Posted by: Christian Wulff | March 20, 2013

Ridiculous, Odd and Brian Deane – Tippeligaen Round 1

All the highlights from the first round of Tippeligaen are at the bottom of the page, feel free to scroll past some of my random musings to get there.

Ridiculous times

Over the last decade Tippeligaen have seen its total income from television rights more than triple. At the same time, there have been five consecutive seasons of falling attendances.  In 2007, the year with the highest average gate in Tippeligaen, the games were played over three days with all but two of them played at 6pm on Sundays, the classic kick-off time for the two top divisions in Norway.  The increased influence of television paymasters seemed to have reached it nadir during the last two seasons when the eight weekly games were spread over four days and five different kick-off times.

Those irregular starting times are together with the proliferation of televised games (all games can be seen live on TV or online) and rising ticket prices the main reasons for falling attendances, which decreased to 7000 a game last season from the high of 10500 in 2007.

With the start of a new TV deal this year, the weekly fixtures are back to being played over three days but there is now even less consistency to when the games kick-off, being spread out over six different times. There are now only three games kicking off at the Sunday 6pm slot, the Norwegian FA more than happy to oversee the decimation of a tradition that was just as integral to the identity of Tippeligaen as the Saturday 3pm kick-off had been to football in Britain.

The difference to the Barclay’s Premier League is that Tippeligaen cannot point to high attendances in its defence. In fact, there isn’t a defence for this ridiculous set-up. Then again, with a pile load of money there doesn’t have to be one.

Ridiculous goals

One thing the ridiculous fixture list didn’t prevent during the first weekend of Tippeligaen action, was the amount of ridiculously good goals being scored. There were powerful low (Michael Barrantes second against Haugesund) and high (Mike Jensen’s winner for Rosenborg) long-range shots from open play, in addition to Torgeir Børven exquisitely  placed shot from 20 yards to give Vålerenga a consolation goal in Bergen.

Jesper Mathisen’s thunderbolt of a free-kick  flew in behind Steve Clark from over 30 yards to open Start’s scoring against Hønefoss, while Thomas Kind Bendiksen caressed his free-kick up and over the Sogndal wall for Tromsø’s equaliser. In Bergen, Fredrik Haugen’s sweetly placed half-volley was then eclipsed by a rasping full volley from his team-mate Kristoffer Larsen.

Even after all that, there will be some preferring 18-year-old Mohammed Elyounoussi’s two great finishes against Lillestrøm – the first a delightful turn followed by a heavy shot into the corner, the second an ice-cool lob over goalkeeper Kenneth Udjus after being put through on goal by Tom-Erik Breive. Breive, incidentally, had the greatest goal that never was this weekend, his dipping free-kick crashing into the underside of the bar before hitting Udjus and trickling out for a corner, inches past the post. A goal there would perhaps have been too ridiculous.

Home & Away

Aalesund continue their great pre-season form and easily dispatch Haugesund 3-0 at home. Apparently this means that Jan Jönsson has another medal contender on his hand, fresh from leading Rosenborg to 2nd and 3rd place over the last two seasons. I would hold those horses for a little while longer.

Away from the artificial pitch in Aalesund the team only won once last season, the worst record in the league (even the hapless Stabæk won two). Haugesund in turn won only three away games last year, all against opponents playing on their favoured natural grass pitches. Both are teams that relied on their familiar surroundings of a preferred surface and a vocal and passionate home supports for their mid-table achievements over the last few season. And while I’d like nothing better than for the eclectic Aalesund team, with their mixture of young Norwegian talent and their experienced foreign imports, intensely backed by a football-loving town, to succeed in Tippeligaen I’m just not fully convinced that they will. Yet.

Not too Odd after all

Speaking of predicting good seasons, I had been very tempted to do the opposite for Odd Grenland, even contemplating a ‘hey, check out my brave but probably really profoundly insightful prediction’, tipping them for relegation. In the end, there were just too many clear relegation candidates to realistically think that Odd might go down. And even after losing their first game of the season against Rosenborg that would have looked a very foolhardy prediction now. They were a Frode Johnsen missed penalty away from taking the lead and maybe the win against Rosenborg. And while they might struggle to score goals, especially after losing maybe Norway’s most talented centre-forward, Torgeir Børven, to Vålerenga mid-way through last season they still have two of the biggest defensive talents in the country in centre-half Fredrik Semb Berge and goalkeeper André Hansen. Together with the vast combined experience of Johnsen and Morten Fevang, in addition to Tippeligaen stalwarts such as Jone Samulsson, Odd have the organisation and know-how to easily survive this season. That’s me told.

Greatly different expectations

Two seasons ago Molde and Sarpsborg 08 ended up top and bottom of Tippeligaen. The latter didn’t win a single away game that year, but when they were 2-0 up in the second half at Lillestrøm Brian Deane must have thought that he would be gaining an accolade far more impressive than being the Premier League’s first ever goal-scorer; the first coach to lead Sarpsborg to a Tippeligaen away win.

Alas, two quick Lillestrøm goals meant they had to hang on for a point in the end, but they have already shown enough quality to indicate that they are unlikely to be the kind of whipping boys they were two years ago. Mind you, that year they won their first four home games, before they took only 8 points from the last 22 games (including a win on the final day). At least with the draw against Lillestrøm they are only two points away from equalling their away tally from that year.

The first of those early home wins for Sarpsborg two years ago was against Molde. The latter seems to have made a habit of starting the season slowly under Solskjær’s reign. In 2011 they won only two of their first six games, while they lost their first three away games last season. So they won’t be too worried about their opening day loss in Stavanger, but their road to a third straight league championship will undoubtedly be tougher this year. Both their title rivals from last season in Rosenborg and Strømsgodset have improved their teams, while Brann, Tromsø and Viking together constitutes a much higher range of quality in the top-half.  And then there is Aalesund. Maybe.

Round 1 results and highlights from altomfotball.no

Viking – Molde 2-1

Aalesund – Haugesund 3-0

Brann – Vålerenga 3-1

Lillestrøm – Sarpsborg 2-2

Strømsgodset – Sandnes Ulf 2-0

Start – Hønefoss 3-2

Sogndal – Tromsø 2-2

Odd – Rosenborg 0-1

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