After their first-ever cham­pi­onship in 2020, Norwegian side Bodø/​Glimt were able to reinvent themselves and go for another cham­pi­onship run in 2021. Let’s see how.

Bodø/Glimt have taken Norway by storm in the last two seasons by winning consecutive Eliteserien league titles. If 2020 was a complete annihilation of the field, defending their crown was arguably more impressive due to several factors against them. The team from the northernmost reaches of Norway lost numerous key players last winter with guys such as Kasper Junker, Philip Zinckernagel and Jens Petter Hauge all furthering their careers abroad.

Then, throughout this year they had to deal with playing European football, a big target on their back, and constant rumors about the departure of other key players, in addition to manager Kjetil Knutsen. Many people expected Bodø/Glimt’s 2020 title to be a complete ‘one off’ and unrepeatable but they have shown they are here to stay and build on their success. They have qualified for the first knockout round of the Europa Conference League and now face Scottish outfit Celtic over two legs.

Tactical Setup

Bodø/Glimt’s formation hasn’t changed under Kjetil Knutsen. He prefers a 4-3-3 system with versatile wide players who can cut inside. One of the key elements to this team is the amount of running the players do. Glimt ranked #1 in the Eliteserien last season for progressive runs with 1081. The next nearest team to them in this category only had 636. Glimt have a reputation of being the fittest team in Norway and they need to be due to their playing style. Knutsen has gradually created a possession-orientated team in the last 2 or 3 years and they ranked first with ball possession (60.2%) and with passes to the final third of the field. Glimt had the least number of long passes and ranked 2nd best in the 2021 Eliteserien with ball losses.

After winning successive Eliteserien titles, interest in the manager became high with several clubs including Premier League outfit Norwich City strongly linked with his services. Eliteserien rivals Rosenborg reportedly offered him a contract on numerous occasions but surprisingly Kjetil Knutsen has elected to stay with Bodø/Glimt, signing a recent deal until 2024. He is nevertheless highly sought after and impressed clubs not just with his tactics and style, but by the whole culture he has created in the north of Norway.

Typical Bodø/Glimt 4-3-3 system in the 2021 season

Key Departures and New Arrivals

In similar fashion, to last winter Bodø/Glimt have lost several key players. Two massive defensive stars have departed on free transfers - Fredrik André Bjørkan to Hertha Berlin and Marius Lode to Schalke. Bjørkan was an absolute monster and ranked #1 in several statistical categories for 2021 lateral defenders. Those included offensive duels, dribbles, progressive runs and passes. At least they managed to pocket nearly £10m from other transfers with top scorer Erik Botheim sold to Russian club Krasnodar and highly influential midfielder Patrick Berg moving to Lens in France.

Glimt can be confident they will be able to replace Botheim without too much concern. They managed to cope just fine after losing 27 goal man Kasper Junker 12 months ago. It looks like they will now trust a striker who was already at the club - Victor Boniface. The big question mark surrounding Boniface is fitness and injuries after twice having cruciate knee ligament issues. Runar Espejord has signed from Dutch side Heerenveen. Espejord is a quality option when fit but is a dangerous signing due to his history of missing too many games.

We don’t change and we play the Bodø/Glimt way in every match. Kjetil Knutsen - Bodø/Glimt manager

Finding a replacement for left-back Fredrik André Bjørkan was always going to be an extremely difficult task because he was so uniquely good. Glimt have signed Brice Wembangomo from Sandefjord. He is mostly a right back, but it seems like the plan is to convert him on the other side. How he adapts to his new role will be key. Wembangomo did at least rank very highly compared to other lateral defenders in the 2021 Eliteserien, with only Bjørkan beating him in some categories such as offensive duels, dribbles, and progressive runs – all of which are qualities that Bodø/Glimt desire.

Taking over Patrick Berg’s midfield spot looks to Elias Hagen - a player from already within the club. Hagen has made occasional appearances in the last couple of seasons and has proven himself to be adept, although filling Berg’s boots will be a tall order. Morten Konradsen is another option for them in the middle of the park and new signing from Sarpsborg Gaute Vetti should compete strongly for minutes. Bodo Glimt haven’t yet signed a center-back replacement for Marius Lode and might again look from within their own squad. Marius Hoibraten, Sigurd Kvile and returning loanee Isak Amundsen could all compete for this spot.

New signing Brice Wembangomo key ball progression & dribbling stats - Eliteserien 2021 (from Wyscout Player Reports)

Eye-catching European Performances

As winners of the 2020 Eliteserien Bodø/Glimt entered UEFA Champions League qualification in the summer of last year. They were disappointed to get knocked out by Polish outfit Legia Warsaw at the first hurdle but did get through three rounds of Conference League qualification to make the group stages. They were beaten to top spot by Roma but claimed a 2-2 draw in Rome and sensationally beat Jose Mourinho’s side 6-1 in Norway. It was one of the most eye-catching results in any European match this season and probably the first real time that other clubs started to really take an interest in manager Kjetil Knutsen.

It is noticeable how true to their own style Glimt have retained in Europe. The manager recently said, “we don’t change, and we play the Bodø/Glimt way in every match”. They managed to accumulate some impressive stats during the group stage, most notably outscoring their xG and their possession and pass accuracy. The standout results were of course the 6-1 demolition of Roma but equally impressive was the 2-2 draw at Olimpico Stadium, where they more than matched their illustrious opponents.

Bodø/Glimt Europa Conference League - group statistics (from Wyscout Team Reports)
Bodø/Glimt 6-1 Roma – key stats and statistical charts (from Wyscout Match Reports)

Europa Conference League Ambitions

In a market that contains the likes of Roma, Leicester, Marseille Rennes and PSV, Bodø/Glimt are not expected to get much further in the competition. Indeed, the next hurdle facing Celtic will be very challenging. Manager Kjetil Knutsen recently said he is “not sure if they will be ready” in time for the match at Celtic Park on February 17th.

The problem is that the Norwegian season runs from April to December, so it comes at an awkward time. Celtic on the other hand are bang in the middle of their domestic campaign so will be up to full speed and sharpness. Bodø/Glimt have set up 3 or 4 friendly matches in preparation which they hope will aid their cause. In combination with the recent player turnover, it would be a fine accomplishment if they were to progress to the next round. No team enjoys traveling to the far north of Norway where conditions are potentially brutal and cold this time of year. Glimt are going to have to rebuild again but certainly can’t be underestimated.

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