After a 13-years span without silverware, a new wave of talented players is ready to propel Vålerenga back to the top again.

Based in Oslo, Vålerenga are one of the biggest clubs in Norway. Historically, they have 5 league titles and 4 Norwegian Cup titles to their name. However, the last time they won any silverware was 13 years ago and the last time they won the Eliteserien was way back in 2004. The last decade has been fairly rough. From 2011-2019 they failed to even finish higher than 6th in the league, which was not a good record for a club of their size.

The signs are that a new wave of talented players is ready to propel Vålerenga back to the top again. Experienced manager Dag Eilev Fagermo was appointed ahead of the 2020 season and he led them to a third-place finish and a bronze medal spot. This was their highest league position since 2010 and this summer, as a result, they will be entering European qualifiers for the first time in over a decade. The real questions now are what exactly has Fagermo done to turn their fortunes around and what do they need to do in order to reach the next step of ultimately winning another Eliteserien title?

Tactics & Style

Fagermo spent 12 years managing Odd BK and was always known as a religious 4-3-3 merchant. Nothing has changed here at Vålerenga and that will always be his system. The focal point upfront has always been a complete forward type of physical striker who can pretty much do everything in that position. Historically at Odd, Fagermo thrived when he had the likes of Oliver Occean, Frode Johnsen & Torgeir Borven at his disposal. The addition of Vidar Kjartansson midway through last season appeared to be the answer at Vålerenga.

Fagermo always prefers his wingers to be more inside forwards or inverted wingers - or at very least one of them anyway. He prefers his fullbacks to stay wider and operate quite attack-minded, always looking for the overlap and chances to cross the ball into the penalty area. At Vålerenga, he possesses the incredibly talented Aron Dønnum and Christian Borchgrevink which makes their right-hand side arguably the best in the league. The midfield trio in a Fagermo system are quite simple. There is always a deeper player, capable of holding anchor and doing the simple things well. Usually, a tougher type of guy who isn’t afraid to put a challenge in. There is usually at least one player in his midfield effectively given a free role and a license to roam forward by making runs or dribbling into the penalty area.

Fagermo doesn’t try to re-write the footballing tactics book and in many ways stays quite traditional in approach. But sometimes this simplicity and clear direction is exactly what a team needs.

Typical Vålerenga 4-3-3 formation and average positions for each player.

Eliteserien Keys to Success in 2020

In 2020 Eliteserien, Vålerenga were a possession-hungry team, averaging 53.8% of the ball. In terms of style and attacks, they were quite forward-thinking. VIF averaged the 5th most number of dribbles per 90 mins, with a 52% success rate which was 4th best. They were 3rd in most touches inside the penalty area, clearly showing a desire to give themselves many opportunities in the final third. No team was fouled more than Vålerenga and the opposition averaged a whopping 13.13 fouls against them per 90 mins. This is aided by having some fantastically agile and skillful players such as Aron Dønnum & Osame Sahraoui.

Vålerenga didn’t constantly cross the ball, but with a 32.4% accuracy, you can clearly see quality over quantity was often their approach. VIF had the least amount of ball losses per 90 mins and Fagermo obviously wanted them to make the most of their possession when they had it. From a defensive point of view, VIF had the least number of defensive duels per 90 mins but had the 2nd most interceptions out of anyone. Vålerenga aren’t a huge pressing them. They will do it sometimes but their approach to get the ball back is often more to do with positioning rather than a high tempo frenzy to regain possession immediately. 

Strong Foundations

Vålerenga have a very solid and dependable back four when at full strength. In Kristoffer Klaesson they have one of the top young goalkeeping prospects in Scandinavia. Last season he ranked second best with prevented goals in the Eliteserien. His xG against was 38.35 and he only conceded 32 goals. Klaesson has been especially impressive when facing shots inside and outside the penalty area, with perhaps one of his few slight weaknesses on crosses where some of his occasional mistakes will come. Every title-winning team usually needs a top-class goalkeeper at their disposal and here is a talent who in time will be well sought after with a fantastic future.

Kristoffer Klaesson goalkeeping shots against.

Strength on the Right-Hand Side

Vålerenga have some high-class talent currently at their disposal in the attacking third. Aron Dønnum & Osama Sahraoui are both crucial to the success of VIF. In 2020 Eliteserien, Dønnum led the league in average dribbles per 90 mins (11.67). Sahraoui was 5th on that list with an average of 8.86 per 90. It is definitely in Vålerenga’s best interests to get both of these guys on the ball as much as possible because they can make things happen. Sahraoui’s role can change from game to game, from an inside forward on the left wing to almost a roaming playmaker more from central midfield.

The key to Vålerenga’s success is their strength and ability on the right-hand side. The connection between Dønnum & Borchgrevink is almost telepathic at times and VIF like the control the game by overloading this area of the field. In Borchgrevink, who is effectively an attacking right wing-back Vålerenga had the 5th most accurate crosser in Eliteserien 2020, with 45.65% of his deliveries finding the required target. Borchgrevink also had the highest successful dribbling % out of anyone in the entire league - with a 72.35% hit rate which is superb for someone in his p position. With 6.43 expected assists he was clearly a major weapon and Vålerenga do all that they can to get him into a position to cross and supply goals.

Vålerenga setting up an overload on the right-hand side.
Borchgrevink & Dønnum connection and movement.
Enables time and space to cross into the middle.
Another example of Dønnum & Borchgrevink interchange on the right.
Borchgrevink higher up on this occasion waiting to release Dønnum.

The Future for Vålerenga

There is no doubt that VIF are now in a ‘window’ of opportunity where they can challenge for league titles, medals and cups. But knowing Scandinavian football this window could potentially be small. The biggest challenge for Vålerenga will be holding onto their best players because no doubt about it there will be clubs after the top talents. When the inevitable happens then VIF need to make sure they have a conveyor belt of talent replacing those who depart.

The good news is they have a strong youth system that has produced many talented players. Dag Eilev Fagermo isn’t afraid to give minutes to some of these guys either or orchestrate tactical loan deals which will help their development. Vålerenga probably have the squad now required to win an Eliteserien. You can of course always improve but they appear to have few, if any genuine weak areas. This is an exciting time for the club where they finally seem to have things sorted both on and off the field. There is a big opportunity that if things come together then they can achieve success.

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