One of the biggest ways Eliteserien (ESF) differs from Fantasy Premier League (FPL) is in defence. Clean sheets are far more synonymous with FPL than ESF which leads most of us to choose our defenders based on their attacking potential (AP) rather than clean sheet potential (CSP). Whether you’re playing ESF, FPL or any other Fantasy Football game, maximising your points return should always be at the forefront of your mind, it’s the methodology that usually differs.
After 9 gameweeks we’ve seen 35 clean sheets. That’s more than 0.5 per game, or 4.1 per gameweek. In the Premier League however, we see the numbers increase to 0.6 clean sheets per game, or 5.5 per gameweek. In regards to Fantasy Football CSP, your odds of benefitting from a clean sheet are far less favourable in ESF than FPL.
This is in part due to there only being 8 games/week rather than 10, but it’s also due to the fact there’s just less clean sheets kept in general.
And this is where the biggest challenge lies – in my opinion – in building a solid ESF team. Who do you go for in defence? While CSP is somewhat diminished in ESF if you’re used to playing FPL, it doesn’t mean that clean sheets never happen, or that you should completely ignore any team/defender likely to benefit from them. It should definitely be a part of your decision making, but more importantly you should be looking at AP. (The same logic applies in FPL as you want to maximise your points potential, but it’s probably more important to favour AP over CSP when playing ESF than FPL).
Who occupies a place inside the Modric-Bohinen void? Who is well and truly in a league of their own? To find out we’ll be focusing on the following 10 defenders:
1. Andreas Hanche-Olsen (47pts)
2. Ivan Nasberg (42pts)
3. Vegar Eggen Hedenstad (39pts)
4. Tore Reginiussen (37pts)
5. Gustav Valsvik (37pts)
6. Vetle Winger Dragsnes (37pts)
7. John Kitolano (36pts)
8. Mats Solheim (35pts)
9. Christian Borchgrevink (35pts)
10. Markus Nakkim (34pts)
And the following categories:
1. Goals/Clean Sheets
2. Assists (Total)
3. Shots/Shots on Target
4. Passes/Accurate Passes/Passing Accuracy %
5. Accurate Opposition Half Passes/Final Third
6. Key Passes and Big Chances Created
7. Accurate Crosses
Regardless of position, the bottom line in Fantasy Football – whether you’re playing in Sweden, Germany or Romania – is to score points. And it just so happens in ESF, just like in FPL, the majority of points will come from goal involvement. That is why I am looking at the same categories as when we analysed our top-scoring midfielders. Knowing who is most involved with attacking play, most likely to score and playing the important passes is going to be critical in our decision-making process if we are to maximise our potential points return. I have also included accurate crosses as we will more than likely be most interested in attacking fullbacks/wingbacks (plus OOP defenders playing in midfield) as well as clean sheets – for obvious reasons – and interceptions/tackles for BFP reasons.
1) Goals/Clean Sheets
Only 17 defenders have scored in the first nine gameweeks. From our list of 10 top-scoring defenders, only four are yet to score. Hanche-Olsen and Dragsnes both have two goals whereas Valsvik, Kitolano, Nasberg and Nakkim all have one. Hedenstad, Reginiussen, Borchgrevink and Solheim are on none. This isn’t really a metric I’d say is fool-proof when looking to assess the inherent worth/value of a Fantasy defender, but it gives an insight into the different kinds of impact these players can have for their teams.
For example, Hanche-Olsen and Dragsnes have both scored twice in nine games. Hanche-Olsen is the highest-scoring defender in the game, but Dragsnes is 6th, showing that goal-scoring ability is not the most important aspect of a Fantasy defender’s game.
Goal scoring potential (GSP) is certainly something to consider when choosing any player, while clean sheet potential (CSP) is one of the most imperative aspects of a defender’s appeal. As previously stated, clean sheets are rarer in ESF and we shouldn’t look at defenders in Norwegian football the same way we do in the Premier League. That being said, if there are clean sheets up for grabs, we’d be foolish to ignore them.
18 defenders have 3 clean sheets or more, with seven of those being our guys who all make the top ten. Kitolano and Hanche-Olsen both have three, but Borchgrevink, Hedenstad, Reginiussen and Valsvik all have four. Similarly to Hedenstad being the third highest-scoring defender in the game despite not having scored, Christian Borchgrevink is the 9th highest scoring defender in the game even though he has four clean sheets (joint top). At this point, it’s worth highlighting the fact that only 12 points separate Hanche-Olsen (1st) and Borchgrevink (9th). Nasberg has more clean sheets than anyone else (5) due to being substituted while Valerenga led Viking 2-0, even though the game ended 2-1.
Even though they seem hard to come by, clean sheets will certainly be more frequently earned by defenders than goals. For Fantasy purposes CSP definitely outranks GSP, but perhaps a combination of both is the best way forward. I would rather go for a defender who may not get as many clean sheets as others but is at least somewhat likely to score goals as I am not relying solely on one route to earn points. Football is hard to predict at the best of times therefore I want my eggs in as many baskets as possible.
Goals and clean sheets aren’t the only way to points though, as the bonus points system in ESF tends to reward ‘hard work’ and ‘getting stuck in’ far more than FPL. Also, contributing to build-up play and indirect goal involvement/prevention is another area where defenders can be rewarded through BFP.
Joachim Thomassen, Mikkel Desler and Birk Risa all have three clean sheets. Over the course of this article, don’t be surprised to see their names crop up in other areas of analysis. These guys (although yet to score) are all heavily involved in attacking play, as well as being contributing factors to their defences keeping clean sheets.
(Goals/Clean Sheets: Hanche-Olsen 2:3, Nasberg 1:5, Hedenstad 0:4, Reginiussen 0:4, Valsvik 1:4, Dragsnes 2:2, Kitolano 1:3, Solheim 0:3, Borchgrevink 0:4, Nakkim 1:2).
Having a defender in your team who is capable of grabbing the odd assist here and there can be the difference between a green and a red arrow most weeks. In FPL we think of Trent Alexander-Arnold as being pretty much essential as his attacking potential (AP) is so high due to the number of assists he constantly churns out week after week. He’s one of the most important players in one of the best defences in the world, but he actually has more assists than clean sheets (15-14). (He’s got as many Fantasy points as Jamie Vardy).
In Norway, we have Alexander Stolas. Does Alexander mean ‘happy to help’ in Fantasy Football language or something? In 2018 he scored four goals and got eight assists, while last season he ended with three goals and five assists. His minutes this season have been sporadic thus far due to injury, but he’s one of those players most managers in-the-know will have on their radar as his AP is quite frankly bonkers when fully fit.
For real-world assists, four of our ten make the cut, with Hedenstad, Kitolano and Solheim all on two and Borchgrevink on one. When Fantasy assists are also taken into consideration, we afford ourselves a more well-rounded understanding of where our points are going to come from. As an assist can be a blocked shot, winning a penalty which is then converted or something as simple as a deflected cross, it’s really important we don’t only consider those defenders who are only effective in real-world football – we need both halves of this specific equation to get the right answer.
Solheim and Nakkim are the only players from our ten who benefit from being given a Fantasy assist, taking their respective totals up to 3 and 1. Desler sneaks into the top ten for total assists (1 real, 1 Fantasy), with Christofer Aasbak and Martin Bjornbak also going from 1 to 2. Fredrik Bjorkan is the only defender to have 3 real-world assists, making an early claim for best attacking full-back in the league.
Only 11 defenders have two or more assists at this stage, making them more a luxury occurrence rather than something to be expected. We shouldn’t forget that half of our top ten don’t have an assist at all. At this point it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that our defenders are versatile players, offering different routes to scoring points. It seems pretty foolish to go after one or two defenders solely because they’ve scored more or set up more goals than their peers. It’s not like we’re comparing Kasper Junker with Benjamin Kallman for goals scored – we’re dealing with much smaller margins and that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Vidar Ari Jonsson is a great example of how a defender rewarded solely for his attacking exploits is not necessarily a great Fantasy option. He’s got two assists (only two defenders have more) yet he only has 12pts from 660 minutes. He’s missed just one game (ironically a 1-0 win) and both his assists came in the same match. He has no clean sheets, no goals and no BFP. But judging him with only assists in mind, he seems a good choice. Fantasy football is full of traps and AP for defenders certainly creates obstacles for us to navigate our way around.
(Assists: Hanche-Olsen 0, Nasberg 0, Hedenstad 2, Reginiussen 0, Valsvik 0, Dragsnes 0, Kitolano 2, Solheim 3, Borchgrevink 1, Nakkim 1).
3) Shots/Shots on Target
Last season Mjondalen were the go-to team for defenders likely to grab a goal/assist and when it comes to ‘having a go’ they’re streets ahead of their rivals once again. Sondre Solholm Johansen has had 16 shots (1.78 a game) but only 4 (25%) have been on target. Nakkim is second for total shots (10) and top for shots on target (6). He’s scored just once. His involvement in attacking play is certainly encouraging, his conversion rate somewhat far less appealing. The only other player to make the top ten for shots and shots on target is Hanche-Olsen (5/4). If you were confused as to why 42.3% of managers own this guy – don’t be. He’s the highest scoring defender in the game for a reason. For multiple reasons, in fact. I was toying with the idea of shipping him out of my team for a cheaper alternative – then I started to write this article and have since thought otherwise. He’s ticking all the right boxes.
Sarpsborg’s Thomassen is in our sights yet again with 5 shots (3 on target) as are Odd duo Ruud and Risa (2 shots on target from 7 and 4 respectively). Bjorkan sits just behind Ruud on 6 shots (2 on target). The majority of our list fail to impress in this area. When we look at shots per 90 mins, Nakkim stands out with 1.11. That’s almost twice as good as Hanche-Olsen (0.56) and far better than teammate Dragsnes (0.44). Borchgrevink has a respectable 0.45 but everyone else is quite far behind.
Ari Jonsson has had the same amount of shots as Hanche-Olsen (5) but has found it much harder to hit the target (only one of his shots being on target) highlighting once again, we want quality over quantity. Wasting chances is not something we’re interested in – we want clear cut attempts on goal, say a header from a set-piece, rather than blazing over from 25 yards. Let’s not forget this is a guide which we can hopefully use to point us in the direction of points, rather than being completely exhaustive.
There’s not too much correlation here which makes me value this part of our analysis far less than other areas. I don’t think we should worry too much about how many shots our defenders are taking as it’s never going to be a particularly high number anyway, and when they are shooting, it’s probably going to be from set-pieces or picking up a loose ball etc… As the season moves on we may come to a different conclusion, but for now, this isn’t something I’m bothering myself with – the points lie elsewhere.
(Shots/Shots on Target: Hanche-Olsen 5/4, Nasberg 1/1, Hedenstad 1/1, Reginiussen 1/0, Valsvik 2/1, Dragsnes 4/3, Kitolano 1/1, Solheim 1/0, Borchgrevink 4/1, Nakkim 10/6).
4) Passes/Accurate Passes/Passing Accuracy %
This is where correlation takes a nosedive. Our top-scorers are not the passing kind. It’s one of those attributes you would sooner associate with ball-playing centre-backs rather than attacking full-backs deployed in a very direct system. The main take-away from this is that Nasberg is quite heavily involved in Valerenga’s passing game. The centre-back is responsible for 13.5% of Valerenga’s total passes (542) and only Bodo/Glimt’s Marius Lode (729 – 99.3 passes/game) and Odd’s mythically-named Odin Bjortuft (588) have more. Nasberg also sits in 3rd place for accurate passes played (474 – 87.5%) behind the same two players.
Bodo/Glimt trio Bjorkan (477/427), Marius Hoibraten (478/429) and Alfons Sampsted (495/428) all make the top ten for both categories while Molde’s Bjornbak (480/418) also features. Last week when we delved into the numbers behind Zinckernagel, Hauge, Saltnes and Berg, it became quite clear this team is all about passing and judging by this analysis, that methodology is not unique to their midfield.
Espen Ruud catches the eye (479/375) along with Desler (470/417) and Risa (412/325). Only two of our top ten have a passing accuracy of less than 72%, and only one has played less than 200 passes. When looking at passes played and Fantasy points, there’s not much to suggest that one particularly influences the other. For all his passes, Lode has only won 3 BFP (all from one game) and Hoibraten and Sampsted both have none. It’s always good if our defenders are knocking the ball around, but we’re not interested in centre-backs who play sideward passes every time they get the ball.
(Passes/Accurate Passes/Passing Accuracy %: Hanche-Olsen 411/342/83.2%, Nasberg 542/474/87.5%, Hedenstad 542/288/79.8%, Reginiussen 415/346/83.4%, Valsvik 387/293/75.7%, Dragsnes 216/144/66.7%, Kitolano 264/214/81.1%, Solheim 313/217/69.3%, Borchgrevink 439/369/84.1%, Nakkim 387/282/72.9%).
5) Accurate Opposition Half Passes/Final Third Passes
With 173 accurate passes in the opposition half (47.9%) and 98 accurate in the final third (27.1%), Rosenborg’s Hedenstad is by far the most efficient, attacking defender in our top ten. Almost half of his total passes have been in the opposition half, with over a quarter in the final third – a feat none of our other defenders come close to replicating. Being on set-piece duty certainly helps, but it also shows how his mentality affects his style of play.
Comparing our top ten to the actual top ten for this category yields very little correlation – none of our featured defenders are in the top ten performers. Hedenstad just behind Adekugbe, granted, but overall there is no real link between this statistic and Fantasy points. Ruud and Desler are 4th and 5th respectively, with Lode and Bjorkan the top two for both categories. This Glimt team are enforcing their style of play on the rest of the league whether everyone is OK with it or not. And it’s starting at the back. For me at least, I’m happy to disregard any Bodo/Glimt player in any analysis going forward because they are quite simply toying with whoever they play.
Thomassen (103), Ruud (98), Hedenstad (98) and Desler (95) are all heavily active for their teams in the final third, amassing a total of 7 assists between them. (Thomassen also has 166 accurate passes in opposition half). It’s certainly not a ground-breaking return, but it’s an indication of their intent and gives us good reason to think more attack returns will inevitably follow. Bjorkan has the most assists of any defender in the game and he currently is second for passes in opposition half (251) and first for passes in the final third (129). Over the course of the season, it would seem reasonable to expect players such as Bjorkan, Ruud, Desler, Hedenstad and Thomassen to develop into the players who end up with the most assists.
Hedenstad aside, no-one really stands out here other than Christian Borchgrevink. He’s played 146 passes in the opposition half and 77 in the final third. Both he and Hedenstad are the only players that have made any notable contribution for their teams in this aspect of the game and for me that’s quite definitive. Hedenstad is in my team but due to his injury concern he will be shipped. And right now Borchgrevink is who I am contemplating bringing in. In a lot of these categories we’ve looked at, his name is either somewhere in the top ten or a few places behind. Well-rounded, consistent players seem to be the type to bring home the bacon. Defenders especially.
Risa (156/81) and Anton Kralj (129/76) get special mentions along with Bjortuft (171/50) and Sormo (111/71). Kralj would only be seen as a valid Fantasy asset if he was in a better team. No matter how many runs or passes or attacking plays he might initiate, the players around him simply aren’t good enough to seize those chances. Come season end I think it will be a case of ‘what could have been’ and a probably move to a bigger club. He certainly looks to be streets ahead of his teammates and too good a player for a newly-promoted club.
(Accurate Opposition Half Passes/Final Third Passes: Hanche-Olsen 125/40, Nasberg 135/39, Hedenstad 173/98, Reginiussen 137/43, Valsvik 103/29, Dragsnes 84/49, Kitolano 100/55, Solheim 108/49, Borchgrevink 146/77, Nakkim 104/63).
6) Key Passes/Big Chances Created
Only Hedenstad (10) and Borchgrevink (9) make the actual top ten for Key Passes, with Solheim only just missing out with 5. Thomassen has the most in the division with 15, while Desler and Sormo are joint second with 12. It shouldn’t be too surprising to find out that Bjorkan (9) and Ruud (9) are also amongst the best in the league. Kralj is something of a surprise with 7 (two more than Risa), while Alexander Stolas is on 6 (although all of those were quite ridiculously made in the same game).
For big chances created Solheim (3) and Borchgrevink (2) are our most impressive performers. This isn’t really an area associated with defenders so there’s no real gain from looking too much further into this. Solholm Johansen is the only other defender with 3 big chances created and there’s only 5 defenders in the league who have 2. Ari Jonsson (9/2) is another promising Fantasy asset let down by pretty much zero CSP and poor AP due to being in a poor side (Sandefjord) who don’t want to score many goals.
For the majority of our defenders, this isn’t an area they shine in. Poor correlation overall, but for Hedenstad and Borchgrevink potentially an outlet they can utilise to provide more chances for their team and in turn for themselves to score Fantasy points.
(Key Passes/Big Chances Created: Hanche-Olsen 2/1, Nasberg 1/0, Hedenstad 10/0, Reginiussen 0/0, Valsvik 0/0, Dragsnes 1/0, Kitolano 4/1, Solheim 5/3, Borchgrevink 9/2, Nakkim 1/1).
7) Accurate Crosses
Our top ten have produced 28 accurate crosses, 20 of those coming from Hedenstad and Borchgrevink. Solheim has chipped in with 6 and both Dragsnes and Kitolano each have 1. Everyone else has blanked. We can’t expect our defenders to all be the marauding full-back-cum-winger, but if given the choice between a defender who is constantly looking to play the ball into the box and one that simply isn’t interested, I know which one I’d choose.
Ruud (16) has produced the most crosses (he’s played just 644 minutes so far this season) with Aasbak (11) in second place. Ari Jonsson is doing his best to keep up with the big boys, whipping in 10 crosses himself with Desler (9) and Thomassen (7) trailing behind. Stolas – in just 138 minutes – has somehow put the ball in the box 6 times, as has the quite-exciting Anton Kralj. Bjorkan, Sormo and Risa all narrowly miss out on the top ten with 5 apiece.
(Accurate Crosses: Hanche-Olsen 0, Nasberg 0, Hedenstad 10, Reginiussen 0, Valsvik 0, Dragsnes 1, Kitolano 1, Solheim 6, Borchgrevink 10, Nakkim 0).
8) Interceptions and Tackles
Even though this isn’t Allsvenskan and we can’t expect our defenders to be rewarded for, well, playing defensively, it’s something we should take the time to look into as bonus points are an often-overlooked aspect of the game – they can provide well-needed boosts and turn a good gameweek into a much nicer one.
Only 4 of our players are in double figures for interceptions and just 5 for tackles. Borchgrevink, in particular, impresses here, as he has 13 interceptions and 15 tackles (7th overall in both tables) contributing a hefty 1.7 interceptions and tackles per games. For an attacking player who isn’t spending a lot of his time duelling with troublesome forwards, I’d say that’s quite respectable.
Nasberg (15) is beaten only by Pedersen (16) and Bjortuft (17) for interceptions but has a paltry 4 tackles – fewer than anyone else we’re interested in. Risa (15) and Bjorkan (12) show up in the top ten for interceptions, and Bjorkan (19) is third overall for tackles. Desler and Ruud both have 15 tackles along with Sandefjord pair Ari Jonsson and Kralj. While these parts of the game won’t directly result in points being scored for our defenders, it may go some way towards earning them a few bonus points which should never turn even the proudest of noses upwards.
(Interceptions/Tackles: Hanche-Olsen 10/5, Nasberg 15/4, Hedenstad 6/9, Reginiussen 14/9, Valsvik 7/11, Dragsnes 4/13, Kitolano 7/10, Solheim 6/7, Borchgrevink 13/15, Nakkim 7/18).
Hanche-Olsen is part of a solid Stabaek team which should end the season with a decent amount of clean sheets, while he himself offers a good amount of attacking threat in the way of goals. Nasberg has nabbed himself a goal from his only shot and has benefitted from being substituted early to have the most clean sheets in the league. Other than that he doesn’t seem to offer much else despite being a decent passer.
Hedenstad is one of the most effective passing defenders in the league, has a couple of assists and plays for a team that likes to keep clean sheets. Reginiussen is a solid centre-back but his age, combined with lack of goal-threat diminishes his appeal. Valsvik is by all intent and purposes a younger version of Reginiussen and thusly shouldn’t be expected to offer much in ways of attacking returns.
Dragsnes has a couple of goals already and is part of a Mjondalen defence few teams expect to break down with ease. He’s tidy shooter but his passing game really lets him down. Kitolano is one of the few defenders we’ve looked at whose talent stretches across multiple metrics. He has a goal, a couple of assists, is an accomplished passer and looks to get the ball forward wherever possible. He’s also playing for the second-best team in the league which should most definitely boost his appeal.
Solheim may not have scored but he’s got three assists and the same amount of clean sheets – he’s potentially quite the bargain if he maintains this kind of form. Borchgrevink, like Kitolano has performed well over the majority of the categories we’ve looked at to analyse our defenders. He’s the stand out player along with Hedenstad, and offers exceptional value for money at just 5.1m. Nakkim isn’t a flashy player and even though he’s in our top ten, I doubt he will still be there come the end of the season.
I went ahead and made my move for this week, transferring Hedenstad out for Borchgrevink. Valerenga are in 3rd place and look good for the money. They’re a good passing outfit who have all the potential to indeed finish in 3rd place after 30 games, despite struggling in front of goal. Having missed out on just ten minutes playing time, he’s absolutely nailed and has been an integral part of his team’s quest to win the ‘Rest of the League’ trophy.
If Espen Ruud can maintain his fitness (he’s 36) he could be an explosive asset. He might have played almost two whole games fewer than Risa, but he’s had pretty much the same amount of the ball as him. He’s averaging 85 touches a game – a truly astounding number. Desler and Thomassen performed well in most of our categories along with Bjorkan. The main issue I have with Bjorkan is that he occupies a Bodo/Glimt slot. When Hauge leaves he potentially takes his place, but you could easily make the argument to go with one of Berg or Satlnes instead.
Sormo should be on everyone’s radar also, as he’s 4.7m and in a defensively sound team like Kristiansund and looks a threat going forward. Ari Jonsson and Kralj are definitely two of Sandefjord’s most important players and their numbers are promising, but they lack quality around them, meaning attacking returns will more than likely remain few and far between no matter how well they play. (He does already have two assists, though). Even though there are question marks around Stolas’ fitness, he is already looking good statistically speaking. 6 key passes in a single game has a few eyebrows raised – but it’ll take far more regular, consistent performances before most of us will be convinced to hand over 7.3m for him.
My defence consists of Andreas Hopmark, Bent Sormo, Christian Borchgrevink, Andreas Hanche-Olsen and Jesper Daland. I am more than happy with my core defenders being Sormo/Borchgrevink/Hanche-Olsen as from what I can gather that provides me with a good mix of defensive stability and attacking potential. Hopmark can potentially be downgraded (Heggheim and Betten Hansen in particular seem to offer brilliant value) but while he may not offer as much going forward as his colleague Aasbak (4.9m), they’re part of the same team and a defensive double-up on Kristiansund might be a differential approach in itself.
I’ve certainly discovered a few things about quite a lot of players since diving into the statistics and it’s helped me feel more confident picking a team in which I can believe. Approaching the game in a more analytical manner has given me an assuredness I most certainly lack in FPL. Last week I finished on 87pts (28th overall) and in RD7 I scored 100 (42nd overall). Sandwiched between those two scores is an unsightly 25pts (31,479th overall). I’ve not undergone any major reconstructive surgery – it’s the very nature of Fantasy Football. You can experience such success you are placed in the upper echelons of high-society, amongst the elite, then before you know it you’re face down in the dirt, left to wonder what just happened.