It seems only yesterday when Molde lifted the Norwegian Cup to end the 2013 domestic season here in Norway, but this Friday the 2014 season swings into action as my boys Vålerenga travel to Molde. The bookies list three teams as clear favourites to contest the title:
There's one thing standing between Rosenborg and the title this season. Expectation. The pressure on the Trondheim club is massive after they fell at the final hurdle in both the league and cup last season.
The signing of former Premier League stalwart Morten Gamst Pedersen after his unsuccessful spell in Turkey is a gamble. Is he coming back to Norway just to see out his career or does he still have what it takes? My guess is the latter and he'll make a big impact at the Lerkendal. Expect Rosenborg to be there or thereabouts.
The reigning champions are expected to challenge again and there's no reason to expect they'll “do a Molde”. Young boss Ronny Deila is tipped for great things, and for good reason. He's built a well drilled, tough side that are hard to beat.
Their pre-season hasn't been ideal though, a 6-1 hammering by Vålerenga will have concerned many. And with newly-promoted Start, Ålesund, and Viking in their first three matches, Godset could struggle to build some early season momentum.
The rise and fall of Molde? Time will tell. After a disastrous start to the 2013 campaign, they recovered to finish a respectable 6th and win the Norwegian Cup. But now Solskjær has left, what does the new era look like?
The club got their man – former Norway U21 boss Tor Ole Skullerud. They insist he's the man to continue Solskjær's work despite his lack of club experience. The signing of Mohamed Elyounoussi, in Molde's words one of the country's “most talented players”, shows the club retains lofty ambitions.
Elsewhere, I feel Haugesund will be unable to repeat last season's third place. They scored just 41 goals, the same amount as Tromsø who were relegated. Europe will be a distraction, and I fully expect them to struggle. Meanwhile, Odd are tipped by many to be this season's Haugesund. We'll see.
If they start the season well then promoted sides Start and Bodø/Glimt could enjoy good years, but I expect Brian Deane's Sarpsborg to really struggle.
As for my dear Vålerenga, that's anyones guess. A positive pre-season has given everyone hope, but with two tough away matches to start the season (Molde and Haugesund), that hope could quickly vanish. The big question is where will the goals come from? There'll be a lot of pressure on new Icelandic striker Viðar Örn Kjartansson. An interesting side point, VIF coach Kjetil Rekdal leads the “sack race” betting, i.e. the first boss to be sacked.
Here are the predictions of some of my Twitter buddies, all of whom know a thing or two about Norwegian football.
@ooberdave Strømsgodset. New impulses in coaching staff, exceptionally well drilled, terrific energy. Still less pressure on them than RBK.
— Christian Wulff (@aHellofaBeating) March 25, 2014
@ooberdave RBK – Similar team that came close last year with the addition of a deadly set piece taker in Gamst, plus a great midfield trio.
— Rhodri Lewis (@rhodrijava) March 25, 2014
@ooberdave RBK. Spurred on by coming so close last season and their strong squad has been boosted by the additions of Pedersen and Riski.
— The Norse Network (@thenorsenetwork) March 26, 2014
@ooberdave Rosenborg. One of the few TL teams to retain their core squad, and they have a multitude of attacking options.
— James Morgan (@FRfotballJamesM) March 26, 2014
At the time of writing (26 March), the odds are as follows:
- Rosenborg 2.60
- Strømsgodset 3.25
- Molde 5.00
- Brann 10.00
- Viking 15.00
- Haugesund 22.00
- Ålesund 25.00
- Vålerenga 30.00
- Lillestrøm 50.00
- Start 60.00
- Odd 75.00
- Bodø/Glimt 100.00
- Sandnes 700.00
- Stabæk 1000.00
- Sogndal 1000.00
- Sarpsborg 1000.00
What do you think? Add your comments below.