After a harrowing relegation in 2019, the experienced manager led The Canaries’ back to Eliteserien and is now trying to take them back to Norwegian football’s elite.

Lillestrøm are based in a city just outside of Oslo and are connected to the same general metropolitan area of Norway’s capital. They are a proud club with a rich history, having won the Eliteserien title 5 times in addition to 6 Norwegian Cup wins. The last of those league titles was way back in 1989 but they did win the Cup as recently as 2017. Traditionally always a top-half side, ‘The Canaries’ have fallen on hard times in the last few years. A disappointing run of three consecutive 12th place finishes was followed by losing the relegation playoff match against IK Start in 2019. Lillestrøm had held the record for the longest run in Norway’s top division and hadn’t been below Eliteserien level since 1966.

It was a harrowing experience to be relegated, but they hired former Sarpsborg manager Geir Bakke who guided them to an immediate bounce-back promotion. It was a solid rather than spectacular promotion, of course in weird COVID times. But the most important thing was that they got back into the top flight. Bakke, who impressively led Sarpsborg to the Europa League group stages a few years ago, said the club was determined to ‘start again’ in the Eliteserien with an ambition to become a consistent top half team once more.

Geir Bakke is a very experienced manager who has taken charge of over 200 Eliteserien matches in his career. In about 95% or more of those games, he has always lined up with a flat back four and only occasionally experimented with a ‘three at the back’ system. This time, Bakke knew he had a problem though. Lillestrøm lost 3 of their first 4 matches and their expected goals against during this period was 7.37 at an average of 1.84 per 90 minutes. If that rate continued, they could expect to concede 55 goals during the season and Bakke was fully aware that would be a pathway towards a relegation battle. He decided to try and solidify things by implementing some tactical systems which incorporated three center-backs. Lillestrøm have mostly been lining up in a 3-4-2-1 formation but there are sometimes tweaks to become a 5-4-1 or a 3-4-3.

Lillestrøm switch to a 3-4-2-1 formation this season - via Wyscout Team Reports.

In the 8 games since Bakke switched systems, their total expected goals against has been 7.82 at an average of 0.97 per 90 mins In 6 of those 8 fixtures Lillestrøm have restricted their opposition to less than a full expected 1.0 goal per game. In total this season they rank third-best in total shots against per 90 mins (9.79) and with 63.9% of defensive duels won they rank joint-best with Molde in that category.

Utilizing three center-backs allows Lillestrøm to have more security in defense and also allows them to control the game more. They only average 35.94 long passes per 90 mins which is the second-least in the league. That is not to say that Lillestrøm are a possession-hungry short-passing type of side, but they have more passing route options at the back now rather than just thumping the ball long.

Lillestrøm general pass flow distributions using the 3-4-2-1 system.
Building from the back with plenty of passing route options - via Wyscout Playlist & Draw tool.

Offensively, the 3-4-1-2 system gives them plenty of options. Lillestrøm haven’t lacked for goals since switching formations and have so far scored in every single game when using a back three. Lillestrøm average 12.57 shots per 90 mins which is the fourth-highest in the league and also 15.58 crosses per 90 mins, which ranks fifth-most.

Using the 3-4-2-1 formation allows them both to be wide and narrow depending on the preference. Defenders or midfielders on the ball have genuine options to choose from. Both wing-backs will advance quite high to support the attack and the presence of two attacking midfielders who move around a lot can create mismatches for the opposition. When Lillestrøm attack, they do not hesitate to bring bodies forward and give themselves a threat inside the penalty area.

3-4-2-1 system allows Lillestrøm to have a variety of attacks out wide or centrally.
Attacking style will get bodies forward when in possession of the ball.

Talent to Watch – Lars Ranger

Ranger did not play a massive part in Lillestrøm’s promotion from the OBOS Ligaen. He only made a total of 13 appearances and featured on the field for just 402 minutes. Capable of playing at center or right-back, the manager switched him to the right wing-back role in this new 3-4-2-1 system. There is no doubt he has benefitted greatly from it. Ranger has good physical attributes being quite fast, relatively strong and at 1.83m tall is certainly no pushover for his position. 

He is quite an aggressive player and will not shy away from a tackle; again, something that really suits the right wing-back role. He has clearly been working on the offensive side of his game and the two goals he scored this season were in recent rounds. Ranger is only 22 years old so should now be approaching his prime. It could be an absolute masterstroke from manager Geir Bakke to convert him into a right wing-back. The two wide players are very important in this system and require a strong engine, work rate and physicals which he has in abundance.

Lars Ranger - key statistics and graphics from the match against Molde (18/7/21).

Lillestrøm look to have a bright future with Geir Bakke in charge. This season they could even compete for a top-three spot and long term their aim is to be consistently in and around the top six places. The club are in a much better position than they were in 2019 and they could be an example of where it is actually a positive for a team to get relegated. Lillestrøm have learned their lessons and seem determined to regain their rightful position as one of the better teams in Norwegian football. The new era is here, and this feels like it has the potential to become a special period for the club if they continue to make the right decisions to progress.

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