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Day 18: Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Goal In Stoppage Time)
Investigating Sweden’s attacking woes
Sweden are not short of attacking talent. Stina Blackstenius (Arsenal), Lina Hurtig (Juventus), Fridolina Rolfö (Barcelona) and Kosovare Asllani (AC Milan) are all players who have shown they are very capable attackers and goal scorers on the biggest stages. Johanna Rytting Kaneryd is also seen as a rising star who has been linked to a WSL move. Yet when put together, there is just something that does not click.
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Sweden did progress from their quarter-final match against Belgium to set up a semi-final against England but they required a 92nd minute winner to do so, with the match looking certain to go to extra time. For the third time this tournament, they underperformed their xG, racking up 3.55 expected goals. This is not a new issue for Sweden - it was a problem they also had at points in the Olympics - but why does it keep happening?
1. They are not creating enough chances
It is hard to argue that Sweden are not creating enough chances in these matches. Of their four games, they have finished with an xG of more than two in all except the match against the Netherlands. Only England have had more shots on target than them and no team has had more shots on target from inside the box than them. There is not even really a pattern to when they create chances. Against Switzerland, they were very poor in the first half before getting going in the second, but the reverse was true against the Netherlands.
2. The chances they are creating are not actually good enough
In this quarter-final, Sweden’s xG per shot was only 0.11. Compare that to France who had an xG of 3.9 in their 5-1 win over Italy in the opening round of games, with an xG per shot of 0.24. Sweden were taking a huge amount of shots, not all of them necessarily good. We can see from The Analyst’s shot map how many of Sweden’s shots were speculative ones from the edge of the area.
To be fair to Sweden, they do have a number of specialists when it comes to scoring long-range efforts, in particular Filippa Angeldahl, but it also indicates a tendency to rush their opportunities. Across the tournament, Sweden have only had one build up attack, meaning an attack of ten or more passes that has ended in a shot or touch in the box. They do like to play direct but perhaps that is stopping them from being patient enough to wait for the right opportunity to come along.
3. Their attackers are not taking the chances created
The top three Swedish players in terms of xG have all underperformed. Stina Blackstenius has scored once from an xG of 2.82, Fridolina Rolfö once from an xG of 1.12 and Kosovare Asllani none from an xG of 1.06. Caveating this with it being a very small sample but it is hardly ideal in international tournaments for all of your players to be in a slight slump. Watching them play, it is hard not to feel like the narrative around Sweden’s attacking is getting into their heads a little bit. Blackstenius trying to take a touch when the ball landed at her feet practically on the goal line was just one example of some overthinking going on last night. One of the main surprises though was that the Swedish manager Peter Gerhardsson did almost nothing to change it up last night, just cranking the pressure on those players to deliver. Jonas Eidevall mused afterwards on the BBC that maybe there was more illness in the Sweden camp than we knew about (three players were missing having tested positive for COVID-19) but it was certainly strange not to see Lina Hurtig at all.
Ultimately if it was not for the fact that we saw these exact same problems at the Olympics, you would want to argue that this was simply bad luck and at some point the pendulum would swing the other way. That may yet happen but increasingly it seems like Sweden just do not expect to find scoring easy and are consequently forcing the issue. England have only conceded an expected goals of 2.85 across their four games with almost 60% of that coming against Spain, so Sweden will not be able to afford to not be ruthless.