With Viking FK challenging for their first Eliteserien title in over 30 years, we take a look at the Norwegian side and what has led to this potentially significant moment.
It really has been a rollercoaster ride at the top of the Eliteserien in Norway this season. In mid-June, Bodø/Glimt held a 10-point lead at the top and were sure favourites to coast to the title from there.
But Viking FK – who were in fourth place and 14 points off the top at that stage – then rattled off 12 wins in their next 13 games, including a 3-2 win over Bodø/Glimt, to usurp them at the top after 21 games. Then, at the start of October, Viking suffered a surprising 4-0 defeat away at Molde and dropped back down to second.
Now, with six games remaining, and just three points separating the top two, the title race is in full swing.
It’s familiar territory for Bodø/Glimt, who won the league in 2020 and 2021, but Viking are aiming to win their first title since 1991.
The question that remains is can they do it?
The Stage Is Set
Before the season began, many predicted this year’s title race would be between last year’s champions Molde and Bodø/Glimt, who, as mentioned, had won the Eliteserien the previous two seasons.
While Molde started the campaign awfully, taking just four points from their first five league games, Bodø/Glimt’s campaign took off like a rocket.
With 31 points after 11 matches, they made the joint-best start to a season since the introduction of the single top division in 1963, with only Rosenborg in 1995 and Glimt themselves in 2020 matching that tally after 11 matches.
But since then, Kjetil Knutsen’s side have won just five out of their subsequent 11 matches.
That opened the door, and Viking stepped right through it. From mid-June through September, Viking won 12 of their 14 games (D1 L1) and collected more points than any other side in the Eliteserien over that period.
Viking are a household name in Norway, having featured in the Norwegian top flight in 56 of the 61 seasons since the single top division was introduced in 1963. Only Rosenborg can match that tally. Viking have won the league title seven times – a tally that’s only bettered by Rosenborg (26) – but lasted tasted success over 30 years ago, way back in 1991.
Key to their unlikely title charge has been their potency in front of goal. Viking have scored 52 goals this season, and their 2.1 goals per game is their highest average in a top-flight season since 1998 (2.5 per game) and their third-highest overall.
There’s been plenty of goalmouth action at the other end as well. Viking’s games have seen a total of 85 goals overall (3.5 per game), their sixth-highest average since 1963.
While four teams have had more shots than Viking this season (354), their shot conversion rate of 14.4% is the highest in the league, which has enabled them to score a goal with every 6.9 shots – also the highest of all teams. This hyper-efficiency has come from Viking taking shots from excellent locations – their 0.13 xG/shot is the joint-highest in the league alongside Molde and Tromsø.
The Stavanger-based side have made a healthy habit of finishing games strongly too, with 31 of their 51 goals (60.8%) coming in the last half hour of play, while 17 of those have come in the last 15 minutes, at least three more than any other team.
In six different games, Viking have won a point or more thanks to a goal scored after the 85th minute, more than any other team in the league, with those goals rescuing 11 points in total. Overall this campaign, only title rivals Bodø/Glimt have won more points from losing positions (15) than Viking (14).
The Players Behind Viking’s Title Challenge
Zlatko Tripić has been Viking’s most influential player this term. Only Bodø/Glimt‘s Amahl Pellegrino (31) and Brann’s Bård Finne have been involved in more goals than the 30-year-old in the Norwegian top-flight this year (18 – 11 goals and seven assists).
History tells us those are impressive numbers for a Viking player. Since Opta started collecting this data (2012), only Veton Berisha has recorded more goal involvements over a single campaign for Viking (27 in 2021 and 21 in 2020). With Tripić’s contributions at the top end the pitch, it’s no surprise he leads the side for open-play attacking sequence involvements this season.
As well as his goals, Tripić has been one of the top creators in the Eliteserien, with only Lillestrøm’s Gjermund Åsen crafting more chances (82) than the Norwegian winger (69 – 38 from open play).
Most of those chances (49) have come via crosses. No player has attempted more crosses from open play than Tripic (130), with 37 of those finding a teammate, also a league-high.
Markus Solbakken has also impressed this season. The 23-year-old is an ever-present in the Viking midfield, with no midfielder playing more minutes at the club than Solbakken this season (1,860, starting 21 of the 24 games).
Solbakken plays an important role in driving his side up the pitch from the base of midfield – excluding defenders, only three players have recorded more progressive carries than his 171 this Eliteserien campaign.
While he has just two goals and no assists this season, Solbakken leads the league for secondary assists (7), suggesting he’s still been important in creating attacking opportunities for Viking. These positive performances saw Solbakken make his international debut for Norway in September against Jordan.
There are now just six games remaining in the Eliteserien. According to the Opta supercomputer, Viking have a 6.7% chance of winning the title. That’s admittedly not a lot, but it’s probably more than any Viking fan would have given their team at the start of the season, particularly after a disappointing 11th-place finish last season.
Using the Opta Power Rankings we can break down the difficultly of Viking and Bodø/Glimt’s remaining six fixtures; which reveals a potential advantage for the former.
Viking’s most difficult fixture comes right after international break, as they host fourth-placed Tromsø. But four of their remaining five league matches all come against teams in the bottom half of the table.
Bodø/Glimt’s last few matches are a bit easier on paper, with a slightly lower league position and higher Opta power ranking for their opponents, while they play four of their six at home compared to Viking’s three from six. However, their final two games see them come up against teams currently in the top six.
The advantage still lies with Bodø/Glimt, but Viking will be dreaming of their first league title since 1991. And who can blame them?