Getting Back to Glory: How Molde Can Turn Their Season Around
Molde are the defending Eliteserien champions having stormed to the league title in 2019. However, it looks highly unlikely that they will repeat that success this year with Bodø/Glimt miles clear at the top. Molde have slipped down in recent times with some poorer results but have at least enjoyed a European run. They came extremely close to qualifying for the Champions League group stages, getting knocked out by Hungarian side Ferencváros by virtue of away goals. They do at least have the consolation prize of making it through to the Europa League group stage though. So, what can we expect of the Norwegian champions and what sort of general direction are they heading in?
Playing Style & Attacking Strengths
In simple terms, the Molde playing style is best described as an up-tempo possession-based system leaning towards a slight focus on wide play. Head coach Erling Moe has been very consistent with a 4-2-3-1 formation over the last two seasons. There is nothing hugely revolutionary about the style of Molde and it is a fairly standard sort of system. Probably the most important position for MFK is the #10 playmaker role, most often filled by their best player Magnus Wolff Eikrem. The wingers in this system are often told to sit narrower and look for underlaps. Full-backs meanwhile, will often interchange and patiently wait for the overlap. In Leke James or Ohi Omoijuanfo, Molde have the perfect sort of ‘complete forward’ who have many different strings to their bow. Erling Moe hasn’t reinvented the wheel with his tactical approach but keeping things relatively straightforward is probably one of their main strengths. The key has been assembling a quality squad with a lot of attacking weapons, creating an environment that everyone is comfortable with and knowing their role.
Molde averaged 54.4% ball possession in the 2019 Eliteserien and increased it to 56% so far in 2020. Their expected goals per 90 mins has also risen from 1.98 to 2.08. Molde play in a nice technical style and are capable of moving the ball at pace along the deck or with fluid direct play. They are one of the most cross-hungry teams in the Eliteserien, ranking 3rd this season with an average of 17.58 per 90 mins. A big part of their game is both full-backs offering attacking support and loading the penalty area with enough bodies to threaten. There are always options to recycle the ball and maintain the pressure.
Weaknesses & Defensive Issues
Injuries have hindered the team defensively this season. Right-back Kristoffer Haraldseid broke down with a torn ACL right on the eve of the new season. This has forced Molde to go with a rotation of Marcus Holmgren Pedersen and Henry Wingo. The former is a young talent who was signed from Tromsø, but probably someone not yet ready to be a regular first-team starter at a club like Molde. There have also been other key injuries at the back. Stian Gregersen started the season well but has only just come back from a lengthy absence. Their best defender Martin Bjørnbak missed the whole of August and six league games in a row. Even at left-back Kristoffer Haugen was out of action for half a dozen games at one stage. Molde have a big squad full of depth but defense was probably the one area where they didn’t have as much quality in reserve.
Molde had the best defensive record in the Eliteserien last season, only conceding 31 goals and their xG against was just 34.36. The average xG per shot against them was 0.099. Already in 2020, they have conceded 23 goals in 19 games and things perhaps could’ve been even worse when you consider their xG against is 30.30. Their xG per shot against has risen to 0.136. Statistics in aerial duels, interceptions, defensive duels, and sliding tackles have all decreased this year; not significantly but enough to have made a noticeable difference.
Molde don’t have a ‘terrible’ defensive record and only conceded 23 goals in 19 games. However, at the time of writing, 12 of those have come in the last 8 rounds during which they conceded an average of 1.50 goals per game. If you compare that to last season, their average was just 1.03 which is a big difference. The constant build-up of defensive injuries in addition to lack of a settled defense has ultimately resulted in problems. There is only so long you can keep going using backup players as Molde have found out to their detriment. Players like Martin Ellingsen and Fredrik Sjølstad are midfielders by trade but have been forced to play out of position at center-back. New signing Sheriff Sinyan has been inconsistent and you can see why he’s basically a converted center-back from defensive midfield and doesn’t feel ‘natural’ here. At the time of writing, 13 of the last 15 Molde goals conceded have either been penalties or resulted on the right-hand side of the opposition defense. The problem isn’t necessarily tactical setup or positioning. It just seems there is a lack of anticipation and basically not good enough defending from a backline which changes personnel too much.
More Needed From Key Players
In Magnus Wolf Eikrem and Leke James, Molde have two of the best players in the league. They totally dominated this division in 2019. Despite decent returns this year as well, I think it is fair to say both haven’t quite reached the heights of the previous campaign. Wolff Eikrem is a technical attacking midfield master who is still one of the top players in the Eliteserien. He has fantastic vision, touch and passing skills and is ranked in the top three for assists per 90 mins. Leke James meanwhile, was the second-highest Eliteserien scorer in 2019. Although he has maintained virtually the same xG figure of 0.65 per 90 mins, his actual return hasn’t been as high. The striker has seen his shots on target % drop from 62.5% to 50%. This is still a very good level but if Molde are to get back to dominating this league then they need these guys to be absolutely exceptional again.
Prognosis & Outlook
Molde need to re-find their league form in the last ten rounds and make sure they qualify for a European position again. The squad on paper is one of the strongest in the league and now that their injury situation in defense is improving, we should expect a much better showing. They will of course have the welcome distraction of the Europa League group stage and matches will be coming thick and fast. However, for the first time, Molde should be able to stay match sharp in that competition because the Norwegian season is running until December 19th. For those tuning into the Europa League, Molde are well worth a watch due to their attacking pro-active style and a bunch of talented players. Domestically, they will aim to get their crown back in the future and the club is in a good stable state to do that.