Degerfors v Djurgardens
Djurgården’s title credentials, after going top of the table in gameweek 23, will be tested by a stern Degerfors side, doing everything in their power to remain in the division.
The season has been highly challenging for Degerfors, suffering defeat in 13 of 23 league games to date, but the recent trend is undoubtedly positive. Having not lost in the last four matches, picking up six points in the process, they now stand a real chance of avoiding the relegation zone. If they do so, competing in the relegation playoff against the third-placed team in Superettan looks highly likely.
The upswing in form is timely and necessary, considering Helsingborg behind them have started picking up the odd win. It’s impressive, too, having played and drawn against top contenders such as Häcken and AIK, holding the latter to a 1-1 draw before the international break. Despite facing some serious pressure during the game, giving up chances worth 1.92 xG, the improved Degerfors defence held firm to secure a point. For a team which averaged 2.1 goals conceded per game prior, letting in only four in their last four matches is notable.
Djurgården squeezed past BK Häcken at the top of the division to now be in the driving seat heading into the final seven matches of the season. With only one point separating the two, though, the Stockholm side will need to keep their fantastic form going during the home stretch. An incredible run of thirteen games without defeat, of which ten are wins, is certainly the form of champions if maintained.
Both teams have very tough games in the next five weeks, each facing AIK, Malmö and Norrköping as well as a head-to-head next weekend. DIF’s Allsvenskan form is made all the more impressive considering their European exploits, playing in the UECL most weeks over the last two months. This is a new situation for the club, having not been able to muster up such a European challenge in decades, albeit the squad does have strength in depth to cope.
By far the strongest defence in the division – only conceding 0.7 games per match – combined with a lethal attack with wingers flourishing makes them incredibly dangerous for any opponent. Especially Joel Asoro and Gustav Wikheim have been mightily impressive in recent times, while the departure of colossus Isak Hien in defence has been offset by the return of prior captain Marcus Danielson.
While the home team looks in good shape, Djurgården are in need of a win to continue their title charge. A break will have helped them hugely, and a few niggles should now be healed.
Sundsvall v Norrkoping
Sundsvall’s return to Allsvenskan has been a miserable affair, failing to reproduce any of the exciting football they showed during their last stint while being completely open defensively. The squad certainly lacks both quality and character, and without any real investment ahead of their promotion, this looked a likely outcome. Only three wins and two draws in 23 matches is however below all expectations, and in many games, they’ve been completely outplayed.
Having lost nine games in a row prior, getting a draw in the last league game against Mjällby was certainly a small improvement. The season is all but over, though, with Sundsvall needing to make up seven points to catch up with an in-form Degerfors side. In effect, this remains highly unlikely, as it represents nearly 40% of the team’s points total to date, and realistically it’s best to start preparing for a season in Superettan.
Norrköping have similarly had a testing campaign, as usual looking to challenge for a top-three position ahead of the season but ultimately ending up in the bottom half of the table. It’s been a real rollercoaster ride, but for the most part their lacklustre attacking play has shone through, while an inability to contain teams and keep clean sheets has resulted in too many losses.
While they have firepower going forward – Levi, Nyman and Sigurdsson are all top-quality players – the team’s structure doesn’t allow them to showcase their abilities, often conceding possession and not being a big counter-attacking threat. Only six wins in 23, while suffering 10 defeats, makes for grim reading.
With an xG created figure of only 28.6, nearly 40% lower than the most dangerous team in Häcken, you can’t expect to challenge for European football. Something has to change in Norrköping, and while the team has looked more dangerous going forward since the introduction of new manager Glen Riddersholm, clean sheets are still hard to come by and only one win in six Allsvenskan matches has been secured. It seems like there’s a structural issue at the club, and wholesale changes may be needed to return to the top of the division.
Despite the away team’s struggles, they are a much better footballing side that Sundsvall in all areas of the pitch. This is an opportunity to make a statement, and with the manager having had a couple of weeks to work with his new side, I expect them to do just that.
Kalmar v Helsingborgs
Kalmar’s season has been a joy to watch – with a capable but unremarkable squad, manager Rydström has made them into one of the toughest teams to beat in the division. He is now talked about as one of the sharpest footballing minds in the country and fans are calling for him to take over the national team from Janne Andersson.
Whereas the home side’s football isn’t always exciting, it is incredibly effective. A ‘Pep light’ approach, with death by a thousand passes being the chosen path, has worked wonders. They aren’t the most creative side, partly due to a lack of quality in forward areas, but their possession game is incredibly impressive and allows them to control matches from start to finish. This has led to Kalmar conceding the second-fewest goals in the division, at a rate of 0.9 per match.
At the other end, only scoring 1.2 per game doesn’t matter too much as the strong defensive performance allows them to produce results. The team hasn’t lost in five matches, only conceding three in that run. As we know, they are incredibly difficult to penetrate especially at Guldfågeln Arena, having only let in five goals at home all season long. In fact, their last four home wins have been by a 1-0 scoreline, showing how well Rydström’s boys control matches and suffocate opponents.
Helsingborg’s promotion to Allsvenskan hasn’t been all smooth sailing – they’ve found it difficult to maintain a balance between going at teams to attempt to win games and keeping it tight defensively. For the most part, the defensive struggle has been predominant, failing to keep a clean sheet in all but four matches this year.
Simultaneously, the attacking play has left a lot to be desired, with the team lacking the structure to consistently reach the final third as well as not having enough creativity in attacking areas (except for trickster Taha Ali). Helsingborg have in fact created the lowest xG in the entire division at 22.2 and are the joint-lowest scorers.
While chance creation has been an issue, not having a recognised goalscorer for much of the campaign has also played a part. Van Den Hurk did everything he could to leave, and while early signs suggest Amar Muhsin could be a worthy replacement, it’s too early to make definitive judgements. His displays have however been impressive, netting four league goals in the last three matches. He’s going to need to continue producing if Helsingborg are to stand a chance of making it past Degerfors, who sit one point ahead, into the relegation playoff spot.
While Helsingborg have two wins in the last five, there isn’t much to indicate Kalmar can be overturned at their home fortress here.
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