Lillestrøm and Rosenborg played each other three times in 2011 – nineteen goals were scored. The Åråsen crowd weren’t hoping for drama, they were expecting it. After a frantic start, goal-gaping opportunities, a debut goal and an offside equaliser in a minute of extra time not even allotted, that’s exactly what they got.
A new season
Lillestrøm’s remarkable drop in form in mid-2011 is wholly correlated to three factors: the sales of Nosa Igiebor and Anthony Ujah, and the season-ending injury to Björn Bergmann Sigurðarson. Losing these three players, who scored or assist 33 of Lillestrøm’s 49 goals, saw the Canaries win just three points from their last ten games and drop from sixth position to where one team separated them from relegation.
Change was necessary, and, along with new manager Magnus Haglund, Lillestrøm signed eleven new players this winter. Seven of these started against Rosenborg – Ramović, Westerberg, Nystuen, Toindouba, Vaagan Moen, Pálmason and Andersson – two more than in the season opener against Hønefoss. With Fredrik Gulbrandsen injured in that game and Luke Rodgers only ready for the bench, Sigurðarson moved forward to a false nine role and Johan Andersson came into a direct second striker role, whilst Guy Toindouba was drafted into midfield in mind of Rosenborg’s fearsome midfield. Otherwise, Lillestrøm kept to the broad 4-4-1-1 they’ve played since 2009.
Jan Jönsson was afforded the opportunity to make only one change to his Rosenborg side that won over Brann in the opening weekend, with Simen Wangberg coming in for winter signing Stefen Strandberg at centre back. Rosenborg’s only other major winter signing, Steffen Iversen started again in a free-role just behind John Chibuike. Since signing Chibuike, along with Mohammed-Awal Issah and Bořek Dočkal, in the summer of 2011, Jönsson has been able to play the 4-4-1-1 that brought him so much success at Stabæk – against Lillestrøm was no different.
The first thing noticeable about the line-ups are the parallels: Jesper Westerberg and Mikael Dorsin were both more prepared to push forward than their fellow full backs, albeit more by nature than tactically; Sigurðarson and Chibuike, more favourably second strikers, added a large amount of mobility to each forward line; each midfield took up the playmaker-destroyer shape (Vaagan Moen-Toindouba and Henriksen-Issah) so common in world football now; in Dočkal and Vaagan Moen, both sides had two of the most threatening set-piece takers in Tippeligaen; and both second strikers were looking to exploit the space behind midfield.
From the last point, it was the success and the failure of Iversen and Andersson which dictated the early rhythm of the game. Andersson opened the scoring after laying the ball off to Toindouba at the half-way line before arriving fashionably late and volleying for the highlight reels from a deflected Erling Knudtzon cross. Toindouba, who was afforded space to dictate throughout the game, had Iversen either harmlessly behind him or stepping off when goal-side. Although Andersson was livelier in defence, Issah was also given equal chance to drive forward, which set up the chance for Iversen to eventually finish. If either side set up in a 4-1-4-1 to counter this threat, the first half might have been goalless rather than with the openness we saw.
Last week, Rosenborg comfortably defeated Brann by sitting off their predictable midfield and getting forward in numbers through gaps left in defence. They were happy to give dominance over again, completing only 216 of 324 attempted passes to Lillestrøm’s 348 from 460. The difference between Brann and Lillestrøm, though, is firstly that Steinar Pedersen, naturally a centre or right back, neutralised the threat of Dočkal on the counter-attack. But, most importantly, Sigurðarson’s movement from the front occupied up to three defenders at one time.
It was, then, no surprise that the young Icelander was the player to set up Lillestrøm’s second goal. Midway through the second half, both Rosenborg and Lillestrøm substituted the goal scorers for Rade Prica and Luke Rodgers respectively – whilst the former saw two strikers unprepared to defend with their midfield, Sigurðarson was now able to play behind a goal-scoring figure and overload Rosenborg’s midfield. A movement of measured class provided the goal, but that was only made easier by Jönsson’s attempts to win the game.
Rosenborg by no means failed to threaten, however. They twice hit the woodwork, once through one of Dočkal’s set-pieces of which have set up seven goals from his thirteen starts since arriving. And it was eventually a set-piece that got them an equaliser. A long throw in extra time of extra time saw a melee ensue, with an offside Dorsin poking in. It was harsh on Lillestrøm and Haglund, who had patently been the better team.
Man of the match
Different outlets and newspapers have unanimously recognised that, if possible, both Sigurðarson and Toindouba deserved to be ‘banens beste’. This was Toindouba’s first start since signing from Espérance, yet has already laid claim to be the latest African-born defensive midfielder to excel in Norway. Given the space in front of Rosenborg’s midfield, he was able to produce one of the most commanding performances so far this season, and made decisive passes for each of Lillestrøm’s goals.
Whilst Toindouba dictated midfield, Sigurðarson put fear into Rosenborg’s defence with unpredictable movement and skill. His former coach, now TV 2 Sport pundit, Henning Berg heralded the 21-year old as “fast, mobile, good with the ball and strong,” going onto call him a “class player … crucial to Lillestrøm’s offensive game.” For as many headlines Ujah and Nosa gained last year and as many players Lillestrøm sign this year, Sigurðarson is and was always their best player.
Both these teams will be pushing for a medal by October. With a little added positivity, Rosenborg will undoubtedly end with an excellent home record. As we saw here, they will never settle for defeat, even into the fifth minute of added time. Jönsson does make mistakes, but he has a system prepared to fight for gold.
Under Haglund, Lillestrøm have a team and a supporting squad to put amends to a terrible 2011. In Toindouba, Vaagan Moen and Sigurðarson, they’ve a midfield triangle which will match most or all others in Tippeligaen.
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