Norwegian Stars in the EPL
One of the great things about the top tier of English football is the sheer number of countries that are represented. Apart from the obvious benefits this brings, it also results in football fans from those countries suddenly nailing their colours to the club where their hometown heroes play, and these allegiances can stay for generations. Norway have shown they are starting to make a name for themselves on the international scene after two decades in the wilderness, and unsurprisingly they have a good representation in the world’s most popular league.
At the time of writing, three Norwegians are set to grace the EPL. As we shall see it is a pivotal season not only for them, but each of their three clubs, despite none of them looking like they will have an impact on the title race..
Örjan Nyland – Aston Villa
The fact we are talking about Villa as a Premier League club is still remarkable. They were as good as relegated earlier in 2020, but managed to survive the drop by the skin of their teeth and that experience, coupled with the fact their players have a full top-tier season in their legs and under their belts, should make a huge difference. Their survival, however, rests on two overriding factors; they need to keep Grealish, McGinn and Mings and bring in proven quality. On the first of those factors, so far so good. Rumours have circulated, and though no one will rest easy until the transfer window shuts, the situation is looking better then Villa fans would have feared.
On the recruitment front they should be aided and abetted by Johan Lange, their new sporting director. At FC Copenhagen he earned a reputation for finding quality and value. It is a big step up to the EPL, but his performance could be as important as any this season.
Nyland got his chance to impress manager Dean Smith with loanee Brad Friedel’s departure prior to the restart and number one Tom Heaton’s injury. He took the opportunity well, and the fact that he was between the sticks when they survived will have done his confidence the world of good. He will go into the season very much as Heaton’s understudy, but with the England keeper’s ongoing injury concerns, Nyland will probably start the campaign, and then it is his shirt to lose.
Villa's opening fixture sees Nyland take on one of his compatriots Berge when they face Sheffield United, a game that will not only be keenly watched in Sheffield and Birmingham, but across the North Sea where they will be following and tipping in Norway.
Sander Berge – Sheffield United
Last season could not have gone much better for the Blades. Tipped to be relegated, they were still dreaming of Europe with four games to go. That wasn’t to be the case, and they ultimately finished ninth. This year expectations will be higher. Opposing teams will be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and Chris Wilder will be desperate to avoid this season being a case of after the Lord Mayor’s Show.
Berge was the Yorkshire club’s most expensive signing when he joined from Genk in January for £22million, and he will be looking this season to make his mark not just in United’s midfield but as one of the league’s top defensive midfielders. The 21 year old did pick up an injury on international duty, so he could cause doubts at the start of the league campaign.
Stefan Johansen – Fulham
Fulham’s last season in the EPL was over before it had begun. They spent big, but almost to a man they spent unwisely, and those fears were seen to be correct when they were relegated without a fight. What they lacked last time out was proven Premier League quality. Once again the owner has got his cheque book out, but overseen by Scott Parker this time the policy seems to have had more of a focus, with his team needing to become less porous at the back if they are to have any chance. The Norwegian Captain will have his work cut out, but a calm head will be needed in the centre of the pitch especially when all around him could very well be threatening to descend into chaos.