Molde v Vålerenga
The 2019 Eliteserien winners Molde have been overshadowed by Bodø/Glimt in the last couple of years. They have been runners up in successive seasons and will be disappointed that they let slip of a strong opportunity in 2021 to retake the gold medal. This is still a very strong Molde team though who retain their manager, Erling Moe. He has historically preferred a 4-2-3-1 system but so far in the build up to this campaign it looks like Molde will be switching to three at the back in either a 3-1-4-2 or 3-4-3 type of tactic. The big question mark is how they will replace the top scorer in last year’s Eliteserien, Ohi Omoijuanfo, who moved to Red Star Belgrade. It looks like they trust exciting Ivorian talent David Datro Fofana who should step up as a regular starter this year. Once described as the ‘Mbappe of Ivory Coast’ his first season at Molde yielded mixed results but he has looked sharp in pre-season.
This is a very tough opening day fixture for a Vålerenga side who finished a disappointing 7th last season. There were several reasons which contributed towards that – such as losing several key players in the summer transfer window. But they only won four away matches all season and kept just 6 clean sheets in 30 games. Key right back Christian Borchrevink could be ruled out for the whole season with a knee injury and midfield talent Odin Thiago Holm is out until at least June with the same injury. In Dag Eilev Fagermo Vålerenga have an experienced manager who usually gets the best out of his players. The signing of midfielder Petter Strand looks like a good deal and VIF will always be a threat with striker Vidar Kjatansson upfront. However, they look light compared to some other title contenders even despite Aron Dønnum making a return to the club late in the transfer window.
Molde scored a league high 70 goals last season and 46 of those were netted in home games. They have lost Omoijuanfo but this team still packs a massive offensive punch. In their two recent Norwegian Cup games they beat Odd 3-2 and Sarpsborg 4-2. I would expect Molde to be too strong here and it’s highly likely over 2.5 goals will be scored. At a slightly better price both teams to score @1.50 could be a safer pick covering the 1-1 draw. Vålerenga rarely keep a clean sheet but carry a capable attack force of their own. Both teams have scored in 9 of the last 10 head to head meetings and this tends to be a spicy fixture between two of the bigger clubs in the country. Molde winning 2-1 or 3-1 looks the most likely result.
Sarpsborg v Viking
There is a new era at Sarpsborg as Stefan Billborn takes charge of his first Eliteserien match for the club. Despite a strong end to last season Sarpsborg decided to release Lars Bohinen and hired the ex Hammarby boss. From a tactical perspective the big change for the team is switching from what was effectively a 3-4-3 system to a 4-2-3-1. Billborn has promised an ‘exciting and attacking team’ for the fans to enjoy. He averaged an impressive 1.88 points per game whilst at Hammarby over a three and a half year stretch. He won the Swedish Cup with the Stockholm outfit. Billborn comes with a good track record and a history of goals. During the 2019 season, in which he only just missed out on the league title by one point, his Hammarby team scored a whopping 75 times and their matches averaged 3.8 goals per game.
Travelling here is a Viking side who mightily impressed last season. Nobody really expected such a great campaign from the Stavanger outfit, but they finished in a comfortable 3rd place. They are one of three teams in the Eliteserien who currently have joint-managers. Bjarte Lunde Aarsheim and Morten Jensen have done a great job together so far. The appeal of joint managers in most mainstream leagues is quite alien, but it seems to work well across Scandinavia where several teams have had success using this model. Under these managers Viking are a very attacking and entertaining side. No team in the Eliteserien had more over 2.5 matches last season (22 out of 30) and the overall goals average per game (3.6) was the most of any team. Viking have lost key midfielder Joe Bell but replacing him with the impressive young talent Markus Solbakken from Stabaek looks like a good piece of business.
I am expecting plenty of goals when these two teams meet. Both sides have been in recent Norwegian Cup action with Sarpsborg winning 5-0 vs Åsane and then losing 2-4 to Molde. Under their new manager I am expecting a lot of wild, crazy games and Viking are the perfect team for that type of match as well. The visitors warmed up for this match with a recent 5-0 cup win of their own vs 2nd division KFUM Oslo. I am expecting both teams to score but odds of 1.75 on over 2.5 look very generous and is probably the best bet of the entire round. Unless a glutton of chances are missed it is very hard to see how this match does not contain at least three goals.
Odd v Tromsø
It was a very poor season for Odd in 2021 as they finished a disappointing 13th place, only just outside of the relegation zone. It cost Jan Frode Nornes his job and Odd have appointed Pal Arne Johansen as their new boss. The former Norway U21 manager who likes to be known as ‘Paco’ has promised a clear identity and an attacking brand of football at the club with an aim to make Odd more exciting and entertaining to watch. In pre-season they have looked fairly impressive and were unlucky not to knock Molde out of the Norwegian Cup. The only significant player departure from the club this winter was midfielder Markus Kaasa. New left back Josef Baccay looks like an exciting signing, whilst striker Tobias Lauritsen is tipped to have a strong season.
Tromsø finished a comfortable 14th place last season. They flirted with relegation for a while but had a strong last third to the season which saw them end on 35 points. The most northerly professional football club in the world have been in the shadow of their arch rivals Bodø/Glimt in recent seasons and they are hoping to grow into a solid established Eliteserien side again. The team nicknamed Gutan had a strong away record last season which was actually the 6th best in the league. They play in a typical 3-1-4-2 formation which sometimes reverts to a flat back five. The strength of this team is in defence, but they suffered a major blow in the winter by losing key wingback Tomas Totland to Swedish side Häcken. A lot rests on the shoulders of promising attacker August Mikkelsen who had a breakout campaign last year.
I am concerned that Tromsø might suffer a case of ‘second season syndrome’. They did well upon their promotion last year, but this could be a more challenging campaign now that teams know how they play. A lack of goals could be a potential issue, although to be fair Gaute Helstrup’s men should be fairly solid at the back. There is a very good feeling around Odd right now and a general optimism they can have a strong year. They won this fixture 3-0 last season and I think they can get off to a winning start this campaign. Odd can be backed at a decent price of 2.10 and I think they get the job done by collecting all 3 points.
Haugesund v Sandefjord
It was generally a very comfortable campaign for Haugesund last season, although they did finish quite poorly to end in 11th place on 35 points. I think there are some definite concerns for this team, who are from the West Coast of Norway. Their squad is incredibly thin, and they could be just a few key injuries away from getting involved in a relegation battle. Haugesund scored 46 goals last season, but they have lost key winger Kristoffer Velde who was a massive part of their attack. Playmaker Niklas Sandberg has also departed, and those two players leave a huge hole to be filled. Together, they combined for 10 goals and 18 assists. Replacing them are questionable unknown players who are unproven at this level.
This is the first match of the season but already it could be a crucial match between two teams likely to fight relegation. Sandefjord were the hot tip to finish bottom of the table last season but massively overachieved to end up as high as 10th. Whether they can repeat that is quite questionable because it is a squad that on paper lacks quality. Just like Haugesund, they have lost some key players this winter with winger Vidar Ari Jonsson the most notable departure. Attacking midfielder Kristoffer Hansen is another who has left and together those two scored 18 goals and weighed in with 13 assists for Sandefjord in 2021. When you consider the fact that this team only scored 38 total goals, they could hugely lack firepower this year. At the time of writing, their only new addition in attack is Youssef Chaib from 2nd tier Strommen.
I suspect this will be a very poor game of football between two sides who could really struggle this year. The match will be played on a grass pitch at Haugesund, which is one of the worst surfaces in the Eliteserien. The weather forecast is not too great for this game either and the wind often wreaks havoc at this venue. It is difficult to see many goals being scored with set pieces being the most likely avenue for either team to find the back of the net. Under 2.5 goals can be backed at a big price of 1.95. Anything is of course possible on the opening day of the season, but I very much lean towards a tight low scoring contest with a 0-0 draw definitely being a possibility.
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