After a tumultuous few weeks in the capital and beyond, Norwegian football has resumed some sort of normal service—matches in the 17th round of the Tippeligaen, scheduled just two days after the attacks in Oslo and Utoya, were postponed, leaving this past weekend’s fixtures as the first matches in nearly two weeks. And while Monday’s match is a friendly, it’s sure to be an emotional affair, with a minute’s silence scheduled to go along with renditions of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “My Little Country,” an Ole Paus song that’s understandably grown in significance over the past few weeks.
Vålerenga were among the four teams in action as play resumed yesterday, dropping a 2-1 decision to current league leaders Molde FK. That leaves Monday’s hosts alone in the tenth spot in league, eleven points from the top and only seven from bottom. They finished last season in second behind champions (and perennial European qualifiers) Rosenborg, which gave them a spot in Europa League qualifiers starting in mid-July. They got past Armenian outfit Mika FC by way of two 1-0 wins in the first round, but stuttered in the first leg of their tie with Greek side PAOK, falling 2-0 at home. They’ll resume the tie in Greece this coming Thursday, and league play three days later when they host Sogndal.
It’d be surprising to see many of their regular first-teamers just two days after an important league match; from what I can gather, all their familiar faces turned in a full ninety against Molde on Saturday, and with plenty left to do after a long trip midweek, I’d guess we see something resembling a reserve outfit against Liverpool on Monday.
It’s a different story for Liverpool, who has publicized their traveling party as a constellation of stars after sending a decidedly weakened squad to Turkey four days ago. The Liverpool official site lists Glen Johnson, Pepe Reina, and Daniel Agger as the old boys set to return, in addition to summer signings Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson, and Stewart Downing. Vålerenga’s official site took it a bit further, publishing the full squad list, which includes the above names along with youngsters Raheem Sterling (who confirmed his place in the squad earlier on Twitter) and Stephen Sama. Andy Carroll, who played the entire match in Turkey, will travel as well, but with David Ngog included, you’d imagine that there’s little chance for Carroll to see a large number of minutes.
If accurate it’s the same size squad that traveled to Istanbul and missing a number of the names that featured in the loss to Galatasaray—Joe Cole, Christian Poulsen, Emiliano Insua, and Phillipp Degen are among those absent, as are Maxi and Raul Meireles, both of whom missed Thursday’s match as well. It’s essentially a split squad, with only a few names making both trips; Carroll, Kuyt, Kelly, Shelvey, Spearing, Aquilani, and Flanagan all played at least a half earlier in the week but made Monday’s squad, meaning that outside of those names we’ll get an almost entirely new-look side.
And, if you struggled through Thursday’s match like most of us, that’s a welcomed prospect. After a successful Asian Tour, Kenny Dalglish’s squad has stumbled in two matches running, and that’s created some anxiety about how well Liverpool are prepared for the rapidly approaching Premier League season. It’s no coincidence that the recent stumbles have coincided with experimental elevens that featured more reserves than regulars, though, as well as players that nearly everyone’s looking forward to seeing the back of.
With only Valencia separating Liverpool from Monday and Sunderland on the 13th, it’s about time for Liverpool to transition from gaining fitness and putting on a good show (which hasn’t really happened anyhow) to getting themselves prepared for serious competition. Yes, it’s still preseason, and the result isn’t really that important against a weakened opposition, but with the bigger names involved, you’d hope for things to look markedly different than the last two times out.