Posted by: Christian Wulff | March 27, 2014

#NorwegianFootballinEnglish Tippeligaen Predictions 2014

Predicting how Tippeligaen will turn out before any season is a recipe for embarrassment and bruised football knowledge egos. Just ask the fool who tipped Tromsø to come third last season, the most northern top-flight team no more as they finished second from bottom (that was me, obviously).

But our merry gang of #NorwegianFootballinEnglish tweeters have so little self-respect to lose that they once again go for the prestigious AHBMCA title, in a year which even by Norwegian standards seems frightfully difficult to predict. The combined wisdom of these hip, young, gunslingers have given us this Tippeligaen 2014 table:

Full Table

The headline prediction is that Rosenborg will take their first league championship since 2010, already their longest title draught since 1984. Reigning champions Strømsgodset are tipped to take second place this year and they were the only other team beside Rosenborg to have been predicted as champions, Paul and myself confident they will make it two in a row. Tor Ole Skullered is expected to follow Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s two league championship and one cup win in three seasons with third place for Molde.

Down at the bottom, Sogndal is tipped for relegation after 4 years in Tippeligaen, which equals their longest ever stay in the top flight. The Norwegian league’s most famous coaches internationally follow at the next two places from the bottom. Brian Deane led promoted Sarpsborg 08 to survival after a play-off against Ranheim last season, but is expected to be relegated this year. Bob Bradley has swapped the Egyptian national team for a very promising but inexperienced Stabæk team. Promoted last season, Bradley is tipped to lead Stabæk to a play-off place in his first season in Norway.

The bottom half of the table is expected to be a fight among the S’es, with no one having Sandnes Ulf higher than 11th and four of the group predicting them for relegation. Brendan and Rhodri also think Start will end up among the bottom two.

Last year’s dominant Addeccoligaen (this year only known as ‘1st division’ after the recruitment giant chose not to renew its sponsorship of the league) winner, Bodø/Glimt, is expected to avoid going back down again, but a 12th place finish might be less than many of their supporters are expecting, the team finishing 2nd and 4thon their return to the top-flight on the last two occasions (1993 and 2008). They really won’t like Rob, who is the only one predicting a return to the second flight for the northerners.

In our individual predictions below, there is the most uncertainly from our pundits in regards to Odd Grenland’s fate. Ten places is the gap between Rob (2nd) and Paul’s (12th) predictions, with 9th ending up being the compromise. Rob also causes the large gap between the best and worst predictions for Molde, having them in 11th place in their first season after Ole Gunnar Solskjær left, with seven of the other Tippeligaen enthusiasts believing Tor Ole Skullerud will lead them to a top 3 finish.

Other teams that the group found very hard to predict were Aalesund (4th to 13th) and Start (7th to 15th).

New Brann coach Rikard Norling has been talking up his side’s title credentials but together with the rest of the Norwegian football media our predictors do not think that the team is ready to challenge at the very top. In fact, not even our resident Brann fanatic, Brendan Husebø, has them in the top 3, yours truly being the only one who thinks the team will take that 3rd spot and qualify for an automatic European place.

This year is the first time we will be predicting cup winners and Tippeligaen top scorers and it is Rosenborg dominance in this area as well. They and Brann both have two of our tweeters backing them, Viking, Molde, Strømsgodset, Odd Grenland and Vålerenga also being tipped for cup success. In the goal scoring chart, five of the predictions give top spot to a Rosenborg player, divided between Riku Riski (3), Alexander Søderlund and Nicki Bille Nielsen. Erik Huseklepp, Jakob Orlov (both Brann), Leke James (Aalesund) and Vidar Ørn Kjartansson (Vålerenga) the other contenders for scoring the most goals in this year’s Tippeligaen season, an achievement that over the last few years can very easily be misconstrued as ‘faint praise’, no player yet to score 20 goals or more in a 30 game season in Norway. Thorstein Helstad was the last player to reach that milestone with 22 goals in 2007, the only time that has happened this century, with last year’s top scorer being 39-year-old Frode Johnsen.

Tippeligaen 2014 kicks off tomorrow with Molde hosting Vålerenga and the gentlemen below are set to cover all your #NorwegianFootballinEnglish needs throughout the season.

Paul Gundersen (@Gundo10), Ben Cullimore (@thenorsenetwork), Chris Eastwood (@norskfotball):

Predictions 1

Brendan Husebø (@brendanhusebo), Rob Brown (@robbro7), James Morgan (@FRfotballJamesM).

Predictions 2

Christian Wulff (@ahellofabeating), Rhodri Lewis (@rhodrijava), The Norwegians (@norwaystats).

Predictions 3

 

With the completion of two more rounds in Tippeligaen, the season has reached its official half-way point and with Norwegian football’s usual unpredictability the league table inevitably contains some major surprises.

There is no doubt that Vålerenga and Molde are the biggest underachievers so far this season. Languishing in 10th and 11th they are far from what was envisaged for these outfits, with especially Molde, winner of the last two championships, having shell-shocked its fans with some atrocious early season performances. Even so, the last two weeks have seen a redemption of sorts for both teams, igniting hopes for a much improved second part of the campaign.

For Vålerenga, it’s two goals from unorthodox sources which have given the club a much needed lift. When they travelled to Lillestrøm two weeks ago the spotlight was not on sporting matters, but on the behaviour of a small minority of Vålerenga supporters. The rivalry between the two clubs is the by far the biggest in Norway when it comes to intensity (if not quality or importance) and it had boiled over completely when the statue of Lillestrøm legend Tom Lund, placed outside their stadium, was beheaded by vandals in the days leading up to the game. Accusations was made against Vålerenga’s so-called ‘casuals’, a slightly pathetic group of individuals intend on mimicking the faux hard-man identity of similar supporter groupings around Europe.

Lillestrøm’s own fan group then organised 24 hours security outside Åråsen stadium to prevent further vandalism, which seemed to be an appropriate measure when a car load of Vålerenga fans arrived at dawn the morning before the match, baseball bat in hand. Police was quickly on the scene and the situation never escalated further, the proper fans of both teams instead creating a brilliant atmosphere inside the stadium later that day.

It was a typical derby with high intensity and great tension instead of outstanding quality, decided by a typical scrappy goal; Czech left-back Jan Lecjaks’s piercing, in-swinging free-kick was only pawed away by Lillestrøm goalkeeper Arnold Origi, his save hitting his team-mate Johan Andersson at the back post, the Swede hardly to blame for putting the ball in his own net, giving the visitors the lead and a narrow win.

Vålerenga needed the intervention of an even more unlikely goal-scorer in their home game against a Viking side chasing European qualification. Veton Berisha had put the visitors in front before half-time with a lovely turn and finish inside the area, before Torgeir Børven’s near-post flick finally ended his 11 game league goal draught and drew Vålerenga level just after the interval. Patrik Ingelsten restored the visitor’s lead shortly after and looked to have given Viking the win until Vålerenga goalkeeper Gudmund Kongshavn sprinted the length of the field to join the attack for Diego Calvo’s corner in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

For once, such a last-ditch, desperate attempt to force an equaliser paid off. Kongshavn’s leaped through the air to meet the cross and while his contact wasn’t clean, the ball trickled into the net after taking a deflection off Viking defender Håkon Skogseid. Obviously not a consummate professional when it comes to goal celebrations, Kongshavn started his by running straight into another Viking defender, Johan Lædre Bjørdal, so hard that Bjørdal needed treatment afterwards.
Those two unusual goals have lifted Vålerenga up by their bootstraps, giving them not only four points but tangible motivation and belief, which urgently needs distilled into more assured and quality performances. They finish the first part of the season in tenth, still far off their ambitions for their season but now a managable seven points behind Aalesund who currently hold the last European qualifying spot in third place.

Molde are one step behind Vålerenga in 11th and while everyone associated with the club would have been devastatingly disappointed with that position before the start of campaign they would gladly have accepted it if offered to them only a few weeks ago. The defending champions had been languishing at the very bottom of the table for most of the season, but they are now unbeaten in five, having won three of their last four games. Over the last two weeks they delivered a routine home win over promoted Sarpsborg, before they went to Tromsø and recorded a significantly more unusual victory.

Tromsø had only lost one league game at home since Molde beat them at the end of the 2011 season to virtually secure their first ever league championship. This time Molde found the home team in a vulnerable state; Tromsø had dominated most of their Europa League first round qualifier against Slovenian side Celje on Thursday night, only to be sucker-punched by two late goals. While Tromsø should possess enough quality to turn that 2-1 deficit around in the return leg this week, they lost another second half lead against Molde in this match.

Leading 2-1 at the interval, Tromsø could have gone further ahead had it not been for a couple of brilliant saves from Ørjan Nyland, the Norway U-21 goalkeeper whose impressive displays at the European Championship this summer saw him earning a place in that tournament’s all-star squad. A defensive mix-up between Adnan Causevic and Tromsø goal-keeper Marcus Sahlman left Daniel Chima Chukwu with an easy tap-in to equalise for Molde, Mattias Moström then giving Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team the win with another tap-in from Sahlman’s rebound only eight minutes later.
From having occupied a relegation place virtually all season, Molde is now suddenly only eights points behind third place, not an insurmountable task if they can re-kindle some of the ruthless efficiency that characterised their last two, title winning seasons.

To help them do that, and also to prepare for their second attempt at Champions League qualification this autumn, they have brought in Mats Møller Dæhli, one of the most talented youngsters in Norwegian football. The 18 year old was awarded the club price as the best Manchester United youth player in 2011/12, but has now decided to continue his career and gain get senior football experience through a permanent move to Molde. While he probably won’t be an immediate replacement for Magnus Wolff-Eikrem, the former United youth reserve player that Solskjær brought with him to the club in 2011 and who have recently joined Herenveen, 18 year old Møller Dæhli will be a very exciting addition indeed to Tippeligaen. Molde have also signed Sandnes Ulf striker Tommy Høiland this week, in addition to being closely linked to another young attacking player, Lillestrøm’s Fredrik Gulbrandsen.

The two main positive surprises in this year’s Tippeligaen also met in the last round, Aalesund and Sogndal drawing 2-2. The latter is, very quietly, having an impressive year, their seventh place so far way above expectations for a team that is perpetually seen as a relegation candidate and whose best ever league season is their 6th place finish in 1998. Very few expected Aalesund to be in third place half-way through the season, but at this point they’ll be very annoyed that they only hold that position on goal difference from Brann and Viking. Two weeks ago they let a 2-0 lead and two points slip away at Start, before they conceded another late equaliser against Sogndal on Saturday making it four points lost from winning positions over the last two games.

At the top, Rosenborg have narrowed the lead to Strømsgodset to a single point over the last two weeks. They were four points behind before the latest round after they drew away to Viking with Strømsgodset beating Tromsø, but a win at home to Lillestrøm combined with Strømsgodset’s capitulation at Haugesund means that the fight for the title is as close as ever. It also seems to be exclusively between those two teams, the six point gap down to the trio of teams following them likely to become a permanent divide throughout the rest of the season. For Strømsgodset, who led at this point last season as well, they will need to take more points away from home to secure their first league title in 42 years. Undefeated at home, their away record is still the third best in the league but they have now lost on their last two trips away from Drammen.

The worst Tippeligaen away team is still Brann, but they’ll be relieved to have at least gained their first point outside of Bergen this season as they drew away to Hønefoss on Monday. It’s their 100% home record, with eight wins out of eight, that still leaves them equal on points with Aalesund and Viking in the fight for third.

Results round 14; Brann – Sandnes Ulf 6-1, Molde – Sarpsborg 08 3-1, Strømsgodset – Tromsø 3-1, Sogndal – Hønefoss 1-1, Lillestrøm – Vålerenga 0-1, Odd Grenland – Haugesund 4-0, Start – Aalesund 2-2, Viking – Rosenborg 0-0

Results round 15; Aalesund – Sogndal 2-2, Haugesund – Strømsgodset 2-1, Tromsø – Molde 2-3, Sandnes Ulf – Start 3-1, Rosenborg – Lillestrøm 1-0, Sarpsborg 08 – Odd Grenland 0-1, Vålerenga – Viking 2-2, Hønefoss – Brann 1-1.

Tippeligaen returns after an impressive summer by Norway’s young talents, with Rosenborg gearing up for their trip to Northen Ireland by the gap on Strømsgodset with an important win – my blog for STV Sport

 This week my STV Sport Tippeligaen update looks at how Strømsgodset takes a summer break in a great position and how Brann is both the best and worst team in Norway.

My STV blog looks at a flurry of games in Tippeligaen as Strømsgodset force ahead and Molde reach a new low in a so far horrible season.

The STV Sport blog on the 7th round focuses on how Strømsgodset finished a week of tragedy with their coach apologising and the team winning, while Rosenborg halts their declining form with a great comeback away to Aalesund.

My blog post for STV Sport on the sixth round of this year’s Tippeligaen looks at how Rosenborg have turned from an indomitable winning machine to confused toddlers in three weeks, in addition to some personal achievement for QPR old-boy Petter Vaagen Moen on the weekend his previous club got relegated.

Posted by: Christian Wulff | May 6, 2013

The Fictional Republic of Bergen – Tippeligaen Round 5

In this week’s Tippeligaen blog post for STV Sport, I look at how Brann’s results are playing into the stereotypical view of Bergen as a seperate country to the rest of Norway. Also, why Malcom Tucker would turn down a job at Molde.

My round 4 Tippeligaen round-up for STV Sport needs to evoke Oliver Stone in order to explain this year’s season so far.

Posted by: Christian Wulff | April 10, 2013

Molde’s world turned upside down – Tippeligaen Round 3

In my round-up of week 3 in Tippeligaen for STV Sport, I look at how an inconspicuous game help create the biggest story of the season so far. Also; how the solution to Rosenborg’s keeper problems might have been a lot closer to home than they ever realised and how Sarpsborg 08 vs Aalesund have suddenly become a tie of great interest.

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