Last time we looked at the best goalkeepers in the 2020 season so naturally it’ll be the defenders we analyse in this article. It was fairly straight forward to compare our ‘Number 1’s’ as I picked just 8 players to talk about. For the defenders? Yeah, not so straightforward…
In Fantasy Football, a defender can be one of the most, if not the most valuable players in a good squad. The reason being that not only do they get rewarded for helping the team keep clean sheets, but they get rewarded more than any other player for getting attacking returns. So if you happen upon a goal-scoring defender who plays for a defensively resolute team – you’re in the money.
I have broken down my analysis of my chosen defenders in the following way:
1. Defensive Rating (DR)
2. Attacking Fantasy Rating (AFR)
3. Combined Rating (CR)
While some defenders might outscore better Fantasy Assets in either DR or AFR, the CR analysis provides us greater insight into the inherent value of a defender solely in Fantasy Football terms.
For this analysis I isolated 76 defenders who scored Fantasy Points last season, coming to my selection from first choosing which metrics I deemed to be important, then picking a relevant group of players who performed well in those areas.
Instead of listing those metrics now, I will do as I did in my previous article and provide the category tables along with which players performed the best in those categories.
Defensive Rating (DR)
Category A – Clean Sheets, Tackles, Clearances, Interceptions
No real stand out player in this area but Viking FK’s Henrik Heggheim (5.0mNOK) finishes top of the pile for overall score. Nicolai Næss (4.5mNOK) who is now listed as a midfielder, Christian Dahle Borchgrevink (6.0mNOK), Martin Kreuzriegler (4.5mNOK) and Magnar Ødegaard (5.0mNOK) all have 10 clean sheets to their name while Alfons Sampsted (5.5mNOK) and Jon-Helge Tveita (5.0mNOK) were the best tacklers.
Markus Nakkim (5.0mNOK) and now-Blackpool defender Daníel Leó Grétarsson shone for clearances and the brilliant Odin Luras Bjørtuft (5.0mNOK) and Strømsgodset Toppfotball’s Lars-Christopher Vilsvik (4.5mNOK) showed their worth for interceptions, beating their rivals comfortably.
While this doesn’t necessarily point us toward any one defender over another for outright defensive talent, it does show we have a wealth of players who offer stability at the back, across a wide breadth of clubs in the division.
Category B – Errors/Reliability
As you can see from the table, I’ve only provided you with two names: Ivan Näsberg (5.5mNOK) and Yaw Ihle Amankwah (5.0mNOK). That is because anywhere from 42 to 68 players did well enough across these 6 metrics to be included, and well, imagine the size of the table…
We can pretty much ignore – again – who won the individual metrics and instead turn our attention to overall performance where it should be pretty obvious that Näsberg, Marius Lode (5.0mNOK) and perhaps somewhat surprisingly Ben Kantie Karamoko (5.0mNOK) were our top three defenders.
Category C – Duels
Turning our attention now to ground duels and aerial duels (and a combination of the two) and there are two standout performers here in Rosenborg BK defender Gustav Valsvik (5.5mNOK) and Mjøndalen IF’s Sondre Solholm Johansen (5.0mNOK).
Valsvik is the best defender in the league when it comes to aerial duels, winning over 85% of any he’s involved in as well as winning on average 5.26 duels a game. Solholm Johansen won more aerial duels (138) and duels in total (186) than any other defender, as well as being involved in more (319) than anyone else too.
Tveita gets a special mention for winning the most ground duels per 90 minutes (6.41) and also being involved in more (12.82) than his peers over the course of 90 minutes.
Molde FK centre-back and widely accepted best defender in the Eliteserien Stian Rode Gregersen (6.0mNOK) unsurprisingly won on average more duels (GD + AD) per 90 minutes than anyone else profiled here, despite playing only 923 minutes in 2020.
Solholm Johansen takes top spot with FK Haugesund’s Mikkel Desler (6.0mNOK) – of all people – in second, slightly ahead of Valsvik.
Category D – Mentality
Sandefjord Fotball over-performed last season and despite surely being one of the favourites to go down, they still boast a good bunch of defenders, including none other than the underrated Sander Moen Foss (4.5mNOK). The 22-year-old committed 4 fouls in 1234 minutes or just 0.29 every game and over the entire 8 metrics which also include times fouled, possession lost/per 90 minutes, times dispossessed and bookings, he actually ranks top of all 76 defenders.
Desler (48) was fouled the most, Gregersen lost possession only 107 times, while Odds BK centre-back Steffen Hagen (5.0mNOK) was the most assured in front of his own goal, losing possession a league-low (relatively speaking) 6.11 times per 90 minutes.
Just three defenders – Ole Martin Kolskogen (5.0mNOK) [1652 mins], Yaw Amankwah [1414 mins] and the excellent Markus Nakkim [2664 mins] – were never dispossessed and only 7 players avoided bookings all season while 70 were never sent off.
In my opinion, Nakkim is one of the best defenders in the league and should be playing at a much bigger and better club than Mjøndalen. At 24 he’s probably close to his prime as a centre-back and I can’t help but think that Viking FK made a really poor decision to get rid of him in 2018. To not be dispossessed of the ball in almost an entire season is a remarkable statistic and goes far in summing up his mental strength along with his footballing capabilities as a cool-headed defender.
Hagen and Dan Peter Ulvestad (5.0mNOK) finish slightly behind Foss in 2nd and 3rd place respectively.
Defensive Rating Overview
Tveita, Foss, Gregersen and Amakwah each won 7 metrics but in truth there were a lot of players to win 5-6 so I’m not happy to go ahead and label these 4 defenders as being miles ahead of the chasing pack due to the nature of the metrics in which some defenders outplayed others (penalties conceded, errors to shot/goal, own goals, bookings etc…).
Again, the value in this research comes when we look at consistency. Tveita, Solholm Johansen, Gregersen recorded 5 top 3 finishes across the 32 metrics, while Valsvik and Vilsvik managed 4. For the 4 categories, each was won by a different player – Heggheim (A), Näsberg (B), Foss (C) and Solholm Johansen (D) but regarding top 3 category finishes, 12 players – 15.8% of players researched – finished in the top 3, with not much to choose between them.
Top 10 DR Scores (Out of 32):
1. Gustav Valsvik – 21.22
2. Sondre Solholm Johansen – 20.23
3. Nicolai Næss – 20.08
4. Henrik Heggheim – 20.01
5. Mikkel Desler – 19. 99
6. Alfons Sampsted (5.5mNOK) – 19.98
7. Viljar Helland Vevatne (5.0mNOK) – 19.90
8. Markus Nakkim – 19.85
9. Duplexe Tchamba (4.5mNOK) – 19.68
10. Jesper Daland – 19.61
Attacking Fantasy Rating (AFR)
Category A – Fantasy Points
No surprises here as Espen Ruud (7.0mNOK) ranks top for Fantasy Points scored (131) and points per 90 minutes (5.17). Christian Dahle Borchgrevink offered most value for money with 24 points per million as his starting price was a very generous and incredible value for money 5.0mNOK. Jesper Daland scored higher than anyone else in the points per million per points per 90 minutes metric, which I devised in order to assess which players are both returning more Fantasy Points than we think they should be (in line with their value), combined with their actual points return per 90 minutes.
It may sound complicated but in truth it just allows us to contemplate both aspects of player worth. How Daland is still at IK Start is anyone’s guess as he’s seen in some circles to be one of the hottest young defensive prospects in Norwegian football right now.
Borchgrevink wins the category only slightly ahead of Ruud and Näsberg who actually end on the same final score of 3.37.
Category B – Goals, Assists, Shots & Dribbles
Ruud scored 6 goals from 12 on target shots and returned 11 assists to win 3 of the 7 metrics here and finish an entire point ahead of second place Fredrik André Bjørkan (6.0mNOK). Solholm Johansen finishes top for shots – 63 – but it was ex-Viking FK defender Axel Óskar Andresson (2.46) who averaged the most shots per 90 minutes while Bjørkan (76 attempted dribbles) and Brice Wembangomo (4.5mNOK) (2.83 attempted dribbles/90 minutes) were the best dribblers.
Category C – Passing & Creativity
Bjørtuft attempted and played the most amount of passes (1833/2106), Jonatan Tollås Nation (5.5mNOK) had the best passing accuracy (91.23%) and no defender played more accurate passes in the opposition half than FK Bodø/Glimt’s Marius Lode (822).
Christoffer Aasbak (5.5mNOK) justifies his 0.5mNOK price rise from last season due to his opposition half passing accuracy of 69.14% being the best of our 76, while unsurprisingly Bjørkan played the most amount of accurate passes in the final third (376).
Espen Ruud does however beat Bjørkan for accurate passes in the final third per 90 minutes (14.68 – 13.77) and played an astonishing 50 key passes. Only Ulrik Saltnes (10.5mNOK) – 52, Magnus Wolff Eikrem (12.5mNOK) – 66, Mikkel Maigaard (8.0mNOK) – 75 and Philip Aksel Frigast Zinckernagel – 99 managed more, highlighting exactly how creative the Odds BK attacking fullback/wingback is as well as being a hugely explosive threat down the right flank.
Ruud also attempted more and produced more accurate crosses than anyone else (57/209) but it was Kristiansund BK defender Aasbak who played more key passes per 90 minutes (2) and created more big chances (10) than anyone else.
Ruud, Borchgrevink and Aasbak were the three best-performing defenders in this category which gives us plenty to ponder ahead of the 2020 season with Ruud currently injured, Aasbak still part of a team that flattered to deceive last season and face the daunting challenge of trying to score goals after losing their main sources of them (more on that another time) and Borchgrevink surely facing a bit of rotation if Vålerenga Fotball are to push on in Europe.
Attacking Fantasy Rating Overview
Ruud won 9 of the 24 metrics, Aasbak 3, Bjørkan and Bjørtuft 2 and nine others on 1. Ruud also recorded 13 top 3 metric finishes, with Borchgrevink and Aasbak tied in 2nd place on 7. Bjørkan takes 3rd place with 5, slightly ahead of teammate Marius Lode (4) and Markus Nakkim (4).
Ruud finished in the top 3 for all categories, winning 2 in the process, while attacking rival Borchgrevink returned 2 top 3 finishes and 1 category win. No other defender finished in the top 3 for more than one category. Adrian Nilsen Pereira, Aasbak, Bjørkan and Näsberg were the other defenders to record a top 3 placing across the 3 categories.
Top 10 AFR Scores (Out of 24):
1. Espen Ruud – 19.31
2. Christian Dahle Borchgrevink – 15.52
3. Fredrik André Bjørkan – 14.44
4. Christoffer Aasbak – 14.39
5. Mikkel Desler – 13.23
6. Kristoffer Tønnessen – 12.69
7. Bent Sørmo (5.0mNOK) – 12.21
8. Alfons Sampsted – 12.03
9. Viðar Ari Jónsson (5.0mNOK – Midfielder) – 12.01
10. Nicolai Næss – 11.40
Out of the 76 defenders, I want to focus on the top 30 performing defenders when their DR and AFR are combined to give a total score out of 56.
Top 30 Overall
Espen Ruud top, Christian Dahle Borchgrevink second and Fredrik André Bjørkan third. Hardly surprising, after all that’s been the most common trend when looking at the AFR metrics. Mikkel Desler is not far behind in the rankings and he is only marginally ahead of Alfons Sampsted. For me, any of these 5 defenders could be the highest scoring defenders in the league this season though worries over Ruud’s fitness (he is 37 years old don’t forget) do make him potentially less of a viable asset for 2021.
A mere two points separate places 10 down to 24, illustrating how a lot of defenders overall offer more than perhaps assumed. Andreas Hopmark (4.5mNOK) may not require a huge investment this time around but the fact he’s now listed as a midfielder will surely see him in far fewer teams. Heggheim’s form in 2020 was at times brilliant but now costing 5.0mNOK, he’s in just 4% of sides at the time of writing. He’s a solid choice but there are similarly priced defenders which makes it far from straightforward to bring him in. For the same price you could have Lillestrøm SK new boy Vetle Winger Dragsnes (5.0mNOK) or ex-Mjøndalen teammate Markus Nakkim, arguably two of the best defenders in the league but I wouldn’t rate Heggheim too far behind either of them and I’m sure some people would even go as far to say he’s better than both. The potential is certainly there and this year could easily see him become one of the best defenders to own in Eliteserien Fantasy if he is able to add a bit more to his attacking game combined with Viking working out how to be more resolute at the back.
Sandefjord’s Ari Jónsson has also suffered a positional change as he is now listed as a midfielder and thus will offer a far lower point potential due to no longer benefitting from clean sheets. The winger was a great enabler throughout last season, unfortunately I don’t really see any real value in owning him as anything other than a 5th midfielder if at all.
Ruud only just about makes the top 20 when average placement is considered, due to finishing 54/76 in the DR analysis. He does make up for it in the AFR categories and as seen in the previous table, has the best aggregate score when we look at his CR total.
I’m not too sure this table is too helpful as it does not take into consideration how much more valuable the AFR figure is, and the actual numbers themselves. It does show us consistent performers in both areas however, with Desler, Næss, Sampsted, Bjørkan and Nakkim all catching the eye.
Commanding centre-backs such as Valsvik and Heggheim have flirted with the idea of being a viable attacking asset but are at the moment quite a ways from offering enough to wrestle with other similarly priced defenders to get into our teams. And I’m not even sure if Valsvik is a guaranteed starter at Rosenborg anymore due to them signing about thirty defenders in the last few weeks.
One thing worth noting here is that when we talk about the worth of a Fantasy defensive asset, we will always look to their attacking potential more than their defensive potential, ideally aiming to combine the two where possible.
It sounds incredibly obvious, but the best managers won’t allow themselves to be blinded when building a good defence. Forgoing defensive aptitude for attacking output can work in the short-term, but long term it very rarely is the case. Espen Ruud is the exception to the rule – his attacking output was so good that only 16 players scored more than he did and rather incredibly he provided the 3rd highest amount of assists (across all positions). As good as he was last season, I do not see a repeat on the cards this campaign and so my attention immediately swings to a few other players.
I decided to look at the top 30 (CR) defenders (plus another 9 who performed well in these areas) and compare them in the following metrics:
1. Total Shots
2. Total Shots on Target
3. Shooting Accuracy (%)
4. Successful Dribbles
5. Key Passes
6. Big Chances Created
7. Accurate Passes in the Final Third
The additional nine defenders are: Eirik Wichne (5.5mNOK), Emil Jonassen (4.0mNOK), Magnar Ødegaard, Marc Vales (5.0mNOK), Marius Lode, Martin Kreuzriegler, Mats Solheim (5.5mNOK), Sander Moen Foss and Ulrik Tillung Fredriksen (5.0mNOK).
The results are as follows:
I have included a legend to easily identify defenders who are potentially great value for money (yellow), pretty much essential (green) and good ‘wildcard’ options (blue). (All players highlighted in grey are no longer available as a defender due to either leaving the league or being reclassified as a midfielder).
My only concern with Ruud is his fitness. His age combined with his current injury are big red flags for me and I’m not too convinced he’ll be fit enough to recreate his form of seasons past. If he is fit, however, he remains one of the best options in the game and I’d say he’d be worth it at even a million more as only eight players (who are still currently in the game) scored more points than he did last season.
From this table of 39 I’ve made a smaller table of the top three players in all 7 metrics, allowing us to focus in more on the outstanding performers of 2020:
1. Sondre Solholm Johansen (63)
2. Markus Nakkim (55)
3. Gustav Valsvik (39)
Shots on Target
1. Markus Nakkim (12)
2. Espen Ruud (12)
3. Sondre Solholm Johansen (8)
4. Christoffer Aasbak (8)
1. Christoffer Aasbak (57.14%)
2. Espen Ruud (40.00%)
3. Birk Risa (6.0mNOK) (33.33%)
1. Fredrik André Bjørkan (45)
2. Mikkel Desler (29)
3. Eirik Wichne (28)
1. Espen Ruud (50)
2. Christian Dahle Borchgrevink (44)
3. Christoffer Aasbak (40)
Big Chances Created
1. Christoffer Aasbak (10)
2. Espen Ruud (8)
3. Eirik Wichne (7)
Accurate Final 1/3 Passes
1. Fredrik André Bjørkan (376)
2. Espen Ruud (372)
3. Christian Dahle Borchgrevink (324)
Ruud is in the top two for 5/7 of the above metrics (9th for shots taken & 20th for successful dribbles) while Borchgrevink, Aasbak and Wichne also do quite well across the board. It took Ruud (30) almost half the amount of attempts on goal to match Nakkim’s (55) 12 on target shots and no other defender was able to break into double figures, with Næss, Aasbak and Solholm Johansen all coming close but not close enough with 8.
Bjørkan clocked up a staggering 45 successful dribbles, 16 and 17 ahead of nearest rivals Desler and Sarpsborg 08’s new signing Eirik Wichne respectively. Bodø/Glimt teammate Sampsted managed just 14 successful dribbles, highlighting how much more the Champions relied on their marauding left-back to get forward than their Icelandic international on the other flank. What is interesting is that Sampsted does match Bjørkan in attempts (14-15), is not far behind for key passes (19-24) and accurate final 1/3 passes (307-372) and actually created more (4-1) big chances. I am a fan of Sampsted and told myself he would be the first name on my team sheet going into this season.
However, Bjørkan is not only one of the best full-backs in Norway, Glimt also have a pretty decent centre back in Marius Høibråten (5.0mNOK) who not only got 4 attacking returns to Sampsted’s 3, he did it in 740 fewer minutes, or a smidge over 8 games. He also costs half a million less so at this moment in time I’m more torn between Bjørkan and Høibråten than I am between Bjørkan and Sampsted.
The conundrum lies at the feet of our CR index as Sampsted is 3.4 ranking points ahead of Høibråten, outscoring him in both the DR and AFR metrics and boasts an average ranking of 3 to his teammate’s 19. The systems I’ve put in place are only meant to be seen as a guide and to express what the empirical data shows us, and unfortunately it is not going to be 100% when it comes to Fantasy Points return or form. If it was, I’d be pretty rich and probably not writing these articles. Well, maybe I’d still write them but I’d be doing it on a MacBook at least and not a five-year-old laptop… I still think they are two similar assets in regards to Fantasy Potential, but it’s statistically more probable for Sampsted to get attacking returns, while Høibråten could very well have simply overperformed.
Ruud (50), Borchgrevink (44) and Aasbak (40) played 134 key passes between them and also created 24 big chances (8,6,10 respectively) to finish absolutely miles ahead of the chasing pack. If you’re looking for creativity from a defender, this is where your eyes should be firmly fixed. Although, there is one more player who I rate quite highly – Eirik Wichne. I think this is a fantastic signing for Sarpsborg as he joins an already decent defence but brings quite a lot to the table with his attacking capabilities. He ranks 16th in the AFR index, with only the usual suspects above him (the only perhaps surprising name here is Lars-Christopher Vilsvik) so he is in good company and doesn’t look out of place. At 5.5mNOK he represents good value for money and could be a great differential pick from the off.
I do agree with Eytexi in that Borchgrevink looks to be a great choice on multiple bases. He’s 6.0mNOK, will start every game he’s fit (although if Vålerenga do progress in Europe he could sit out some of the easier games with either Amin Nouri (4.0mNOK) filling in, or through a formation change), is one of the most attacking and creative defenders around and he gets you into one of the best defences in the Eliteserien. I have by no means made up my mind on my team as a whole – we still have the best part of three weeks till kick off – but I am edging more towards Bjørkan than Borchgrevink at this moment in time simply due to what the data above has shown us, although if you’ve been paying attention it’s quite clear there’s not much daylight between the two.
Now For Some Graphs:
Overall Fantasy Points Scoring Performance
Looking at our elite attacking defenders (Ruud, Borchgrevink, Bjørkan, Desler, Sampsted, Aasbak) and Wichne, I’ve plot three graphs to compare different aspects of their game.
I’m starting with Fantasy Points Performance and it’s Ruud, Borchgrevink and Bjørkan that immediately stand out as they are the only defenders listed to hit triple figures.
Only Solheim (109), Bjørn Inge Utvik (5.5mNOK) (106), Näsberg (106), Dragsnes (104) and Nakkim (104) were the other defenders to score 100 or more points.
Due to Ruud’s high cost he scores the worst when it comes to PpM/Pp90, but is way out in front for Fantasy Points per 90 minutes, which actually sees high correlation with Fantasy Points other than with Aasbak who seems to have overperformed in this area.
Sampsted and Borchgrevink show how they were hugely undervalued at the start of last season as they score highly in the PpM/Pp90, along with Wichne who lags ever so slightly behind.
Shots & Attempted Dribbles per 90 mins against Total Assists
Sampsted and Wichne are the only players to provide less than 4 assists and seem to be quite shy in front of goal, too. Wichne is beaten only by Desler and Bjørkan for attempted dribbles per 90 mins, with the Glimt left-back way out in front, almost doubling Desler’s input.
Ruud was the most likely to shoot in any given match but Borchgrevink, Aasbak and Desler were also keen to give it a go in front of goal from time to time.
There’s not much correlation here other than between assists and shots per 90 minutes, with the dribbling line showing how Bjørkan is made of different material to his peers.
Accurate Final 1/3 Passes per 90 mins & Crossing Accuracy (%) Against Key Passes per 90 mins
Bit of a mouthful but simply put, who is the most creative?
Sampsted, Desler and Wichne all average less than 1 key pass per 90 minutes, with everyone else here able to break that threshold, most impressively being Ruud who almost makes it to 2 per match. If he is able to reach match fitness before the start of the season, it really will be almost impossible to ignore him.
Aasbak and Bjørkan are the most accurate crossers while Ruud, Bjørkan and Borchgrevink found themselves playing passes in the final third more consistently than our other four defenders. Aasbak and Sampsted aren’t too far behind but once again Ruud and Bjørkan seem to be in a class of their own for attacking intent.
Seeing as Ruud has ruptured his achilles and is set to be out until the summer, I think we can safely write him out of our plans for the long term unless he can miraculously overcome what is sure to be the injury that ends his career. If he does manage to pull through and finds himself back on the pitch however, well, there might be some life in that old horse yet.
I’ve decided I’m not going to be providing Fantasy team updates at the end of these articles, instead I’ll provide some insight into who I’m going with in a dedicated article about price changes, positional changes and what to expect ahead of the new season.
As ever I really appreciate any input/response to my articles and hope we can carry on this conversation well into the 2021 season.
Do you think I’ve missed out anyone you think is absolutely essential? Let me know below!