Malmo vs Vardar by Sweem
The Swedes have gotten a taste of Champions League after qualifying twice in the last three seasons. Their opponents, Vardar - are yet to make their mark, but represent a tricky opponent for the Swedes. The encounter feels wide open, despite Malmo being a more familiar name in Europe. One of the charming aspects with qualifiers is that different styles are being matched up against each other. Two countries who are not familiar with each other always allow for the element of surprise. This is of course something that they are extra cautious of.
The Malmo scouting of Vardar was summarized during the Macedonians training camp in Austria ahead of this qualifiers, as their representative Jens Fjellstrom watched a couple of Vardar matches. "We respect Vardar, but if we prepare good enough, we are for sure going to pass this type of opponents. Mainly their two brazilians Juan Felipe and Jonathan Balotelli are dangerous." The scandinavians have done their homework and identified threats, but still express self belief. They will have to do it without their captain and striker, as Markus Rosenberg (13/4) is out due to injury. Although, during the recent days, Rosenberg have admitted that he feels "ready", and Malmo are likely to let him play should they end up in a situation of chasing.
Also the key piece at the back Behrang Safari is a doubt after limping off versus Hacken on Saturday (8th of July) and center back Felipe Carvalho is out long term. There are other players whose fitness is doubtful in a very tight schedule. Therefore it is nearly impossible to predict the starting line up for the Swedes, but that is normal when it comes to coach Magnus Pehrsson who likes to try different formations and tactical approaches.
Malmo have otherwise started the season with a new identity. Coach Magnus Pehrsson was appointed 7 months ago, and have tried to implement a pressing system, where they give minimal time for the opposition with the ball. Malmo have significantly improved their number of attemps per game, but what stands out is their very poor conversion rate by being ineffective. This does not help when strikers is the weakest point at the moment for the Swedish champions. The positives is that Peru international Yoshimar Yotun has come alive and become a very good point player after his position swap to midfielder.
In Sweden, they have won 10 out of 13 league matches - Up front they have physicality in Alexander Jeremejeff - even though he has gotten a lot of heat for his style of being tall, skinny and static, and not producing goals - he is difficult for the defenders. Squad wise, Malmo have depth but offensively their production is not coming from the strikers, but from midfielders at the moment. Remains to see if they can get the full machinery going in these crucial times.
At home, for Champions League qualifiers, Malmo have a 7-3-1 record, whith the only loss being against FC Thun in 2005. So in recent years, Malmo have been very strong at home. Even when reaching the group stages, they have managed to win versus Shakthar Donetsk and Olympiakos, thanks to their normally very hostile atmosphere at the stadium. It is impossible to talk about Malmo without mentioning their stadium atmosphere - which is something unique. The stadium will not be completely full for this particular match, but it will still be very different than what Vardar are used to.
Now, let's virtually travel to Macedonia and talk about Vardar. Vardar FK is a club owned by a Russian business man, Sergey Samsonenko, who bought the football club in 2014 after being mainly active in the handball brand of Vardar. Before acquiring the club, he was already a popular man among Vardars supporters. This has created a huge gap in Macedonian football, where Vardar and Shkendija are the clubs with massive budgets, and the remaining clubs have nothing in comparison. In simplified terms, Vardar is the powerhouse and hope for Macedonian football. They have a positive trend and some solid results in Europe, after being knocked out by APOEL (1-1) and Dinamo Zagreb (3-5) on aggregate, they now fancy their chances against Malmo FF
Vardars coach, Goce Sedloski was a former player of Hajduk Split in his active days, and happened to score against Malmo in 1997. When asked about his opponents, he said: "I have beaten Malmo as a player, and now it is time to do it as a coach". Certainly, it adds spice to the game with a few quotes like that. Goce Sedloski has been in charge for two years, with a 71% win rate (domestically) and therby have a squad who are used to winning games and being offensive minded by default. The squad is a mix of talent and experience, where the experience rely on attacking midfielder Juan Felipe, and Jonathan Balotelli up front.
Defensively, 34 year old captain Boban Grncarov is leading the line, with younger talent like Besir Demiri and Darko Velkovski. Where Vardar can really hurt opponents is offensively, as Stefan Spirovski is a Macedonian international and calm with the ball. They have attacking options in Damir Kojasevic, or Tigran Berseghyan from Armenia, and not least an interesting outsider in Jaba Jigauri from Georgia - a creative player with good final touch. These are unknown players for many, but certainly have the quality to make some noise against international opponents. Vardar does not ring a bell to the general public but are coming into this qualifiers with possibly their best era in recent years. Summarized, a dangerous dark horse team.
Malmo are expecting a defensive Vardar approach, to come and play with a bus tactic, but this is the danger. Vardar is a club who are not used to losing - they are so dominant domestically that they can even become naive when playing 'better' sides. Malmo are not hitting their best form at the moment even though they keep on winning matches, they are not done so in a convincing manner - and they have conceded a goal at home in five straight matches against Swedish opposition, and currently average 1.33 conceded goals at home. That is worrying when it comes to European qualifiers, and Vardar will want to give themselves a chance when they return to Macedonia, and a realistic target is to steal a goal on the road. They have brave players who are not going to sit deep and can absolutely harm Malmo with counters. In my opinion, both teams to score offers the best value, as Malmo will need to score to give themselves a shot to qualifying, or else it can be a short European journey for the Swedes.