp doubled the lead with a drive and low finish from a half cleared corner but, again, another lapse in concentration – like from he corner in the Norrkoping game – saw Hacken score in the last minute from a cross headed into the net. Macagno had been barely tested before the high xG chance that took away a second clean sheet in the space of eight days. The winning run was ended by a tough Sundsvall team, who registered just one shot on target to our three. A problem, again, of a deep, resolute defence that I can’t break down – that is aside from a fluke from Brusberg, as he converted a clearance that was smashed, literally, into his head from six yards out. April was wrapped up with a much more convincing win over Varnamo, with that man Vitor rising highest at the back post, Bernhardsson beating three men before unleashing a powerful left footed strike and young subs Wallgren and Kallander combining with the winger placing a lovely shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.

Another resolute defensive display cost us two points as we started May with a draw against Sirius, despite creating 2.17xG from our seventeen shots. We controlled every element of the game, restricting the visitors to just three shots and, unsurprisingly, it was their goalkeeper who walked away with the player of the match award. Back to winning ways away at bottom of the table Mjallby – even though we, again, created more xG than our total goal count. Okkels converted a rebound from a nice move that had left Brusberg in the open and, honestly, in a position where it was easier to score. He did, however, convert when Okkels’ cross found him on the penalty spot. Our third corner concession of the season came before a cross was tapped in by Nour Ouma as we sealed the win late on. Brusberg converted from close range as we dominated the first half against Malmo, not letting them even attempt a shot. Their reply, to their credit, was a lovely worked goal as their left back cut in and unleashed a powerful shot into the corner in what proved to be their only shot on target all game. Sadly, our impetus slowed as the game went on and we weren’t able to capitalise further. My first major final ended in defeat thanks, partly, to a red card. Kallander had opened the scoring from the penalty spot, again, utilising the choice of confident players to take kicks, before Baidoo was sent off on thirty five minutes for a rash tackle. It forced me into pessimist mode and we went in our shells a bit, with Hammarby getting level just after the hour. They too had a man sent off in extra time but, at that point, given that the timing of this wasn’t ideal for either club, meant that neither of us really had the legs to go for it. For the shoot out, I choose my five – based on confidence, performance and then penalty taking, before speaking to them. I wanted to instill some passion into my first taker, Ilunga, but – sadly – that made him anxious. What followed was the tamest penalty I’ve ever seen. Going one down on the first spot kick is difficult and we never recovered. An even showing in the big derby away at Goteborg, where Okkels had us off to a strong start before Jeng’s first mistake (quite literally) of the season allowed their right winger in to finish from inside the box. 0.72xG vs 0.80xG is a fair representation of the equality shown within this game, so, for me, it was a good point.

A little bit disjointed in May and a set of very close expected to actual performances but we doing well. Credit must go to Bakayoko, my set piece coach, for our goals from corners but we must also factor in more time to work on the defensive ones as we still do look frail, at times. This, along with some work to do in central defensive areas, means I’m going to be a very busy coach over the next portion of the season!

Developing the ‘third man run’:


I have been loving the progress of Isak, who is statistically performing wonderfully and has just recently become known as a Wonderkid, my first within this save. However, both a low involvement within the game and some passing examples that aren’t quite what I want leads me to some thoughts about what comes next. The quote below from Coaches’ Voice explains, in more detail than I can write, what I want one of his key jobs to be:


What is a third-man run?

Progressing the ball forward is one of the simplest but most important tasks a football coach faces. The third-man run is one of the most prominent mechanisms used to break lines and achieve this. A third-man run happens when the team in possession attracts an opponent towards the ball. Two players exchange passes before a third makes an off-the-ball run into space to receive. Third-man runs are therefore crucial to finding a player in a better position who cannot be found with a direct pass.

Third-man runs can help create a numerical advantage where there was previously a two-on-two. Building overloads relies on co-ordination between teammates, as well as good timing of passes and movement. Players need to have a good understanding of their teammates’ games so that they all move and pass in unison. This includes players who aren’t even involved in the combinations, because off-the-ball movements of others can help to create space for the three players involved – including, crucially, the third man.

How do teams use third-man runs?

Teams can find the third man through a variety of means. One is through the team’s shape during periods of possession, with players positioned at different heights and never with two players on the same passing line to create angles to pass. Using the full width of the pitch is also important in pulling the opposition apart.

For third-man runs to work, a player must first draw an opponent out of position by moving forward with the ball (above). Once an opponent has moved out to engage the ball-carrier, a teammate can move into the space they have vacated. A pass can then be played to another nearby teammate, who can then find the teammate who has moved into this gap in the opposition’s structure. Alternatively, a player can take up a position between the lines to receive the first pass. They then move the ball to another player who has moved on the blindside of an opponent.

Whilst the progression of his ability to learn the striker role has been fantastic, I feel that the next job is to develop him to be able to do this and continue his fine record of five goals in nine appearances at 0.64 per 90. At just 0.77 key passes, some 4% of his total passes are key – not bad but could be much better (Okkels, for example, has 11% for this measure) and I think that comes not from being more creative but just being on the ball, more.  I’m currently asking him to learn how to play killer balls and then may go as far as asking him to play with his back to goal, in a way for him to link play then use his other trait (Gets forward whenever possible) to break into the box. His breakthrough, thanks to an injury to Riasco, has meant that I was able to hire an intermediary to complete the sale of Guilavogui – who would’ve been able to leave for a free in June anyway. He’s off to Turkey for a fee that could bring me around €650k. Whilst I do now have two quality strikers fighting for this role, I am realistic and know that a wonderkid aged twenty and a Venezuelan of just twenty-three are both going to attract attention and also not want to spend their career here. Sadly, our own recruitment, so far, has been tough. High wages are the issue, with both Sulemana and Datro Fofana, interested, for example but unwilling to go below €50k per week, some €45k more than my next highest earner.

I have looked at one lad in a bit more detail though:


Hugo Bolin would be a signing based way more on traits than anything else. He likes the ball played into his feet and then will play killer balls from that including one twos and will then move into the box before placing his shot. Granted, he’s not actually a striker – but neither was Brusberg – and he’s a little limited to only his right foot. But this season, he’s assisted more (0.22 per 90 to 0.13), created more open play key passes (0.88 to 0.51), dribbled more (2.21 to 2.04) and – as expected for a player playing deeper, has more progressive passes too. Whilst I don’t necessarily see him as the striker that can take us to the next level, he could be a perfectly good stop gap for right now should I lose either of my current forwards and will really give me a great insight into how this role would play out.

Building stronger ‘early-transition’ foundations:

We currently are averaging 55% possession, the fourth best in the league, but the perfectionist in me wants a bit more quality rather than this quantity. I feel that we are still too safe in our early transition, the parts where we have won the ball back within our own half. With the eye test, I could see why but wanted some numbers to back things up.


The above shows our three players and one Anton Eriksson (but more on him later) compared against all players capable of playing as a centre back this season and having played more than five hundred Allsvenskan minutes. I am delighted to not be having an issues with my heading and still have nightmares of my centre backs inside the first percentiles at Sundsvall! It’s clear to see the difference in roles here – Vitor is aggressive on the ball and doesn’t progress is that much through passes, more with dribbles. He’s also more risky and, thanks to his Libero role, loses the ball higher up the pitch trying to make those key passes. Compare that to his partner, Mbacke, who is so much safer in possession yet makes a lot of clearances (in my mind, these are not safe passes) and, game by game, has high passing numbers.

Enter, this:


My plan is to introduce the aforementioned Eriksson, currently of Norrkoping and shift Mbacke out to the right back slot. His safety in passing and his lack of an eye for a progressive pass (78% percentile vs 50th and 34th vs 60th) when compared to Anton is telling. Likewise, Eriksson is far more composed when in possession, clearing the ball much less. It is my hope that, as we build up in a three, and can be exposed with long balls into the channels immediately after losing the ball, that the height of now Jeng and Mbacke will counteract this as well as helping us from set pieces. Current right back Barros Schelotto has done little wrong but may be a useful bit of income for further changes in the summer. WIth Mbacke already competent, retraining -shouldn’t be an issue.

I couldn’t think of a way to demonstrate the process of this bit of potential recruitment without posting that table twice, therefore, introduced my signing before explaining my process. I’ve had my scouts out for some time looking for a player in the mould and had shortlisted the following:


Rekik and Eriksson were the top two choices – players in their peak at reputable clubs who could come in and improve my team. Also added to the list for the DoF was Samir, a player who I feel could hold down the spot for the next ten years and then the bargain option of Sutalo, who is available on a free, but very much a left field option as a man who has spent more time as a wing back or in a three this season rather than where I want him to be. Concerned with Rekik’s wage demands, I handed over authority but was pleasantly surprised when my DoF negotiated a great deal with his contract and transfer fee. In terms of   leading transfers, he’s among the biggest but we are still a level below the top spenders here, although this will be the     third highest deal between Allsvenskan teams, and we also hold the second!

However, I feel that this is imperative to help us take those next steps and build better from the back. He’ll join in July and I will look to settle him in and then really dig into what he brings to the team.

Things are feeling really good at the moment – hopefully we can continue to push but leave enough in our tank for a push in the Conference League, which we’ll be entering in September.


  • Ben

    Ben has been a long time contributor to the FM community previously on The Dugout and the SI Forums. He is known for his great in-depth tactical analysis and an increasing level of understanding of data led recruitment. His FM saves are always in-depth and he delivers both his knowledge of the game and great storytelling including a talent for squad building, progressing youth players and finding diamonds in the rough. His saves are really popular within the blogging community. He is also the creator of the popular skin “Statman”

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