The 2018 Allsvenskan opened April 1 and if the Swedish Cup is any indication, defending champions Malmö FF has definitely come to play.
“We are undoubtedly the top team right now in the Allsvenskan,” Malmö trainer Magnus Pehrsson told Kvallposten in an interview March 28. “I think we are already ahead of where we were last year at this time.”
Malmö had a slow start to the 2017 season before finding a gear few teams could match and cruising to its fourth title in five years. The reigning champions retooled the team that won the league year but crashed out of the Champions League in the qualifiers.
Malmö said goodbye to five free agents, three of whom left to play in Major League Soccer – Anton Tinnerholm and Jo Inge Berget, who signed with New York City FC, and Magnus Wolf Ekrem, who went to the Seattle Sounders. Malmö also sold defensive midfielder and Danish international Anders Christiansen to Ghent in Belgium for a reported fee of 16 million kronor ($3 million).
"This year we have many new players so we all had conversations where we said, ‘Here's how we play. This is your role, so we can do it differently,’" Pehrsson said.
One of the most important new players is Fouad Bachirou. Bachirou went to Ostersund when Graham Potter took over the club and helped guide the team from the lowest rungs of Swedish football to the Allsvenskan. Ostersund became the darling of Swedish football as it advanced to the Round of 16 in the Europa League before English Premier League club Arsenal ended its run in February.
“We have an extremely good squad with a lot of depth, but there are not a lot of players like Fouad,” Pehrsson. “He is the engine that can drive us.”
Bachirou joined the team in January but has already become one of the leaders of the team, which will need his steadiness even more after a scandal rocked the team on March 28, when Kingsley Sarko was arrested on rape charges. It is the second time he has faced rape charges in Malmö and the club essentially cut its ties with the 21-year-old striker, ordering him to stay away from training and any club events. Despite the intense media coverage of the story, Pehrsson said the rest of the players are concentrating on Elfsborg, working to establish what Pehrsson calls “Malmö football.”
Malmö faces Djurgården in the Cup final on May 10. Djurgården has its eyes on both the Swedish Cup and the Lennart Johansson trophy, although questions linger as to whether the retooled side can score enough to mount a serious challenge.
AIK and Östersund are most likely to stop Malmö from winning a third-straight title. AIK opens the season at newcomers Dalkurd. Djurgården locks horns with Östersund in the season opener for the league.
Chipp Reid