Although Barnsley currently sits bottom of the table, there are still some fascinating players in the team. Aapo Halme is one of them. The 21-year-old Finnish player manifests some attributes that impress all of us and his stats catch our eye as well.
Role in the team
Barnsley employ quite an aggressive approach in the game. They will try to win the ball as quick as possible. They have 89.87 recoveries per 90, which ranks them first in the EFL Championship, and Halme contributes a lot in this aspect. In general, he plays in two positions for Barnsley: a defensive midfielder in a 4-3-1-2 and centre-back in a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-5-2.
When playing as a centre-back, his duty is to take charge of the aerial area in the defensive half. He is a ball-gainer in the defensive half, which totally fits the tactics of Barnsley. Just as the heat map shows below, he covers a lot of area in the defensive half.
However, when playing as a defensive midfielder, he will take on some duties in distributing the ball, giving more passes and providing cover for the ball carrier. In the defensive stage, he protects the gap in front of the two centre-backs. He also uses his anticipation to win the ball in the more advanced area.
Aggressive defending approach
As I mentioned above, Barnsley employs quite an aggressive approach. They want to win the ball back everywhere on the pitch when the opponent has possession. That’s where Halme fits in the tactics of Barnsley – Halme is tall with 193 cm in height, with a muscular physique. He is willing to use his strong physique to combat with the striker to disrupt the process of attacking and win the ball back. He has 14.68 recoveries per 90, ranking sixth in the league. Halm also has 8.65 defensive duels per 90, ranking seventh in the league, with a success rate of 64.91%.
In general, he prefers to have physical contact with his matchup. He also tends to challenge the ball in the air, even it is out of his zone. Let’s take a look at his aggressive physical contact first.
The opponent took the throw-in into the box. Halme’s matchup was rushing towards the ball as Halme then follows him, marking him tightly. He put his arms against his matchup’s chest and waist. This created more contacting area and made the opponent hard to exert force to turn. Thus, Halme successfully prevented the opponent from turning and later gained the possession, just like the picture shown below.
This aggressive approach helps Halme win duels in defending, and also helps Barnsley to gain possession in the back. In addition to the physical contact Halme exerts, he is also tough in aerial duels. He will try to be the first on the ball when the ball is played high and enters the own half. He attempts this even if the ball falls outside of his zone. Let’s see an example.
As you can see here, the starting position of Halme was near the defensive third line. The goal kick was towards the halfway line area. It was quite a distance between Halme and the area the ball was going to fall on. However, Halme still stepped out to challenge the ball, with the result below.
Halme beat two opponents who were trying to be the first on the ball. Halme jumped high, using his body to occupy the ball-falling area. He exerted great strength not only on the upper body but also his lower limbs. This was to ensure that no one could take the crucial area. Then, Halme headed the ball forward to his teammate, creating possession for them.
Apart from aggressiveness, Halme also has a fabulous sense of anticipation. This attribute also fits him in the tactics of Barnsley. However, his anticipation is not the same as Joe Worrall, whom I talked about last week. Worrall is anticipative in dropping back to protect the space behind, and he positions himself between the goal and the man he marks:
Above is an example of how Worrall anticipates the ball. He dropped in advance to protect the space behind, keeping himself positioned in the goal-side, between the goal and the matchup. This is a more conservative approach.
Halme is the exact opposite in terms of anticipation. He is more willing to anticipate the trajectory of the ball, and he will position himself the ball side. He will bypass his matchup in a more advanced position to intercept the ball or just a step more advanced than his mark.
This kind of anticipation approach allows him to win possession early, instead of being conservative to clear or block the ball. Due to this approach, he has 6.6 interceptions per 90. What’s more, he also recovers a lot in counter-pressing, with 9.09 recoveries in counter-pressing, the fourth-best in the league. This helps achieve team tactics and allows the team to have possession back. Now let’s look at an example to see how he accomplishes these interceptions in the counter-pressing.
As you can see from this example, Barnsley lost possession and Derby County’s defender played a long ball up front to find the midfielders while Halme was marking his matchup. As the ball was punted by the Derby defender, Halme immediately anticipated the trajectory of the ball, boosted up even though his matchup was nearer to the ball. This early speeding-up helped him outpace his matchup, and got himself to a more advanced position. He then got to the ball side whilst outmuscling his matchup behind. Then he successfully intercepted the ball, starting the attack again in the opponent’s half, like in the picture below.
He has done a lot of counter-pressing interceptions when he plays as a defensive midfielder. These recoveries help Barnsley regain possession as fast as possible and it also allows the team to launch the attack in an advanced area. Apart from this, when he plays as a defender, he can also use this approach to win the ball in the back. Let’s look at an example.
The ball was in the flank and the opponent’s winger was about to pick the teammate in the middle. Halme anticipates his action and was stepping out a little even when the ball was not passed yet. He anticipated the trajectory and got in the passing lane early. When the ball was released, Halme was speeding up to get to the front of his matchup. Then he successfully intercepted the ball, thus launching a counter-attack.
Barnsley tries to regain possession as quickly as possible, and they are also a passing team. Hence why no matter who wins the ball, Halme has to have the ability to start the attack. He is the exact player who fits into this playing method – his passing ability is not bad, with 31.05 passes per 90 with an accuracy of 75.09%. He is right-footed, but he can play with both feet. Even under pressure, his passes are still accurate. Let’s see how he performs in passing and his contribution from passing:.
As you can see from above, he uses his anticipation to intercept the ball in the midfield and wins back possession for his team again. He could then start the attack in the opponent’s half. There, he dribbled a few steps, incurring the opponent to get engaged to allow the front players to have more space.
This led to the opponent pressing Halme. However, he was very composed as he half-turns his body to protect the possession, and then snugly uses his left foot to hit the ball and pick up the teammates near the box. Later his teammate finished with a quite threatening shot.
From defender to midfielder
In the above analysis, we mentioned Halme plays two positions in the team. He first played as a left centre-back but later played a lot in the defensive midfielder role. Why did this happen?
As we discussed before, Halme uses quite an aggressive approach to defending. This helps Barnsley regain possession and disrupt the opponent’s attack. Nevertheless, the aggression comes with a high risk. Sometimes he tries to access the route of passing even if he is not likely to get there.
When playing as a defender, if Halme’s duels are not successful, the cost will be devastating – stepping out too much means that there is plenty of space behind you. If Halme is wrong in the duels and anticipation, the fouls will be increased. He commits 1.61 fouls per 90, ranking fourth among all the defenders in the league. What’s more, when the defenders are beaten, the goal-scoring chances will follow. Let’s take a look at the below graph.
Those are lost defensive duels of Halme in the defensive half. As you can see here, five of his defensive losses turn directly into goals – quite a big number. Let’s see what it is like in the real match scenario.
Halme was duelling with his matchup as the last man in the team. There was no cover for him and there was plenty of space around him. He anticipates the ball and tries to get in front of the attacker to touch the ball first. However, he failed this time. The ball went free and the opponent’s player picked up the free ball and took a shot. When the opponent shot, Halme couldn’t get in the blocking position in time because he was drawn out for a duel. Therefore, the goal was conceded.
Halme’s aggressive approach does have risks in the back, especially if the defending line of Barnsley is not capable of covering each other in time. To alleviate the risk level, and also to keep Halme doing what he is good at, he was pushed to be the defensive midfielder. From there, he can challenge the ball further from Barnsley’s goal, with a defensive line also covering for him. Let’s look at an example.
Above, he tried to anticipate as a defensive midfielder and win the ball but fails as he gets bypassed by the opponent. However, the defence was covering for him and later dealt with the attack. Thus, even if he fails, the area will be further away from goal and a line of defenders will be covering.
What’s more, if he wins the ball, it will be much closer to the opponent’s goal. Just as the example shown in the passing ability section.
That’s quite a good bargain for the manager. Now the risk can be alleviated, along with more possession in more advanced areas. What’s more, Halme’s passing ability also helps his team in distributing in the midfield as well as penetrating space.
Aapo Halme is a player with distinct characteristics. He can step out and gain a lot of possession for his team. However, when he steps out, he also needs someone like Joe Worrall to cover him. He is still young and we still expect to see him improve in all aspects. In the future, he may be able to play in the Premier League, with teams like Everton and Arsenal being suitable for him.