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Evaluating Sweden’s young and exciting attacking arsenal

Sweden-Isak-Kulusevski-Elanga

Sweden has produced lots of talented footballers over the years with the likes of Henrik Larsson, Freddie Ljungberg and Zlatan Ibrahimovic among the names who’ve become world-class stars in Europe’s biggest leagues.

Providing Sweden progress past the World Cup Qualifiers and embark on another World Cup campaign come December, they could well possess one of the most exciting attacking weaponry’s in the tournament.

While the whole nation will be hoping iconic and legendary figure Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be fit and firing for one last international hurrah, there’s still an abundance and wealth of talent that they can call on for inspiration in the event that the AC Milan giant is unable to feature.

In fact, Sweden’s impressive UEFA Euro 2020 campaign was played without Zlatan with coach Janne Andersson managing to build and form a side capable of getting results within his rigid customary 4-4-2 shape, with wide players tasked in providing imagination and a creative edge as well as a mobile and efficient front two who can cause damage in quick and swift transitional play.

It’s unclear how Andersson will look to evolve his style of play in order to harness and unleash his exciting attacking arsenal, or whether he will stick with the same formation, though what’s certain is that Sweden will be one of the underdog nations to watch if they make it to Qatar in December.

So who are the young and exciting stars Swedish fans will be purring over in future?

ALEXANDER ISAK

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Arguably the most exciting and most vital of the new school of hot talents in Scandinavia, Alexander Isak is a player blessed with extraordinary talents and a player the Swedish people will be hugely reliant on in future tournaments, and they’d be hoping that starts this December in Qatar, providing the Real Sociedad star fires them to qualification this month.

The 22-year-old caught the eye at the European Championships last summer – but those who watch the Spanish La Liga closely will be familiar with his extraordinary abilities long before that. Last season, he hit 17 league goals in 34 La Liga games as Real Sociedad finished in a Europa League place.

With a rate of 0.65 non-penalty goals per 90 — the fourth-highest in La Liga and level with Atletico Madrid’s Luis Suarez — it’s no wonder why several scouts for top clubs across the continents have been closely following his progress.

However, this current campaign has seen Isak struggle to replicate last season’s tremendous form. He’s only hit four goals in 24 La Liga appearances so far, leaving a lot of questions rather than answers as to the trajectory of his promising career. He’d no doubt be looking to escape such doubts for Sweden at international level though, as he aims to fire them to a World Cup place.

Nine international goals in 32 caps is a reasonable record for a player still so young, but knowing Isak’s qualities, you’d expect him to improve that in the coming years.

He still offers his team much more than his goals, and that has shown in La Liga this season. Isak’s technical ability is largely fantastic. Despite often receiving possession with his body too square to the ball, his ability to spin and open his posture up is great, as is his awareness to make first-time layoffs and combine with close-by team-mates, its why he is so valuable to the Swedish system in that they require his exuberance, speed and quickness of thought in attacking phases of play.

Although his first touch lacks consistency, as do some of his short passes, he showcases consistently excellent close control in tight spaces and an ability to shift the ball and his body in alternate directions very sharply – a skill made all the more impressive when you appreciate his tall, rangy frame. This can also be seen in some of his one-on-one attempts, where he is comfortable shifting possession onto either side of his body.

Isak’s positioning and movement for the ball are exemplary too. His sense of how and when to drop closer to the ball are great for linking play from side to side and creating overloads from the flank. Equally impressive is his use of this technique in executing double movements to make sharp runs into the drawn-open channels, putting to use his blistering levels of acceleration.

No matter how poorly he may currently be performing for Sociedad, he still remains a vital cog in the Swedish machine, and at 22 years of age, long may that continue. Isak still remains one of Europe’s most unique and exciting young strikers. He is indeed Sweden’s hope, but not the only one.

DEJAN KULUSEVKSI

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Just a few seasons ago, Spurs’ attacking output was devastating and exciting, with both Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli in form to assist with Kane and Son up top. Sure, there have been some sparkles here and there since then from players like Lucas Moura or even Steven Bergwijn, and even Gareth Bale came in for a quick loan spell from Madrid to help with goal-scoring during the 2020-21 campaign under Jose Mourinho.

However, no player in recent seasons has come into the fold to consistently be an integral asset in Spurs’ attack. Lucas Moura has performed in spouts but always fails to claim a regular place due to inconsistencies in his game.

Regardless of what shape they were in or how tactically they would set up, Tottenham Hotspur needed to find a more viable solution to play alongside Kane and Son up the pitch.

That viable solution is turning out to be another Swedish hope in Dejan Kulusevski, who joined the club in January on an 18-month loan-to-buy deal from Juventus. In Italy, Kulusevski made his name after a tremendous spell at Parma becoming the centre-piece in a team which overachieved in Serie A.

His form earned him a move to Juventus, one which many believed it was the right step in his career, but when Massimiliano Allegri came in looking for his team to play in a more pragmatic nature, Kulusevski’s growth hit a skid.

That means when he joined Spurs, still at 21 years of age, he was considered something of an enigma. However, those doubts have completed been knocked out of the water. The Swedish wizard has now become a key member of Antonio Conte’s team alongside Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son, registering two goals and four assists since his loan move in January.

Not only is he a key member at Spurs, but one of the faces of a new and exciting revolution for his nation. An incredibly gifted forward player possessing the football intelligence, tactical and positional understanding, ball-carrying attributes that stands him out as one of Europe’s most gifted forwards.

Elegant in possession, and an efficient workhorse off it, Kulusevski fits both Spurs’ and Sweden’s organised and rigid systems because of his excellent defensive discipline and application, but also when on the counter, they both look to him for some magic and imagination when beating defenders and driving up the pitch.

As per FBref, Kulusevski ranks third in the Spurs squad behind Harry Kane (20) and Heung-Min Son (41) for carries into the penalty area (14), second for shot-creating actions per90 (3.31), and 1st for goal-creating actions per90 (0.93) all this while only joining the club just under two months ago in the January window. A player blessed with pure footballing artistry.

It’s no wonder why he’s quickly become one of Tottenham’s best players in such a short space of time, any hope Sweden have of qualifying for the World Cup this winter, and making their mark in the tournament, rests on his broad shoulders.

ANTHONY ELANGA

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Amid Manchester United‘s troubled and disappointing campaign, Anthony Elanga’s emergence in the team has been an undoubted high point.

The young striker scored a crucial equaliser in the first leg Champions League last-16 draw at Atletico Madrid, after coming on as a second-half substitute, calling it a moment he had always dreamed of.

Elanga also scored his second goal in nine Premier League appearances during a 4-2 win at Leeds, before that an impressive finish at Brentford in a 3-1 victory. Including his debut effort at Wolves in the final game of last season, an overall top-flight return of three from 14 games is not bad given he has only completed the full 90 minutes twice.

For a club that prides itself on youth development, Elanga’s emergence has provided a welcome respite from a series of devastating results, a managerial sacking, coaches departing, rumours of splits in the camp and players taking to social media to challenge statements their interim boss has made about them in press conferences.

Given welcome praises from both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who called him an ‘electric’ player with great ‘energy and enthusiasm’, and Ralf Rangnick who has built on Solskjaer’s faith by providing Elanga with opportunities in the first team.

“From the very first training session, the day before the Crystal Palace game, he just showed me,” recalled Rangnick. “He was showing up in the training sessions. He’s a very polite boy, he’s doing the right things, listens to what he should do and is trying to put all the effort into his performances.”

Now, the player has recently been rewarded with his first senior international call-up for Sweden, a deserved opportunity for a player showing a few United regulars how to make the most of your opportunity. Elanga’s attitude has been faultless, according to those within the club. His work ethic is good and he has not got carried away with the recent plaudits that have come his way.

United’s coaching staff have been impressed at Elanga’s ability to contribute within the team structure, either as a starter or off the bench, and his desire to increase his goals output. That is something it is felt will come with more exposure to high-level football, both at club level and with Sweden.

Capable of fulfilling a number of positions in attack; wide left, wide right or upfront, the 19-year-old will surely become a huge asset to Janne Andersson’s squad offering searing pace, acceleration, trickery, attacking variation and a threat that most international full-backs will certainly be wary of, especially on the counter.

In Alexander Isak, Dejan Kulusevski and Anthony Elanga, Sweden possess an enthralling and exuberant attack which could place them on the international canvass once again.

MATTIAS SVANBERG

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When Siniša Mihajlović replaced Filippo Inzaghi as coach of Italian club Bologna in January 2019, Mattias Svanberg was a player that still needed refining and developing in his game despite already earning valuable playing time in Serie A.

The Swedish youngster found his opportunities limited for the remainder of the 2018/19 campaign under Mihajlović, but he eventually gained the trust of the Serbian tactician and he has become an incredibly integral part of the Felsinei midfield in recent seasons.

Bologna purchased Svanberg from Malmö in the summer of 2018 for a reported figure of €4.5 million after he had come through the youth system of the Swedish giant and had won two Allsvenskan titles.

After two seasons of trying to find his feet in Italian football, Svanberg became an established member of the Bologna team in 2020/21, making 34 appearances, scoring five goals, and providing two assists.

He may not be as flamboyant and as appealing on the eye as Isak, Kulusevksi or Anthony Elanga, but he’s a midfield player who could provide Sweden with the attacking thrust and creativity in order to supply their fledgling talents in the attack.

The 23-year-old was selected to represent Sweden at Euro 2020 but he contracted COVID-19 prior to the tournament. Janne Andersson kept him in the 26-man squad but the Bologna midfielder did not feature in any of the matches. Since the tournament, Svanberg has played seven more times for his country as the Swedes attempt to qualify for the 2022 World Cup via the play-offs.

So far this season, he has continued to excel at club level for Bologna registering 3 goals and 2 assists also becoming a creative fulcrum in Mihajlović’s 3-4-2-1 system alongside Nicolás Domínguez in midfield. As per FBrefSvanberg ranks first amongst midfielders at the club for key passes (28), 2nd for final third passes (64) and 2nd for completed passes into the opposition penalty area highlighting his eye for a pass, and desire to create for his attacking teammates, an element which will be so vital for Sweden.

Now, Sweden will no longer be looking to just Emil Forsberg and Dejan Kulusevski for creative imagination in the final third, but from Mattias Svanberg too.

How Sweden Could Lineup in Near Future:

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