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Monday, July 15, 2024

Solskjær stunned by opening loss

Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Molde Fotballklubb (FK) suffered a shock 3-0 loss to Norwegian Premier League newcomers Sarpsborg 08 in the opening game of the new season on Friday. For Solskjær, the result wasn’t the way he wanted to launch his new coaching career.

Sarpsborg 08, promoted to the top tier of Norwegian football (known as ‘Tippeligaen‘ or ‘Eliteserien‘) for the first time since 1976, was predicted to struggle against better opposition over the coming year, but stunned Solskjær’s men with a commanding second-half performance. While the home side was expected to experience a baptism by fire as they entered Tippeligaen, it was Solskjær and Molde FK who ended up burned.

Solskjær, arguably the most famous Norwegian in the world, came to prominence as a player during his time at English Premier League giants Manchester United. After managing Manchester United’s reserve team following his retirement as a player, he was last autumn announced as the new manager of Molde FK, one of Norway’s biggest teams that finished second in the league just two season ago. The media attention around his appointment was intense, and Solskjær’s return to Norwegian football is hoped to revitalize the entire league competition. But he couldn’t have asked for a worse start to his full managerial career.

Wasteful Molde
Sarpsborg 08, playing at home, almost took the lead in the first two minutes of the game through Michael Røn, and was denied it only by some lucky and desperate last-gasp defending from Molde FK, as well as the crossbar.  The home side had a number of other good chances in the first half, although Molde FK had the upper-hand during for the vast majority of the first 45 minutes. Solskjær’s men could not find a way through despite a number of close chances, with their finishing often letting them down, as well as key players like Makhtar Thioune blasting wide from too many speculative long shots. Emil Johansson was arguably the guiltiest offender when it came to spurning a golden chance, shooting wide from a gilt-edged opportunity when he found himself unmarked at the back post after a drilled cross from Pape Paté Diouf.

Sarpsborg’s second half heroics
After half-time, the game was a much different affair, with Sarpsborg 08’s trademark attacking style coming to the fore. Many commentators have predicted that the small club will struggle to avoid immediate relegation back to lower tiers of Norwegian football, but manager Roar Johansen’s policy of sticking with largely the same squad of players from last season, as well as the same bold style of play, seems to have paid off if their second half performance is anything to go by.

The first goal came after 53 minutes. Midfielder Erik Jonvik found himself with acres of space in which to shoot on the edge of the box, and hit a curing, dipping shot that rattled Molde’s crossbar. Replays showed that goalkeeper Espen Bugge Pettersen managed a slight touch to push the ball onto the bar, but there was nothing he could do about the follow up from goalscorer Martin Wiig, who headed unchallenged into an empty net to give Sarpsborg 08 a 1-0 lead. They extended their lead just minutes later through a fantastic free-kick from 25 yards by Jo Nymo Matland, which was awarded after an unnecessarily rash challenge by Pape Paté Diouf. There have to be question marks around  goalkeeper Bugge Pettersen for the second goal, and perhaps similar questions could be asked over the third too. From an excellent 74th-minute cross, Øyvind Hoås scored a much-deserved goal for his man-of-the-match winning performance through a strong downward header, but the Molde FK goalkeeper, tipped as a potential starter for the Norwegian national team against Denmark next week, could arguably have done far more to keep it out.

Solskjær: ‘A lot to work with’
After the game, Solskjær told newspaper Aftenposten that his team “has a lot to work with” over the next two weeks, when there are no Tippeligaen games because of a pause for international fixtures. Although firm conclusions cannot be taken from just one match, the question marks around Molde FK’s quality, particularly defensively, will persist, whereas Sarpsborg 08 will only grow in confidence as they continue to adjust to life at the highest level.

In particular, the jury remains out on whether the young squad Solskjær has assembled is yet capable of bringing Molde FK’s fans the return to success they so strongly crave.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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