Tromsø had always boasted regional supremacy, even if they had never won a league title. That has all changed now with Bodø/Glimt’s emergence, but it has perhaps made them raise their game and have more focus.

Cover image: Tromso IL Official Twitter Account (@TromsoIL)

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The Norwegian Eliteserien has seen a dramatic shift from the norm in recent years with Bodø/Glimt winning successive titles in the 2020 and 2021 campaigns. The traditional powerhouse of northern Norway was always historically Tromsø, who have now been cast into the shadows by their bitter rivals. There are signs of a recovery though and they are currently embroiled in a genuine 3-way championship battle this season. It has been a turbulent half-decade for Tromsø. Find out how they have gone from relegation to now challenging in the upper reaches of the Eliteserien.

In the Shadow of Bodø/Glimt

The story starts in 2019 when Tromsø were relegated on the final day of the season under the management of Finnish coach Simo Valakari. They played some good football under Valakari but he left after relegation and was replaced by Gaute Helstup, a man who had had a strong previous campaign with Ham Kam and who had managed 140 games for Tromsdalen, another northern team located near Tromsø. During the COVID-19 year of 2020, Helstrup guided Tromsø to the OBOS Ligaen title but they were completely overshadowed by bitter local rivals Bodø/Glimt claiming a shock Eliteserien crown at the same time.

Tromsø are the most northerly professional football team in the world, located deep inside the Arctic Circle. They had always boasted regional supremacy, even if they had never won a league title. That has all changed now with Glimt’s emergence, but it has perhaps made them raise their game and have more focus.

Tromsø IL formation data from Wyscout Report.

Tactics & Formation: Is There an Overachievement?

Since joining the club Gaute Helstrup has been very consistent with his tactics and style. He implements a 3-5-2 formation which sometimes reverts into a 5-4-1 or a 4-4-3. Despite operating with wing-backs, Tromsø have the fewest number of crosses in the Eliteserien this season (251) and they also have the worst accuracy for crosses (29.5%). One of the wingbacks in this system are always inverted and more defensively orientated. A key player for the club in the last couple of years has been right-wing back Niklas Vesterlund who is more offensively minded.

Tromsø have had some significant overachievement with their metrics this season. They are a very intriguing case where one must ask the question of whether they have been lucky or if there are other reasons which explain them to be a statistical anomaly. Tromsø, who are affectionately known as Gutan have the third worst xG in the league (25.06) but scored 30 goals. In expected points, their overachievement has been staggering, converting 25 xP into 42! They are ranked 6th worst for expected points but are third and in a title battle. Tromsø have clear strengths defensively because offensively they have lacked quite a lot. In the final third, they have the 3rd fewest touches in the penalty area (337), fired the second-fewest shots (189) and obtained the fewest number of corners per 90 mins (3.33).

Unique Pressing Style

Helstup has some really interesting tactics both on and off the ball. Tromsø have allowed the highest PPDA of all teams in the Eliteserien. In other words, they press less and stand off more when out of possession. This has led to them producing the second-fewest fouls in Elitserien and the lowest challenge intensity (4.30). However, the northerners have only faced 226 shots which is the 5th fewest and despite overachieving with their xGA metrics they still rank 4th best in that department (28.34). Tromsø themselves have a PPDA of 12.56 when in possession. They are a unique team happy to sit back and soak up some pressure but when they have the ball, they are more controlled and not simply a counter-attack side playing the ball long.

Tromsø Ball Possession Recovery & Losses - Wyscout Report

Key Players This Season

Four Tromsø players stand out above others this season. Unsurprisingly, three of of them are in defence led by goalkeeper Jakob Haugaard. Center-back Jostein Gundersen & right wing-back Niklas Vesterlund must also be classed as a key cog in the wheel. In between the sticks, Haugaard has conceded just 16 goals with an xGC of 19.24. He has obviously overperformed with saves, but a big aspect of his game is the command of the area. At 199cm tall he's a towering unit and engaged in more Aerial duels per 90 mins than any other keeper in the league.

Jakob Haugaard's Shot Against data - Wyscout Player Report

Jostein Gundersen is the true heartbeat for Gutan in central defense. He’s been with Tromsø from youth level and only ever played for this club. He is committed, loyal and enjoying some of the best football of his career. He ranks inside the top ten for both defensive duels and progressive runs this season, but he is just such a strong solid all-around performer.

Right wing-back Niklas Vesterlund is one of those layers who goes under the radar statistically, but he’s supplied four assists and scored three goals from an xG of 3.22, which is a high number for someone in his position. His job when in possession is to get in quite an advanced forward role to find dangerous positions.

Jostein Gundersen's Recoveries data - Wyscout Player Report

Tromsø have been improving in the transfer market to such an extent that talent such as August Mikkelsen, Warren Kamanzi & Eric Kitolano have earned them over £3m combined in fees this year. What is more impressive is that the club seem to have a much better conveyor belt of talent to replace these figures compared to previous regimes.

One such example is top scorer Vegard Erlien who has been one of the best signings in the Eliteserien this season. Acquired from 2nd-tier club Ranheim on a free transfer he has netted 9 goals so far which makes him one of the leading scorers in the division. He has been reliable from the penalty spot but also scored some brilliant individual goals. His shooting accuracy of over 50% in the last calendar year stands out as one of his more impressive stats.

Vegard Erlien's Shot data - Wyscout Player Report

The Future for Tromsø – Ambition and Drive

It certainly feels like Tromsø are on the rise again. On the field, they have been making significant progress under the management of Gaute Helstrup who is bringing his own unorthodox style of football to the club. He is obviously getting the most out of his players. Some would argue their statistical overachievement is unsustainable but it’s a huge positive that these numbers are what they are. Tromsø have become a great ‘result’ team and masters of managing matches extremely well at different moments.

Off the field, the club are definitely making excellent progress in terms of player additions and culture. There is a much better talent identification process and the coaching system within the club are improving the level of several individuals. Tromsø also have the fire of ambition. Perhaps driven by the success of northern rivals Bodø/Glimt they seem determined not just to make up the numbers in Norwegian football but to actually achieve things and perhaps win silverware. They have never won an Eliteserien title and the last of their two Norwegian Cup wins came in 1996. Don’t rule out this club ending their drought sooner rather than later if they continue their current trajectory.

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