Slovakia and Sweden will be eyeing to take a step towards the knockout stages of the UEFA Euro 2020 when they lock horns in a Group B clash on Friday.
The second round of group stage fixtures in the UEFA Euro 2020 got underway this week, with Italy becoming the first team to book a place in the knockout stages of the competition. And, in Group B, leaders Slovakia will be aiming to follow in the Azzurri‘s footsteps and seal safe passage through to the Round of 16 when they clash against Sweden at the Gazprom Arena this Friday.
Slovakia entered the tournament on the back of solid displays and even though they were not the most fancied team, Stefan Tarkovic’s men pulled off an upset win in their opening fixture over Poland, beating them 2-1, meaning they have not lost even one of their six games in 2021 (W2 D4). This has set them up nicely to make a push for progression from the group stages, much like in the previous edition of the Euros.
Sweden, meanwhile, managed to eke out a hard-earned goalless draw against Spain in what was a display of determination and discipline in their first Group B clash. The result meant that Janne Andersson & co. are also unbeaten in six games in 2021, although their five-match winning streak did come to a halt. Currently third in the group, a win could catapult them to the top, with Spain facing a tricky encounter against Poland.
The last time Sweden met Slovakia was in a friendly encounter in 2018 that ended in a 1-1 draw. On Friday, though, there will be a lot at stakes, as both teams push to enter the knockouts. And ahead of this fascinating match-up at Gazprom Arena, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.
Team News & Tactics
Sweden manager Janne Andersson has been greeted with some good news heading into the game as Dejan Kulusevski and Mattias Svanberg are back at his disposal after having completed their COVID-19 induced isolation periods. However, Mikael Lustig, who picked up an injury in the opening game against Spain, miss out against the Slovakians.
Sweden will once again set up in a 4-4-2 formation, looking to stay compact and maintain their shape and positional discipline, while trying to break forward on the counter. Robin Olsen, who was a standout performer in the draw versus Spain, is a certainty to feature between the sticks where he will be shielded by the centre-back duo of Victor Lindelof and Marcus Danielson.
With Lustig likely to sit this one out, Emil Krafth is in line to replace him at right-back where he will largely look to stay close to the centre-backs, only occasionally providing an outlet. Much of the same will be expected from the left-back Ludwig Augustinsson.
The onus of keeping things tight in the middle of the park ought to fall on the shoulders of Albin Ekdal, who will need to pay special attention to Slovakia captain and creator-in-chief Marek Hamsik. Ekdal will have support from Kristoffer Olsson, who will also look to provide the forward thrust when on the ball.
Out wide, veteran midfielder Sebastian Larsson and Emil Forsberg will look to provide the crosses and create chances for the strike-partnership of Alexander Isak and Marcus Berg, with the latter hoping to recover from a shocker against Spain.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Olsen; Krafth, Lindelof, Danielson, Augustinsson; Larsson, Olsson, Ekdal, Forsberg; Berg, Isak
Unlike Sweden, Slovakia have no injury issues heading into the game, meaning manager Stefan Tarkovic has the complete roster at his disposal when his side takes the pitch at Gazprom Arena in St. Petersburg. The Sokoli are likely to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation against the Swedes, with Newcastle United’s Martin Dubravka manning the goal for them.
Lubomir Satka and Milan Skriniar, who was the match-winner for Slovakia against Poland, will form the centre-back partnership, flanked by the full-back duo of Peter Pekarik and Tomas Hubocan. The Slovakian full-backs, too, are likely to refrain from venturing into the attacking zones a great deal on the day, with the plan being to stay tight at the back and deny the opponents any spaces to work in.
Moving into the middle of the park, Jakub Hromada was favoured over Patrik Hrosovsky for the holding midfield role against Poland in the first game and that may well be the case again on Friday. He will have the experienced Juraj Kucka as his partner in the centre, who will bring the bite and aggression, along with his quality on the ball.
The onus of creating the chances will then fall on the shoulders of veteran midfielder and team captain Marek Hamsik, slotting in as the No. 10. Lukas Haraslin and Robert Mak will carry the threat from the wide areas, particularly the latter after impressing in the opening game.
With no prolific goalscorer in the ranks, Tarkovic opted to go with Ondrej Duda in the false nine role last time out and the move worked a treat, as the 1. FC Koln ace caused problems with his zippy movement. Expect more of the same when he goes up against the Swedes.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Dubravka; Pekarik, Skriniar, Satka, Hubocan; Kucka, Hromada; Haraslin, Hamsik, Mak; Duda
- This will be the sixth meeting between Sweden and Slovakia. The Swedes have never lost in their five previous encounters against the Sokoli, winning three of those (D2).
- After just two wins in their eight games in 2020 (L6), Sweden have won five of their six matches in 2021, with their only failure coming their latest game against Spain (0-0).
- Slovakia have lost just one of their last nine fixtures, winning and drawing four each.
Player in Focus
Alexander Isak (Sweden)
Sweden’s game against Spain showed that they can be resolute at the back under pressure but on Friday, they will need to add goals to their game if they are to stand a chance of progressing to the next round. And, that is where young Alexander Isak will become key.
The 21-year-old striker was one of the Blue and Yellows’ better performers against Spain, as he troubled the La Roja defence with his strength and movement while carving out chances for himself and his teammates. He will now need to step up that bit more and find the back of the net to take his team across the finish line.
Milan Skriniar (Slovakia)
But, Isak will not have it any easy by any means, as he will be up against an in-form Milan Skriniar, who is coming on the back of a masterclass that saw the Inter Milan defender nullify Robert Lewandowski before going on to score the match-winning goal for Slovakia against Poland.
The 26-year-old has, time and again, for his club, showed that he can marshal the backline and did so expertly in the opening game. With plenty of eyes on him at the Euros, including Real Madrid who are keen to sign the defender, Skriniar will be keen on building on his strong start to the tournament and take his side into the knockouts.
Sweden 1-0 Slovakia
Both teams are more known for their defensive outlook than their attacking prowess. Sweden have kept a clean sheet in five of their last six games while Slovakia have also shown discipline and doggedness in their defensive setup.
So, a cagey affair with not many goalscoring chances could be on the cards in St. Petersburg. Sweden, though, have that bit more quality in attack with Alexander Isak and the returning Dejan Kulusevski, which could help them clinch a narrow win on Friday.