As the playoff between Sogndal and Ranheim goes on and the Cup Final approaches this weekend, my inaugural ride on the roller coaster that is Norwegian football is approaching it’s conclusion. It has certainly been an interesting ride, as I learned seemingly something new every week, such as you actually give out medals for second and third, who knew?!
To the surprise of no one, even someone who just started watching Norwegian football closely, Rosenborg won the title. Though at times it was closer than people may have thought in the beginning of the year, thanks to the inspired play of clubs like Sarpsborg, Molde, and Brann. Sarpsborg actually finished the season with the best xG difference ahead of Rosenborg. Often times, elite clubs in leagues will overperform their xG numbers because the talent is so much greater at their club than the rest of the league. Yet, Sarpsborg’s stats were very impressive all season and they very much deserved their medal this season.
On the other end of the table, clubs like Viking and Aalesund under-performed their xG and ended up relegated. Both clubs finished the season with xG numbers outside the bottom three of the league. Despite having underlying metrics suggesting they were better than relegation, these two clubs will have to fight their way back from OBOS.
One other club that did not reach the heights of the table that their statistics suggested they could would be Lillestrom. There was a bit of a Twitter debate about the club this season. Some corners of Norwegian football Twitter suggested the club deserved to be relegated, while others thought they underachieved and perhaps faced a bit of bad luck to not be higher in the table.
If we look at the expected goal numbers for Lillestrom for this Eliteserien campaign, we see that they are 2nd in the league in xG difference at 9.70. On the attacking side of the ball, LSK had a xG for of 43.90 and conceded 34.19 xG, which were 1st and 2nd in the league respectively. These are respectable numbers you would not expect from a club that was not completely out of the relegation fight until the last handful of matches and numbers you might expect from a club fighting for a medal.
When we compare Lillestrom’s goal difference to their expected goal difference, we get -14.38 meaning their goal difference is over 14 goals worse than we would expect from the xG numbers. Only Viking underachieved their xG difference worse this season. While the Canaries avoided getting too close to the relegation edge, clearly there were issues if the club underachieved by that much. Figuring out what those issues are will require a deeper dive into the numbers.
After going further into the numbers, the glaring issues for Lillestrom seem to be on the extreme ends of the pitch. With good xG numbers for and against, the blame starts to shift to those who’s job it is turn to those expected goals into real ones and prevent those expected goals from becoming real goals. LSK’s place in the table mostly comes down to their strikers and keepers.
On the defensive side of the ball, Lillestrom’s back line had a decent season. As mentioned, the Canaries had the second lowest xG conceded in Eliteserien at 34.19. They also had the third lowest number of chances conceded in the league at 285. The LSK back line was able to limit the number of chances and quality of chances their keeper faced, yet they conceded 43 goals.
43 goals against is not the worst in the league, it is actually eighth, but when compared to the club’s xG against, it looks worse. Because of this we have to look at the man in between the posts. Arnold Origi has been around Norwegian football for the better part of a decade, but Lillestrom may need to look elsewhere for a starting keeper if they want to improve on this year’s finish.
Borrowing heavily from the work of the likes of Thom Lawrence, Paul Riley, and the folks at American Soccer Analysis, we can use our xG numbers to judge the performances of a keeper. Taking the xG from a model made up from shots on target each keeper faced and subtracting that number from the number of goals each keeper conceded, we can see the number of goals more or less each keeper conceded than we would expect in Norway.
If we look at these numbers for keepers in Eliteserien who appeared in at least 1,000 minutes, it first does not paint a pretty picture for all keepers in the league this year. No one in Norway “saved their club goals”, in the sense that their goals conceded were all higher than the xG of all the shots on target they faced, with Andre Hansen with the lowest Goals Against – xG Against at 4.22 and 0.17 per 90 minutes.
When we check on Origi’s numbers, we see his Goals Against – xG Against is much, much higher, at 19.66 and 0.75 per 90 minutes. This means that he let in over 19 goals than you would expect based on the shots he faced, almost a goal a game. This is a lot (though he is only 4th worst…it was a rough year for keepers in Norway). An easy solution for the Canaries to move up to table is upgrading at keeper.
However we cannot put all the blame on Origi’s shoulders for Lillestrom’s 12th place finish. LSK’s defensive underlying metrics were solid, but their attacking underlying metrics were even better. The Canaries had the highest xG for this season, with 43.90, as well as having the most shots of any team in Eliteserien with 361. However, the team finished with the 10th most goals in the league with 40. While that is close to their xG numbers, in order to compete for a medal, the club will need their strikers to do better.
Despite his poor choice of which club he supports, our pal Rangers Report, who covers the blue half of Glasgow and Scottish football analytics in general, has discussed the idea of comparing an attacker’s goal output to the league average to judge their performance, a method we can employ to judge strikers in Norway this season. Rangers Report used three years worth of data to come up with the average number to compare players goal scoring to, but given that we have the large data sample from the good folks of Stratabet, we can take our average from similar sized leagues across Europe. Looking league wide at the players who played at least 1,000 minutes, we do not see any Lillestrom strikers in the top 20 Eliteserien players for Goals per 90 Above Average.
If we just look at the Goals Above Average numbers for only Lillestrom players, we only see three LSK players who had a goals per 90 above average, Melgalvis, Kippe, and Knudtzon, with Erling Knudtzon being the only actual striker of the bunch. Of course, we know that goal scoring is sometimes dependent on variance, so we should also investigate their underlying metrics.
When looking at the xG leaders in Eliteserien, we see Erling Knudtzon and Marco Tagbajumi among the top 20 in xG in the league, at 7.10 and 6.33 xG respectively. Of course, Tagbajumi arrived from Stromsgodset in August and only 2.83 of his xG total came in black and gold. As we can do with looking at a player’s goals above average, we can also compare a player’s xG output to an average striker.
Comparing Lillestrom players who have played at least 1,000 minutes xG per 90 to this average, we again only see three players who are above that average. We again see Kippe and Knudtzon, with Marco Tagbajumi also having an above average xG per 90. Tagbajumi has the highest xG per 90 Above Average at 0.14. This means he averages 0.14 xG more than the average striker per 90 minutes in similar leagues to Eliteserien.
Marco Tagbajumi is an interesting player for LSK. Between his time in Stromsgodset and Lillestrom this season, he had good xG numbers. However, when we compare these xG per 90 to average to his goals scored compared to average, we see he underachieved and scored 0.05 goals less per 90 than an average striker last season. This could indicate either he just was on the wrong end of some bad luck, or he might not be the best finisher. Looking at his goal scoring numbers across his entire career, he has a goals per 90 of 0.53, which is decent. However, Tagbajumi is 29 and is likely to only see his scoring regress as he gets older. With these numbers in mind, LSK should not expect a large number of goals from him going forward.
While being on the bottom half of the table finishing 12th was a disappointment, Lillestrom do have a Cup Final against Sarpsborg to look forward to this weekend. While Sarpsborg will be a tough opponent and LSK do have the vulnerabilities mentioned above, they did not get the very good underlying numbers discussed here by accident. The team has a strong defense and midfield. Simen Rafn has been particularly impressive for the club this season in the middle. Rafn finished the season 6th in the league in expected assists at 5.93, though only netting 3 assists (another sign the strikers for LSK struggled this season only rewarding him with these 3 assists).
These strengths lend themselves to a winner take all cup tie. Add in the random nature of cup fixtures, with variance swinging wildly and Lillestrom certainly have a chance to leave with the silverware Sunday. However, moving forward to next season they have clear weaknesses they need to address if they want to improve upon this season’s finish.
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.