After a successful debut, Tom Dent returns this week with a new piece of tactical analysis. Having picked apart Aalesund's defensive issues last time out, he now turns his attention to Valerenga.
Dag Eilev Fagermo took over the role from Ronny Deila at the start of 2020 with many expecting Valerenga under Fagermo to mimic the boss' previous Odd team tactically. However, despite some pleasing progress already early in the season, the team have also encountered a few issues that will need to be remedied by the new manager if they are able to meet expectations this year.
by Tom Dent
It is fair to say that in Ronny Deila’s final year at Vålerenga in 2019 was not a pleasant experience for fans of the Oslo side. Vålerenga won just 1 of their last 15 games in the league, hemorrhaging goals at an alarming rate and with fans' discontent for all to see the writing was on the wall for Deila. His expansive and supposed attacking brand of football had been found out. Deila has always been known to play football that was pleasing on the eye, and his 1-4-2-3-1 was the classic modern day system; attacking full backs, wingers that liked to drift inside to create overloads, pressing high where possible and quick football in and around the box.
When Dag Eilev Fagermo took over Vålerenga in January 2020, it was believed that he was finally the man to take the side to the levels that their infrastructure demands. With the club settled into their new stadium, completed in 2018, and their academy the first five star academy in the country, it was believed that Fagermo could finally deliver on an clear identity that has been missing at Vålerenga. So far after six games, a record of nine points (2-2-1) leaves them comfortably mid table. In this piece I will aim to look at how Vålerenga and Fagermo have set up in possession, and how their new playing style has both got the best of the players but also caused certain challenges.
Dag Eilev Fagermo is known throughout Norway as playing a very traditional 1-4-3-3, with wide indreløpers (box to box midfielders) and overlapping full backs. It has been compared to the Rosenborg 1-4-3-3 of the late 90's, but Fagermo plays with more caution and less fluidity in the positioning and rotating of players in possession. This mindset can be clearly seen both in his Odd team of 2019, and this current Vålerenga team in the initial phase;
VIF 2019: Actual goals 39 // xG 45.94 // Average 1.53
Odd 2019: Actual goals 45 // xG 38.94 // Average 1.30
VIF 2020: Actual goals 9 // xG 11 // Average 1.83
From the data above, it shows that’s Ronny Deila’s Vålerenga in 2019 should have had more goals than they ended up scoring whilst Fagermo’s Odd scored more goals then they should have. Coincidentally, Fagermo’s Vålerenga seem to be following a similar trend which fans will hope is not a consistent issue this season. Whilst an xG of close to 2 goals a game in the initial phases of the season is positive, if you break down the goals scored so far, it shows a slightly different picture:
55% of Vålerenga's goals so far have come from set pieces which can be a dangerous method to rely on goals from if the defence of the team cannot be completely trusted (Vålerenga have conceded 10 goals in 6 games so far). Whilst this isn’t a criticism of how they score goals, you would hope to see more of an even spread of where the goals have come from so far. Nevertheless, through watching the games it is clear that the Fagermo revolution isn’t totally in full swing yet when it comes to the team's tactics in possession of the ball.
Right side of the law
Most of Vålerenga’s attacking opportunities this season have come down their right hand side, with goals against Stabæk and Aalesund good evidence of this. For one goal, 'Winger' Aron Dønnum received the ball on his left foot on the right hand side looking to come inside the pitch. Full-Back Christian Borchgrevink was overlapping behind him with Magnus Lekven or Matthias Vilhjalmsson running into the space between the oppositions full back and central defender. It is clear that Dønnum has the 'X-Factor' that can help Vålerenga create good attacking opportunities whilst sending fear into opposition defences every time he receives the ball.
The fact that Dønnum is left footed playing on the right means that the defending team have multiple threats to contend with at the same time, with the possibility that Vålerenga could play both inside and outside the pitch. The opposition full back has to control the midfielder running behind him as well as the full back running outside of him, whilst also keeping an eye on Dønnum who is looking to come inside with the intention of shooting. The defending winger and ball side midfielder have to look to control the late runs and be switched on to the threat to help the full back, as even a one second delay could prove costly.
On the contrary, It is clear so far that the left hand side has yet to show the same level of threat. Bard Finne and Osame Sahraoui have shared duties whilst Samuel Adekugbe and Herolind Shala have both received a one match ban at different points. This fluidity and rhythm should eventually come good and allow Vålerenga to have the same potency down their left flank, as their right one.
Fagermo's teams are known as being 'Gjennombruddshissig' which is a delightful Norwegian term basically meaning that they like to look forwards whenever possible, rather than sometimes prioritizing possession of the ball. You will often hear Fagermo shouting the phrase “bakrom” (back space) from the sideline, so it is clear that is where he is wanting the ball to be played. However, these movements are missing and have yet showed no clear relations between players as to who should be making these movements.
Vålerenga seem to be in an in-between phase, where they have positioning suited to former manager Ronny Deila’s style of play, but with the intentions of a Fagermo team to play in behind. This is causing a lot of turnover in possession. The midfielders and striker show to be detached from the build up within the back four + defensive midfielder. The distances become too big, with their movements too early, too late, or not what the situation requires, meaning they end up in a flat horizontal line. This makes it easy for the defending team to have control of the spaces around them and be ready for any threats.
This leads to the biggest challenge facing Vålerenga so far in their attacking play. The relations of the front part of the team are yet to fully blossom and this lack of understanding between the attacking unit is making it difficult to break down 'low block' teams.
Earlier, I described how the right side of Vålerenga had been the main threat for them so far, but the reality is they are very obvious in what they are trying to do. They have vacated the center of the pitch, with the 'indreløpers' having drifted to the sides to try and make combinations around the opposition full back to cross in the box. In addition to this using Matthias Vilhjalmsson as a striker has led to the Icelandic forward looking lost and being late in making movements into space to meet the ball. In turn this means that at times the front 5 have been very flat
In my opinion, Vålerenga's new signing Benjamin Stokke could be the key to solving this issue, as I do not believe Matthias Vilhjalmsson is best suited as a striker currently.
As a striker, Vilhjalmsson has to be the one that creates space for others, something I do not believe he has yet to fully achieve. Benjamin Stokke should be able to occupy the defenders in a more challenging way, whilst allowing Vilhjalmsson to play as a midfielder and come into the space later. The goal against Aalesund proves the potential in this, with Vilhjalmsson running through the back 5 and squaring the ball for Stokke to score.
To conclude, the way Vålerenga will look to play is clear to see, but isn’t yet as clear in whether they can succeed with this style. The players look like they need to buy into the system more, or come up with better solutions to break down a low block.
The potential for Vålerenga to finish in the top 5 is there, but they need to do more work to balance the team and not rely on their right side so much. Creating better chances to score from open play and not relying as heavily on set pieces will also be beneficial to their progress.
People either love Dag Eilev Fagermo, or hate him. At the moment, his style of football is in danger of being too simplistic and not moving with the times. The only way to prove otherwise is to win games and prove the doubters wrong. More work is certainly needed if this team is going to score the goals to shoot up the table. Benjamin Stokke could hold the key.