It was a phenomenal season for Linköping last year. They won their first title since 2009 and did it with display after display of eye-catching attacking play.
They went the entire season without losing a game, winning 20 and only drawing twice. They had the best attacking record of all teams with 73 goals, and only let in 14 – one more than their closest rivals from FC Rosengård. Pernille Harder and Stina Blackstenius had seasons to remember with 25 and 19 goals respectively, which made them the two most scoring players. Harder also had 10 assists to her name, and was only outdone by her teammate Jonna Andersson. She had 11.
Both Harder (VfL Wolfsburg) and Blackstenius (Montpellier) has left the club, and joining them on the departure list is another forward, Fridolina Rolfö, who has joined Bayern München. She was injured a lot last season, but when fit, showed why she is a Swedish international.
There can be no doubt that all three are big losses for Linköping. Additionally, Emilia Larsson has joined IFK Nyköping, back-up keeper Chandra Bednar is now at Vittsjö GIK and Mariann Gajhede Knudsen has retired. Gajhede was a hugely important midfielder, and she will be hard to replace. Lastly, Dutch international Renee Slegers was supposed to be a part of the team this year, but an ACL injury meant that she didn’t sign a new contract.
Former coach, Martin Sjögren has also decided to find new pastures, and is now the head coach of the Norwegian national team. Kim Björkegren takes over from him.
New season, new names
Linköping had a tough job this offseason trying to bring in players to replace the profiles that left. They made no secret of the fact that they wanted Damallsvenskan proven players. Perhaps as a way to minimise any adjustment periods, but also an attempt to replace some of the experience they lost.
Offensively, Linköping ended up acquiring Lina Hurtig from Umeå and Marija Banušić from Eskilstuna United. Two very interesting players. Hurtig has had big injury problems earlier, which has halted her development a little, but at some point she was considered one of Sweden’s brightest forward talents in a long time. She’s a physical player, which compliments the technical ability of Banušić.
Another proven Damallsvenskan attacking threat that has been brought in is Irma Helin, who most recently played for Piteå. She has been hailed as one of the most technically gifted Swedish players, and seems well suited to Linköping's playing style. She brings some of that creativity which Linköping have lost with the departure of Harder.
In defence, Lisa Lantz comes in from Umeå, while Maja Kildemoes joins form OdenseQ in the Danish League. Last season Linköping barely had any defensive cover, so for fans of Linköping their arrival is a welcoming sights.
Young players Emmaliina Tulkki and Alva Selerud has been brought in from Ilves and IFK Norrköping DFK respectively, while Sara Olai and Wilma Thörnqvist has been permanently promoted form the youth ranks.
Lastly, Johanna Rasmussen joined from Kristanstad, but she sadly tore her ACL ahead of the season. her injury hurts Linköping a lot. She added not only proven quality, but also heaps of experience and versatility.
The vast changes makes it hard to predict what kind of season awaits Linköping and there are several question marks around them. There can be no doubt that a team of their calibre should be aiming for top two and Champions League places. They have shown good things in pre-season and I don’t think they’re as far behind FC Rosengård as some suggest they are.
Who to look out for
Claudia Neto might just be the best player in the league. She is a hardworking midfielder who often provide that all important pass that opens up the opposition, and with the likes of Harder gone, her importance just got bigger. She is genuinely world class. Another payer whose role just got bigger is Kristine Minde. The versatile Norwegian International were often forgotten last season when people talked about Linköping’s profiles, but when needed Minde is always there, and her ability to cut open a defence is often overlooked.
Naturally, given Linköping's attacking record last year, a lot of eyes will be on Hurtig and Banušić. If preseason is anything to go by, they’ve settled well and are ready to step up.
Linköping has one of, if not the best, defence in the league. They have two fantastic fullbacks in Jessica Samuelsson and Jonna Andersson, and with her aggressive style of play, superb corners and good passing player, central defender Magdalena Eriksson will be key both in defence and on standard situations. She forms a good partnership with Janni Arnth, who looked rock solid together last year.
I will personally look forward to seeing Emma Lennartsson and Tove Almqvist this season. With the various departures, their roles on this team has increased. I think they will relish the new responsibility and be decisive for this Linköping team.
In terms of off the pitch activities, both Helin and Almqvist have also made fantastic additions to the backroom staff with both of their wonderful dogs.
Goalkeepers: Cajsa Anderson and Matilda Haglund.
Defenders: Janni Arnth, Magdalena Eriksson, Lisa Lantz, Jonna Andersson, Maja Kildemoes and Jessica Samuelsson.
Midfielders and forwards: Claudia Neto, Kristine Minde, Wilma Törnqvist, Johanna Rasmussen, Emma Lennartsson, Tove Almqvist, Irma Helin, Emmaliina Tulkki, Lina Hurtig, Sara Olai, Alva Selerud and Marija Banušić.