Abdullah Abdullah profiles one of the hottest goal-scorers in European football.
The Damallsvenskan has developed countless world class players from both the continent and across the pond. You only have to think of the likes of Christen Press, Formiga, Marta, Lieke Martens, and Julie Foudy.
We’ve also seen a generation of Swedish players emerge through the domestic top-flight in Sweden and move elsewhere. Filippa Angeldahl went to Manchester City while both Anna Anvegard and Hanna Bennison signed for Everton. There’s also Vilde Bøe Risa who made the move to Manchester United.
However, there is one player who is yet to find a move to one of the top leagues despite impressing on the domestic, continental, and international stage: Stina Blackstenius.
The Swedish striker has continuously been linked with moves to elite clubs without any of these moves actually materialising. The next two windows could see the centre forward finally make that move, though. Recently, Blackstenius has been linked with moves to Manchester United and elsewhere.
“I am starting to feel more and more ready to take that step. I have been in the Damallsvenskan for quite a few years and have a season behind me that I feel happy with.”– Stina Blackstenius for Göteborgs-Posten
So, what makes Blackstenius such a sought-after acquisition?
Blackstenius can be described as a hybrid between a pressing forward and deep-lying forward.
Playing through the middle, she is a direct goal threat. Her speed can be used to get in behind opposition defences. This dynamism and energy means defences need to be wary of leaving spacee behind. High line defences are particularly subject to her blistering pace.
Here is Blackstenius’ TransferLab profile, showing how she ranks amongst strikers across the league:
As you can see, Blackstenius ranks quite highly in most metrics, both in terms of pure goal-scoring and creativity. Her progressive short passes are an indication of her ability to play quick-passing exchanges with fluid attackers and link up with midfielders. What is most impressive though are her expected goals and heading numbers, both of which indicate she is an excellent penalty box striker.
A player with both international and European experience, Blackstenius offers a heavy upside for potential new clubs. Using TransferLab, we are able to take a closer look at the kind of player she is and try to determine what she could offer for a possible new team.
BK Häcken have primarily used a 4-2-3-1 system which suits the Swede since it means she is able to have enough service around her to facilitate her playstyle. Blackstenius leads the line but also looks to run the channels from where she can link up with the front line.
Blackstenius’ movement dictates how BK Häcken attack and move. She will control defender movements and open up the space for others around her. If she moves wide or drops deep, the corresponding players will move accordingly.
She is just as creative on the ball with a smart passing range that makes her a good playmaking option. This combination of qualities means Blackstenius is a very versatile striker.
Blackstenius also shows up on TransferLab’s Best XI for the Damallsvenskan. The Best XI tool on TransferLab determines the best players in given formations and roles across leagues. The Swede starts in almost every iteration of filters in this tool which further enhances her reputation as an elite goal-scorer.
If there’s one word to describe the mercurial Swedish striker, it’s “intelligent”.
The hallmark of Blackstenius’ game is based on her intelligence around the penalty area both with and without the ball. When you watch the striker play, her movement is by far her greatest strength because of the number of qualities it enhances and adds to her game.
The positions she takes up on the pitch become important as she provides a focal point for a team that wants to play a fast-paced style of football, especially on the counter-attack.
That isn’t to say Blackstenius cannot be integrated into a possession-based side – on the contrary, she is excellent at hold up play too. But her standout qualities really come to the fore off the ball.
This is reflected in her heat map which highlights the sorts of areas she takes up.
What’s most noticeable is the heavy activity in and around the 18-yard box. This is exactly where Blackstenius is most dangerous. Her ability to get into those positions is excellent.
Coming up against central defenders means the striker needs to be smart in her movement and time them very carefully. Where she is most devastating is on the counter-attack because she’s able to make quick decisions and find the right options.
All of this has contributed to the Swede’s goal-scoring exploits. She has scored 17 goals in 21 games during the 2021 Damallsvenskan season alone.
The underlying numbers only back up here goal-scoring credentials: Blackstenius ranks first in Damallsvenskan for goals and assists as well as for expected goals (xG) and expected assists (xA).
Looking at her xG, Blackstenius registered 17.38 xG against a return of 17 goals which means she tracked her expected numbers closely. This shows not only that she gets in good goal-scoring positions but that she finishes well from them too.
This return of goals is hardly surprising when you watch her performances. Take this sequence, for example:
With BK Häcken are running at the opposition back four in a more narrow shape, a quick through-ball and Blackstenius’ diagonal run is perfectly met with a pass that opens up the backline. If Blackstenius doesn’t spot the space to run or the presence of mind to create the passing opportunity, then the chance wouldn’t appear.
Blackstenius’ intelligence extends to a lot more than just finding space. The striker plays a key role in helping her team progress the ball down the field. Whether it be with her passing or dribbling, Blackstenius’ smart decisions in possession can make some impossible scenarios possible.
As we’ve already seen from her heat map, Blackstenius likes to operate in Zone 14: the area just in front of the penalty area. This is where she has the chance to make incisive decisions. Taking a shot instead of a pass or vice-versa can create either a goal-scoring chance or halt an attack.
Another potent weapon in Blackstenius’ arsenal is her aerial ability. The Swedish striker is excellent at finding space in the box and bullying defenders in the air. This makes her a valuable target in the box and an option for marauding wingers if central attacking methods fail to materialise.
Because of this, she has become a very potent weapon at set-pieces. This example shows Blackstenius rising highest against Valerenga from a corner set-piece. In a crowded space with multiple defenders, she manages to rise highest and score:
Blackstenius’ playstyle means she will drop deep to collect passes and move which means there is a lot more link-up between the midfield and striker.
Her movement into deeper spaces enables her both to link up with the central midfielders and also to create space for the wide players to push forward given the focus in the middle. In doing so, she’ll lay off a pass and find space further forward before trying to find an optimal moment to run.
This can be seen in the following clip where Blackstenius has laid off a pass for her onrushing teammate before advancing down the field herself:
It’s not just scoring where she excels. When Blackstenius works the channels, she transforms into a playmaker with good vision to pick out a pass. This makes her an excellent foil in fluid front lines where there isn’t a focal point.
This line-breaking pass from Blackstenius originates from the hard work she puts into winning the ball back near the left wing:
From here, she dribbles forward and turns inside to find space. Instead of attempting to drive centrally and take a shot, she waits and slides a pass into the path of her teammate making a late run into the box from midfield.
The end result is a well-taken goal that could have been squandered if the striker had chosen to shoot instead of pass. The intelligence to make that split-second decision is the crux of how this striker operates.
Teams like Manchester United and Wolfsburg currently use drifting forwards but both could benefit from an elite goal-scorer to take their teams to the next level.
Tabea Wassmuth has been a revelation at Wolfsburg since joining from Hoffenheim and Alessia Russo has provided a glimpse of her vast potential for United this season already. However, the introduction of a proficient centre forward can elevate these teams to new heights and push them one step closer to title and European contentions respectively.
Blackstenius has already made her intentions clear about moving to a bigger club and the time feels right after some world-class performances for both club and country.
There is a shortage of top-quality, ready-made strikers in the market and Blackstenius is a rare commodity in these times. Either of these clubs would benefit greatly from buying her in the January transfer window.