Östersunds FK pulled off a massive shock last week as the Swedish cup champions of 2016 beat the 19-times Turkish champions Galatasaray SK 2-0 in the first leg of their Europa League qualification tie. The result truly deserves a “David vs Goliath” analogy as the Swedish minnows annual turnover is only £4.2m compared to Galatasaray’s £168m. It shouldn’t be possible for a club of their size to beat a club of Galatasaray’s. How could it happen then? The answer lies in a well-structured tactical system drawn up by the super-successful manager Graham Potter, an energetic, hungry squad of players as well as an extremely poor and lacklustre opposition.
Seven years ago I watched my local club Bodens BK earn a vital win at the last day of the 2010 season to ensure survival in division 1 (the equivalent of England’s League One) which meant Östersunds FK were relegated and forced to start over in division 2. Since that day though, ÖFK have been on an upwards trajectory scarcely believable after winning division 2 and division 1 in successive seasons before gaining promotion from Superettan at the third attempt. During their first ever season in the top flight, ÖFK finished eighth but also added the Swedish cup title to earn the chance to qualify for the Europa League. When the draw was made and it meant Galatasaray would travel to the Jämtkraft Arena in the middle of the deepest northern Swedish forests, few thought ÖFK would travel to Istanbul on Thursday with a genuine chance of progressing into the next round. English head coach Graham Potter, who’s been at the club to oversee every single one of those promotions since his appointment in 2011, came up with a tactical blueprint that nullified their opponents and also encouraged his players to play their usual constructive passing football which led to them dominating the match.
ÖFK lined up in a 5-2-3 when defending which became 5-4-1 when defending deeper. In attack, they set up in a highly structured 3-4-3 where the ball circulation was excellent as usual. Galatasaray lined up in a straight 4-4-2 when defending which changed somewhat when attacking into more of a 4-2-3-1 with both wingers becoming more central and the striker Siman Gümüs dropping in behind partner Bafetimbi Gomis.
Straight from the first whistle, ÖFK took care of possession and their excellent passing from the back, especially through their left centre-back Tom Pettersson, saw them reach their wide forwards Ken Sema and Saman Ghoddos in either half-space from where they looked to turn and attack Gala’s back four. Below is the first chance of the game, which ÖFK created after a long attack in which they kept probing before finding an opening.
ÖFK’s passing was really impressive and their basic positional structure in attack can be seen in the video below. Especially note the problems caused to Gala’s full-backs who move in to mark the wider forwards in either half-space which obviously creates the space for the wing-back that is almost utilised fully.
When defending, Potter had his players move in unison in a 5-2-3 when defending higher up the pitch which turned into a 5-4-1 when defending deeper. The goal was for the players to constantly shift across the pitch to maintain close distances to each other and prevent Gala from playing through them. This positional defending would prove extremely effective and there’s no way this type of teamwork could have been possible without plenty of repetition on the training ground.
Gala had no ideas to break through this tight defence, and ÖFK could win the ball back quite easily to launch attacks of their own or simply rest while Gala’s defenders passed the ball around slowly in their back four.
If Östersund had been the better team in the first half they grew into the game even more in the second period. They enjoyed even more possession and started to find more gaps in Gala’s defensive structure. The man-orientated pressing of Gala’s central midfielders against ÖFK’s central duo of the excellent Brwa Nouri and sublime Fouad Bachirou meant there was space behind the midfielders for Sema and Ghoddos to exploit. With Nouri balancing the game in a deeper role, Bachirou had the licence to make threatening runs from midfield and this was key to the opening goal. The goal was the epitome of ÖFK’s football, quick passing to progress up the pitch and the finish was fantastic from Ghoddos.
After the goal, ÖFK dropped deeper with their left and right forwards to create a 5-4-1 in defence. They remained extremely compact for the remainder of the game and, as you can see in the video below, it became almost impossible to play through them. The work ethic of the players was excellent as they pressed and shifted as a compact unit to deny space centrally for Gala to play through them. In fairness, Galatasaray also played into their hands as they moved the ball very slowly and largely opted for “safe” options and hardly ever forcing ÖFK into uncomfortable situations. For example, the passing of the Turks was quite passive as they opted for sideways or backwards passes time and time again instead of trying to push passes through to their attackers. This approach in possession made it very easy for ÖFK to just close down spaces without ever getting tested. To create chances you need to take risks in possession at some point by playing a forward pass, but the Gala players opted to go back or sideways when the chance came to play forward.
Every single time ÖFK won possession, they managed to rest with their impressive possession play. With the duo of Nouri and Bachirou dominating the midfield against more illustrious opponents such as Selcuk Inan and Tolga Cigerci both with their defensive work and their sublime ball retention, ÖFK could easily spend large spells in possession of the ball to limit the time Gala had to attack. They also exploited the lack of urgency and energy in the Turks pressing to find gaps in their defensive structure and remained dangerous going forward.
As the final whistle grew closer, Bachirou won possession down the right after steering his opponent wide before feeding Ghoddos on the right. The forward quickly continued the move by finding substitute Jamie Hopcutt who produced a marvellous individual run to embarrass former FC Porto defender Maicon and slot home behind Fernando Muslera to seal the win for ÖFK.
Is it over? No, by no means. Despite their really poor performance in Östersund, Galatasaray still had the quality and the experience to turn this tie around. If their fans create the noise and atmosphere they usually do in Istanbul then it will be an all new experience for the ÖFK players. Additionally, on the few occasions Gala sped the game up and took some risks in possession, they did create a few almost opportunities that could/should have resulted in an away goal.
They need to be more proactive in their passing and push passes through ÖFK’s lines to force a reaction from their opponent. In the first leg, ÖFK controlled Gala’s attacking play. That can’t happen in Istanbul. Gala should also look to create 2 v 1 situations against the wing-backs with their full-backs and wide midfielders. This was something that could have been done already in the first leg as the first chance in the video above shows how effective those combinations can be to create a free man between ÖFK’s centre-back and wing-back.
The main takeaway from the first leg in Östersund however, is how remarkable ÖFK’s rise is. From division 2 to beating Galatasaray 2-0 in the Europa League in only six years. It’s stunning the journey Graham Potter has taken his club on and hopefully he can stay at the club even longer even though he’s been linked with managerial vacancies in England a few times in the last year. His blueprint laid to the giant killing of Galatasaray and you wouldn’t put it beyond him finishing the job in Istanbul. Besides, with a chairman who’s stated an aim of bring Champions League football to the Jämtkraft Arena, Galatasaray might not even be the biggest club to visit Östersund for long.