Newly-promoted Mjøndalen kick-off the new season of Norwegian football on Monday as they welcome Viking to Isachsen Stadion.
It will be a harsh reminder of reality for Bergen’s Brann, who Mjøndalen beat in the two-legged play-off last November to send Brann out of the top-tier of Norwegian football for the first time since 1986. This season, Brann must do battle with the likes of Nest-Sotra, Jerv, Åsane and Strømmen in the second-tier.
Most people are expecting a two-way battle for the title between last season’s champions Molde and a resurgent Rosenborg.
There’s a sense of optimism around Trondheim that Rosenborg can return to the glory days and claim their first title since 2010. Mid-way through last season, following embarrassing defeat to city neighbours Ranheim in the Norwegian Cup and Irish minnows Silgo Rovers in the UEFA Cup, the unpopular Per Joar Hansen was shown the door. New head coach Kåre Ingebrigtsen inspired the team to nine wins in the their last ten games, claiming an unlikely runners-up spot. The one question mark on Rosenborg’s prospects is the lack of squad strengthening. They lost USA international Mikkel “Mix” Diskerud to the MLS but gained Celtic’s Liam Henderson on loan for the first three months.
A stable squad full of quality from back to front places Molde as the bookies favourites to retain their title. Nigerian striker Leke James is a significant addition to their squad, joining from local rivals Aalesund. Manager Tor Ole Skullerud will need James to replace the goals of fellow countryman Daniel Chima Chukwu who left for China’s Shanghai Shenxin over the winter if Molde are to take gold again. The early signs are positive as James scored twice against his old club in a pre-season friendly last weekend.
This season it’s difficult to predict if any other teams will challenge. Strømsgodset lost both manager Ronny Delia and starlet Martin Ødegaard last season, and several other squad players over the winter. Despite this, new manager David Nielsen has enjoyed a good pre-season, including victories over CSKA Sofia, Sandefjord, Vålerenga and Lillestrøm. It will be tough for Odd to match their achievements of last season. A third-place finish and Cup final appearance were considered by some to be an overachievement.
I am fearful for my own Vålerenga after the departure of Icelandic striker Viðar Örn Kjartansson to China. His 31 goals in 33 games are going to be sorely missed, so fingers crossed new signing Deshorn Brown, a highly-rated striker from MLS side Colorado Rapids, can hit the ground running.
The opening weekend’s fixtures:
Mjøndalen v Viking
Rosenborg v Aalesund
Stabæk v Haugesund
Tromsø v Sarpsborg 08
Sandefjord v Bodø/Glimt
Vålerenga v Strømsgodset
Molde v Odd
Lillestrøm v Start