Welcome to the fifth post of our journey with Kiruna FF.
Last time a round, I deviated a bit to touch on my recruitment efforts in Central America and whether they did or did not have any influence in their performances. Let’s recap our second season in the Allsvenskan and Kiruna’s first time competing in the Champions League.
Unfortunately, we could not make it past the group stages this season. We were drawn against Utsiktens BK, Ljungskile SK, and Malmo FF. We were able to win against Utsiktens (4-0) and Ljungskile (7-0), but our luck ran out after narrowly losing the match against Malmo (0-1).
What makes managing in Sweden fun it’s the challenge of knowing that you will lose key players every season. This year was no exception, as we lost several important players in defense and midfield. Despite this, we brought in some quality new players and had a great start to the season, winning seven out of our first 11 games and scoring an impressive 31 goals. Our defense also performed well, conceding only nine goals in those 11 games.
After the World Cup break, our team went on an incredible unbeaten streak of 19 games, scoring 64 goals and conceding only nine in the process. Our strikers were in top form, with Richard Bengtsson leading the league with 22 goals and Peter Ratkov finishing with 14. Our midfield was also strong, with Matias Belli Moldskred finishing second in the league with eight assists and Ludwig Augustinsson proving to be a valuable asset with seven assists from just six starts.
Defensively, we were equally impressive. We had the fewest goals conceded in the league at 19 and kept a league-high 17 clean sheets. Sebastian Selin had a fantastic season in goal, keeping 16 clean sheets and conceding only 19 goals, with the highest expected goal prevented in the league with 11.93. That’s seven more goals prevented than the next goalkeeper.
However, we need to improve defending from set pieces. Of the 19 goals we conceded, 11 came from set pieces. We allowed the 13th-most goals from corners (9) in the league. On the other hand, we scored 18 goals from corners, eight more than any other team, and nine from indirect free kicks, five more than any other team.
Overall, we had some fantastic results in attacking and defensive play this season, with ten of our players making it to the top 10 highest average league ratings. We had the second-highest possession rate in the league at 62% and created a league-high 155 chances while taking a whopping 529 shots. Our shots-on-target ratio was also impressive at 44%, which led to a league-high 95 goals scored.
The goal for next season is more of the same, qualify for the Champions League, improve our set-piece defending, and win the league for the third time in a row.
I knew we needed to strengthen the squad with some established older players to help us in the qualifying rounds. In came Costa Rican international Brandon Aguilera (£0, Nottingham Forest) to replace outgoing Bénie Traoré (£2.5M, Empoli). Swedish international Ludwig Augustinsson (£2M, Sevilla) wanted to return to Sweden after years abroad, and we were more than happy to provide him with a new home up north. We added another Costa Rican international, right-back Ian Smith (£0, Alajuelense), to replace fellow Costa Rican Diego Campos (£220K, SPAL). Lastly, Petar Ratkov (£950K, TSC) joined to partner up top with Richard Bengtsson.
Our performances in the qualifying rounds were solid, with Richard Bengtsson and Petar Ratkov leading the way with a combined total of 15 goals. We were able to score a total of 22 goals throughout the six matches, averaging more than three goals per game.
As we moved into the Champions League “League Phase,” we continued to perform at a high level. We put in a fantastic team performance in our first match against Celtic, winning (5-1) with goals from Carl Andersson, Brandon Aguilera, Niko Tsakiris, Richard Bengtsson, and Víctor Ochoa. Our second match was a thrilling (4-3) victory over Club Brugge, with goals from Niko Tsakiris, Oscar Aga, Brandon Aguilera, and an 89th-minute goal from Petar Ratkov.
We were unable to get going against Ajax, losing (0-2). However, we did our best to bounce back against Roma (2-4), with two goals from Mirsad Ziba. Despite the loss, we were able to turn things around in the last two matches of the year, winning against Strømsgodset (3-0) with a hat-trick from Petar Ratkov and against Rennes (5-1) with another fantastic team performance, including goals from Richard Bengtsson, Oscar Aga, Jacob Montes, and Mirsad Ziba.
When looking at individual performances, Richard Bengtsson and Petar Ratkov stood out as our top goal scorers with 11 and 10 goals, respectively, putting them in first and second place in the League Phase. Mirsad Ziba had a solid season with five goals, tying him for 11th place. Our team’s success was mainly due to the exceptional playmaking of Ludwig Augustinsson, who led the Champions League in assists with an impressive 13. Ramon-Pascal Lundqvist also contributed with five assists, tying him for second place. Regarding average ratings, Petar Ratkov and Richard Bengtsson finished in the top 11 with ratings of 7.93 and 7.76, respectively.
We find ourselves in 7th place with 12 points from 6 matches. We topped the table in goals scored with 19, but we were in 32nd place with 11 goals conceded. With two more matches to go against league leaders Liverpool and 18th place-Juventus, we’re hoping to finish as high in the table as possible, as I’d like to avoid the Knockout Rounds.
Players of the Season
- Richard Bengtsson had another incredible season scoring 33 goals in 26 (10) appearances. He also provided six assists to his teammates. He has now scored 107 goals and 26 assists in 142 appearances.
- Petar Ratkov came in halfway through the season and has done exactly what I signed him up to do. His 10 goals from 3 (9) appearances in the Champions League is just ridiculous. He finished the season with 25 goals. Let’s see how many goals he can score next season.
- Ramon-Pascal Lundqvist had his best season at the club. Playing in the CM(A), he provided 12 assists and scored 6 goals from 26 (1) appearances. He finished the season with a 7.50 average rating.
- Ludwig Augustinsson was a creative force, the wingback came in halfway through the season and was able to provided an incredible 20 assists in 18 (3) appearances. His 17 crossing was the perfect recipe for Bengtsson and Ratkov.
This season’s intake has been another success, producing a diverse group of players from various nationalities and positions, as well as Kiruna-born talents. The intake features two “Elite Talents” in Bosnian U19 International Ismet Begović and Kiruna’s own midfielder Adam Grimstad. Additionally, there are four “Top Talents” in goalkeeper Simon Olsson, striker Fredrik Friberg, Brazil born center-back Sérgio, and midfielder Adilson Oliveira, who is of Cape Verdean descent but also from Kiruna. Lastly, Swedish/Lebanese winger Fadi Ayoub.
Of all the players in the intake, Adam Grimstad and Fredrik Friberg stand out as particularly promising. They both have the potential to develop into first team players within the next few seasons.
Over the course of the last five seasons, significant changes have occurred in our club culture. After three consecutive promotions, we have now won back-to-back Allsvenskan titles. These achievements have not gone unnoticed by our fans, as our season ticket holders have increased from 95 to 1,166 and our social media following has grown from 2.4K to 159K. Our supporters now demand a particular style of play a possession and high-tempo pressing football.
However, our success has also brought about a shift in our fanbase. Previously, our club was supported by a smaller, more dedicated group of fans, but now we have more than doubled the number of fair weather fans. Despite this change, we have managed to maintain a high attendance capacity of 98% over the last three seasons, averaging 2197 fans per match.
This is it for now. We go at it again, we will try to advance as far as we can in the Champions League and hopefully win another title!
Feel free to reach out on Twitter, and if you want to stay up to date with the save, come say hi on Slack.
Thanks for making it to the end!