Superliga 2022-23 Play-Off Storylines
The regular season of the Danish Superliga is over, and the play-off rounds await. Before they’re here, though, let’s quickly look at which teams have impressed so far, who has disappointed, and which key players we should be looking out for as we approach that sharp end of the season.
The Green Revelation – Viborg FF
Ask someone outside of Denmark to name a Danish team, and Viborg FF would probably not be one of them. The club from the mainland, however, has impressed everyone this season.
Relegated from the Superliga in 2017, it took the De Grønne four years to return to the top flight. After a modest seventh-place finish last year, this season they’ve taken everybody by surprise, and will compete for the top spot in the league as we enter the play-offs. Viborg finished third in the table in the regular season, an achievement made all the more surprising given their highest league finish in Superliga is fourth (1999-00 and 2005-06).
And they’ve achieved that through a vibrant and young squad. Only FC Nordsjælland (22 years and 262 days) have a younger average starting XI than Viborg (24 years and 270 days) this season.
But who are the faces behind this success?
At 27 years old, Clint Leemans is one of the more experienced players at Viborg FF. Playing on the left side of a three-man midfield, Leemans is tasked with supplying the Viborg attack, delivering crosses and passes into the box with his left foot. Only two players have created more chances than Leemans this season in the Superliga (37) and only two players have recorded more expected assists than the Dutchman (3.7).
Despite all this creative output, he’s provided only one assist, suggesting his passing has been on the end of some below-average finishing. But combine that one assist with the five goals he’s scored, and Leemans is still joint-second for goal involvements for Viborg this campaign (Elias Achouri also has six goals and assists), behind compatriot Jay-Roy Grot (11). The latter scored nine goals and assisted two more but moved to Japan last winter.
Elias Achouri arrived last summer from Portuguese side Estoril Praia. At the start of the season, he was only used as a substitute but since the beginning of November he’s earned the manager’s trust, starting every game for Viborg in the Superliga. And in 2023 the Tunisian attacker has really hit form. Achouri is the main attacking threat at Viborg, cutting in from the left-hand side with his right foot and running at defenders. In 2023 Achouri has completed more dribbles in the Superliga than any other player (25) and among players with 15+ dribbles attempted in this period, no player has had a higher dribble success rate (59.5% –25 out of 42).
But there’s also end product to his attacking play. Since his first start at Viborg, he leads the side for goals (four), shots (12), shots on target (seven) and touches in the opposition box (32).
Achouri also puts in the hard yards defensively. Only one Viborg player made more tackles than Achouri in this period (14 – seven successful), while he won possession in the final third seven times, more than any of his team-mates since first appearing in the starting XI.
Achouri is the man in form for Viborg entering the Championship round and will be pivotal to their search for their first Superliga title.
FC Midtjylland – Impressive in Europe, but Setback in Superliga
The most remarkable team to miss out on the Championship group is FC Midtjylland. They’ve qualified for the Championship group every season since 2006-07, and in the last five seasons they’ve finished in the top two, winning two titles.
This year Midtjylland have been impressive in the UEFA Europa League. They beat Lazio 5-1 and were unbeaten home and away against Dutch Eredivisie leaders Feyenoord (drawing against them 2-2 twice). Their performances in Group F saw them advance to the Europa League play-offs in an absurd way: all four teams in the group ended with eight points and FCM went through second on goal difference.
Where did it go wrong for Midtjylland in the league, though? A glance at their home form tells you all you need to know. They picked up just nine points in 11 games in their own MCH Arena. Only the bottom two sides picked up fewer points at home this Superliga season (AaB and Lyngby, both eight). FCM’s six losses in Herning were their joint-most ever in a Superliga regular season (tied with 2005-06), and while most campaigns in the past had seventeen home games, this season had just 11.
Weirdly enough, Midtjylland did not lose a single away game, making them just the fourth team ever to stay unbeaten away from home in a regular Superliga season (FCK in 2006-07 and 2016-17 and FCM in 2019-20). But due to their seven draws in these matches, it was not enough to reach the Championship Group.
Although Midtjylland did not make it to the Championship Group, there still is a way to reach European football next season: by topping the relegation group and winning resulting play-off.
But that looks like an uphill task now, given two vital players left last winter. Before the World Cup break just two players were involved in more open-play sequences ending in a shot than Anders Dreyer (80), but he left FCM for Anderlecht in January. Evander, who had created the most chances in the Superliga before the World Cup (37), moved to the MLS to join the Portland Timbers.
Lighting up the Relegation Round – Players to Look out For
When the Superliga is split into two groups, you don’t want to end up in the bottom half. Instead of fighting for the championship, clubs in the bottom half are mainly battling relegation. That said, it’s an excellent opportunity for players to show what they’re worth. Which players can save their teams from the worst fate of all?
Sebastian Jørgensen (Silkeborg IF)
One of the biggest upsets of this Superliga season is Silkeborg IF ending up in the relegation round. The side qualified for Europa Conference League football and started their domestic season off well. But from October onwards SIF’s form nose-dived, winning just three of their last 12 league fixtures (D4 L5), and finishing the regular season in seventh.
A player who can certainly not be blamed for this setback is Sebastian Jørgensen, the Silkeborg-born winger who has become one of the Superliga’s stars over the past two seasons.
In the current campaign, despite Silkeborg struggling collectively, the 22-year-old is the second-most involved player in open play shot-ending sequences (114).
Playing in the Superliga’s relegation round is certainly not what Jørgensen would have hoped, but the next ten games might also present a chance for him to prove his worth. Can he make the difference and show that he is indeed one of the Superliga’s all-stars?
Allan Sousa (AaB)
One of the few Brazilians to have graced Danish football, Allan Sousa is a peculiar yet familiar face in the Superliga relegation round. After shining for Vejle BK for a couple of seasons, interrupted by a short Belgian spell at STVV, Allan Sousa made the move to AaB last summer. His side finished last in the regular season, but Sousa kept on doing what he does best.
Only Daniel Wass created more chances in the Superliga 2022-23 season (42) than Allan Sousa, who set up 41 attempts for team-mates. In terms of expected assists, Sousa ranks second in the league as well, with an xA of 4.1 (Mohamed Daramy leads the way with 4.9).
With 26 of these chances created coming from open play, and 15 from set pieces, Sousa has shown his versatility as a creator. It’s a feat that will help AaB in their fight against relegation, but will it be enough?
FC Midtjylland in the relegation round? The same side that competed for the Danish titles for many of the previous seasons? It’s the sad reality of this season’s Superliga. One certainty remains, however: FCM keep producing top talent.
The next off the production line from the Midtjylland academy is 21-year-old Gustav Isaksen. Not only did he score nine goals this season, but his underlying stats show promise too. Only two players had more shots in the Superliga 2022-23 than Isaksen (50), while he has proved to be quite the dribbler. His tally of 111 dribbles is the third-highest in the league overall and of the 50 shots that Isaksen took this campaign, roughly a third were preceded by a carry (17) a proportion that ranks him second in the league.
FC Nordsjælland – Denmark’s Talent Factory
It’s safe to say that FC Nordsjælland are enjoying a successful 2022-23 Superliga campaign, having gone into the Championship round with a league-high 43 points. The Tigrene will be hoping to win their first Danish top-flight title since 2011-12 and putting to bed a disappointing last couple of seasons – culminating in narrowly escaping relegation last campaign.
One of the things that has definitely not gone wrong in recent years is the club’s ability to recruit, develop and sell hugely talented players. At the same time, that business model doesn’t always go together with winning titles. Case in point is 18-year-old striker Andreas Schjelderup. The Norwegian teenager is the second-highest scorer in the division this season with 10 goals, but left FC Nordsjælland for Portuguese giants Benfica in the winter break. Prior to his move, he’d also recorded the highest xG value per shot (0.21 xG), the highest shot conversion rate (37%) and the third-highest shooting accuracy (69.6%) among all players with at least five goals this season.
But the conveyor belt keeps churning and it seems that FC Nordsjælland already have Schjelderup’s successor in their squad. Step forward 19-year-old Ernest Nuamah, who is ironically seven months older than his predecessor. He’s netted eight goals and assisted four more this Superliga campaign. The Ghanaian showed his impact in FCN’s last game of the regular season against Brøndby IF, turning the game around on his own by scoring two goals after his side went 1-0 down early.
Besides the goals, Nuamah tops multiple rankings in the 2022-23 Superliga. He’s taken the most shots (55), landed the most shots on target (24), completed more dribbles (48) and has the second-highest expected goals total (8.5). The forward also has the most shot-ending carries this campaign (18 – 2 goals), a statistic in which his shooting and dribbling skills are combined.
On top of that, there are only two players this Superliga season who moved the ball 10+ metres upfield more often than the young striker (97 times). Aiming for the title, FC Nordsjælland are likely to be in safe hands with their newest star.
But Schjelderup and Nuamah are far from the only top talents that FC Nordsjælland have developed over recent years. In 2018-19 and 2019-20, the Tigers had Ghanaian starlet Mohammed Kudus in their ranks, with the attacking midfielder involved in 17 goals in 51 matches (14 goals, three assists), as well completing the most dribbles over that period (183 – at least 50 more than any other player). Kudus left the club for about £10 million pounds to join Dutch giants Ajax in the summer of 2020.
FC Nordsjælland have long had a strong connection to Africa. Their chairman is also the owner of Right to Dream, a Ghanaian football academy that has brought players like Simon Adingra (Brighton & Hove Albion/Union Saint-Gilloise) and Kamal Sowah (Club Brugge) to European football. Ernest Nuamah and Mohammed Kudus joined FC Nordsjælland from Right to Dream, just like Kamaldeen Sulemana did – who was just bought from Rennes by Premier League side Southampton for over £20m. Whereas Kudus was more of a midfielder, Sulemana ticked all the boxes for a rapid and technically gifted winger. In his 42 Superliga games for FCN, Sulemana scored 14 times and assisted four goals.
FC Nordsjælland might well win their first Danish top-flight title since 2011-12, but it’s been long clear that the Tigers’ academy continues to furnish them with a very reliable source of talent youngsters.
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