The Swedish Cup is in the group stage, even though most stadia in the country remain buried under a blanket of snow. Playing on alternate fields, all of them artificial, in front of hardy but sparse crowds, defending league champions Malmö FF, cupholders Elfsborg, IFK Göteborg, AIK and Helsingborg have used the early season matches to take hard looks at the new players the clubs added over the winter. If the first matches of the group round are any indication, Malmö remains the team to beat in the Allsvenskan.
The defending champions, playing in group 1, don’t appear to have lost a beat despite losing six starters in the off season. Newcomers Jo Inge Berget and Magnus Wolf Ekrem, both Bosman transfers from Cardiff City, Tobias Sana, a 15-million kronor transfer from Ajax Amsterdam and Peruvian international Victor Flores have all impressed, scoring four of Malmö’s eight goals in its two group matches. Malmö opened against Hudiksvall with a 5-0 win and then knocked off Assyriska 3-0. Age Hareide’s new-look lineup has come together almost seamlessly, albeit against lower opponents. Malmö played Jönköpings Södra on March 7 needing just a point to advance to the quarterfinals.
The defending champions open their title defense April 6 on the road against Sundsvall. Malmö opens its home season April 9 against AIK and plays IFK Göteborg April 12 in a pair of early season matchups with plenty of intrigue.
IFK Göteborg might just offer Malmö its toughest resistance to retaining the Lennart Johansson Trophy. Göteborg completely retooled its team, bringing in Jorgen Lennartsson to replace head coach Mikael Stahre while building around 2014 Golden Boot winner Lasse Vibe. The Danish striker was the subject of intense transfer tries over the winter, but he decided to remain with Göteborg rather than accept a deal with a club in a nation in which he didn’t want to play. Göteborg signed Danish midfielder Jakob Andersen, a pair of promising Ghanaian talents, U.S. international Heath Pearce and Norwegian international Haitam Aleesami to bolster a starting XI that lost five players over the winter. So far, the offense appears set as Göteborg whipped Myresjö/Vetlanda 6-0 in its first group 2 match. Defensively, there are questions as IFK allowed a pair of late goals in a 2-2 draw with FC Trollhatan. IFK plays Ljungskile on March 8 with a berth in the quarterfinals on the line.
Andreas Alm at AIK decided to stand pat with essentially the same team that finished second in 2014, although he continues to search for a replacement for Celso Borges, who left Solna on loan to Deportivo la Coruna in Spain. AIK finalized its contract with Mohamed Bangura while Noah Sundberg has stepped in to replace Borges. So far, the stance has worked as AIK blanked Kristianstad 3-0 in the first group 3 match before whalloping Landskrona 4-0. AIK needs just a tie in its final match — a scintillating derby tie with Hammarby — to reach the quarters.
Cup holders Elfsborg are also a point away from reaching the quarters after demolishing its first two opponents in group 4. Elfsborg had a stable off season, not losing any players while promoting several promising talents from its youth teams. Elfsborg ripped Athletic FC United 5-1 in its first game before taking a 4-0 decision from IK Sirius.
Not every team, however, has re-tooled and succeeded. Djurgården, after another disappointing season, again rebuilt its team as head coach Pelle Olsson brought in eight new players after cutting or dealing 14 in the off season. On paper, DIF added a large amount of talent but the results simply have not come. Djurgården, playing in Group 7, lost its opener 4-2 to Norrby before playing to a scoreless draw with Ängleholm. DIF has no chance of advancing but its Allsvenskan rival IFK Norrköping, is in prime position after winning both of its Group 7 fixtures. DIF and Peking meet on March 8.
In Group 5, BK Häcken faces a challenge from Superettan side Mjällby for a spot in the quarters. Both have won their first two fixtures and are set to meet March 7. Mjällby holds a slight edge in goal difference and would advance if the two teams draw. Gefle holds the top spot in Group 6 after winning its first two matches. A draw on March 8 with Örebro would send Gefle into the quarters.
In Group 8, Henrik Larsson made a successful debut as Helsingborg manager as HIF knocked off Västerås 4-0. Helsingborg has played just once as poor weather has hampered its schedule. Halmstad holds the top spot after a win over Syrianska and a draw with Västerås.