When I began my journey with Norwegian football, I entered with minimal knowledge of the league. The only thing that seemed to be constant was Rosenborg would win the league. Last year, this year, and seemingly every year, the one sure thing I had was
Rosenborg would be lifting the trophy at years’ end. After I got my hands on some stats for the Tippeligaen last season, it certainly seemed that Rosenborg were deserving winners. There was one other very apparent fact that jumped out at me when I saw those stats. Brann seemed very fortunate to finish in second behind Rosenborg.
Last season, Brann finished with an expected goal difference of 1.97, which was 6th in the league. Yet, they vastly over-performed there xG and were able to finish in second. Much of their success last season stemmed from a solid backline that conceded the third lowest xG Against in 2016, but their attack left something to be desired. With these underlying statistics, R.O.N.N.Y. projected Brann to finish in the bottom half of the table.
Needless to say, R.O.N.N.Y. has certainly gotten SK Brann’s season thus far incredibly wrong. Brann find themselves again in second place, only a point behind Rosenborg after 11 games. However, unlike last year Brann have the backing stats to suggest that they could be the ones to loosen Rosenborg’s grip on the title this year.
So far this season, the Bergen club has the highest xG difference at 9.39. Similar to last season, they continue to be great defending their goal, having only conceded 10 goals and a xG against of 8.81, lowest in the league. Unlike last season, their attack has improved greatly, scoring 24 goals with an xG of 18.19, which is also best in the league. With such an improved attack and continuing solid defense, Brann can be considered title contenders with this form. But what is causing this improved attack for Brann?
When a club improves significantly in their attack, one of the first places most would look is a striker in, perhaps unsustainable, great form. So far this season, Kristopher Barmen and Jakob Olov have scored 4 and 3 goals for Brann. These two have an xG thus far of 2.87 and 2.46, which is good for 8th and 14th best in the league. While these are respectable, sustainable goal scoring/expected goal numbers, they certainly do not point to two strikers putting their team on their backs to carry them from a mediocre attack to the best in the league. So if not the strikers, then who?
While Barmen and Orlov have the highest xG and goal figures for the club thus far, one of the things that has defined Brann’s season thus far has been the contributions they have received on the scoresheet from everyone. So far, 11 different Brann players have scored in league play. The whole team is among the goals, but one man is helping to lead them there.
Fredrik Haugen has been that man. Through 11 games, Haugen has 3 goals and 4 assists for Brann, which is good for a 0.66 Goals+Assists per 90 minutes. His expected assists are at 4.59 overall and 0.43 per 90 minutes, which is the highest in Eliteserien. He has completed 30 Key Passes, or a pass that lead directly to a shot, and averages 2.8 per 90 minutes, which is also highest in the league.
Of his four assists, all of them resulted in shots that had at least an xG of 0.1, or put another way they had a 10% chance of being scored. Two of the four assists he has created had an xG value of at least 0.33, or a 33% of being scored. 66% of his key passes have lead to shots that had an xG value of 0.1. Haugen has been the maestro for Brann’s attack that has them as legitimate title contenders.
If we combine his xG+xA totals, he is at 6.08 which is third best in Norway’s top flight. His expected goals is at 1.49 and 0.15 per 90, which suggests he might not be able to keep scoring at that rate, but he still is a goal threat the opposition will need to worry about.
Clearly Haugen has been vital for Brann’s start. Surely if his form continues, other European clubs will be interested in him. Brann will need to hold onto him if there are hopes of finally defeating the black and white giant in Trondheim.
While Fredrik Haugen has been leading the Brann attack, the stats for a backline that lead the club to a second place finish last season have actually improved. Brann conceding 0.88 xG Against per game is better than what last year’s squad averaged and is the best in the league. They have also conceded the fewest shots thus far in the league, on average 7.18 per game and 1.73 on target per game. No matter what type of attack Brann has, those type of defensive stats will keep them in any match.
It will be a tall order for any club to unseat Rosenborg from the throne, despite their start of the season that is not up to their high standards. Brann will need to continue to see excellent play on both sides if they have championship hopes, but even then it might not be enough. Furthermore, Brann might not only have to look north towards Trondheim, but east as well. Sarpsborg have matched Brann’s great start to the season and sit equal with them on points. Furthermore, Sarpsborg underlying statistics are just as good as Brann’s. Their xG difference is at 7.09, only behind Brann in the league. If Brann have title aspirations on their mind, they will have to not only deal with the black and white giant in Rosenborg, but a fellow underdog in Sarpsborg.
This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.