Australia must get a result against a well organized Denmark side, victorious in their opening group stage match against Peru and undefeated in sixteen competitive games.
This is Denmark’s first major tournament in fifteen years without Martin Olsen as head coach, with Age Hareide his successor. Olsen was known for his emphasis on attack-minded football, and whilst Hareide has kept this tradition they have become increasingly direct and vertical in their football.
This has lead to a superb run of form. Denmark hasn’t conceded in their last six matches, with star player Christian Eriksen excelling – he’s scored sixteen goals in twenty-one games of Hareide’s tenure.
Hareide has been relatively consistent with his system and starting team. The only change from the team against Peru will be the enforced absence of William Kvist after the midfielder suffered two broken ribs. His replacement in that match, Lasse Schone, will likely start here.
In a 4-2-3-1 formation, Eriksen is the key player at 10. Either side of him is Pione Sisto and Yussuf Poulsen, providing width and supporting Nicolai Jorgensen upfront.
Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel will play behind centre-backs Andreas Christensen (injured late on against Peru but apparently fine to start against Australia) and Simon Kjaer after injury ruled usual starter Andreas Bjelland out of the tournament. Jens Larsen and Henrik Dalsgaard are the full-backs – defensively solid, mobile, and both of whom get forward energetically to support attacks higher up the pitch.
The only possible change might be striker Andreas Cornelius starting ahead of Jorgensen, but this seems unlikely.
Denmark builds up in alternate ways down either flank.
On the left, the triangle of Larsen, Thomas Delaney, and Sisto rotate fluidly on the flank to create a free player. The key is Larsen, who pushes very high up the pitch into a left-wing position, allowing Sisto to move inside into very narrow, no.10 positions. With Eriksen tending to drift to a right-of-centre position, this can create a box midfield in central areas.
To support this positional rotation, Delaney, as the left-sided central midfielder, will drop into left-back positions – both to get free from the opposition’s first line of defence, and also to balance the aggressive positioning of Larsen. Larsen sometimes can be Denmark’s most advanced player and will make both overlapping and underlapping runs in behind the last line.
Sometimes, the left-back and left-winger alternate their roles in attacking build up. Larsen will move inside into a narrow, deep central midfield role, with Sisto staying wider, stretching the play. The movement of Larsen infield into a central position can drag the opposition right-winger inside, opening up a passing lane from Delaney or Christensen into Sisto who then has the opportunity to attack his direct opponent 1v1.
Denmark’s right flank is more straightforward and more direct. Red Bull Leipzig’s Yussuf Poulsen (wearing the name Yurary on his back) is a wide forward, playing higher up, level with the opposition left-back and looking to get in behind with darting forward runs. Poulsen is also a target for longer balls, both from the goalkeeper as well as long, diagonal switches from left to right.
Dalsgaard, the right-back, will get forward in support but is generally less advanced than Larsen on the opposite flank. Likewise, with Poulsen, he can be a target for long balls from goal-kicks, a noticeable feature of the second half against Peru.
The playmaker, Eriksen, tends to play more right-of-centre, trying to get the ball between the lines in pockets of space where he can turn and play a wide player in behind. His bias towards the right means he has a good combination with the direct Poulsen, which resulted in the only goal against Peru (albeit with Poulsen temporarily on the left).
Eriksen is a very good all-round playmaker. He will drop in front of the midfield line to try and provoke midfielders out of their position, to then create space in between the lines. He will also make late runs into the box and can score goals from these positions. In transition moments, he wins the ball back quickly with aggressive counter-pressing, and as evidential by the goal above, can launch quick counters. Eriksen is also the main set piece taker, delivering accurate balls into the box.
Upfront is Jorgenson, who plays a basic target man role. He occupies defenders, can drift wider to combine with the wide players and will battle in the box for aerial crosses. He is good at peeling away on the far side of defenders, creating gaps for other attackers to run into.
The video below is one passage of play that highlights Denmark’s asymmetrical attack.
Denmark's attacking build up: left-sided rotations to allow Sisto to play as second 10, and Larsen (left-back) high and wide. On the right, Eriksen moves into right halfspace, with Poulsen playing higher as wide forward pic.twitter.com/tzPHpKT5U1
— Tim Palmer (@timhpal) June 20, 2018
The two central midfielders, Schone and Delaney, tend to hold their position when Denmark are attacking in the final third. This helps balance the advanced positioning of the full-backs, as well as create options to circulate the ball from one side to the other quickly.
As a result of Delaney’s movement on the left, the right-sided central midfielder, Schone, tends to stay central – positioning himself between the opposition first line (i.e., Australia’s front two).
It’s worth noting that both centre-backs, although they tend to play safer, short passes into the base of midfield, are capable of stepping forward and playing laser passes between the lines, as well as hitting long, accurate diagonal switches.
Denmark will close down if an opponent builds up from the goalkeeper. Their block is a 4-4-1-1, with Eriksen starting behind Jorgensen, blocking passes into the opposition deep midfielder (in Australia’s case, the 6 closest to the ball). With Jorgensen closing the horizontal passing lane between two centre-backs, Eriksen will step forward to close down the centre-back with the ball, whilst still blocking the pass into the 6.
If the 6 Eriksen is blocking a pass into becomes free, then the far-side central midfielder steps forward to prevent the opposition midfielder from having time and space to face forward.
In pressing moments, the near-side winger tends to wait for passes into the full-back, before closing down energetically.
Denmark’s typical defensive strategy, however, is a 4-4-1-1 medium block. They are comfortable defending in deeper positions. They focus on being very compact horizontally, with the far-side winger tucking in very narrow to support the midfield line.
As in pressing, Eriksen occupies the oppositions deepest midfielder. This also allows him to be in a position where he can quickly get free in transition moments to potentially create a counter-attacking opportunity.
Denmark’s extreme horizontal compactness was very noticeable against Peru – they aim to defend in a very narrow shape. Therefore, the far-side winger does have to cover large distances to close down any switch of play, particularly as the full-backs stay narrow and in the block until the ball moves into a crossing position, before moving out to close down the ball. This means whilst it is possible to get deliveries into the box, Denmark do get numbers around the ball to defend the cross.
The two centre-backs do appear somewhat vulnerable to aerial balls, with Christensen struggling on occasion when battling 1v1 in the air against Peru.
- Denmark’s asymmetrical attacking shape means Larsen will get very high up the pitch, which allows Sisto to play as a second no.10 between the lines
- Eriksen is the key player, playing as a right-of-centre playmaker in controlled possession but most effective in transition moments – both to win the ball back quickly, and to create counter-attacks with clever forward passes
- Denmark defend very narrow and compact with the wingers tucking inside, and they will predominantly try to win the ball in the middle and back third of the pitch
Age Hareide has created a well-organized and drilled Denmark team with clear roles and tasks both with and without the ball. In attack, his system gets the best out of his key attackers, with Eriksen the catalyst – Australia’s midfield must work hard to screen passes into the Tottenham playmaker.
However, Denmark does have weaknesses. Peru was able to put them under sustained pressure, particularly in the second half, by pinning their full-backs back, and pushing the defensive block deep into their own half, making it difficult for them to counter-attack.