Dundalk must tame the Wolff if they’re to get the better of Molde in their Europa League Group B opener in Tallaght Stadium on Thursday night (kick-off 5.55pm, live on Virgin Media).
Former Manchester Utd prospect Magnus Wolff Eikrem has been identified by Irish goalkeeper Sean McDermott as the man the Lilywhites must stop if they are to open take anything from their group stage opener.
McDermott, who plays for Molde’s neighbours Kristiansund, told The Argus ahead of the big game that the 30-year-old midfielder was the “mastermind” for the Norwegian champions.
Those claims were backed up at the weekend when Eikrem was on the scoresheet twice as Molde came from 1-0 down to beat the previously undefeated Bodø/Glimt 4-2 to move second in the Eliteserien.
While Erling Moe’s side remain 16 points adrift of the runaway leaders, McDermott – who was born in Norway but whose father hails from Ballyshannon in Donegal – said Eikrem’s absence for periods of the season was a large reason for there being such a big gap.
“A lot of games when they’ve lost points is when Eikrem hasn’t been playing because he has been struggling with an injury,” said the keeper.
“They’ve also dropped a few points in between Europe as well.
“Without him, anyone can beat them. With him, they’re a very difficult team to beat because he’s like the mastermind behind the whole setup.
“Last year he was the Player of the Year here. He’s too good for this league but I think he said himself he hasn’t been good enough when he has been abroad. The quality he has though, I feel he could be a Premier League player. He could play anywhere.
“With him, they are very dangerous but without him I think they are pretty average. They have other good players who can sometimes create something on their own but I feel they’re very dependent on him to do well. If Dundalk can shut him down it’ll be a big help to them.”
The former Irish U-21 international said Molde was a side largely made up of the best players in Norway with the recent capture of full back Birk Risa an example of how they add to their ranks with the best domestic players.
“They’re a good side. They’d be a local team for us because they’re only an hour away. When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the coach of Molde he actually lived in Kristiansund. I meet him all the time actually because we live in the same area.
“Molde and Rosenborg are the two teams in Norway who have the most money in their clubs. Molde was built up by picking who they think are the best players in the league to play for them. If a player for us did really well they’d try and buy him so really their team is made up of the best players in the league.
“Of course, they’re competing with Rosenborg as well but Rosenborg would have a few more players from other countries but Molde’s team is mostly made up of players who have done well for the Norwegian clubs. They’ve only recently bought the left back from Odd who is the Norway U-21 captain and who was linked with a lot of teams outside of Norway including in England.
“They have a lot of good players though because they can attract the best with the money they have and that means they’ll always compete at the top and be in the running for Europa League qualification but they’re a good team.
“They like to play out from the back and play good possession football. Maybe sometimes they do too much because they have players who would be better if they played more direct at times I feel. They have players who are great but because they play possession football I don’t feel they get the best out of all their players,” he said.
McDermott, who kept a clean sheet in Kristiansund’s 0-0 draw with Rosenborg on Sunday, has a good recent record against Molde having been a winner in three of his last four matches against them.
He feels if Dundalk press them high then they may be able to capitalise in Tallaght.
“I feel that their defensive side is probably their weaker element of the team. In attack they probably have too many good players including on the bench but if you can scare them they can get nervous.
“I think they’ll think we’ll be the better side, we’ll play our game and score but if Dundalk are up for it then that might be enough to make them a bit shaky and some silly passes might happen which Dundalk can capitalise from.
“When we play them if we press them high then that’s when they can make mistakes because they’re used to dominating the game and they don’t like when teams are high up and pressing them so if you’re aggressive and press them you can get at them.
“From what I’ve read in the media is they’re happy with the draw. They’ll be looking to get six points off Dundalk because they feel they’re the better side and they also feel they’re better than Rapid Vienna but they feel it will be between them two to join Arsenal in the latter stages. They were happy to get Arsenal as well because it will be a big attraction.”
McDermott, who was also on the books of Arsenal as a teenager, said he’d be taking particular interest in Group B.
“It’s a good mix for me so it’ll be fun to watch,” he said.