Sebastian Loram er en ung student av spillet. Han er midt i sin bachelorgrad i Football Studies og har en ekstrem interesse for internasjonal fotball og fotballens historie. Til tross for hans engelske pass kjenner han blant annet til flere norske lag og spillere i tillegg til å ha favorittlag i omtrent hver liga i Europa. Nå har vi satt hans glimrende fotballhjerne i bruk og bedt han skrive et stykke om Ungarn. Landet som slo Norge ut av årets mesterskap før det egentlig hadde begynt og som har en av fotballverdens mest fascinerende historier.
Few Parallels can be seen between Storck’s Hungary and the ‘Mighty Magyars’
If class is permanent and form temporary, Hungary have not enjoyed the most fruitful runs of ‘form’ over the past 30 years. The European Championship starting on Friday will be the Nemzeti Tizenegy’s first major tournament since Mexico 86’. Rewind a further 32 years to 4th July 1954 and any modern football fan can be forgiven for feeling a little surprised, as West Germany lined up against Hungary in the World Cup final. Managed then by Gusztav Sebes, Hungary had embarked on an incredible 49 game unbeaten run, which was dramatically ended in the final in Bern, Switzerland.
Nicknamed the ‘Mighty Magyars’, Hungary’s team in the 1950’s captivated the world with a mix of tactical innovation and individual stardom. Leading up to this successful decade, Hungary seemed to be forever following in the footsteps of Austria, just a few steps behind – presumably due to the recent dissolution of the Austria-Hungarian empire. Unlike today, conversing about football was a sign of high intellectualism during the mid 20th Century in central Europe. This intelligent perspective of football eventually became embedded within the roots of Hungarian footballing nature, and consequently this started to pay dividends on the football pitch.
Despite boasting such fantastic individual players, Sebes was able to incorporate them into a well functioning team. Technically and tactically superior to every opposition, Hungary ruled Europe for half a decade.
Nevertheless, instead of Puskas, Hidegkuti and Kocsis, Hungary now can only boast a strikeforce including Dzsudzsak, Nemeth and Szalai, so the ‘personality’ of Hungarian football has not exactly remained constant throughout the past century.
As a result, the remainder of this article will analyse the four key aspects of the Hungarian side preparing for France 2016, whilst drawing similarities and differences to the the team over 60 years ago.
Anyone expecting a masterclass of Hungarian tiki-taka during the tournament will be sadly left disappointed. Their German manager, Bernd Storck, has clearly identified Adam Szalai as being the focal-point of the attack. In a bid to fulfil his physical potential, more long balls will be pumped towards the number 9 than passes via the midfield. Naturally, this can sometimes lead to fairly dull exchanges with the opposition; nonetheless, the advancement of all three attacking midfielders to receive Szalai’s ‘lay off’s’ often makes out for an entertaining battle in the final third.
With a mixture of experienced heads such as, Zoltan Gera and Gabor Kiraly and promising youngsters in the form of Adam Nagy and Laszlo Kleinheisler, the squad enjoys strong diversity. As a result of this, communication will be key if they are to be successful this summer. Storck attempts to maximize this by using numerous triggers, especially when attacking, which will be explored in depth later.
Above, shows the starting players against Norway in November.
Szalai vs Hidegkuti
With Europe in the 1950’s stuck in a WM formation sized swamp, the general consensus and belief was that nothing could top that of Herbert Chapman’s innovative strategy. Unfortunately, for Hungary, they were experiencing a severe shortage of strong, tall centre forwards, which were of course required to spearhead the attack when utilising the WM formation. Instead, Gusztav Sebes ordered Nandor Hidegkuti, a less physical, yet technically superb player, to position himself as centre forward. Hidegkuti would regularly drop deeper to play what is known today as an attacking midfielder. As seen below, with the ball at his feet, Hidegkuti would rarely advance ahead of his fellow attackers – the player is positioned deep, outside the penalty box, with his two fellow wingers advancing beyond him. This made Hidegkuti notoriously difficult to mark as a defender, enabling the Magyars’ beautiful attacking football to flourish.
In comparison, the centre forward option facing Bernd Storck is less impressive. Off the back of an uninspiring season, Adam Szalai continues to leave football followers all over Europe scratching their heads. Noted for his height, Szalai offers a brilliant ability to receive direct passes and lay the ball off to teammates. Despite this, Szalai distinctly lacks the prowess to operate in tight spaces. Nevertheless, as the image below demonstrates, after only eight seconds into their play-off against Norway, Hungary (White) are keen to capatalise on Szalai’s strengths by offering strong support to the centre forward.
Ironically, Szalai’s attributes would have perfectly suited the WM formation. In spite of not scoring a single Bundesliga goal this season, the forward can be a very deadly finisher. However, like many other target men, mobility is not a strong point. As a result, long passes often require the attacker to re-position himself, and the heavy reliance on arms to do so frequently results in fouls being committed.
On the other hand, few centre backs will relish the prospect of facing all 6’2 feet of Adam Szalai, who is key to Hungary’s attacking strategy. Using an extremely territorial based plan, Storck’s side will jump on any opportunity to progress into the attacking third. Interestingly, this ties in with the high pressing game utilised by the attacking midfielders, especially Laszlo Kleinheisler.
The Old (Zoltan Gera) and New (Laszlo Kleinheisler) Guard
Recently signed by Bundesliga survivors, Werder Bremen, Laszlo Kleinheisler was a surprise inclusion in the team that faced Norway. Fresh from a contract dispute at Hungarian side Videoton FC, Kleinheisler has experienced scarce minutes on the pitch this season and, as a result, few expected the 22-year-old to make his debut in such an important match.
Kleinheisler scored the only goal of the game and, judging by subsequent performances, it seems as though Bernd Storck may have stumbled across a midfield diamond. With extremely sound technique, Kleinheisler benefits greatly from playing just behind Szalai. Nevertheless, what Kleinheisler offers defensively is of great importance too. Storck favors a high intensity pressing game when out of possession, mainly in wide areas, using the touchline as an added defender. This does however pose a problem when the opposition play centrally.
Fortunately, with sharp acceleration and turning ability, Laszlo Kleinheisler is an incredibly effective attacking midfield-defender. With communication provided from Elek and Gera behind him, Kleinheisler can strongly influence the direction of play from the centre of the field. The midfielder is effective at pressing the central defenders and covering the passing channels to opposing central players, this forces the opponent’s possession to move into wider areas. This role has been executed so successfully to the extent that Storck has placed the responsibility of pressuring both centre backs and also the defensive midfielder on this exciting young prospect – as seen in the diagram above.
What Kleinheisler lacks in experience, however, is made up for by Premier league ‘legend’ Zoltan Gera. In a role much more defensive than that which we were used to seeing on these British shores, Gera sits the deepest out of the midfielders. The veteran Hungarian is relied upon to break up opposing attacks and play direct passes to Szalai. Unfortunately, at 37 years old, Gera is notably slowing down and can consistently be out-run in midfield. This is where his energetic midfield partner Akos Elek comes into play. Keeping perhaps the most promising youngster, Adam Nagy, out of the team, Elek will be central to Hungary’s hopes of progressing into the knock-out round.
The greatest strengths regarding the mercurial midfielder is stamina and short passing, allowing the player to combine with the captain Balasz Dszudszak. Without support on the left wing, Dszudszak can easily become frustrated and drift inside. Problematically, immobile Szalai favors any spacial area and consequently may look to move out wide. Needless to say, this completely numbs their own attack. Yet, with Elek bursting forward alongside Kleinheisler in attacking midfield, this problem does not arise.
As mentioned earlier, Storck uses various triggers to start pre-planned attacks. Most revolve around Akos Elek. For instance, the advancement of the left back – Tamas Kadar. With the ball at the left back’s feet, each time Kadar passes the half way line, a pattern of Dszudszak coming in short, Szalai moving the right-centre back centrally and Elek making a direct run becomes apparent.
Here are two examples;
This movement has a clear objective of displacing the opposition’s right back and attacking the unguarded space. In contrast, on the other flank, another trigger is commonly used – this will be explained later. However, Elek’s responsibility of doing so can lead to Hungary being overly vulnerable to a central counter attack.
Sebes, like many other managers of his time, realised that using an extra midfielder would be beneficial to the team’s performance. As a consequence, Hungary’s defence was strongly reliant on the central defender Gyula Lorant. As demonstrated below, the left and right backs, Mihaly Lantos and Jeno Buzanszky, would offer Lorant limited support, only when the opposing attacks were operating down their specific wings. This made Hungary very susceptible to fast and wide attacks.
Moreover, Hungary seem to have a similar problem as they prepare for this summer’s European Championship. The fullbacks, Attila Fiola and Tamas Kadar, have certainly proven themselves reasonable defenders; however, both are short of international level quality. Elek’s rampant attacking runs frequently open up a variety of free areas, of which Kadar many a time cannot resist the temptation to progress into. Concentration levels also leave much to be desired for the pair of defenders, both of whom must stay focused at all times if Hungary are to be successful this tournament.
Still, the versatile Kadar is fairly reliable in possession and will regularly provide help by supporting Balasz Dszudszak. On the other side of the pitch, Fiola – an awfully one footed player – will be seen overlapping Nemeth almost from the touchline. In addition, this trigger instigates another major Hungarian plan.
Following the Nemeth–Fiola combination, Elek regularly makes a horizontal run in an attempt to pull out a defender with him. Therefore, this leaves Kleinheisler with more space to operate in.
The image below highlights this second trigger, seen mostly on the right hand side of Hungary’s attack;
This is a perfect example of Hungary playing to their strengths or, perhaps, ignoring their weaknesses.
The Hungarians, placed in what looks to be the weakest group, are favorites to sit firmly at the bottom. Nonetheless, with Portugal and Austria expected to progress through, Hungary could very feasibly join them at the expense of Iceland.
Short of the magic shown in the 1950’s, the Hungarians will need to rely on teamwork and belief in their centre forward, Adam Szalai. Competition for midfield places is extremely healthy which presents decent squad depth.
Bernd Storck is reasonably experienced, having coached for over two decades, despite most years being spent as an assistant. Anyhow, Storck does display tactical inflexibility which could become costly.
Overall, Hungarian hopes will most likely depend on the match against Iceland on match-day 2 in Stade Velodrome, Marseille. Viewed as such for their triumphant play-off versus Norway, Hungary are no strangers in recent decades to the tag of underdogs … despite it all being so different 60 years ago.