After finishing top of their Europa League group, Chelsea have been rewarded with a tie against Swedish side Malmö in the Last 32, but who are the Blues’ opponents and what should fans expect from them?
Formed in 1910, Malmö are the most successful Swedish club in history. They have won the domestic league title 20 times and the Swedish Cup 14 times, both of which are records. Their last league title came in 2017, finishing seven points clear of AIK. Since then, Malmö finished a disappointing 3rd in the 2018 campaign which concluded in November.
Malmö have something in common with Chelsea. The club is nicknamed ‘Di Blåe’, meaning ‘The Blues’ in Scanian, a South Swedish dialect spoken in the province of Scania.
Malmö finished 2nd in Group I below Genk while only netting seven times in six matches. Although goals were hard to come by, Malmö’s defence was solid, conceding just six goals; the fewest in the group. Chelsea have struggled to find the back of the net in recent games so the Swedish side could prove to be a tough test in which the forwards will have to remain patient.
The Swedish giants usually play with a three-man defence, a system most of the Chelsea players are accustomed to after using it under former manager Antonio Conte so they should cope well with the unique formation. Their dangerman is Marcus Antonsson. The 27-year-old played in England between 2016 and 2018 before signing for Malmö midway through their season. He went on to net eight times in 15 league games, a very respectable ratio, and averages a goal every 97 minutes in this season’s Europa League.
Markus Rosenberg, a 36-year-old striker currently in his second spell at the club, could line up next to Antonsson. Despite his age, Rosenberg is a clinical player and scored 18 goals last season in all competitions, finishing as the club’s top scorer.
Malmö’s most notable former player is a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Now at L.A. Galaxy, ‘Zlatan’ made 40 league appearances for Malmö as a teenager, scoring 18 times. It was inevitable the big Swede would leave for greener pastures but has since admitted he ‘won’t close the door’ on a potential return to his boyhood club.
English readers may be aware of Malmö’s manager, Uwe Rösler. In his playing days he featured heavily for Manchester City in the 90s and went on to play for Southampton and, briefly, West Brom in the turn of the millennium. Rösler had a lengthy managerial spell in England too, starting at one of Chelsea’s local rivals Brentford in 2011. Spells at Wigan Athletic and Leeds United were followed by a successful reign of Fleetwood Town until 2018 when the German jetted off to Sweden.
Rösler is renowned for his teams playing a high-pressing style of football and frequently rotates his players. His favoured formations are 4-3-3 and 3-5-2, with the latter the most likely to be used on Thursday night against Chelsea. Rösler has compared his brand of football to that of German compatriot Jürgen Klopp, describing it as ‘heavy metal’ attacking football with rapid transitions from defence to attack.
A factor that could play into Chelsea’s hands is Malmö’s lack of game time. The Swedish domestic season starts and finishes at a different time to England. As previously mentioned, the 2018 campaign concluded in November, meaning Malmö are still in their pre-season and have not kicked a ball since their last Europa League match against Besiktas two months ago.
Thursday night’s fixture will take place at the Stadion, the home of Di Blåe. It has a four-star rating from UEFA and a capacity of 22,500. The stadium was opened in 2009 and hosted the final of the European Under-21 Championship two months later, a game in which a 20-year-old Mesut Özil scored the second goal in a 4-0 win for Germany against England.
So, now you know a little more about Chelsea’s opponents on Thursday night. The Blues are used to playing the crème de la crème of Europe but will have to settle for Malmö in the Europa League. However, it will not be as comfortable as many predict and the Swedish side will certainly be up for the fight.
Written by Liam Wilson.