Ahead of the new Eliteserien season, we look back at Molde FK’s per­for­mances in Europe and analyze whether this suggests there are reasons to be hopeful for an improved domestic showing in 2024.

After Molde eventually breezed past Polish side Legia Warsaw 6-2 on aggregate to reach the UEFA Conference League Round of 16, they became the last remaining Norwegian hope in Europe this season. 

In 2023, all the eyes in Norway were mostly on teams such as Bodø/Glimt, Tromsø, Brann and even Viking. From a domestic league perspective, Molde had a disappointing season as defending champions, finishing as low as 5th position. 

However, a decent European run which nearly saw them qualify for the Champions League  - only to be edged out by Turkish giants Galatasaray in the play-off round - helped soothe their problems. They also had another Norwegian Cup success, beating rivals Glimt 1-0 in the final which ensured they qualified for Europe again next season.

Success against Legia

Heading into the tie against Legia Warsaw, it was considered a 50/50 game with no team an outright favourite to progress to the next round. Molde came out of the traps very quickly in the first leg, racing into a 3-0 lead by half time, before Legia reduced the advantage to 3-2 by the final whistle. 

Molde racked up 1.59 xG in the first half but only 0.03 after the break. The Norwegians employed a 5-3-2 system and targeted Legia through the middle of the park with 57% of attacks coming centrally. The 3-4-2-1 flat midfield used by Legia was simply overpowered by numbers, a high duel success rate and certainly in the first half some impressive Molde pass accuracy.

Molde's formation vs Legia Warsaw (above) and areas of attack (below) from Wyscout's Match Report

The second leg was a similar story. Molde started out really strong and the Norwegians raced into a 2-0 advantage early on. From that stage onwards they could control the match, but their dominance again stemmed from a powerful midfield system. 63% of their attacks were through the middle of the park and they restricted Legia to just 0.01 xG from their offensive central play. 

Molde’s three man midfield of Kaasa, Moller-Daehli and Hestad was too much for the flat midfield four which Legia persisted with for far too long. In both legs, Molde took advantage of the high formation line which Legia employed. The Polish outfit regularly had an average line of 60 metres and above. Molde attackers such as Gulbrandsen and Berisha were able to get in behind and create a high xG.

Mats Møller Dæhli - New man in the middle

Molde have made several new signings this winter but only three players were registered for the UEFA Conference League. Those were Halldor Stenevik, Valdemar Lund and Mats Møller Dæhli. 

The latter is by far the most interesting new addition at the Aker Stadion. He started off life in the Man United and Molde youth teams before an eventual career which has mostly spanned in the German leagues with Freiburg, St Pauli and Nuremberg. 

Molde signed Dæhli for £1.60m and he brings with him a wealth of experience, including 36 Norwegian national team caps. Dæhli is also very versatile and can play anywhere in midfield and attack. He is known for being more of an attacking midfielder, but Molde used him in a much deeper role in both ties vs Legia Warsaw.

Dæhli was tasked with being more of a midfield general in his first two starts for Molde. He has racked up 87% and 90% passing accuracy completing 88 out of 99 passes successfully. He achieved 100% dribble success in both games vs Legia completing 7/7 attempts. 

With two combative performances he achieved an overall 62% duel success rate and was impressive with both defensive and offensive duels. It was interesting that Dæhli only racked up a combined 0.02 xG and xA and was not really used in any playmaking or scoring role. His experience and control was crucial for them in the middle of the park though.

Mats Møller Dæhli stats versus Legia Warsaw from his Wyscout profile

Frederik Gulbrandsen - Genuine goalscoring threat

The Norwegian striker was deadly in the first leg vs Legia Warsaw, netting four times and proved to be a huge thorn in the side of the Polish outfit. 

Gulbrandsen is on his second stint at Molde. He had a successful time here between 2013-16 and that included a whole year off in 2015 with a knee injury. Since then, he’s moved around the Red Bull system at Salzburg and New York, before a spell in Turkey for Basaksehir where he won the league in the 19/20 season. 

Gulbrandsen signed for Molde on a free transfer right at the end of August last season. He was clearly not at his sharpest, but highlights included a couple of Europa League goals and a last minute winner in the Norwegian Cup final vs Bodø/Glimt.

Having a full winter break and early season preparations for 2024 appears to have done him the world of good. Gulbrandsen looked excellent and deadly in both ties vs Legia. He got himself into some excellent positions with a combined xG of 2.44 and converted that into four goals. 

With 5 of out 7 shots on target he did not waste opportunities and Molde clearly have an in-form and confident striker in their ranks. With plenty of experience and class he looks primed for an excellent campaign.

Frederik Gulbrandsen stats versus Legia Warsaw from his Wyscout profile

Quarter Finals - A step too far

In the round of 16, Molde faced Belgian side Club Brugge, a side who have already come up against Norwegian opponents this season. They twice beat 2023 champions Bodø/Glimt so the chances of the Blauw-Zwart being fazed by another trip to Scandinavia was unlikely. 

Going into the tie, the Belgian outfit sat third in the Jupiler Pro League but, given that there are clearly other teams in the country better than them this season, it still appeared to be a winnable tie for Molde, who felt sharper as they worked towards the start of their own domestic season.

A late winner from the aforementioned in-form Gulbrandsen gave Molde a 2-1 win at home, boosting hope of a place in the quarter-finals. However, a 3-0 win in the reverse tie saw the Belgians triumph 4-2 on aggregate and progress to the next round, leaving Molde to reflect on what could have been.

Hope renewed for the new season

Despite only a fifth placed finish last year, Molde are definitely on par with Glimt as one of the top two teams in the nation and will harbour strong ambitions of a better showing in the 2024 Eliteserien.

Last year was the first time in seven seasons that Molde finished outside of the top two positions. In the 20/21 campaign they reached the last 16 of the Europa League and they have built up a wealth of European experience in recent years. It’s within their reach to build on their latest campaign and progress further in Europe, representing Norway which is now ranked as high as 15th in the UEFA Coefficient.

List of Molde's Eliteserien final positions from the last seven seasons

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