Odd... For an English speaking person, there is always a childish giggle that a teams’ name could be so, well, odd. It isn’t rude, but for some reason there is just a little hint of a smile. Yet in 2020, there are plenty more reasons to smile in Skien. Odd are currently the in-form Eliteserien team, picking up 15 out of 18 points available in the last 6 games, losing only to Molde. Yet, no one seems to give them the credit they deserve. They are never talked about in the papers, never highlighted as a model club despite their rich traditions of bringing through young players, and consistently challenging for European places despite a modest budget. So how do they do it?
by Tom Dent
'The King is Dead, Long Live the King'
For 13 seasons, Dag Eilev Fagermo was Odd. No one dared argue with anything the sides' former manager did and he was the personality that seemed to match what the team produced on the pitch. Fagermo played 'in your face' 1-4-3-3, direct and to the point. Strong defence and carefully organised set pieces also made the difference. In 2014 Odd won their first medal (top three position) in over 60 years, and his reward was a match in the Europa League Qualifiers against Thomas Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund. Odd led 3-0 after 20 minutes in the first leg but ended up succumbing 11-5 on aggregate in the end. Over his 13 years as head coach, Fagermo won promotion back to the Eliteserien at the first attempt in his first season, followed by 7 top 5 finishes, 2 medals, 4 cup semi finals and a cup final.
All this despite a somewhat modest budget to contend with, where Fagermo begged, borrowed and stole players on loan and on free transfers. He made them into something more, and had an unrelenting faith in his academy, consistently promoting players to the first team and playing them through the good and the bad.
For those that read my piece on Vålerenga, you will already know that Dag Eilev Fagermo is a tried and tested 1-4-3-3 man. It is a clear and defined playing system, where the intention is to play forward as quickly as possible and use the advanced midfielders (indreløpers) high on the pitch to win the second ball and attack the box from crosses.
Why am I telling you all this? Because, to comprehend the present you need to appreciate the past and the immense job that current head coach Jan Frode Nornes and his team are currently doing.
Nornes was assistant to Fagermo for many years and was promoted up to the head coach role once Fagermo was confirmed for Vålerenga. He had a strong foundation and a strong core of young players which he continues to utilize. However, whilst he has not exactly ripped up the Fagermo manual, he has put his own tweak on things to make Odd a much more rounded team. This was despite an indifferent start to the season, losing to newly promoted Sandefjord at home and Strømsgodset away, the turnaround since has been stark.
Defensively, Odd continue to defend in a 1-4-5-1 which is difficult to penetrate centrally. They deny space to the midfielders and filter the balls wide where they can deal with crosses into the box. With the ball however, Odd still break out into a 1-4-3-3 system. As per the end of last season, Josh Kitolano, Vebjørn Hoff and Markus Kaasa make up the midfield three with Fillip Jørgensen a terrific young prospect who has had his breakthrough in the early part of the season. Elba Rashini is still terrorizing on the wing with his dribbling and directness. Goalkeeper Sondre Rossbach has developed into a solid player, recently playing his 200th game for Odd despite only being 24. Defenders Steffen Hagen and Espen Ruud provide the experience in an otherwise young team. There is therefore a really good balance of youthful exuberance, and experience both in terms of number of games and playing reference abroad, that makes up the squad.
Whilst a lot of the personnel remain the same (only Bakenga and Jakobsen are new this season), the most notable change in their offensive game is their greater patience in possession. They are still a 'gjennombruddshissig lag' (a team that look to get in behind the opponents back line), however, they only take this risk when there is a clear advantage to do it. This is proven in their 2020 statistics also:
Compare between 2019 & 2020 and you will see the differences so far are marginal, yet suggest there have been small tweaks in the playing style with Odd and the ball. The same number of forward passes with a higher success rate in 2020 than 2019 suggests the distances of these passes are shorter and therefore more likely to be accurate. The number of long passes have reduced in 2020 compared to 2019, yet when they have played long they have in fact been more accurate. In addition; total possession, number of passes and number of successful passes on average per game have also increased in 2020 compared to 2019.
What are the benefits of this? Well, Odd average 1.85 goals a game in 2020 (xG 1.83) compared to 1.5 goals a game (xG 1.3) last year. It has also had a positive affect on their goals against (1.33/xG 1.51 in 2019 compared to 1.13/xG 1.39 in 2020), so it seems that Odd 2020 have more balance and are using the ball to make the attempts they create more worthwhile. All this amidst losing their 28 goal striker Torgeir Bøven right at the start of the season and his replacement Tobias Lauritzen suffering a horrible broken ankle soon after. Not bad hey?
'Benefits in Balance'
Putting it bluntly, the midfield trio have become the key Odd players this season. Not just for what they do on the ball, but for what they can do without it. Kitolano, Hoff & Kaasa have become more dynamic, whilst their roaming and changing of positions have meant that it has become more difficult for opponents to be able to pick up the runs they should be following. This is because by
following “their man”, it creates space for someone to come and fill in the space and get the ball.
In the recent game vs Kristiansund (KBK), the central midfielders of KBK tried to man mark the two midfielders of Odd, with the attacking midfielder trying to take out the deep midfielder. However, to solve this, Odd merely made space in the mellomrom (space between the defending and midfield line) by bringing down one of the central midfielders, and with the two wing players filling the space that is left:
This multifaceted attacking model means that Odd do not have to just follow a plan A and be predictable, which was perhaps a problem for the side in 2019. They can continue to play forward thinking football, but they can also wait for the opponent to vacate the space they want to, and when they do, they play the ball there. However, if the opponent covers that space they will just play to the other option.
For example, in the above clip, the KBK full back has a challenge to decide whether he goes in to press the winger who has come inside, or keep his position and cover if Odd’s full back gets the ball. It is almost a check-mate situation, because whatever decision he makes, he knows that Odd will play the ball into the free option meaning that he cannot win. If he does nothing, it might mean that both options are not quite playable, meaning that Odd can just circulate the ball. The challenge with that however is that it takes an incredible amount of mental energy to stay focused and not jump to rash decisions.
In conclusion, Jan Frode Nornes has more then confidently stepped into the rather big shoes that were left after Dag Eilev Fagermo joined Vålerenga. He has been smart to keep the majority of the structure and personnel the same, but has added a further layer into the attacking play to create further options going forward. This has made Odd a multidimensional side, whilst keeping their strong defensive foundation. This has in turn led to an increase of goals scored so far this season, and a higher expected goals statistic. If they continue on the same trajectory, they will be a big challenge for Molde in the coming weeks in the race for the top three. Isn’t is odd that no-one speaks about Odd? They should do now!