In modern times, this has been one of the biggest matches of the Norwegian football season and the Eliteserien. The matches between Rosenborg and Molde have been some of the most anticipated as the two clubs have been the ones with the highest quality squads and the most economic resources. In the last couple of seasons, Rosenborg have dropped off a little in quality on the pitch and another northern team, Bodø/Glimt, have taken their spot as the best.
The 2020 season for Rosenborg has been a turbulent one. Leading up to the season, it was storming around the club for several reasons. It culminated in the sports director, Stig Inge Bjørnebye, formerly of EPL side Liverpool, leaving his position four months before the end of his contract. Then the club had a very poor start of the season after heavily backing the criticised head coach at the time. It resulted in him being relieved of his duties in June. Experienced head coach Åge Hareide then took over in August, having previously taken the club to the group stages of the UEFA Champions League.
He turned things around fast and made them more defensively solid. In the first 13 matches under his leadership, the team lost only one match – against Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven. The positive turn rejuvenated the belief that a second place in the league was possible, but then they suddenly lost four matches in a row. This meant they had to return to focusing on securing qualification spots for the Europa League and a top-four position.
Molde on the other hand had a very different season compared to Rosenborg. They were the only club able to keep up with Bodø/Glimt for a long time, going undefeated in the first nine matches. They have recently fallen further and further behind the eventual league winners from the north but kept a grip on the second place. Simultaneously, they recently progressed to the final stages of the Europa League, a testament to a good season.
This tactical analysis will present a brief walkthrough of both teams’ tactics and line-ups. Following this, the analysis explores the defensive structure of Rosenborg, the dynamics of their counter-attacking and the positional play of Molde in their own half.
Starting with the home team, Hareide’s men lined up in a 4-3-3 with the tip of the midfield triangle facing downwards. There were no big surprises in the starting eleven for the team from Trondheim. Andre Hansen started in goal, with a centre-back pairing of Tore Reginiussen and Even Hovland in front of him. The full-backs were Erlend Dahl Reitan on the right and Pa Konate on the left.
Per Ciljan Skjelbred anchored the midfield triangle, accompanied by a duo ahead consisting of Markus Henriksen and Kristoffer Zachariassen. The attacking trio up front for the night was Carlo Holse on the right, Dino Islamović in the centre, and Emil Konradsen Ceide on the left.
Erling Moe continued with his trusted 4-2-3-1 system as has been the base since before this season. Alex Craninx started his first match of the season, replacing Andreas Linde in goal. Henry Wingo started this match on the right-hand side of the defence, after battling with Marcus Holmgren Pedersen for the spot for the majority of the season.
Centrally in defence, Sheriff Sinyan and Martin Ellingsen started tonight with Stian Gregersen being rested. On the left-back, Birk Risa started his eighth match in the league for Molde after transferring from Odds Ballklubb in October. Fredrik Aursnes and Etzaz Hussain formed the double pivot in midfield and the playmaker Magnus Wolff Eikrem started as the number ten in the hole.
Mathis Bolly started only his second match of the season, this time on the left flank. Erling Knudtzon took place on the right flank, while Ohi Omoijuanfo started up front this time around, pushing Leke James to the bench.
Rosenborg’s defensive structure
Rosenborg’s 4-3-3 structure most often became a flat 4-5-1 without the ball. They had a highly flexible midfield composition in defence, especially with Skjelbred in the defensive midfield role with a large range of tasks dependant on the environment around him. Later on in this subsection, the analysis takes a look at this dynamic defensive role.
The image above shows the aforementioned structure of Rosenborg in defence, with the ball-near central midfielder just about to push out to press. Throughout the match, Rosenborg generally stood off Molde in the build-up from the goalkeeper and pressed them aggressively when they reached the halfway line.
If Molde, however, won the ball and restarted the build-up, they occasionally press a little higher up in the field. Not necessarily a distinctive counter-press per se, but more of a hindrance to Molde setting into their rhythm too easily without sacrificing their own structure in the process.
What the situation from the photo also shows is the ability of Molde to get players in between the lines. This presents both the midfield and defensive line of Rosenborg with a question as to who takes care of the issue and in turn, brings the lines closer together. The centre-backs of Rosenborg are, however, ready to respond to sudden shifts in tempo and runs behind with their side-facing stance.
Here is another image of the defensive structure of Rosenborg and a good starting example of the complex role of Skjelbred in the defensive phase. Here, he is the far-side centre-back of the three, right next to right-back Reitan. It was not uncommon in the match to see him drop into the backline. Often in such situations, the norm is that the defensive midfielder drops between the centre-backs, but he would drop on the right side of them.
Simultaneously, Ceide on the left flank has aggressively pushed over on the near side to prevent progression here after a pass from centre-back Sinyan. The problem is that neither Zachariassen nor Henriksen follows sufficiently over, and thus the resulting space between Ceide and the rest of the midfield is extremely large. Wingo, the receiver, could take advantage of this and challenge Ceide in a 1 v 1 before cutting inside and combining with his teammates there.
In the first photo, Skjelbred was slightly deeper than his two centre midfield companions in a flat five. In the second he joined the backline, and here he actively presses out of the defensive midfield area and continues until he is ahead of the two other midfielders in the centre. This in itself is not uncommon to see from a defensive midfielder in both Eliteserien and top flights around Europe. The combination, however, between the actively pushing ahead and being part of the backline, is not that common.
The problem however in the situation shown above is that Skjelbred press out of the structure at the same time as another central midfielder. The ball carrier is pressured but has an easy out just next to him, and this player is Eikrem. He has no problems finding either of the two blue marked Molde players.
He can either play to the one in the marked area. Here the receiver will possibly have more time to turn as two central midfielders have pushed out while Ceide has not covered for them, still staying relatively wide. On the other side he could play to a new receiver in a relatively similar situation, but with easier access to see more players because of the diagonal staggering of the team.
Northern counter-attacking dynamics
Molde have a throw-in deep in their own half, which Rosenborg take advantage of. They swarm the area where the throw is taken and win the second ball. It is then quickly laid off to Skjelbred who protects the ball well against the onrushing Eikrem, feints to the right before carrying a couple of metres forward to bypass the press.
In the white area, Rosenborg has numerical equality but in the last part of it, they are 3 v 2 against the centre-back and left-back of Molde. Islamović takes advantage of this, rolled behind the centre-back and Skjelbred plays a perfectly weighted pass which can be placed in the back of the net for the first goal of the night.
Here is another counter-attacking situation for Rosenborg but a very different one. They don’t win the ball back after trapping Molde with a throw-in or other set-piece, but rather a failed forward pass. Just before the snapshot above, Ceide received from Henriksen who pulls out from the cover shadow to form a new passing line. Ceide finds the passing line and thus Henriksen as the man between the lines. Henriksen receives on the half-turn and has plenty of options for further play. Ahead of him, three players are all attacking space in three different channels, making the situation more difficult for the defence.
If none of these alternatives feels particularly good to Henriksen, then he has a further two options. He can either carry it himself (which he has plenty of space to do as seen above), or he can hold onto it for one more second and then find Reitan as the free man on the far-side, possibly overloading the Molde left-back.
This is again a very similar situation to the previous one, but later in the second half. As the match progressed (Rosenborg were up 2-1 at the time) and Molde took more control of the possession side, they also gave up more space for the counter-attacks. As the game wore on, Rosenborg saw more and more of these kinds of chances.
Here they are 4 v 3 against the backline, and Molde are fortunate that Rosenborg aren’t able to produce more out of it. Again, filling three different channels with forward runs on the counter is showing to produce trouble for the defending team, in this case, Molde.
Molde’s build-up in their own half
Forming a diamond in the second phase of build-up (the first phase is playing out from the penalty area) often allowed Molde quite good control over the initial phases of play in their own half. This high in the field, Rosenborg rarely pressed with more than one player, so having three players in the first line might have been too big of an overload considering one has to underload other places.
In this specific situation, Eikrem played the role of the apex in the diamond having dropped off from his ten-position. Here, however, he moves away from the area because he has recently been heavily marked. This, alongside Hussain moving out to left-back position, helps in creating more space centrally. Ellingsen can carry forward and play a line-breaking pass with less difficulty now that there is more space.
Here again, is another example of the diamond shape in the build-up for Molde. Aursnes was originally at the top but rotates with Eikrem and pushes forward. He is not followed by his marker and receives from Sinyan when he eventually gets the ball from Ellingsen. Once again, Hussain is the one in the left-back position, allowing Risa to push high where he can make more use of his good timing of movement and crossing abilities.
Below is a snapshot of a very interesting situation in the second half in Molde’s positional play in their own half. As seen in the previous examples shown in this analysis, when a player moved away from the apex of the diamond, which most often found itself in the six-space, another player rotated with him and kept the diamond structure.
Here, however, no one came and took the place at the apex, resulting in a total vacation of the six-yard space. Sinyan with the ball saw the space that opened up and could carry the ball deep into the opponent’s half before playing the ball.
Purposefully vacating the six-yard space is not a move typically seen in Norwegian football. The most famous proponent of the move in recent times is probably the Holstein Kiel in the 2. Bundesliga and their youth section. Many teams with a positional and structured approach to building through the different heights and lines of the team do so with a +1 numerical superiority principle. From here, they often try to find the player behind the line.
Vacating the six-yard space goes almost directly against this principle as you then often expose yourself to numerical equality or inferiority. In addition to this, you are also giving up large amounts of space if you were to lose the ball. This is the exact point of the move though. Without giving up the space that so many teams prefer to occupy, you would not be able to have a player arrive there with a positional and dynamical superiority, with or without the ball.
Rosenborg came away from this match with a deserved 3-1 victory after punishing Molde on the counter-attacks and set-pieces. The last goal was a late penalty, however, they were unlucky not to score on more of the dangerous attacks they had throughout the match. If Hareide can continue the foundations he has laid with the defensive side of the game and the transitions with a positional play which Rosenborg used to be known for, then the 2021 season could be very interesting to watch.
If the vacating of the six-yard space in their diamond structure was a pre-planned move by Molde, then it will be very interesting to see how they can expand upon and further develop this as a part of their positional play.