Brøndby surprised all of Denmark last season, when they won the Danish championship in front of FC Copenhagen and FC Midtjylland, who are both boasting both larger budgets as well as significantly stronger squads. However, through a strong defense and clever counter attacking football, as well as a bit of luck, the yellow-blues managed to win the first championship in 16 years and also qualify for the first European group stage in the same period. Toke Theilade, a Danish football journalist, explains what to expect from Sparta’s upcoming opponent in the Europa League.
A long-awaited championship
Despite being arguably the most popular club in Denmark, Brøndby haven’t had it easy in recent years. The club dominated Danish football in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, which saw them winning ten championships and delivering stellar European performances. Brøndby are still holding the record of the best European run by a Danish club with their UEFA Cup semifinal in 1991, and in 1998 they qualified for the Champions League as the second ever Danish club.
Domestically, the yellow-blues have won 11 championships, and for a long time, they pushed the boundaries of what to expect from a Danish football club. However, following the departure of head coach Michael Laudrup in 2006, the club fell into a state of despair. Horrible decisions on all levels of the administration made Brøndby fall further and further away from the top, and in 2013 the club was almost relegated and bankrupt.
Despite the poor results on the pitch, the support from the fans never disappeared. Week after week, they showed up at Vilfort Park to support the team, and it is safe to say that the yellow blue army should also arrive in large numbers for all fixtures in the group stage, including the away match in Prague in December.
The financial savior was current majority owner and chairman, Jan Bech Andersen, who took over the ownership, and posted a lot of money into the team. Legends like Daniel Agger and Thomas Kahlenberg returned to the team, but the results were still not meeting expectations despite changing head coaches.
It wasn’t until Niels Frederiksen, the current head coach, entered the scene that the luck turned. Gone were the expensive signings as Frederiksen built a team based around local talent from the academy and cheap players from smaller Scandinavian clubs.
Frederiksen utilized a pragmatic 3-5-2 formation, where the team sat back and patiently waited for counter opportunities. Although not always pretty, this style turned out to fit the team perfectly, and several players had the seasons of their lives. This was especially the case for central defender and captain Andreas Maxsø, midfielder Jesper Lindstrøm, who both earned debuts on the national team and for the latter a big money transfer to Eintracht Frankfurt, as well as striker Mikael Uhre, who finished the league as top scorer.
A championship exodus
Comparing Brøndby’s current team to the one that won the league last year, is like comparing apples and oranges. Four starters of the game that secured the club the championship, left immediately afterwards on free transfers. On top of that, Brøndby went to sell Jesper Lindstrøm, arguably the club’s best player last season, for a record fee to Eintracht Frankfurt.
Operating with a plan of waiting until the end of the transfer window to secure the best possible deals, the yellow blues were surprisingly quiet in the first two months of the window despite the obvious gaps in the squad.
The lack of investments, combined with an unfortunate spread of Covid-19 in the squad which caused several starters to miss time, meant Brøndby got off to a historically bad start to the season. In fact, no Danish champion has ever started worse. It wasn’t until the 7th round of the Superliga that Niels Frederiksen’s troops finally got their first victory of the season.
On top of this, Brøndby were sent out of the Champions League qualification with a 4-2 defeat to RB Salzburg. Although the aggregate score isn’t too bad, neither of the meetings were particularly close. RB Salzburg dominated from start to finish, and had it not been for weak finishing and a good goalkeeping performance from Mads Hermansen in the first game, the score line could easily have been much uglier.
Pragmatic football and lethal counters
Brøndby is a side that understands its own limitations and strengths, and is using this knowledge to maximize the results. Domestically, they shouldn’t be able to steal a championship from FC Copenhagen or FC Midtjylland, but through clever and disciplined football, and a lot of luck, they took the title.
For the past two seasons, Frederiksen has preferred to line his troops up in a 3-5-2 formation with two wingbacks.
In goal, Brøndby has 20-year-old Mads Hermansen. He received his professional first team debut at the start of the season, and is off to a mixed start. The reports from Brøndby are very positive in terms of expectations, but he still has some way to go development wise, and he has made some fatal mistakes.
In front of him, captain Andreas Maxsø is the leader of the defense. He is arguably the most important player on the entire team, and has recently become a part of the Danish national team as well. His importance only grew this summer, where his experienced partners in the defense were replaced with three inexperienced youngsters in Kevin Tshiembe, 24, Anton Skipper, 21 and Rasmus Wikström, 20.
On the midfield, Josip Radosevic is the experienced leader. He has previously played for Napoli and RB Salzburg among others, and recently extended his contract with Brøndby until 2025. Radosevic is an old school hard hitter on the defensive midfield, and he does a good job protection the defense. His partners are either Christian Cappis and Morten Frendrup playing the box-to-box role, and then Anis Ben Slimane or Mathias Greve playing the more advanced playmaker role. Of these, Radosevic is the only player with noteworthy experience of the highest level.
Lastly, the strikers are last season’s league topscorer, Mikael Uhre, and his Swedish partner Simon Hedlund. They are deputized by Serbian Andrija Pavlovic.
Uhre is a fast striker with clinical finishing skills. He’s a classic poacher, always waiting for an opportunity in front of goal. Hedlund plays a little deeper on the pitch, and is one of the best in the Danish league at setting up his teammates. Last season, he created 13 open chances, according to stats from the official Superliga website, which was the second most in the entire league. He furthermore made 10 assists, most in the league, tied with Lindstrøm.
All in all, there is a lot of talent in Brøndby’s young team. However, none of the players, apart from Radosevic, have ever been in a European group stage before, and it is likely that this opportunity has arrived a little bit too early for the team to really deliver at the needed level to compete for more than to avoid the last place in the group.
Expected lineup: Hermansen – Tshiembe, Maxsø, Skipper – Mensah, Radosevic, Frendrup, Greve, Bruus – Uhre, Hedlund