After we used data to find which central defenders in Eliteserien were the best at passing out of the back (and that generally those defenders would prefer not to be involved in the build-up in attack), our attention here at Krone Ball turned to the Eliteserien midfielders, or midtbanespillere as the Eliteserien fantasy game has taught me. While trying to find the best passing central defender allows for specific stats that are intuitive to look at, to try and narrow down the best midfielders in Norway we need to look at more metrics. Different midfielders have different roles for different clubs, so there are a few different things we should consider.
Generally, I think we would mostly agree that a good midfielder can pass, dribble, win challenges, and tackles. Certainly, some players are asked to do more and less of these skills on the pitch, but generally speaking these are skills required of a professional midfielder in Norway. Luckily, we have statistics for all the Eliteserien midfielders in these areas, what luck!
We can find the average figures for a midfielder who has at least played 810 league minutes this Eliteserien campaign for the number of passes successfully completed per 90, pass completion percentage, successful dribbles per 90, tackles successful per 90, tackle win percentage, challenges won per 90, percentage of challenges won, and expected assists per 90. These numbers establish a baseline for our search for the top midfielders in Eliteserien and you can see each specific figure above.
These represent a wide spread of metrics that measure very different skills, so any midfielder that is above the league average in all of these would seem to be a skilled, versatile player. Unsurprisingly, there are only three midfielders in Eliteserien that are above all of these averages in the league. They are Daniel Fredheim Holm of Valerenga, Vebjørn Hoff of Odd, and Eirik Hestad of Molde. With no offense meant to the veteran Mr. Holm, let’s take a deeper look at the two younger Eliteserien midfielders who are excelling this season.
Around the time we were pulling these numbers for the various midfielders of Eliteserien, friend of the site Ben Wells tweeted the above out praising Odd midfielder Vebjørn Hoff. You would be forgiven for overlooking Hoff’s performance in Skien, as Odd seem destined for a mid-table finish. They have never really threatened for a medal, nor have they been in any danger of falling into the relegation fight. A solid season for the club has mostly been lead by the 22 year old Vebjørn Hoff in midfield.
Playing mostly central midfield for Odd this season, Hoff has been able to do it all for the club and his statistics show that he has done it all well. Like we see in the clip above, Vebjørn Hoff is able to break up opposition attacks in the center of the pitch. So far this season, Hoff has attempted the 20th most challenges in Eliteserein, the 10th most tackles, and is successful 61.70% of them, which is well above the midfield league average of 52.64%. His ability to break up play in the middle of the pitch has been crucial for Odd, who are fourth best in Eliteserien in xG against through November 2nd.
Along with stopping the opposition, Vebjørn Hoff is important in keeping the ball moving when Odd are on the attack. Hoff’s passing numbers are just as impressive as his tackles and challenge stats. He has the 21st highest number of passes attempted and completes 44.3 passes per 90, over 15 more per 90 minutes played than the average Eliteserien midfielder. He is averaging 0.14 xA per 90 and 0.18 xA per every key pass he makes, which is 15th in Eliteserien.
The only criticism you could make looking at Hoff’s passing stats are the number of key passes he is creating. He is only averaging 0.57 key passes per 90 this season. However, Hoff has time to improve here. The Odd midfielder is only 22 and typically a central midfielder hits their peak around 25. Vebjørn Hoff only arrived at Odd this season, but with these type of impressive numbers and form it seems like only a matter of time before he is moving onto greener pastures.
He had big shoes to fill, but Ben Wells has certainly kept the controversial Norwegian football tweets going for Football Radars since he’s made the move from OBOS to Eliteserien. While the Norwegian National Team has quite a few attacking midfielders to pick from, Ben does not seem far-fetched calling for Molde’s Eirik Hestad to be included in those squads, as Hestad has been one of the better players in Eliteserien this campaign.
Along with Hoff, Eirik Hestad is one of the two midfielders with better than average statistics for passes successful per 90, pass completion percentage, successful dribbles per 90, tackles successful per 90, tackle win percentage, challenges won per 90, percentage of challenges won, and expected assists per 90 this season. Most Eliteserien fans would be well aware of Hestad’s attacking prowess, as the winger has scored 8 goals and contributed 6 assists so far in league play. His underlying numbers are impressive as well, with an xG total of 4.62 and is averaging 0.19 xG per 90 (the average is 0.16). He also has an xA total of 4.74 and per 90 of 0.20 which are 18th and 27th in the league each.
Hestad is typically deployed on the right wing for Molde and he does very well at cutting in to the middle of the pitch on attack. From there he is able to either create good chances for himself or his teammates, as seen in the stats above. Hestad is successful in 3.1 dribbles per 90, which is above the league average of 1.67 dribbles successful per 90 He is able to use this dribbling skill and ability to create good chances for his Molde teammates like we see above.
Though Hestad is mostly employed as an attacking midfielder for Molde, the Norwegian does not shirk from his defense assignments as we see in his tackling and challenge numbers. Hestad averages 2.54 successful tackles per 90 and 8.77 successful challenges per 90, both well above the numbers we have for the “average” Elilteserien midfielder. Eirik Hestad has the ability to get forward and the skills to be an effective midfielder in defense. This makes him a player that can be effective in any part of the pitch.
Similarly to Hoff, the most exciting part of Eirik Hestad’s performance this season is it has come while he was 23 years old. As mentioned earlier, 25 is the peak age for a midfielder, so we could expect Hestad to even improve further in the future. While Molde supporters might not be ready to face this, it seems Hestad is destined for great things even beyond Eliteserien.
The unfortunate truth of modern football is that young talented players that feature in a league such as Eliteserien will attract the attention of clubs with more financial clout across the world. We have already seen it this season with Eirik Hestad’s Molde teammate Erling Braut Håland and his move to Red Bull Salzburg. However, Eliteserien developing a reputation as a league to find good young talent can be a good thing. Talented youngsters could stay home in the league to develop, knowing they can attract the attention of bigger clubs (then say, oh I don’t know, going to Real Madrid only to be constantly sent out on loan). We could even see young players from near-by and not so near-by nations coming to Norway to get experience and develop if Eliteserien can continue to grow it’s reputation as a spot for talented young footballers.
Vebjørn Hoff and Eirik Hestad have been two of the better players in Eliteserien this season. Both young Norwegian midfielders have impressive metrics in all the areas you would hope to see for a well-rounded midfielder. Certainly others clubs in Europe have noticed these numbers as well and have them on their radar for a possible move, but for the remaining two fixtures in this Eliteserien, Norwegian football fans should enjoy them while they are still here.