Posted by: Christian Wulff | March 23, 2012

Tippeligaen Season Review – Part 3

Tippeligaen Season Review – Part 3

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 the third and final part of the season review I look at the teams that should be challenging for the title.

The Top Three

Predicting any other teams than Molde, Rosenborg and Vålerenga in the top three would require several leaps of faith and some extremely good hunches. There are of course no guarantees, especially in a league as unpredictable as this, but anything other than a top three finish for these teams would represent an underwhelming season compared to the quality inherent in their squads and the financial resources they possess. However, predicting who will win the league is a far more complex task than picking out the top three.

Molde will probably have to accept that they are the slight favourite, but this season will be a far sterner test for the reigning champions and their young and little known manager with the funny name, Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Their only major new signing is a good one; Even Hovland is one of the greatest Norwegian defensive talents of his generation. The centre-half even turned down a far more lucrative offer to play in Russia for Anzji Makhatsjkala, in favour of joining Solskjær’s project in Molde. The team coped very well after losing their top scorer Pape Paté Diouf in the middle of last season, with both midfielders and wingers contributing the necessarily amount of goals. However, there is still a lack of a pure goal scorer in the team, something you will expect Solskjær to be more than aware off. Indeed, Molde has been linked with several high profile strikers but still haven’t been able to complete a deal for the right player.

Without wanting to undermine the championships won by Molde, Stabæk, Brann and Vålerenga in recent years, the Norwegian league have for the last two decades been either won or lost by Rosenborg. They won 13 championships in a row from 1992 to 2004, followed by titles in 2006, 09 and 10. But it was the 11 group stage appearances in the Champions League that really consolidated their position as the sporting and financial powerhouse of Norwegian football to such a degree that anything other than first place would be an underachievement. Even the last few years of bad financial results will not threaten Rosenborg’s economic superiority, but for the first time in over 20 years there is the real possibility of a more sustained shift of football power away from Trondheim. If Molde was to retain the title, it would be the first time since a team other than Rosenborg managed that feat since Vålerenga won the league in 1983 and 84. The gap of quality between Rosenborg and their closest competitors’ have become smaller and smaller the last few seasons, and it is no longer a given that they will possess the superior squad or starting line-up. However, while Molde are looking for a classic goal scorer to compliment their team, Rosenborg have two. Rade Prica has got 46 league goals in 78 matches since signing in 2009. After a year at Crystal Palace, Steffen Iversen has returned for his 3rd spell with the club, and even at 35 he will undoubtedly add to his tally of 81 goals in 172 league games for the Rosenborg.

While Iversen is basically a replacement for 18-year old striker Mushenga Bakenga who was sold to Club Brugge this winter, Rosenborg are now more reliable on youth than at any other time in recent memory. Simon Wangberg (20) and Stefan Strandberg (21) might well occupy two of the defensive positions, while the winger Jonas Svensson (19) will continue to play an important part offensively. However, the main focus will be on 19 year old central midfielder Markus Henriksen, who declined the offer to join Bakenga at Club Brugge in order to continue his development as one of the team’s most important players and to consolidate his place in the national team squad. 

What then, of Vålerenga? Expected to sustain a credible title challenge last year, they had such a bad start to the season they were never really in contention.  However, aided by the very controversial signing of Icelandic playmaker Veigar Páll Gunnarsson from Stabæk, they showed something close to their true potential throughout the autumn matches. A late stumble resulted in a disappointing 7th place, but that was only two points behind Rosenborg in third. Vålerenga’s offensive potential is intimidating. Gunnarsson is joined by other experienced foreigners, such as the Ghanaian Isaac Bokaye, Serbian midfielder Bojan Zajic, Youssef Kone from Burkina Faso and Jamaican winger Luton Sheldon.

They are complimented by a range of young, exciting Norwegian talent. Mohamed Fellah and Harmeet Singh, 22 and 21 respectively, have yet to fulfil their true potential, but they are two of the most skilful and creative players Norway have produced in recent years. 18 year old striker Håvard Nielsen started 21 games last season and should be a lot more effective this year. However, it is another young Norwegian forward that may play the biggest part in coach Martin Andresen’s title challenge plans. Markus Pedersen burst into the scene as an 18 year old in 2009, scoring 17 league goals in 40 games for Strømsgodset, before moving to Vitesse Arnheim the year after. He is now on loan to Vålerenga until the end of August, a club that should fit his energetic playing style and fierce temperament very well. There are questions around Vålerenga’s defence, but their squad easily stands up in comparisons to those of Molde and Rosenborg. The main question is whether Andresen is the right coach to unlock the potential inherent in the team, especially balancing all his offensive riches to find the most effective attacking combination.

 

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