World Cup One to Watch: Emil Forsberg – Sweden

When Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his international retirement back in 2016, Sweden needed a new talisman - enter Emil Forsberg.


(Photo credit: Werner100359)

Since making his Sweden debut in 2014, Emil Forsberg’s importance to his national team has steadily increased, especially since the international retirement of talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic. 

There was much derision in his homeland when Forsberg decided to quit Malmo for then German second-tier side RB Leipzig. It turned out to be a masterstroke, however, when he helped them bulldoze their way through the 2. Bundesliga in his first full season, before assisting 22 goals on the way to finishing second in their debut top-flight season. 

Boasting excellent dribbling ability and technique, Forsberg is a remarkably important player for Sweden, especially given how limited most of their attacking options are, he is the player that can offer that piece of magic to make the difference. 

Whilst Germany will probably be too strong, second place is very much up for grabs in Group F. The workmanlike Swedes will hope that Forsberg can be the man to add that little bit of sparkle in order to edge out South Korea and Mexico in that battle for second. 

Past season

The 2017-18 wasn’t quite as glittering for Emil Forsberg or RB Leipzig, coming 6th. The Swede was limited to just 21 appearances in the Bundesliga, suffering a pelvic injury in December that kept him out until mid-February. 

Even after returning, Forsberg wasn’t at his imperious best, and he missed the last three games of the season suspended after being sent off in the 5-2 defeat to Hoffenheim in April. 

(Photo credit: Anders Henrikson)

In his debut Bundesliga season, Forsberg scored eight goals and made a staggering 22 assists. In the last campaign, however, he made nowhere near the same impact, with just two goals and two assists all season, scoring against Leverkusen and Hannover. 

The reason for this drop off in form is unclear, however, if Sweden are to achieve their ambitions this summer, Forsberg will have to rediscover his form from 2016/17. 

International Experience

Forsberg made his debut in 2014 against Moldova and has developed into a pivotal cog in the Sweden machine. 

Scored four goals in the qualifiers, including putting them 1-0 up at the Stade de France. He also opened the scoring home and away against Belarus, with both resulting in 4-0 wins. 

With 34 caps at the time of writing and regularly starts on the left of midfield in coach Janne Andersson’s traditional 4-4-2 formation. 

He has represented his country at under 19 level but curiously not at under 21 level, too old to be part of their victorious 2015 Under 21 European Championship squad. 

Tactical Profile

Forsberg predominantly plays on the left of a 4-4-2 for both club and country, although after returning from injury this season had to play in other positions as Leipzig tweaked their formation after Ademola Lookman had been signed. 

Nonetheless, Forsberg is very comfortable playing on that left-hand side which is where Andersson will field him this summer. 

Forsberg is a hardworking, skilful player with license to roam inside and be creative. He has a wonderful right foot and can score spectacular goals from an inside left position, and is difficult for goalkeepers to read as he has the technique to shoot well with his laces, or with finesse. 

Set pieces could be very important for Sweden in Russia and in Forsberg, they possess an outstanding dead ball specialist to rival Sebastian Larsson. He whips his corners with a lot of pace and has the ability to score from direct free kicks. 

At his best Forsberg also possesses the ability to dribble through the lines at pace, which could cause particularly Mexico and South Korea trouble this summer. 

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group B in the World Cup for Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

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Etienne Fermie

Étienne Fermie is a writer for RealSport, specialising in football and tennis.

Having featured in the Guardian and on LoveSport Radio, Étienne also co-founded the 3pm Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @etiennefermie 

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