With less than a week to go before it all kicks off in the Tippeliga, NFN’s somewhat comprehensive preview-coverage starts with the teams expected to spend most of the season fighting for survival..
Last season: 1st in the Adeccoliga
Overview: Were comfortably promoted last term and looked for all the world that a team that shouldn’t have been in that division in the first place. Of the three newly promoted sides Odd have by far the strongest team on paper, but of course that alone won’t get points on the board. Their manager Dag-Eilev Fagermo has the personal charisma of a dung beetle, but is an annoyingly competent boss who knows how to get results on a moderate budget.
Strengths: Have a good blend seasoned campaigners, solid pros and emerging talent. Midfield meastro Tommy Svindal Larsen is getting on a bit but is still a classy player, promising young players like Bentley, Magnus Lekven and Fredrik Gulsvik will be looking to establish themselves at this level while Simen Brenne, signed from Lillestrøm this winter, has a big point to prove after being cast aside at Åråsen. Their 4-3-3 system really plays to their squad’s strengths.
Weaknesses: Quite heavily reliant on aging players like Tommy Svindal Larsen and Morten Fevang, both of whom haven’t quite got the legs they used to. Up front there are still lingering doubts over just how effective the towering Hungarian Peter Kovacs can be in the Tippeliga, having previously struggled at this level. Should Kovacs fail to find the net consistently you have to wonder were the goals will come from, especially as Morten Fevang (15 league goals from midfield last term) has been played mostly in central defense so far in pre-season. While they scored more goals last term than any of the other clubs that gained promotion, they also conceded more, a bad habit they can’t afford to bring with them to the Tippeliga.
Conclusion: Of the three promoted sides Odd Grenland look like the best equipped outfit by quite some margin. However, injuries to key players and a possible dearth of goals could put them at risk. 44 goals conceded last season is also a worry, but overall you’d back Odd to stay up.
Last season: 4th in the Tippeliga
Overview: Made yours truly and the rest of the self-appointed Norwegian football intelligentsia look very stupid indeed last season by defying all reasonable and unreasonable expectations. When quizzed, even a monkey thought Bodø/Glimt would get relegated, but the plucky Northerners turned it all upside down and spent most of the season fighting for a medal. Being a firm believer in always making the same mistake twice, NFN again thinks Bodø/Glimt are in for a rough ride this season. In short: This one has second season syndrome written all over it.
Strengths: Messrs Runar Berg, Stig Johansen and Jan Derek Sørensen continue to defy their birth-certificates and turn it on every week, in spite of the fact that the trio have a combined age of 111 years. Their defense was amazingly consistent last term considering the modest reputations of it’s components. Goalkeeper Pavel Londak is a potential match-winner while Brazilian forward Thiago Martins is a menacing presence when fit. The team has perfected a direct counter-attacking tactic that makes them uncomfortable to play against for anyone.
Weaknesses: Trond Olsen’s departure to Rosenborg was inevitable, but it’s none the less a hammer-blow for the team. Out of the 37 goals Bodø/Glimt scored last season Olsen either scored or assisted 22 of them. Trond Fredrik Ludvigsen, fresh from a mind-bogglingly lucrative 3 year spell in Brann’s reserves, has been brought in to replace him, but there’s very little to suggest he’s up to the task. Losing Icelandic midfielder Birkir Bjarnason (who was on loan from Viking last season) is also a serious blow. Also, you have to ask yet again, can the old guys keep it going for another season? Add to all of this the fact that the club is in deep financial doo-doo (word is it’ll take massive effort just to keep them from going bankrupt within the next year), and you have a potentially very bleak season ahead for Bodø/Glimt.
Conclusion: Their best player is gone, their element of surprise is gone, their finances are beyond buggered and their most important remaining players are well past their sell-by dates. If Bodø/Glimt can stay out of the relegation-mire this season it’ll be an even bigger achievement than last season’s 4th place was, and that’s saying something.
Last season: 3rd in the Adeccoliga
Overview: According to most bookies Start are doomed. While they were quite comfortably promoted last term they also nearly went bankrupt and fell out with then manager Arne Standstø, leaving them to prepare for the trials and tribulations of the Tippeliga with a new man in charge and very little money to strengthen a ropey-looking squad. However, there are reasons to suspect that maybe, just maybe, Start could be this seasons’ Bodø/Glimt.
Strengths: Start fans’ greatest reasons for optimism are the players who could surprise. Youngsters like Aram Khalili and Christer Kleiven look like they could have very bright futures indeed, while winger Christian Bolanos and wingback Hunter Freeman, both new arrivals this winter, could form a dangerous right flank if they hit the ground running. Up front Ole Martin Årst, if he can stay fit (the mother of all if’s), could have a bit of a renaissance and remind everyone what a fine player he once was. Nearly rehabilitated dope fiend veteran midfielder Erik Mykland could be turned into something vaguely useful. And amidst all these ifs and maybes, there are solid players like Clarence Goodson and Geir Ludvig Fevang.
Weaknesses: If all these potentially good players fail to step up Start are pretty much doomed. New manager Knut Tørum’s CV isn’t wholly convincing, though he was at one stage regarded as one of the most promising young Norwegian tacticians. It’s uncertain to what degree the aging axis of Borgersen, Mykland and Årst will be able to contribute, while pinning your survival hopes on youngsters who have hardly ever played at this level before isn’t really a good idea. Pre-season performances have hardly been encouraging.
Conclusion: It doesn’t look terribly promising for Start and they must be considered among the hot favorites for the drop, however if they can some positive results early on and gain a bit of momentum there is reason to believe that they are capable of confounding expectations.
Last season: 2nd in the Adeccoliga
Overview: A poor start to last season forced Sandefjord into a change of manager, and from that point on they never looked back. Promoted with the fewest losses and the fewest goals conceded in the league is very impressive when you take their early season wobble into account.
Strengths: Their manager Patrick Walker was almost a complete unknown in this country when he took over last term, but he made Sandefjord damn near unbeatable without making major changes to the playing staff so he clearly is a force to be reckoned with. If they can take their remarkable defensive resiliency with them into the Tippeliga then they should rack up a fair amount of points.
Weaknesses: Looking at their squad there is an almost total absence of established Tippeliga performers. To their credit Sandefjord, operating on a very modest budget, haven’t gone out this winter and signed a bunch of players they can’t really afford in a desperate bid to stay up. The club’s fiscal prudence and faith in the guys that got them up is admirable, but it doesn’t change the fact that their squad looks short on, well, quality.
Conclusion: While there is danger in concluding that because someone doesn’t have the reputation they aren’t any good, it’s hard to look at Sandefjord’s squad and see a team that can make an impact in the Tippeliga. We do love an underdog here at NFN though, so hopefull we’ll be proven wrong.
Last season: 11th in the Tippeliga
Overview: Aside from David Nielsen’s attention-seeking ways, Strømsgodset were officially the dullest team in the universe in 2008. Now that the disagreeable Dane has gone away there is very little left to write about, apart from the fact that the club has decided to employ Øyvind Storflor, a winger who has been warming benches at Rosenborg since the beginning of time. On a serious note, Strømsgodset seem to be looking to youth this season rather than forking out money they don’t have for players, which is certainly something we applaud here at NFN.
Strengths: Have a group of seasoned Tippeliga players like Fredrik Winsnes, Christer George and the aforementioned Storflor. These are quality players who wouldn’t look at all out of place in a team in the other end of the standings. Their manager Ronny Deila is a very clever guy (and a sympathetic character to boot). Some of their younger players, forward Marcus Pedersen in particular, look like they could have bright careers in front of them.
Weaknesses: Simply put: A very thin squad an no money with which to reinforce it. Apart from fresh-faced youngster Marcus Pedersen there are no other obvious goal-scorers up front. The back four in particular looks vunerable; according the squad-list on their website Strømsgodset only have six defenders in their senior squad(!).
Conclusion: NFN has a lot of time for Ronny Deila, and the clubs’ decision to show faith in their youngsters is very admirable indeed. The question of wether or not they are good enough to stay up is another matter entirely.
Last season: 13th in the Tippeliga, had to play a two-legged play-off tie to stay in the league.
Overview: Kjetil Rekdal, another one of NFN’s favorite managers (though sympathetic he ain’t), took over Aalesund after Swedish tactician Søren Åkeby was somewhat harshly sacked last year, and the former Norway international and Hertha Berlin captain steered the unfortunately monikered “tango-shirts” to relative safety. He then told eight, EIGHT players that they were no good and could sod off. This has left him with a squad dominated by youth and a wage budget that presumably allows for the inclusion of a few bargain buys, should a good deal present itself.
Strengths: Leviathan forward Tor Hogne Aarøy is a difficult thing for any defense to deal with. The question of “how do you beat a 204cm man in the air?” has yet to be properly answered, so if the likes of Peter Kopteff and new-boy Demar Phillips can provide the man-mountain with proper service from the flanks there will be goals. Manager Rekdal is a shrewd tactician who has point to prove after a failed stint abroad.
Weaknesses: As of right now, Aalesund’s senior squad counts 16 outfield players and 3 goalskeepers, of which 7 are just 21 years old or younger. To say it looks thin would be a massive understatement. Rekdal’s plan of holding his nerve and waiting for the right player to come along for the right money could well backfire and leave him ill-equipped to face what will be a long and hard season.
Conclusion: It’s hard to conclude anything considering the tango-shirts are by all accounts not done shopping. The current squad looks an awfully lot like relegation-fodder so if the club doesn’t draw a clever signing or two out of the hat this could get tricky.