To most casual football fans the first club that springs to mind when the subject of Norwegian football comes around is Rosenborg. Based in Trondheim, ‘RBK’ has won a mammoth 26 Eliteserien titles, nearly three times more than next on the list Fredrikstad. Many out there will remember them winning a ridiculous 13 titles in a row between 1992-2004 and most recently they have won the last four gold medals dating back from 2015. This is a machine of a club, but the 2019 campaign has not gone to plan so far. A couple of recent victories have somewhat helped steady an increasingly unstable ship, but just 1 win in their first 8 games was near enough crisis level for such a big club.

There has been much debate about what the problems have been at RBK. The most popular answer and easiest figure to blame is their new head coach Eirik Horneland. The ex Haugesund manager came in with his own ideas and a fresh approach. The most obvious initial difference was formation wise. For many years Rosenborg had been a religious 4-3-3 team but Horneland started the season with his own different 4-4-1-1 approach. The problem with doing that was reportedly unsettling players who had been used to the familiar ‘RBK way’ of doing things. Stories came out such as from left winger Samuel Adegbenro who said he “wasn’t sure’ if he would fit Horneland’s system very well having been told to be ‘more disciplined’ in approach”. The coach has switched between a lot of different formations and was even forced to revert back to the tried and trusted ‘Rosenborg 4-3-3’ in some cases.


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Rosenborg formations used in the Eliteserien so far in 2019.


Problems in attack

Let’s look at some cold hard statistics to pinpoint exactly what has changed at Rosenborg this season. Their possession has remained around the 55% mark and from a defensive point of view, their xG conceded per game has only risen extremely slightly from 1.07 to 1.10. Despite some opinion that their defence has been ‘poor’, it would appear as though not too much has changed in this department. The real problem lies in the more technical and attacking areas. Rosenborg’s xG per game has significantly reduced from 1.50 to just 0.95. Their xG per shot is an appallingly low 0.087, which is actually the worst out of any club in the entire league!

The simple fact is that the Trondheim outfit hasn’t been getting enough shots on goal. Their average shots per 90 mins have reduced to 10.72 compared to 13.36 in 2018. Accuracy on target has also dipped to a low of 30.7% as opposed to nearly 40% last season. And it seems that they have been more desperate to shoot from less advantaged positions with nearly half of their attempts coming outside of the penalty area. Again, this is a significant increase from last season when nearly 60% of their shots were from inside the box.

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Rosenborg shots on target this season have dropped to as low as 30.7% – the lowest rate in the whole league.


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46.4% of Rosenborg’s shots have come from outside the penalty area in 2019 – the third highest % out of all teams in the Eliteserien.

Crossing Woes

A big factor attributing towards their issues have been the type of tactics and system the new coach likes to employ. Horneland has clearly been targeting wide areas because only one team in the Eliteserien (Brann) have attempted more crosses per match than RBK this season (22.01). This is another big change compared to the previous campaign when they averaged significantly less (16.88). Of course, many a good side has based their success around wide areas and crossing. However, the biggest issue RBK have had in this department is accuracy. Just 26.07% of their crosses have been hitting the mark, which is yet another statistic in which they rank worst out of anyone in the league.

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Rosenborg crosses vs Mjøndalen (19/5/19). A staggering amount of 20/21 was inaccurate.

In terms of actual crossing, I have noticed the biggest consistent issue is simply not getting enough players in the box to get on the end of them! There is no point in sending over a delivery if the is such a low % of connecting to find a player. The other issue is quite simply the lack of a quality ball into the middle when the situation is favourable. Decision making and execution haven’t been very good. Here are some typical examples below of their issues.

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Here is a typical example of Rosenborg crossing problems in 2019. The better pass would be towards the area circled, but instead, the target is to get balls in the middle. However, with only one man to aim at, the percentages are very low of actually connecting.


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It was no surprise that this cross was easily dealt with comfortably and cleared.


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The right-back does well to work a position in which to get in a cross. But the matchup is 5vs1 in favour of the defending side.


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In this example, they did have a favourable situation in the box. A ball into the suggested area could’ve caused problems.


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However, the cross was shockingly poor and went out for a goal kick. This is only one example but there have been loads of these bad crosses for RBK in 2019.

Horneland has attempted to change this team from trying to play through the middle and they rank 3rd lowest out of any team attempting ‘through passes’ averaging just 4.61 attempts per game. This was a big area of strength for Rosenborg in 2018 and they also led the way in terms of ‘key passes’ per match (3.05 per 90 mins). However, in this department, they currently rank 3rd worst in 2019 with their average as low as just 1.22. The attempt to focus this team more in wide areas has taken away strength of the past and it seems certain players have yet to fully adapt to the new tactics and system.


Much chance of recovery?

So, what does the future hold for Norway’s biggest club? In terms of the league, they are currently ten points off the top of the table which could extend further if other teams win games in hand. To launch a title charge now would take an amazing effort and something which appears totally unrealistic. In July they will be representing the Eliteserien in the Champions League qualifiers. In recent years, RBK has certainly given a good account of themselves in Europe, as many Celtic fans will concur. In the 2017/18 campaign, they beat Ajax in the final round of Europa League qualifying and managed to make the group stage. If Rosenborg were to start their European campaign tomorrow, I don’t think the outcome would be very favourable.

If Eirik Horneland is given the whole season to turn things around he needs to play more to the strength of his squad. There is no point in targeting wide areas with loads of crosses if the strikers upfront can’t get on the end of them. Nicklas Bendtner would probably be the best option should the coach wish to persist with his current system. The problem is that the Danish international appears to be out of favour and the coach has somewhat alienated him. Despite Horneland’s clear flaws there is only so much blame tactics and management can be given. Ultimately, this is a team that won the domestic double last year, so the squad still has a clear abundance of quality. Quite simply, the level and standard of performances haven’t been good enough. The quality is there on paper to provide a better attacking output. Even in the wrong system, there is no excuse to be bottom of the league with shots on target and cross accuracy. It’s high time the players themselves stood up more and took on some of the responsibility as well.


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