Bodø/Glimt 2022/23: How Kjetil Knutsen’s side are still dominating the Eliteserien – scout report
Currently at the top of the first Norwegian football league (Eliteserien), FK Bodø/Glimt is trying to return this trophy to their home town, after they finished behind Molde last season.
Kjetil Knutsen, Bodø/Glimt’s head coach, by promoting them in 2017, avoiding relegation in 2018 and winning the league twice in a row (in 2020 and 2021), was and still is considered the main man responsible for the surprising rebirth of this Norwegian side.
With some important departures from their squad like Ola Solbakken to José Mourinho‘s AS Roma or even Erik Botheim to Krasnodar (who transferred to Serie A side Salernitana this season), Knutsen had to sort this challenge out and it seems that he was successful in doing so, since they are the top of Elitrserien again.
In his sixth season as head coach of Bodø, his team is still unbeaten in the domestic league with 10 victories and one draw after 11 games disputed, where they have an outstanding goal difference with 32 goals scored and just nine suffered.
However, this year’s European campaign wasn’t as great as last season’s, where they arrived at the quarter-finals of the UEFA Conference league.
Although Bodø is the top-valued team in Eliteserien with a squad valuation of 28,35m euros, they still are far from the majority of the European clubs in what concerns their squad’s market price. Yet, due in most part to Kjetil’s tactical model, they have been shown to be competitive in their European campaigns.
In this tactical analysis, we will try to understand some of the reasons for Bodø’s recent domination in Norwegian football by disclosing some aspects of their offensive and defensive processes.
Bodø attacks and defends in a classical and very concrete 4-3-3, yet, it has variations during the game due to players’ movements. Initially, in a lower zone of the pitch, one of the fullbacks descends to make a three-men build-up and the formation looks like a 3-4-3.
However, as soon as they are in possession near the opposition’s box, most of the players seem to seek depth and explore the free exterior and interior space, especially between the lines. With that said, their formation is similar to a 2-5-3.
Defensively, they are a middle-to-high block pressing team who likes to obstruct consistently the other team’s construction process in a 4-5-1 which turns into a 4-4-2 when one of the midfielders presses the centre-back with the ball. However, they adjust their pressing to the other side’s formation during the build-up. For instance, if they construct with three men, then Bodø presses in a 4-3-3.
With this intense pressing strategy, they increase their odds of having the ball for most of the match, which is their main method to hurt the opposition.
Let’s now take a look at our analysis relative to Bodø’s common patterns and special features that assure an admirable offensive and defensive practice.
Bodø’s dominant style of playing in possession
This Norwegian side’s style of possession has two principal moments, the moment of constructing from the back where, as we described earlier, one of the full-backs descends to the backline forming a 3-4-3 and most importantly the moment of having the ball near the opposition’s box, as it is illustrated in the heatmap below.
There are also a few types of interesting articulations between determined positions, which are able to open gaps in the other defensive line. Yet, in order to make that happen, patience is needed while circulating the ball, good decision-making to understand when and where should the pass be made, and making the ball arrive at the extremity of the two different flanks.
Firstly, we would like to highlight the winger and the fullback link, which is one of the most common and efficient connections during the game.
So, initially, as we stated, the fullback does not often play high and deep on the field like the vast majority of the European teams. Instead, he is instructed to support the build-up.
The wingers are typically taking advantage of the maximum width of the pitch even if the ball is in the opposite corridor. However, they have the freedom to explore the space inside.
As we were analysing this team, it seemed to us that the winger was the one who determined the fullback’s positioning. So the most common display was the fullback performing more inside, similar to an inverted fullback, and the winger deeper and wider.
This kind of positioning only seems to make sense if the ball circulation is quick and fluid, forcing the opposition to extend their defensive line, and opening gaps in it. So Knutsen appears to guide his team in that way, including interesting movements from the flank players such as wingers and fullbacks.
For instance, one example of a successful fullback-winger articulation is illustrated below, where the winger is wide open and attracts the opposition’s fullback, opening a gap between him and the centre-back. Then, Bodø’s left-back sees this free space and takes advantage of it.
Though, as we mentioned, the winger can be slightly inside and the fullback has the possibility to attack the depth by the external side of the corridor.
Concerning the midfielders, their technical and tactical quality is noticeable, especially in players like Hugo Vetlesen and Albert Gronbaek who together already have 15 goal contributions in 14 games this season. This is a clear sign of their offensive involvement, and let’s see what the patterns are when playing in that position.
In this team, we understand that the players, especially the ones who act in the midfield and don’t have a static positioning, occupy the free space created by their teammate’s movements. However, these midfielders seem to be instructed to, in a primary phase, occupy the space between the opposition’s defensive and midfield lines.
As a matter of fact, we can call these midfielders offensive midfielders, not only due to the space that they explore the majority of the time but also due to their offensive involvement.
However, it is evident that these midfielders like to influence the game by choosing the free spaces wisely, and in some cases, although less recurrent, attacking the depth is a solution. Picking the previous example, where the winger uses the width of the pitch and a void is created between two members of the opposition’s defensive line, the midfielder, instead of looking between the lines, can attack the depth.
It is especially clever for the player to make this move because he understood that the space is no longer there since the defender ascended from the backline to mark him. As it goes, a new space is created in the defensive line’s back and a new opportunity to hurt the other side comes up.
When these midfielders receive the ball between the lines oriented to the goal, they can be very dangerous by playing key passes or through balls into the depth. In fact, this is one of the most common situations during the game where Gronbaek or Vetlesen lift their head up and decide if the pass is worth it or not.
This pass is normally destined for one of the wingers who usually hit a diagonal inswinging cross or through-ball, especially Amahl Pellegrino who is the current league top scorer with 12 goals. It is also important to state that the solo striker also plays an important role in these game situations, which is to drag the defenders since he is the main reference inside the box.
Yet, the striker, a position normally played by Faris Moumbagna, also is one of the main intended targets for these through balls and we noticed a small but decisive detail in his positioning: he often tries not to be attracted by the ball carrier.
It seemed to us that Faris was consistently and consciously adapting his positioning to the opposition’s goal in order to have higher odds to score when attacking the space. Furthermore, by centring his positioning with the goal, it also opens space for an eventual depth attack for one of his teammates, as we can see below.
Pressing strategy and defensive cohesion
In contrast with the offensive process, the defensive strategy can have some tactical and intensity adjustments with an eye on the opposition’s plan. For example, and most commonly, if the opposition builds up in a 4-3-3, it is likely that Bodø defends in a 4-5-1 where the defensive midfielder has the responsibility to assure the space between the lines.
Against league sides, and above all, when they play at home, Bodø likes to press in a high block and they seem to have some pressing indicators internalised in them. Firstly, if the other team is in a more advanced zone of the pitch and makes a back pass, Bodø immediately brings up their defensive lines and increases their intensity while pressing.
Besides that, the goalkeeper usually is not pressed and it is the pass to the centre=back the one that seems to trigger the pressing moment. Finally, the striker in some cases orients his pressing to the ball carrier’s left side in order to force him to use the left foot, which commonly is the weaker one.
Though, a few problems were associated with this strategy, such as the fact that it can be quite difficult for the solo pivot to cover all the space between the lines. For instance, the opposition can be in numerical advantage in that zone if there is no adjustment made by the other player, as we can see in the following image.
While in the defensive organisation, the defensive midfielder often incorporates into the defensive line in some crosses situations, especially when the fullback was forced to leave his normal positioning to mark the ball carrier. This kind of movement is commonly used by some European sides because it increases the team’s defensive cohesion.
As we saw previously, Pellegrino is currently the player with the higher and more effective offensive impact on this Norwegian side. However, he can be less regular and consistent in his defensive task. Especially in situations where the ball is on the opposite side, Pellegrino sometimes loses the notion of where the opponent is positioned, placing his teammate in a 1v2 situation near his own box.
This game situation can be very dangerous for Bodø’s goal and although intensity while defending isn’t one of the best Pellegrino’s characteristics, Knutsen should alert him for this kind of situation.
Bodø/Glimt is currently the leader of the Eliteserien 2023 and after a good start, they are well on track to win the title for the third time in just four years. They are a team that typically likes to have the ball but in an upward zone where they are able to push opponents toward their own box and also where the odds to score are higher.
With that said, we considered that the midfielders are the engine for Bodø’s offensive tactics due to their constant involvement in and out of possession. In fact, as we saw, their constant movements open space for other players to have the ball and consequently upset the other side.
Besides that, they seemed to be a team who articulated with success their different sectors, in other words, we can see good combinations between the wingers and the fullbacks or between the wingers and midfielders. This constant link-up play helps them to be a more fluid and efficient team while in possession.
In short, in this scout report, we tried to unveil some of Kjetil Knutsen’s main offensive weapons and also reasons for their defensive consistency en route to reclaiming their crown.