The Eliteserien, the highest-level soccer division in Norway, was initially scheduled to kick off in early April. However, national Norwegian Covid-19 measures have restricted the ability of clubs to prepare for the new season properly, hence why a delayed start to proceedings was recently announced. All being well, the campaign should now commence in the first week of May. The outright season odds have been released though, so here’s our guide to the main contenders for this year’s gold medal.
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Eliteserien 2021 preview: The favourites
The 2020 campaign was absolutely sensational for defending champions Bodo/Glimt. They picked up a record-breaking 81 points and lost just one match out of 30, scoring a gargantuan 103 goals and also possessing the best defensive record in the division. They finished 19 points above second-placed Molde. The chasing pack need them to drop back this season and a natural regression is likely, the only question is by how much? Two obvious problems stand out - replacing Philip Zinckernagel and Jens Petter Hauge, who scored 33 goals and made 34 assists combined. There are also clubs sniffing around for golden boot winner Kasper Junker, who amassed 27 goals.
Bodo/Glimt are second favourites to win the league, at 4.600. They had the highest Expected Goals (xG) in the league last season (78.57) and the best xG against (34.57). The latter correlated remarkably close to the actual number of goals they conceded (32) but as with most champions of any division they vastly outscored their xG tally by nearly 25. Whether they can sustain that again remains to be seen.
One area we should expect to see them continue to dominate is ball possession. They were the standout team in that department last season, with a huge 61.4% of the ball, with the second-best Molde on 55.9%. Incredibly, Bodo/Glimt won the league with the lowest average squad age (24.1 years), once again proving the point that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough!
However, it’s 2019 champions Molde who are 2.300 favourites to win the Eliteserien this season. They earned a respectable 62 points in 2020, and will expect to have a huge chance of regaining their crown this year. Erling Moe’s men have since reached the last 16 of the Europa League which is the furthest a Norwegian team has gone in any European competition this century. Molde have won 25 of their last 30 home matches in the Eliteserien and the Aker Stadion is an obvious fortress.
What let them down in 2020 was a freak mid-season slump, which saw them lose seven out of 10 games. If they can avoid a repeat of that, then they will surely challenge for the title. Losing goal machine Leke James was a blow but they will hope that exciting young Ivorian talent David Diatro Fofana can make a big impact. In Magnus Wolff Eikrem they have the best technical playmaker player in the league, and the squad is loaded with depth.
The problem area Molde must fix is defensively; their 36 goals conceded might seem relatively low but their actual xG against was as high as 44.64, so perhaps they got lucky in several instances. However, they are aided by having arguably the best goalkeeper in the league, Andreas Linde. He has already demonstrated his qualities, being a huge reason why they managed to prevail in the Europa League against Hoffenheim over two legs.
Molde had a number of defensive injuries last season, which probably explains why their defence was so vulnerable, but now they are back to full strength again perhaps their extra solidity will return. Finally, they have the brilliant centre half Stian Gregersen, who has been linked with a big move away from the club in the last 12 months. It is easy to see, and perhaps justifiable, why they are the favourites to win the league.
No team in Eliteserien history can get close to Rosenborg’s tally of 26 league titles. They won four consecutive championships between 2015 and 2018 but have since failed to live up to their lofty expectations. Managerial issues plagued them for 18 months, with Eirik Horneland ultimately failing whilst at the helm. Experienced journeyman Age Hareide is now tasked with trying to turn around the fortunes of this giant, and in wide areas RBK have strengthened, with the likes of Adam Arnasson, Jonathan Augustinsson, and Stefano Vecchia.
There are still question marks over their strike force, however, and attack is obviously where they need to improve. They only scored 50 goals last season, matching their xG total of 49.30 - good enough for just ninth-best in the league! They need to improve both of these tallies if they are to challenge for the title, so bigger and better chances are required, along with moments of individual quality producing more unexpected goals. They will once again be reliant on target man Dino Islamovic to lead the line, but is he elite enough for what they need?
Defence is less of a concern for Rosenborg; they had one of the best records at the back in 2020. However, the loss of veteran centre back Tore Reginiussen could impact them negatively. As well as being one of the top defenders in the league, he was also the captain and a massive presence in the dressing room. It seems they are still searching for his replacement and it could take time for a new backline to settle in. They only ranked seventh-best for ball possession (52.1%), so will need to increase this and dominate more games territorially. They are third favourites to win the league at 4.600, but this price feels shorter than it should be, perhaps because of their significant reputation.
Eliteserien 2021 betting: The best of the rest
Valerenga are next in the pre-season outright market at 6.900.The sheer fact that they are this price shows the progress that the Oslo side have made in one season under head coach Dag Eilev Fagermo. VIF finished third last year, losing only five games and coming away with the draw in 10. However, they will need more victories if they are to be in title contention this year.
Valerenga have an extremely exciting squad containing some fine young players, such as Osama Sahraoui, Christian Borchgrevink, and young goalkeeper Kristoffer Klaesson. Mixed in with proven talent, such as Aron Donnum, Amor Layouni, and striker Vidar Kjartansson and it looks a mighty fine combination.
Interestingly, Valerenga had the third-best xG in the league last season (60.98) but only managed to score 51 times. If they can convert those chances better, then they will automatically become a greater threat just by sheer default. They did vastly outperform their xG against by 14 goals, which may lead some to think that they got lucky defensively a few times.
However, those who know manager Dag Eilev Fagermo will realise that his sides tend to put bodies on the line and find ways to avoid goals. It is one of his hallmarks, and I would always expect VIF to be up there with some of the best defensive statistics whilst he is in charge. VIF haven’t won the league since 2005 but this looks like their best chance in a long time to pick up the gold medal.
Last year’s big underachievers Brann are always ambitious and have expectant fans. The Bergen-based club had the fifth-highest xG in the 2020 Eliteserien (50.12) but only managed to score 40 times. Striker Daouda Bamba is one of those who can carry some of the blame, converting his own personal xG of 16.89 into just 10 goals. The ex-Kristiansund frontman simply wasn’t clinical enough, but he has the quality to rebound this year and you could say he is ‘due’ an abundance of goals.
I feel like Brann need at least one season to get back on track though, before we can consider them in any sort of title race discussion. From a defensive point of view, they ranked fifth-worst for xG against (53.5) and this is probably more of a priority area than fixing the offence.Their outright odds of 41.000 reflect those deficiencies but if things do fall into place, they could surprise a few people.
It's very hard to see anyone outside of the teams mentioned actually winning the Eliteserien. However, let’s not forget that Bodo/Glimt finished second in 2019 after being tipped for relegation, and even won the title last year with odds around the 26.000 mark. One team who could perhaps outperform their odds is newly promoted Lillestrom. Their whole fanbase was rocked by a shock relegation in 2019 but they have bounced back quickly and have perhaps learned their lessons. LSK won the Norwegian Cup as recently as 2017 and are traditionally one of the bigger sides in the country.
Lillestrom have been more active than anyone in the transfer market and have signed some proven quality players, such as Pal Andre Helland and Gjermund Asen. They look to have one of the tallest and most physical squads in the league and are likely to be one of those sides that nobody really fancies playing against. I would expect LSK to be deadly from set pieces and bully certain sides who aren’t up for the fight. Challenging for a medal spot is surely beyond them, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if they achieve a top-half finish and make a mockery of their huge pre-season odds of 91.000.