Before this match week started, Odds Ballklubb were still very much in the battle for European spots. Taking all the three points against Sarpsborg 08 would be a great step towards that target. Drawing or losing would mean possibly creating a gap up to Molde and Rosenborg in the second and third place, which now looks to be the case following their 1-1 draw in this one.
Sarpsborg 08 could – with a good result here – proceed without as much worry about the relegation battle. Securing the one point away against Odd now means they have nine points down to the playoff place. With only seven games left to play, this should normally mean a new season at the top level.
This tactical analysis will look at the tactics of both teams, starting with the line-ups and how they presented both advantages and disadvantages. The analysis will also take a closer look at how Sarpsborg 08 kept Odd from creating more chances in open play.
Jan Frode Nornes’ men were lined up in the usual 4-3-3, with a couple of minor changes to the regular personnel. Steffen Hagen is still out with a knee injury after a month away. The frontline is still undergoing adaptation to the new acquisitions.
Sondre Rossbach is still the undisputed number one between the sticks, and the same with captain Espen Ruud at right-back. Next to him is Odin Lurås Bjørtuft and Vebjørn Hoff, filling in for Hagen. In the left-back role, John Kitolano, on loan from EPL side Wolverhampton Wanderers, continued to play.
Filip Rønningen Jørgensen takes the number six position for Hoff while he fills in at centre-back. With him in central midfield, he has Joshua Kitolano on the right and Markus André Kaasa on the left.
Up top, new loanee Vladimir Rodić from Hammarby in Sweden started his second match on the right. Mushaga Bakenga continued centrally, and UEFA Champions League-experienced Elbasan Rashani continued on the left. He isn’t the only one in the squad with continental experience with several squad members having taken part in a thrilling clash against Borussia Dortmund in 2015.
Sarpsborg 08, with their head coach, Mikael Stahre continued with their 5-4-1 shape. The line-up has seen some changes in starters from time to time with a mix reasons such as injuries, varying performances and rotations in a shortened season. Despite this and spending the majority of the season in the bottom half, they have kept a clean sheet nine times. A big testament to their defence who is only beaten by the top four on goals against.
The goalie to keep all these clean sheets is David Mitov Nilsson. Saturday night he had a trio of centre-backs in front of him with Mikael Dyrestam, Bjørn Inge Utvik and Magnar Ødegaard from right to left. In the wingback positions, Sulayman Bojang and Joachim Thomassen played on the right and left respectively.
In midfield, the flanks were taken by Jonathan Lindseth on the right and Tobias Heintz on the left. Between them, Nicolai Næss and Anton Salétros played in the holding midfield. In front, Alexander Ruud Tveter leads the line.
Odd’s structure with the ball
With the build-up from the keeper, Odd are quite unusual for a top team in the league. It is a team with a lot of positive qualities in air duels and when it comes to winning the second balls. Nornes uses this combined with the precise delivery from Rossbach. It might be an attempt to take advantage of the imbalance and chaos that erupts in the transitions around the second balls.
Rossbach and the rest of Odd have a generally high success rate with this tactic. The team form a quite compact structure, as shown in the image above. A horizontally tight back four is ready to pick up the second ball if it were to drop towards them. On the other side, two to three are often ready to attack the space behind if the man in midfield wins the duel and flicks it on.
When it comes to the short-pass-based build-up via the centre-backs, other characteristics are visible. The fullbacks generally stay low and wide. First, when the ball is progressed higher on their side do they advance. Doubling on the flanks with the winger is something they often do.
The wingers vary their positioning between inside and outside, but often asymmetric; if one comes into the half-space, the other stays wide.
The central midfielders have quite similar movements in the early stages of build-up. Whoever is the near-side one will stay closer but behind the opponent line of pressure so long as the centre-back or holding mid is without pressure. First, when they are being pressed he will show for the ball on the closer side of the pressing line.
The far-side central midfielder will generally stay much higher. At least high in the space between opponent midfield and defensive line, but often in line with the striker. This staggered positioning of the central midfielders provides better access for a switch along the ground through diagonal passes.
Odd’s players pressed quite aggressively in the defensive transitions. With their approach to play in other phases, this is also to be expected. It is the same as in their long balls from Rossbach. The potential imbalance of the Sarpsborg 08 structure when they regain the ball is a good basis for another quick counter.
When looking at the stats they also back up the idea of Odd having an aggressive counter-press. They regained the ball in Sarpsborg’s half an impressive 35 times during the match. This not only suggests an aggressive counter-press and high press from the entire team but also that it is highly effective.
In the image above the centre-back has just dribbled past the Sarpsborg striker and laid it off to the holding midfielder. The pass is however not good enough, and the striker is able to turn around and nick it before him. The quick reaction of the players in midfield was central to winning the ball back and launching a counter here for Odd.
As one can see, in the striped, white area, the Odd players are 4v4 against the opponent. However, they are in positional superiority here. Two, almost three, are already on the correct side of the ball carrier. The player in front is covering the striker, while the one coming from the left and behind is about to cut off an option to dribble out.
This leaves the player pressing the carrier with an easier task as he can direct his pressing from the side and towards his teammates. This is the player that eventually wins it and can spring a quick ball in behind to the left-winger.
Sarpsborg’s struggles in the build-up
Sarpsborg had their struggles when trying to build their attacks from defence and through midfield. As already stated, Odd had an aggressive press in the transitions. They also applied this press against the defenders of Sarpsborg from a defensive block as well.
For the entirety of the match, Odd was able to maintain a PPDA (passes allowed per defensive action) of 10.4. This is quite mediocre in European top leagues, but comfortably below the average in the Norwegian League – indicating a relatively above average level of pressing intensity.
Here is an example of the difficulties Sarpsborg had with building out from the back. Despite originally being three versus one against the first line of Odd, the positioning and decisions in the backline were sub-optimal. The central midfielders have not done a good enough job to break free from their markers, and the defence has not taken advantage of the plus two in the first line.
The centre-back in the middle has just played a ball into the holding midfielder who laid it off again. The problem is that the centre-back did not take an extra three to four steps backwards to give himself more space for the lay-off. Therefore, the Odd striker has an easier time pressing him and keeping the left centre-back out of the play.
The play results in a long ball when the centre-back panics, and a scenario which was seen quite often. The long ball is played rather aimlessly, and a free Odd player picks it up in midfield. This lack of preparation of the attacks from Sarpsborg was a large part of them losing possession 29 times in the first third and only having 42% possession.
Even when they were able to play through the press, they had few strings to play on. Here they have allowed Odd to fall back into a medium block despite first playing through them. The centre-back does well to take the ball forward with him, but then only have options in playing it over the top.
Only one teammate is really placed inside the opponent structure, and he is showing for the ball despite having two opponents between him and the ball carrier. The other options ahead are all running into space behind, all three of them. A vertical ball over the head is very hard to take down, and a diagonal to the flank is the only real option. The carrier does not pull it off, and Odd win a throw-in.
Sarpsborg were not able to make use of the spaces left by Odd in the transitions. The less possession you have, the more important the counterattacks arguably are. The away team had only one counterattack during the entire game. This further strengthens the idea that they are a defensively strong team, but not necessarily an offensively strong one.
What advantages did the 5-4-1 give them?
Part of why Sarpsborg is such a defensively strong team and kept Odd from scoring, except for the penalty, is the 5-4-1. They are experienced with it now and can deploy it with a high degree of both vertical and horizontal compactness.
In the image above Sarpsborg are in a low block with the majority of players inside their own 18-yard box. In spite of the attempted wide overloads from Odd, Sarpsborg are able to keep a numerical and positional balance locally around the ball. The extra centre-back allows the wingback to push high and engage.
This exact move does not progress particularly. A lofted cross is attempted, but with only one real option in there against three centre-backs, it is hopeful to say the least.
This situation shows another advantage of the 5-4-1 against a 4-3-3. When the high central midfielder drops to receive a pass from his centre-back or holding mid, the side centre-back can follow him and press aggressively. The fellow centre-backs can cover for the split-second gap that is created in the structure.
These advantages were central to Sarpsborg 08 keeping Odd away from their goal. It prohibited them from entering dangerous positions and had to shoot from afar. The shot count from Odd further suggests that shots were taken from a distance and/or poor positions. Only hitting the target with three out of 13 shots is not good enough for a team wanting to qualify for European spots.
With regards to the offensive play of either team, it is not good enough. Odd needs to become more efficient in manipulating a low block, as they will face more and more of them. In addition to this, they also must become more efficient in front of goal. They have chances outside of the penalty in this match as well, but they are not taken well enough. Sarpsborg is perhaps lucky to get a point in this match. They do not produce very much offensively, but they are quite solid going back in large parts of the game. Sarpsborg will be happy with the result as it probably secured their position in the league for next season.