Written by Ben Griffis
Brøndby IF earned what could be described as an undeserved victory at Silkeborg last month. Silkeborg outplayed Brøndby and used their tactics against them for much of the match. Until the last 10 minutes, Brøndby looked lethargic and disinterested, due in part to Silkeborg’s dominance. However, Silkeborg couldn’t finish their few chances and found it difficult to find the final ball. Brøndby’s slight tweaks around the 80’ allowed them to come alive and score a well-worked goal.
Brøndby now return to Silkeborg for the 2nd round of the Championship Playoff (the top 6 teams in the Superliga after a round-robin with all 11 other teams), about 5 weeks later having played 3 games since this victory. In fact, this 0-1 win is Brøndby’s most recent win. After this match, the boys from Vestegnen drew AGF before losing 2 straight to AaB and Randers, scoring 1 goal and conceding 5 in these 3 matches.
This article first analyzes Brøndby and Silkeborg’s tactics—mainly from a Brøndby perspective—before detailing some recommendations for how Brøndby can ensure they beat Silkeborg again, but this time with a more complete performance and dominate the game.
LINEUPS & SUBSTITUTIONS
The wingbacks Kevin Mensah and Andreas Bruus typically pushed forward in line with Slimane during Brøndby’s buildup phase, forming more of a 3-2-3-2 shape. Slimane, however, was typically free to roam around and could be seen in line with the strikers as well.
However, the wing backs would drop deeper to offer a less risky passing option if the ball stayed with the center backs for an extended period of time. This image below shows right wingback Andreas Bruus dropping deeper.
While the wingbacks roamed the flanks and Slimane roamed the attack, midfielders Joe Bell and Josip Radošević stayed central, moving left-to-right with the ball, and occasionally dropping deeper to receive a pass. Strikers Marko Divković and Simon Hedlund stayed up top; any consistent movements they made were to the wing to offer a supporting option to a wingback.
During their buildup, Brøndby passed amongst the back 3 for prolonged periods. Rosted, Maxsø, and Heggheim rotated the ball between themselves, sometimes passing to keeper Hermansen or one of the dropped wingbacks.
After passing around at the back, Brøndby typically played long balls to an advanced wingback or one of the front 3 players. Maxsø was the player who usually played these passes. And as we’ll see, long balls were one of Brøndby’s main approaches to this match.
These long balls bypassing the midfield, whether centrally to a striker or on the flanks to a wingback, were not very effective and usually led to cheaply giving away possession. Especially during the middle two-thirds of the match, when Brøndby were hardly allowed time to methodically build up their play, their long passes led to Silkeborg intercepting the pass or winning the second ball.
Brøndby’s attack mainly involved sending the ball long to an advanced player, often with little support, and trying to bypass Silkeborg’s press. Players would pass the ball long whether they had just won the ball back or even after several passes, and many times there was an easier passing option close by.
In a chicken-and-egg scenario, Brøndby’s attacking players were fairly spread out, meaning that most passes had to carry over distance before reaching their target. Either their passes were long because of their shape, or Frederiksen instructed such a wide shape, which forced them into long passes.
Nevertheless, these long passes allowed Silkeborg plenty of time to see where the ball was headed and adjust their positions while it was in the air. The Silkeborg player near the Brøndby target would be able to either challenge for the interception or quickly close down the receiver once he got the ball. This spiraled into Brøndby’s increasingly desperate passes throughout the match, since their players had little time to make the optimal decision.
One specific example where a shorter passing option would have been a better option, and kept possession, is shown below.
In this situation, there are equal numbers of Brøndby and Silkeborg players on both sides of the pitch. Two Brøndby players are on the near side and two are on the far side, represented by the circles. Further, there are 3 Silkeborg players in front of the ball on both sides (the central player will support either side of the pitch), represented by the triangles, and one more on each side tracking just behind one of the two Brøndby runners denoted by a box.
The player with the ball has just sprayed a high-risk switch to the two players on the far side (the pass is intercepted just after this screenshot), even though he had two better options that would allow Brøndby to keep possession and continue their dangerous attack. The first option is to keep the ball and continue dribbling, and the second option is to play a pass into space to his teammate on the wing, who also has ample space to run into.
However, as Brøndby were most likely instructed to play long passes, he opted for the cross-field switch, even though the positioning of both teams’ players is almost identical. This is just one example where a long pass led to losing possession, whereas a shorter pass would have been a better option.
Another issue with Brøndby’s attack was their tendency to slow play down when a more urgent option would have been a better decision. Several times, the player with the ball would have an option for a quick first-time pass or a one-two option with a teammate, but they would instead control the ball. This only invited Silkeborg’s players to press or close down all sideways and forward passing lanes.
The image below shows one specific example of this tendency.
In this situation, Bruus received the ball from Heggheim and—instead of playing a quick pass to either player at the end of the white arrows—he controls it, only for the two pressing Silkeborg players force him into a back pass to Heggheim. The pass laterally into midfield would have opened up multiple other options, and he could have started a one-two onto the flank by passing it vertically to the attacking midfielder.
Another issue with the relatively slow play was in transitioning to attack. Beyond just the player with the ball, supporting players usually moved slowly, which made Brøndby unable to string together a series of passes to catch Silkeborg out of position. An example is shown below.
In this situation, Brøndby win the ball back through a couple players, culminating in the ball being central but no supporting options nearby. Given that the ball carrier is being pressed by one Silkeborg player and running into another, either Mensah or Hedlund should have run into the open space with the dribbler to offer an option to release the pressure. Instead, both players move slowly and the dribbler does very well to retain possession. He is then forced to pass back to Mensah, and only then does Hedlund run onto the wing, but the moment had passed and Mensah passed back again.
Urgency in movement to support the ball carrier would have allowed Brøndby to launch a swift counter. While Silkeborg outnumbered Brøndby 5 to 3 here anyway, there was plenty of open space for all 3 players to exploit.
Two of Brøndby’s biggest issues in attack for this match were a lack of urgency in movement and a lack of urgency in passing tempo. Coupled with slow-paced long balls where a shorter option would have been better, it’s no wonder that Brøndby found it difficult to have much possession (just 31% all game) and create chances.
However, the final 10 minutes differed from the first 80 minutes. Players started making runs into space behind defenders, instead of staying on the flanks or backing into a defender. Passes had more urgency and pace behind them, facilitating quicker play, which confused Silkeborg—given that the past 80 minutes had been lethargic. While Brøndby still played long passes, they were pacey, accurate, and into space behind Silkeborg’s high line.
Brøndby’s goal came in the middle of these final 10 minutes, and while it may have started from a missed interception which left the ball in acres of space in the final third, the Brøndby players showed more urgency in their actions immediately leading up to the goal.
Kvistgaarden’s goal came after a good cross by Slimane between the defenders and goalkeeper. After receiving the chipped pass, Slimane has two good options running towards net and puts the ball into the perfect spot where the keeper can’t come out for it. Greve was the player that Silkeborg defenders and goalkeeper Larsen thought would take the shot, but it was a little too far for him, so he left it for Kvistgaarden. This meant half the net was open, as Larsen had already positioned himself for Greve’s strike.
Overall, even with the goal, Brøndby’s attack was weak. Multiple issues plagued their attack and led to them giving away possession or not capitalizing on Silkeborg’s poor positioning. They allowed the opposition time to recover or close down players, and will need to make sure they don’t make the same mistakes in the upcoming match.
Brøndby’s defensive shape was similar to their starting formation, but with Slimane to the right of the strikers to form a 5-2-3.
While this shape allowed Brøndby to have a relative numerical advantage in the midfield, it opened up space on their flanks for Silkeborg to exploit. Throughout the match, but especially noticeable in the first half, Silkeborg dominated the right flank, exploiting much of the space we can see in this picture above.
The wingbacks usually stayed in line with the center backs and only pushed up once a player received the ball or dribbled into the wing or half-space next to a midfielder. Given the distance they had to cover, Silkeborg used this to their advantage and passed around Brøndby more often than not.
Once Silkeborg entered the attacking half (and especially the final third), Brøndby players pressed with multiple players. This press attempted to crowd out space for Silkeborg and force the ball out or an interception, but Brøndby’s press was at times disorganized and instead gave an advantage to Silkeborg. One specific example is shown below.
For this situation, Brøndby close down Carstensen and two teammates with 4 players. However, the ball carrier still has 2 passing options. Option A could lead to a one-two with either Carstensen or the player marked B here. Option B, the option Carstensen takes, is a one-two into loads of space behind Brøndby’s press and just in front of Rosted, who is currently marking a third Silkeborg player.
Naturally, this disorganization leads directly to a bit of play down Silkeborg’s right side/Brøndby’s left. Even though Brøndby have the numerical advantage—5 on 4—the failed press left too much space open for Silkeborg and too much work on one player, Rosted.
Below are two further examples where Brøndby’s press fails and only strengthens Silkeborg.
In this case, also on Brøndby’s left/Silkeborg’s right side, a disorganized press leads to a dangerous passage of play for Silkeborg. Just 2 minutes after the press breakdown in the prior image. Numerical advantages but positional disadvantages were a key issue with Brøndby’s press in this match.
In this situation above, Silkeborg players are offered time and space to pick their next move, even before receiving the pass. Manager Niels Frederiksen will need to ensure his players don’t become too disorganized when pressing Silkeborg in the upcoming match.
Overall, Brøndby’s defense included a high line with tactics to crowd out the opposition on the flanks. However, these tactics weren’t implemented well by the players and instead led to disorganization, poor positioning, and ample opportunities for Silkeborg. Frederiksen must have noticed how poor his players’ press was in the first half, because Brøndby began pressing closer to their goal instead of just past midfield. However, as we see from examples in both halves, the press was still not very effective because of the players’ disorganization.
SILKEBORG BUILDUP AND ATTACK
Now we can move on to Silkeborg’s play, but I’ll still keep Brøndby as my point of view.
Silkeborg built up and attacked much in their 4-3-3 shape, but Brink typically dropped behind the other two midfielders and sat between the defensive and midfield lines. Oggesen and Klynge typically stayed in the half-spaces to support play down the flanks. The fullback, midfielder, winger, and Brink allowed Silkeborg to have plenty of passing options to beat the Brøndby press. While Silkeborg typically played down the wings, they also played centrally as well.
A key component of Silkeborg’s attack was compactness. Their players remained fairly compact, which allowed them to have multiple short passing options. Contrast this with Brøndby’s tactic of spreading the pitch and using long passes.
This image above shows how narrow Silkeborg could get. Both fullbacks are in the half-spaces, not the wings. Brøndby had a difficult time dealing with this compactness. They were unsure how to effectively defend against it and when they did; they opened up space for Silkeborg to exploit.
Throughout the match, though, Silkeborg were unable to capitalize on their dominance in possession and dominance over Brøndby’s defense. They found it hard to pick out a good final ball or cross, and didn’t take their chances very well when they got them. Only one shot really tested Hermansen, and another hit the bar. Others were tame efforts right to the Brøndby keeper.
Fans could witness Kent Nielsen’s frustration, the Silkeborg manager, multiple times throughout the match. The TV broadcast cut to him several times and his frustration at his team’s inability to take or create those great chances was visible.
Silkeborg defended in their 4-3-3 shape, keeping relatively distinct lines for their defenders, midfielders, and attackers.
Silkeborg also remained quite compact in defense as well as attack, as shown in this image below.
Silkeborg offered Brøndby space on the wings, apparently knowing their opponents wouldn’t make much use of them and instead opt for longer balls over the midfield. This compact defensive shape made it very difficult for Brøndby to get into the final third when they did string together a few passes in midfield. It also facilitated Silkeborg’s dominance in winning the second ball or rebound. Having 1-2 more players than Brøndby able to battle for a second ball made it easier to win them.
The narrow attacking shape employed by Silkeborg also facilitated the quick counter-press they used when they lost the ball. Usually, when possession was lost, Silkeborg players would close down Brøndby and force a mistake or force them to kick the ball far up the pitch, where there was no support even if the pass was completed. This also played into their ability to win second balls and left Brøndby without much time to even set themselves up for a prolonged buildup.
Overall, Silkeborg’s defense remained solid throughout the match, but they were beaten for a few minutes at the end. Unable to clear the ball from their box for the first time all game, Slimane’s decisive cross dealt Silkeborg a cruel defeat, arguably undeserved. However, Silkeborg and Kent Nielsen can take many positives from this match and make a couple tweaks, mainly to their key chance creation—not their defense—ahead of the upcoming match. Silkeborg’s defense was dominant, and the only major adjustments might be to defend slightly wider if Brøndby were to play short passes on the wings this weekend.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BRØNDBY
While Brøndby won this match in March, they found themselves outplayed for the vast majority of the game and were lucky Silkeborg couldn’t craft a major chance from their attacks and possession. Niels Frederiksen should expect Silkeborg to approach the upcoming match similarly to how they approached this one, given that Nielsen will have explained to his team their dominance and shortcomings in the final third.
Brøndby, therefore, should make several adjustments so that they can take control of the match early on and ensure that they aren’t clawing for the winning goal so late in the game. I’ve identified four main areas for improvement that could see Brøndby atone for their mistakes in this match.
First, Brøndby need to ensure they don’t get too disorganized while pressing. Silkeborg could play around their press too often, and were able to enter dangerous spaces because of the disorganization. Had Silkeborg been better with the final ball, Brøndby could have easily lost this match.
Second, short passes are a necessity. This match should show Frederiksen that while there are times and places for long balls, his players tried them as their first resort too often instead of a last resort or a planned pass. The final 10 minutes of the match were a notable improvement, and shows that incisive long balls coupled with attacker movements can be dangerous, but lethargic long passes ask to be cut out.
Third, movement off the ball is key. Silkeborg were narrow in both attack and defense, but there was not enough off-ball movement for Brøndby to exploit the spaces or create one-on-one isolations with the fullbacks. Silkeborg’s fullbacks were the only players on the wing in defense, so that could be a key area for Brøndby this weekend.
Finally, Brøndby must have urgency. Urgency in passing is needed to play around defenders and the press, as well as to draw defenders out of position. Urgency in movement is needed to open up a passing lane as well as to support players—something that Brøndby really struggled with this match. Slow passes between defenders and a dropped midfielder have their place in buildup, but low-tempo passes are the death of attacks and lead to either lost possession or a recycled pass back to defenders.
Brøndby were arguably the worse team in this match a month ago, but squeaked by with a victory in the final minutes. This upcoming match, also at Silkeborg, is vital to Brøndby’s placing in the Championship Group. They haven’t won in the three games since this match, and currently sit third, 2 points behind FC Midtjylland and 8 points behind FC Copenhagen.
If manager Niels Frederiksen can make a few adjustments ahead of this match, he could take control of the match and get a much-needed win. However, he’ll have to do it without club vice-captain Kevin Mensah, who tore his ACL just before halftime.