In a season where recently promoted Ranheim currently sit third in the table and Brann is putting together a legitimate title challenge against Rosenborg, you could be forgiven for overlooking Haugesund’s Eliteserien campaign thus far. There have been a few surprises in the 2018 football season in Norway’s top flight, so if you have not noticed Araberne so far, here is your notice. FK Haugesund are a club you should not overlook this season.
Last year, Haugesund finished tenth in table at season’s end. It was a fitting place for the club based on their underlying metrics, compiling the 11th best xG difference, 11th best xG total, and 7th best xG against in terms of underlying numbers. While the middle of the Eliteserien table was packed tight, with clubs only separated by a point or two, Haugesund more or less finished where we would have expected based on their stats.
Fast forward to this season and the club currently sits 5th in the table after 12 matches at 21 points. They are only 2 points outside of a medal spot currently and seem a legitimate contender for a medal. Looking at their underlying numbers, we see they support Haugesund’s improved form, with the club currently 4th in xG difference. To this point in the season, Haugesund has been able to improve upon their mid-table form from last season, but what has changed for the club since 2017?
In 2017, the Haugesund attack was pretty mediocre. Only relegated Viking and Odd scored less goals. Their underlying numbers were not any better. As previously mentioned, they were 11th in xG total at 34.09. Compare those numbers to this season in which the club is 2nd for xG total excluding penalties and 4th in xG total overall. This has resulted in 14 goals in open play, which is 5th in Eliteserien so far. It seems an improved attack has helped Haugesund rise up the table this season, but what has changed for the club’s attack?
Two key additions in the transfer market have lead Haugesund in a revamped attack. Unfortunately one of these additions has definitively declared he will not be back to the club, but Haugesund’s additions of Christian Grindheim and David Akintola have helped the FKH attack to be a force to be reckoned with so far this Eliteserien season.
While David Akintola may have publicly said Haugesund is a nice place to visit but he would not want to live there, the attacker on loan from FC Midtjylland has been great in his time in Norway. He has scored 3 goals and contributed 4 assists in league play so far. He also has an xG of 5.23 which is 6th in the league (0.44 per 90) and xA of 2.17 which is 18th in the league (0.18 per 90). Looking at his underlying numbers, we might even expect his goal scoring to increase as the season progresses.
Only averaging 0.25 goals per 90 minutes so far, Akintola has only scored on about 10% of his shots taken so far, which is slightly below average. It does not seem that he is someone who struggles with shot accuracy, as he is averaging getting 50% of his shots on target this season. With an xG of 0.44 per 90 minutes and an xG per shot of 0.19, the Nigerian attacker has been able to get quality shot attempts and we might see his goal scoring increase as a result as the season continues.
In addition to Akintola, Christian Grindheim has been another key addition to Haugesund. The midfielder arrived from Valerenga in the off-season after fourteen years away and the veteran Norwegian has made his mark nearly immediately since returning. He has scored 2 goals and contributed 1 assist in Eliteserien play so far. He is 15th in xG total at 2.92 or 0.20 per 90, 1st in xSA (expected secondary assists, or the pass before the pass before the shot) at 2.25 or 0.22 per 90, and 8th in xGChain at 6.70 or 0.65 per 90. Seeing such impressive numbers in all of these categories tells the tale of a player involved in every aspect of a squad’s attack. Grindheim has contributed to every aspect of the Haugesund attack this season and the benefit to the club can be seen on the pitch.
The addition of David Akintola and Christian Grindheim have helped bring out the best of their Haugesund teammates as well. In 2017, no player at the club finished among the top 20 players in expected goals, expected assists, and xGChain. This season, Akintola, Frederik Gytkjaer (8th in the league 4.69 xG total 0.42 per 90), and Grindheim are among the top 20 in xG in Eliteserien. Alexander Stolas (7th in the league 3.07 xA total 0.29 per 90) and Akintola are among the top 20 in the league in Eliteserien. All of those players are among the top 20 in xGChain in Eliteserien. Haugesund is seeing contributions on attack from numerous players in ways that it did not see last season and is reaping the rewards.
While Brann surprisingly sit atop the Eliteserien table with a six point gap between themselves and Rosenborg, the race for the silver and bronze has been hotly contested since the beginning of the season. Only four points separates second place from seventh place in the table. It remains to be seen if Brann can continue this championship form, so the margins are razor thin for all of the medal places in Eliteserien. Numerous clubs could be in contention for a medal come seasons end. Yet, Haugesund have shown in their statistics and form on the pitch that they should be considered a contender for one of those medal spots.
Though David Akintola seems to be destined for locations outside Haugesund in 2019, both he and Christian Grindheim have brought the Haugesund attack to a different level. They have both put together impressive statistics and have seemingly brought the best out of their teammates thus far. If Haugesund does want to end up with medals around their necks come season end, they will need continued contributions from their two off-season additions.
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.