What Should We Expect From Aalesunds?

AALESUND, NORWAY - JUNE 25: Michael Barrantes...
Michael Barrantes

After 6 years without European football, Ferencvaros are back and after overcoming Ulisses of Armenia in the last round, Aalesunds now stand in the way of the third qualifying round. Norweigan football expert Brendan Husebo takes a closer look at Fradi’s opponents.

Aalesunds in Europe

AaFK are a team famed more for their former players than their footballing performance; the Riise brothers (John Arne and Bjørn Helge) both started on the beautiful west coast island, whilst Coventry legend Bobby Gould came as a player-coach for a brief few months. Despite that, though, 2011-12 is the second successive season they enter the Europa League Qualifying Rounds, this time against the more historically established Ferencváros.

The Tangotrøyene (‘Tango Shirts’) this season, had to rely upon the UEFA Fair Play rankings to qualify for the continent’s second competition, after qualifying last season by winning the Norweigan Cup. When they play Fradi this year, they’ll be attempting to avenge what was a disappointed defeat at the first hurdle last year. A last minute AaFK penalty in the home leg meant the score going to Motherwell was an affable 1-1. Initial promise, though, was promptly wiped away as Motherwell went onto win the tie 4-1.

Aalesunds in Norway

But, looking domestically, this was not to be surprising. Although running along extremely well in the first half of the 2010 Tippeligaen season, Kjetil Rekdal’s side had qualified for European football having finished only a place above the relegation/promotion play-off in 2009. Since losing to Motherwell, though, that good start to 2010 was turned into a comfortable fourth place, whilst this year they sit fifth place after half of the season. What first seemed like a yo-yo team overachieving now looks like a top team in their rightful place; Kjetil Rekdal, arguably the Norwegian national side’s best ever player, has worked magic as a coach too.

Style of Play

When coach of Vålerenga and Kaiserslautern, Rekdal built his team in a typical 4-4-2 with occasional variation towards a one-striker formation. But from taking over Aalesunds, he has used what is best described as a mix between 4-3-3 and 4-2-1-3. Like nearly all Norwegian sides, a disciplined midfield shield protects the defence allowing both full backs to push forward. When breaking into space, as Rekdal likes his team to do, this allows AaFK to have four men attacking the opposition’s defence with two more as wide outlets. If Fradi allow them time and space to play into, it could be fatal in terms of this tie.

Players to Watch

Whether Rekdal rests players in preparation for upcoming league matches or not, it’s likely he’ll keep Michael Barrantes in the side as architect of AaFK’s attacks. After a slow start to his Aalesunds career last season, the Costa Rican has become completely centric to his side’s performance. His knack of finding space to face goal when with the ball, put simply, creates goals. If not for his off-the-ball movement, then it’s worth watching Barrantes for his flair and passing alone.

But he’s nothing if without direct, powerful runners around him. Demar Phillips, thankfully, is exactly that. Most will have seen his fine performances from left back for Jamaica in this year’s Gold Cup. It is this that has been paramount to Aalesunds’ recent success. He plays as a left forward for his club, but nonetheless still makes those daggering runs into the box as he does for Jamaica.

Behind Phillips, there is Jonathan Parr. Given Parr will be coming to England to joining one of QPR, Swansea or West Ham next week, this is potentially his last game in orange. A dynamic, powerful full back, Parr is wanted by these clubs primarily because of his fine showing in an attacking sense. With both Phillips and Parr, AaFK always have width on the left side.

Expected XI: Sandqvist – Jääger, Tollås, Arnefjord, Parr – Orry Larsen, Morrison – Okoronko, Barrantes, Phillips – Sylling Olsen

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