Norway Women’s national team are making their final preparations ahead of UEFA Euro 2022 which will be held in England from July 6th to July 31st 2022, and they have high hopes in relation to their participation in such a glorious tournament as they believe in their ability to put on solid performances and compete with the other top European national teams. Norway have got what it takes to do well in this competition and reach the advanced stages of it, knowing that most players in this team are at their peak or close to reaching their peak in terms of performances and form. Names like Lyon’s Ada Hegerberg, Barcelona’s Caroline Hansen and Chelsea’s Guro Reiten could be the ones who will lead Norway to achieve one of their greatest results in this Euros, knowing that the quality of player the team has at their disposal in each section has significantly improved compared to the past.
It should be said that the three mentioned players, in particular, have had one of the best overall seasons of their respective careers so far. Reiten put on numerous excellent performances with her team in the FAWSL, helping them lift the title and win their battle with Arsenal. She was one of the fundamental players for Chelsea as she scored some important goals and supported the attack with assists regularly, especially from the left-wing — a position from which she usually shines and finds her best form.
Moreover, Hansen continued to be a key player for Barcelona just as she had done in previous campaigns. Her consistent level of performance and the danger she is always able to create from the right wing distinguish her from most other wingers. In reality, Hansen can be considered one of the best right-wingers in the world at the moment and she has proven that on several occasions both for Barcelona and for Norway. In addition to her excellent dribbling, passing and shooting skills, this player has the personality needed to lead her teammates in the best possible way and of course, being a captain is not something new to her. Hansen is also a very tactical player who can interpret different roles accurately. Although she is used to the 4-3-3 formation at Barcelona, Norway’s head coach, Martin Sjögren, used her as a second striker alongside Hegerberg recently to exploit both players’ experience and excellent finishing skills. Sjögren will most probably continue using both players together as an attacking duo as this seems like Norway’s best-suited formation for the Euros, the 4-4-2.
If you’re wondering why we haven’t said a word about Hegerberg, then just wait for the ninth section of this tactical analysis article where we analyse Norway’s key/best player’s characteristics in detail and aim to shed some light on how she can be crucial for her team, in a form of a brief scout report.
Although Norway were knocked out at the group stage in the 2017 UEFA Women’s Championship, the team has got a long successful history in this competition and can be considered one of the most consistent teams in terms of participation and performance. They lifted the trophy twice, in 1987 and 1993, respectively, and finished as runners-up four times — the last being in 2013. Moreover, Norway reached the semifinals three times. Norway’s challenge now is to reach similar stages in the competition despite the existence of competitive teams who can put them in danger.
Norway will be playing in Group A alongside hosts England, as well as Austria and Northern Ireland. This group might seem relatively easy in terms of advancement for Norway, but it could be tricky and they mustn’t underestimate the challengers in front of them. England will surely be a tough team to face for Norway and this might be the group’s most difficult game. At the same time, Norway should underestimate neither Austria nor Northern Ireland as both teams are capable of causing Norway real problems.
Predicted Starting XI
Norway have played their last two FIFA Women’s World Cup qualification games in a 4-4-2 formation and although the team was set up in other formations for previous games, including the 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1, this 4-4-2 suits the team best as it guarantees balance between the defensive and attacking aspects.
For the goalkeeper role, Guro Pettersen will more likely be Sjögren’s first choice in this tournament knowing the experience she has compared to the two other called-up goalkeepers, Sunniva Skoglund and Aurora Mikalsen. In defence, Inter defender Anja Sønstevold will more likely be the team’s right-back in this tournament as she has been performing consistently well of late. At the same time, Maren Mjelde will surely get some playing minutes, especially when facing tougher opposition but she is unlikely to start given that she is still not 100% fit following her long recovery period between last season and this one. Manchester United’s Maria Thorisdóttir and Guro Bergsvand are the favourites to form a defensive duo and be the team’s regular centre-backs, knowing the experience and defensive talent these two players possess. The midfield will most likely be composed of Barcelona’s Ingrid Syrstad Engen and Manchester United’s Vilde Bøe Risa, as the two of them have had excellent seasons at their respective clubs. It should be said, however, that leaving Emilie Haavi out of the squad raises a lot of questions as the Norwegian player enjoyed an excellent second half of the season after joining Serie A Women’s Roma. The wingers will be Guro Reiten and Amalie Eikeland, while Frida Maanum can be a very useful sub. Then, the attacking duo will be made up of Hegerberg and Hansen — the two players who are more likely to carry out the larger part of the attacking work, especially inside the box.
Norway’s squad is mostly comprised of players in their best footballing years, with most of them at their or nearing what you’d expect to be their peak age. Mjelde, at 32, brings plenty of experience to the table whilst also still being able to perform very well. Most of the team’s starters are between 24 and 30, which are the best years for a football player in terms of physical condition as well as in terms of footballing intelligence and experience. At this age, players tend to be more precise in their decision-making compared to their earlier years; that would help Norway a lot in this tournament. The fact that most players are physically fit will also help the team a lot, especially in defensive and attacking duels.
Based on the above graphic, Norway do not focus their tactics on having possession, with their average possession rate percentile ranking at 41.1. What they usually do is use forward passes frequently and, as soon as they gain possession, attempt to reach the penalty box as quickly as possible, knowing that the attacking players are physically strong enough to keep hold of the ball, win in offensive duels and exchange the ball until finding a shooting opportunity. That’s exactly what this graphic tells us since the team wins a fairly large portion of their offensive duels with a similar rate of touches inside the box per match. To link this to reality, the following picture from the match against Kosovo shows how many Norway players were inside the box during one of their attacks. Six players were inside the box waiting for a pass and providing passing options to their teammate on the ball. This shows how Norway can be very dangerous once they reach the box and given that they have quality finishers with great off-the-ball movement, their opponents will have a hard time stopping such attacks.
In the previous action, the pass was sent to Hegerberg who knew how to position herself very well without entering an offside position. This is one of the things that highlight Hegerberg’s intelligent off-the-ball movement. As a result of this quality, Norway’s head coach often instructs his players to focus on Hegerberg’s movements and try to serve her well, given that the whole team trust her outstanding finishing abilities.
Here is another example of how Hegerberg’s movement provides passing options to her teammates in the final third. Having players like Vilde Bøe Risa and Engen in midfield helps a lot as they both have great vision and ability to provide key passes regularly. In this goal action, Vilde Bøe Risa received the ball from her teammate in a crucial position and decided to pass to Hegerberg immediately after controlling the ball, as she saw her starting to accelerate towards the box. The quick and accurate decision-making of Vilde Bøe Risa, Hansen, Reiten, and Engen will be extremely important in this part of the pitch, especially against teams who know how to defend well; such passing decisions can be crucial, at times.
In addition, Hansen’s excellent crossing skills, along with her ability to surpass players in offensive duels, will be extremely useful for Norway as Hansen can be very dangerous even when facing two or three defenders. In the following action, she was able to get around almost four defenders by going externally and escaping from her markers before crossing accurately to Hegerberg despite being disturbed and having neither time nor space to raise her head and point out where she should cross. This natural chemistry between both Hansen and Hegerberg can help the team a lot in front of goal.
Taking a look at this graphic, it may be quite worrying for Norway that they concede a lot of shots per match while also committing a lot of fouls. Norway are capable of improving this aspect ahead and even during the competition, as they will have to prevent teams from creating shot opportunities too easily. The defensive line will also have to improve their defensive duels rates and especially their averages in the air, as they are relatively weak in these aspects which their opponents could look to exploit. Working on the aerial duels will be extremely important to avoid conceding goals from set-pieces and stop the danger of strikers who are excellent from headers.
In the following example from Norway’s match against Poland, we can notice how Norway left some huge gaps in their defence, which was a remarkable marking mistake from both centre-backs as well as from the team’s right-back. This mistake led to a conceded goal, and should these positioning errors continue in the Euros, Norway will likely concede similar goals, especially when facing quick attacking players with good movement and teams that rely mainly on counter-attacks.
Moreover, Norway’s centre-backs and full-backs will have to be more attentive and reactive in their defensive duels against attackers at times as they’re at risk of enduring a difficult time against quick players such as Hemp, for instance. In the following example, we see that Norway’s centre-backs often wait too long before making a decision concerning their interceptions or tackles, letting the opponents have plenty of time for shooting or passing — and that’s not acceptable for a team that wants to challenge at the business end of this competition. Norway’s defenders will have to be more decisive in their decisions to stop their opponents and oblige them to consider the least dangerous option.
Engen and Vilde Bøe Risa are the key players in the team’s transitions, and they are the players who are especially responsible for launching counter-attacks. The second most important players in this aspect are the wingers, Reiten and Eikeland, as these two are often required to drop, receive the ball in their own half and advance with it until reaching Hansen and Hegerberg. The key element in transitions will be quick and accurate passing, given that these two attributes shining on the counter-attack could be fatal for any defence. It’s good for Norway is that their players’ passing accuracy is good enough to help them be always dangerous in counter-attacks.
Here is an example where the team launched a counter-attack via Hansen after intercepting the ball. She immediately gave it to Reiten, who started running centrally and waited for Hansen herself and Hegerberg to advance before providing a through pass to one of them. Such actions often repeat for Norway and they are usually able to create danger from them.
Norway have indeed got plenty of skilful attacking players who are excellent in terms of passing and duels as well. Nevertheless, the team lacks some quality in shooting and especially in terms of shot accuracy. Hegerberg has got 56.9% in terms of shots on target while Hansen’s rate is 43.7%. For Reiten, her shot accuracy rate equals 39.9%.
These statistics confirm the fact that Norway’s attacking players are not very consistent in terms of shots on target. This doesn’t mean that they are not capable of shooting well. What is needed is to be more focused in front of goal and to avoid shooting off-target to not regret the created chances during the tournament.
Moreover, the team needs to create some variety upfront and not fully rely on Hegerberg. A variety in movements and passing combinations would surprise defenders and free Hegerberg more often. However, looking for Hegerberg all the time could make it more difficult for her to get the ball and to win in duels. It would be more dangerous if Norway use early crosses at times, through passes to Hegerberg at other times, and alternated between penetrations from Reiten, Hansen, and Eikeland. Norway has got plenty of attacking ideas and systems that they could use to be unpredictable, which would make them more dangerous.
Norway’s midfield can be the team’s most powerful area, as players like Engen and Vilde Bøe Risa are among the best in Europe. Their mission, however, will not be easy as they will have plenty of defensive duties knowing that they will play in front of defence most of the time.
Moreover, these players’ mission will be to link up with the wingers and the strikers continuously and aim at reaching the final third. Engen’s passes to the final third accuracy sits at 77.8% while her passes to the penalty box accuracy rate is 57.5%. This shows that the team can rely on a player like Engen for linking defence to attack while trusting in her ability to always provide accurate passes. Although her average passes towards the box are not bad, the coaching staff can work with her and Vilde Bøe Risa to ensure the average accuracy rate of such passes increases, which would help the team reach the box more frequently thanks to the support of the central midfielders.
Also, Reiten and Eikeland’s help in the defensive and the attacking phases will be fundamental as these two players will have to support the full-backs in defence, especially when conceding a numerical superiority, while at the same time remaining present in counter-attacks and build-up. Their dribbling and passing abilities need to be on point to create a surplus in attack and serve one of Hegerberg or Hansen whenever needed.
Norway’s defence is solid but also raises some questions in terms of marking. The defensive line often concedes numerous shots per match and this is a worrying statistic that should be fixed shortly. Although players like Thorisdóttir and Bergsvand compose a strong defensive duo, they will have to be more attentive during this tournament since they will have to mark some dangerous attacking players who can cause numerous issues to this defence. The two centre-backs will have to ensure that they have an advantage over their direct opponents and anticipate their movements with or without the ball; additionally, they have to be aggressive enough to win in aerial duels more than they do currently.
Thorisdóttir wins 62.3% in aerial duels per match and 62.3% in duels while Bergsvand wins 60.1% in aerial duels and 61.4% in duels. These stats are good enough for these players who are capable of doing better especially when they are helped by the full-backs. In this regard, both Blakstad and Sønstevold need to cover for their teammates and make sure to prevent their direct opponents from cutting inside and reaching the box. Their main mission is to clear the danger from the wings and disturb their opponents eventually leading them to either losing the ball or crossing it inaccurately. To do this, they will have to remain focused over the 90 minutes and have a balance between their advancements to support the attack and their defensive duties. One benefit of the 4-4-2, in this case, is that both full-backs can be instructed to not advance and remain in defence since both wingers can provide the necessary depth in attack. The full-backs would only be invited to advance when attempting to create numerical superiority on the wings and attract more defenders, therefore, creating space inside the box.
Ada Hegerberg is predicted to be the team’s best and most impactful player for Norway in this tournament based on their excellent attacking skills and her impressive mentality. It is true that the player is just coming back from a long injury and has not been selected to play for Norway for a long time. However, she proved as soon as she came back to the field at Lyon that she still has got what it takes to bounce back and impose herself both at Lyon and at her national team. Everyone saw her impressive performance in the UEFA Women’s Champions League final against a giant like Barcelona and that just proves how Hegerberg’s strong character enables her to play specially and be extremely impactful, especially during such tough and decisive games.
As the above graphic breaking down her domestic performances for the last calendar year shows, Hegerberg’s attacking statistics are excellent — whether it is her finishing skills, her xG, her shooting averages or her touches inside the box, Hegerberg masters all these aspects and executes her actions with great determination and “complicated simplicity”. This means that her decision-making is quick and intelligent at the same time and appears very obvious to viewers. However, it takes a lot of experience, skills and intelligence to be quick and still make fruitful footballing decisions with and without the ball.
That’s exactly why Norway should use this player’s abilities to score as many goals as possible and work on specific playing systems and plans to put Hegerberg in the best-suited positions for scoring. Norway’s coaching staff will not have to think too much about ways to serve a player like Hegerberg as she often moves a lot without the ball and as you can see in the graphic, her aerial duels’ rate is excellent. Therefore, relying on early crosses could be beneficial when having a player like Hegerberg inside the box, in addition to other attacking plans.
Norway has got what it takes to reach the quarter-finals. Also, they are capable of winning Group A if they succeed in beating England in the second group stage match, although that will not be easy. Nevertheless, Norway has a team which can battle with England for the top of the group, even though the hosts are the favourites to finish first. If things go as expected, Norway will finish second in the group and face the winner of Group B, who will more likely be Spain, as they have an advantage over Germany.
To conclude, Norway’s chances of reaching the semi-finals will be higher if they finish at the top of Group A and face Germany in the quarter-finals, knowing that Germany and Norway are quite similar in terms of players’ quality. However, if Norway finish second, they will more likely encounter Spain in the quarter-finals and against such a team, Norway’s qualification chances will not be so high, unless they produce a big surprise and beat Spain.