Players to Watch: Norway

In this new series, Luke Griffin (@GriffinFtbl) will be profiling exciting players around the world using TransferLab. Got a league or country you’d like to see covered? Let us know!

In the last few seasons, Norwegian football has been enjoying something of a boom. The country now boasts so many prospects—players like Martin Ødegaard, Erling Haaland, Jens Petter Hauge, Sander Berge and Alexander Sørloth—that they are being described collectively as a ‘golden generation’. In this series opener, we will profile three more exciting talents, each of which could become the next big Eliteserien export. 

Using TransferLab’s Best XI feature, we can choose the league, time-frame, formation and other factors (including custom profiles). For now, we’ll take a bog-standard 4-4-2 view of Norway’s Best XI. TransferLab assigns a ‘profile score’ to each player. While this gives a player a single score, it’s worth reiterating that this number is position specific and based on metric selections that are fully customisable by the user:

Patrick Berg

The defensive midfielder—who turned 23 last month—has been a key part of Bødo/Glimt’s title campaign. In the graphic below, we can see how well he scores in the respective roles in defensive and central midfield. His highest profile score is in the deep-lying playmaker role:

 

 

We can also view Berg’s metrics in this profile, comparing him to other central midfielders in the league. TransferLab uses a possession-value model to assign values to actions but these are communicated in percentiles, allowing us to view the output relative to other players:

Berg plays as the holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1. His role in the team is to receive the ball from the centre backs and connect with the midfield while controlling the tempo of the game. As you can see from his heatmap, he will also continue into the opposition half to support play without overcommitting himself into the final third. He often sat as a deep outlet in the attacking half to relieve pressure and circulate the ball. 

On the eye test, Berg’s passing stands out straight away. He has crisp short passing with nice technique and control. He could open his hips more at times and his technique passing sideways could be better. Out to the left, he hits strong pushed passes which are good. Out to the right, though, he wraps his foot around the ball a lot which makes the pass less smooth and harder to control. It’s also a harder technique, and with a poor connection, can give away the ball dangerously. His longer passing isn’t as good—something backed up by the data—and the decision making on these is something he’ll develop. But he is able to break lines well from deep with driven low passes into attacking players.

In possession, Berg is calm and elegant on the ball, making quick decisions and keeping play ticking with lots of one and two touch passes. He makes small carries into space but doesn’t drive with the ball or try to take on players. He does have good ball retention although he combines this with quick reactions and is able to play out of trouble. As a deep playmaker, he has good awareness, constantly scanning the pitch. At times, he could open out with his first touch more, enabling him to play forwards quicker. He is also quite right-footed but uses different parts of the foot to control the ball well.

Where Berg really excels is in transitional phases. He shows excellent game intelligence, and is able to press effectively in midfield and read the game. This allows him to make interceptions and press with good speed and acceleration to get across. He then has good feet to come out from tight situations and challenges with the ball. He isn’t the most robust or aggressive player, but at 5’10, he has an okay build and does well in his challenges. He isn’t a hard tackler and stays on his feet but is strong in transition and when the ball is ahead of him. 

Changing his role to the holding midfielder role in TransferLab, we are presented with a different group of metrics. These show the quality of his interceptions to be in the 79th percentile, while his tackling is in the 65th, as suggested by the eye test. His recovery defending could be better and he isn’t strong enough in shoulder-to-shoulder scenarios. He is an okay 1v1 defender but can be bypassed too easily in midfield.

Berg is out of contract next December and he should definitely be on the move this January. He would suit a possession-based team, especially one asking him to control play from the back and defend mostly in transition rather than in deeper areas or from within a block. Ajax would be a strong fit and he’d be able to step up and prove himself there before making the jump to a top league.

Osame Sahraoui

Vålerenga’s Osame Sahraoui also appears in TransferLab’s Eliteserien Best XI. The left winger is only 19 and a very exciting prospect who can also play as a central or attacking midfielder. In the image below, you can see how TransferLab rates him in each respective role. He’s very versatile with a rounded skill-set. Due to his size, he may have issues playing in a central midfield role at a higher level but could make a very exciting 10 or winger. 

 

 

As you can see, Sahraoui is a strong attacker across the board. Looking at the data and watching the footage, it’s his dribbling ability which stands out. However, it’s important to notice that Sahraoui is strong across the board. This can often be a sign of an underrated player as people tend to look for outliers. At just 19, he is already at a high level and could improve dramatically.

Sahraoui is small but very dynamic and agile. He stands at 5’7” with a slim build and could do well to add some lean mass and core strength. With a low centre of gravity, explosive movement and quick changes of direction, it isn’t difficult to see why he’s a strong dribbler. Beyond this, the Moroccan works hard and has high energy, showing some good pressing. 

In possession, Sahraoui has excellent ball control. With the ball at his feet, he is able to slalom between opposition players at pace. He uses his right foot whenever possible but has shown that he can use his left when needed. He is definitely best suited to having an attacking full back who can overlap him; at Vålerenga, he has linked well with Sam Adekugbe. Sahraoui is an intelligent and patient dribbler but is less raw and more effective than most dribblers who are considered dangerous dribblers.

Playing as a central midfielder, Sahraoui picks up the ball deep and works hard for his positioning. He evades pressure well but can be susceptible to pressure when receiving. If he can receive in space, though, he can progress the ball well. His passing is good and he takes risks in the final third. He has a good weight of pass but some of his shorter passes could have more speed. Then, in the final third, he operates between the lines. 

As you can see in the image above, Sahraoui almost acts like an inside forward with a narrow position. In the image, I’ve labelled the players’ actual positions in a 4-3-3. The left winger in this, Herolind Shala, is naturally more of a central midfielder and is able to rotate with Sahraoui. Sahraoui presses high and is able to progress the ball through midfield very well by driving up field and playing 1-2 combinations. He does okay retaining the ball in duels but does lack physicality overall.

Sahraoui is very versatile. Comfortable as a winger, 10 or midfielder, he’s extremely athletic with good game intelligence and pressing. Hopefully, over the next year or two, it should become clearer where his final position lies. At the moment, his flexibility gives a lot of options to the club who pick him up. He progresses the ball really well and is an exciting player. His future would be best served by playing him as a left winger while his game develops. 

In terms of style, there are shades of Eden Hazard about him. Filtering for the Premier League, TransferLab thinks he’s most similar to Grady Diangana and Daniel Podence. Selecting a central midfield profile, he’s most similar to Filip Krovinovic and Mason Mount. Tanguy Ndombele shows up as the 5th most similar midfielder. It’s an obvious association given his turns with the ball to evade pressure and ball progression.

Sahraoui is tied up to a contract which runs out at the end of 2023, and right now, could be best served spending another season in Norway to further develop his game. However, he should definitely be on the radars of clubs around Europe. France or the Netherlands would be a good next step. 

Henrik Björdal

Henrik Björdal features in the best XI as the best box-to-box player. Björdal started out at Aalesund in Eliteserien, playing over 2500 minutes by the age of 19. He earned a move to Premier League Brighton but didn’t break into the first team before moving to Belgium and spending two seasons at Zulte-Waregem. Now back in Norway, Björdal has enjoyed a strong return at Vålerenga.

 

 

Starting life as a winger, Björdal has developed a box-to-box player who can score from midfield. Based on the last 12 months—which includes both his time in Norway and his final months in Belgium—TransferLab shows him to be very versatile, excelling in several, very different roles.

Björdal is listed as 6’2” with an okay frame. He’s a powerful runner, a good ball striker and he’s got good speed over medium distances and in straight lines. On the ball, he can change direction quickly but his turning could be better. From midfield, he covers a lot of ground and shows good discipline to go both ways. His close control needs improvement, though, and he sometimes lacks the confidence to take on his man in static 1v1s. However, he is able to drive into space and is difficult to defend against. Also, he makes excellent late runs into the box, giving good options in the final third. 

For Vålerenga, he plays as the right central midfielder in their 4-3-3. On the field, he likes to make forward runs into wide areas when the right winger drops into space. Vålerenga play with a lot of width. When the play is down the right, Björdal drifts wide and creates 3v3s and 3v4s along with the right winger and full back. Between them, they create triangles to try and play through. This will often result in the winger dropping deeper and dragging the opposition full back out of position, allowing Bjørdal to make the run behind and look to drive to the byline. 

If the play is down the left or through the centre, Björdal will make runs and attack the far post. He can get into dangerous positions and regularly does. With good awareness, he adjusts his position well to be accessible and find spaces. He fights to keep the ball in play and is good at attacking the width of the box and putting in cutbacks or crosses.

Björdal’s short passing is good, largely because he’s able to play with both feet effectively. He wants to play forwards whenever possible and try to pass-and-move into the final third. His passes have good speed and weight but he could take care with more of them, at times losing accuracy or lifting off the ground slightly.

Defensively, he counter-presses well and works hard, particularly in high areas. His reading of the game in his own half could be better, though; he mistimes some of his pressures, making this side of his game less comfortable. Physically, he is strong and uses his long limbs well. His 1v1 defence is decent with good body position but he isn’t explosive enough and can overcommit at times. He’s better at defending while moving, particularly when pressing, recovering deep or covering wide. In more static positions and in a block, he can lose his edge.

Looking at Premier League comparisons, TransferLab compares him to Jonjo Shelvey, Mason Mount and Pablo Hernandez. This is interesting as Chelsea and Leeds would both seem to be good tactical fits for him even if he isn’t quite at their standards yet.

Overall, although there are some flaws in his game which could be improved upon, Björdal is a very dangerous player when used properly. He really suits the box-to-box role in a midfield three and could be a cheap option for a team who want to add goals from the midfield and play with width. Although he’s only recently returned to Norway, he’s already above the level in Eliteserien, and at 23, he should be looking to step up. He could be a good buy in the Championship and it isn’t hard to see someone like Brentford, Bristol City or Norwich going in for him. However, he’d best suit a move to the Netherlands or Germany.

Analytics FC provides software and data services to entities within football looking to realise the gains possible from analytical thinking. We provide cutting-edge software solutions such as TransferLab, which helps improve and simplify recruitment decisions. To find out more about TransferLab and our other data services, or to find out more about us, visit our website.

At Analytics FC, we provide software and data services to entities within football looking to realise the gains possible from analytical thinking.

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