Posted by: Christian Wulff | March 21, 2012

Tippeligaen Season Review – Part 1

In terms of player talent, squad size, and top flight experience Tippeligaen 2012 quickly divides itself into three different parts. Champions Molde, Rosenborg, the undisputed giants of Norwegian football, and Vålerenga – the undisputed underachievers – are the natural favourites. After the top three teams, it is only a slight exaggeration to say that the most exact method of predicting which teams will finish in 4th to 12th place is to draw them out of a hat. The four remaining clubs will need to severely overachieve not to fulfil their expected destiny of a difficult season but they are all very similar in quality, again making a potential mockery of any attempts to predict who will occupy the two automatic relegation spots.

In part one of the season review I’ll be looking at those four clubs expected to prop up the table.

 Part 1 – The Bottom Four 

 The two automatic relegation spots from last year have been supplemented this season with an additional play-off place, which will await the team finishing 14th. There seems to be a consensus amongst most observers that the four bottom places will be occupied by Hønefoss, Sandnes Ulf, Sogndal and Stabæk. It’s a prudent approach, the former two are newly promoted teams that lack the depth of quality that for example Fredrikstad had when they came back into Tippeligaen last season. Sogndal finished one place above relegation last year and have lost their best player and defensive lynchpin. It is Stabæk that normally wouldn’t fit the bill as a relegation contender.

Champions in 2008, Stabæk have steadily declined since then, due in large parts to poor financial management. While they still had a squad good enough to compete in the top half of the table last season, the bubble finally burst later in the year when their acute financial situation forced the club to make redundancies both among staff and players witht he  inevitable sale off their most priced assets to follow. Their best player, Veigar Páll Gunnarsson, went to Vålerenga last summer and this pre-season have seen several more first-team regulars depart. They have been replaced with a very young squad which only consists of three outfield players above the age of 23. They have also had to move out of their state of the art indoor arena and back to their old home at Nadderud, which is anything but modern. It is this  backs-against-the-wall situation and low expectations that might be Stabæk’s greatest weapon in their fight against relegation. A youthful team packed with energy and attitude will also go a long way in a league where physicality is still a very valued commodity. 

The two promoted teams, Hønefoss and Sandnes Ulf, are very similar in terms of the quality of their squad, and have both reaped the benefits of consistency on the coaching side together with a clear sense of identity on the field. It is Sandnes Ulf’s first ever season in the top flight and they do have a lack of obvious profiles, with one real exception. Tommy Høiland has already been labelled a trouble-maker after various incidents at his previous clubs Viking and Bryne. Behind those headlines there is a very ambitious and fierce attacking talent, the tribulations of the 22 year old usually stemming from a burning temperament and perfectionism rather than any sort of malicious behaviour.

Hønefoss went straight down back again after their first appearance in Tippeligaen in 2010, but they are in a much better position this time. They will rely on what looks like a very exciting offensive three.  Senegalese striker Remond Mendy got 14 goals in Adeccoligaen last year and look set to continue an interesting partnership with Kevin Bosse Beugre, the 19 year old Ivorian forward who added 11 goals from 16 starts last season. Finnish winger Riku Riski  has also signed from Widzew Lodz in Poland and is expected to add the creativity and skill that will help supply Beugre and Mendy with the necessarily scoring opportunities. 

This leaves us with Sogndal, the club that continues to be one of the greatest stories ever told in Norwegian football. A village of about 7000 inhabitants, they have produced a range of local talents that have gone on to join bigger clubs both in Norway and abroad. Even Hovland is the latest player off the production line, the talented centre-half joining champions Molde and leaving a gaping quality hole in Sogndal’s defence. The club’s most famous export, Tore Andre Flo, did return home at the end of last season. It’s been 14 years since he scored against Brazil in the World Cup, but the now 38-year old striker is again expected to lead the line for his home club. It’s a nice story, but for all of Flo’s experience it is unlikely to be enough to keep Sogndal in the top flight for another season.

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