After an epic campaign ended with Bodø/Glimt’s back-to-back title, let’s take a look at the star talents of this season in Norway.
Mads Christiansen (Goalkeeper, Lillestrom)
At just 19 this young custodian became the first choice for Lillestrom in the 2nd tier OBOS Ligaen last season. However, upon promotion, the general feeling was that he was perhaps too raw for Eliteserien’s level, and it was no surprise to see Lillestrom try and strengthen the goalkeeping department. Alex Craninx was brought in on loan from Molde and was expected to be the main starter.
However, after just two matches, coach Geir Bakke switched back to Christiansen, and he never looked back. Lillestrom averaged exactly 2 points per game when he played - which is the most out of any player in their squad with more than 1,200 mins. He ranked #1 in prevented goals in the Eliteserien this season (5.46) and is known for just getting on with the job with minimum fuss. Christiansen is not always a spectacular keeper and actually had the 2nd least reflex saves (43%) in the league this year. His positioning and anticipation are excellent though and this lack of eccentricity is definitely a major strength. When needed and called upon he can deliver.
Despite such a strong year, it feels he is still under the radar and almost underappreciated. In his 2nd full Eliteserien campaign next year it will be interesting to see how he progresses.
Erlend Dahl Reitan (Right-back, Rosenborg)
It has been a poor season for Rosenborg with their 5th placed finish meaning a failure to qualify for European competition via league placing for the first time since 2008. However, one rare shining light for them is their right-back Erlend Dahl Reitan who has perhaps been under-appreciated.
He is probably the most complete right back in the entire Eliteserien and capable of balancing the fine art of both defensive and attacking duties. He only scored one goal this season but his 8 assists certainly caught the eye. His previous high for assists was just 4 and he has really developed that part of his game this year with crossing accuracy improving to 34% and dribble success rate up at the 50% mark. It is perhaps his average 6.26 interceptions per 90 mins which is his most impressive statistic though. It is one of the best in the league and very impressive considering the position he plays.
Reitan has always been solid defensively. Now that he has improved some other aspects of his game and entering his footballing prime, he could be one to watch over the next 12 months.
Joe Bell (Central Midfield, Viking)
At the start of 2020, Viking plucked out the relatively unknown New Zealander from US side Virginia Cavaliers. After a solid first campaign, he has really taken his game to a new level this year. Bell has been a creative revelation in central midfield providing 8 assists, but also one of the best in the league at counter-pressing recoveries.
Bell’s role is difficult to describe accurately. But he is somewhere in between a deep-lying playmaker and box-to-box midfielder. He is not someone who will get himself into the penalty area looking for goals though. When progressing into the final third he acts more as a playmaker. Bell takes a lot of set pieces and his deadly delivery, especially with aerial balls, is a major weapon.
His 8 assists rank as joint 4th best in the league and when you combine that with the defensive aspect of his game you have a really complete player on your hands. He has a 64% success rate for defensive duels, and his 178 interceptions this season are the 5th most of anyone in the league.
The New Zealander now has five full international caps and also represented his country in the 2021 Olympic Games. Joe Bell is now very much on the radar and Viking might struggle to hold on to him for much longer.
Vidar Ari Jonsson (Winger, Sandefjord)
Most people expected Sandefjord to finish in the relegation places this season, but few could have foreseen Vidar Ari Jonsson’s contribution of 11 goals and 5 assists. His goalscoring tally was actually the joint 5th most in the entire league which is very impressive considering he was playing on the right-wing at one of the poorer teams.
Jonsson is a success story of a converted defender into an attacker. For the majority of his career, he featured as a right-back but was always highly adaptable, capable of filling in most roles. For the 2021 season, he was moved higher up the field with great effect. His role is a mixture of the traditional and inverted winger. The Icelander is comfortable with either foot and adept at cutting inside. His 2.36 shots per game on average demonstrate a willingness to fire on goal. He scored quite a lot of times from a set piece situation and his anticipation and positioning seem very impressive.
He has that uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. Jonsson has also scored goals with his head and there are many different strings to his bow. This is a player with excellent technique and who now appears to be in his footballing prime.
Kristoffer Velde (Winger, Haugesund)
After a strong 2020 campaign, all eyes were on Velde to see whether he just had a one-off good season or whether he would progress. What transpired was a similar sort of year in which he confirmed his consistency as one of the bright young talents of the Eliteserien.
Velde plays on the left-hand side but is predominantly right-footed. Most of the time he cuts inside a lot and 75% of the shots he takes are from his right boot. Velde is best described as an aggressive inside forward who is very competitive and loves to try to make something happen in the final third of the field. Nobody had more dribbles in the 2021 Eliteserien season than Krisfoffer Velde (281). At an average of 10.05 per 90 mins, he was constantly trying to beat his man. A success rate of 48.8% is more than acceptable for someone who dribbles so often.
Velde contributed with 7 goals and 7 assists, although he also added a lot by winning numerous set pieces and penalties. He was the third most fouled player this season. It would not be a surprise if he has played his last match for Haugesund because he appears to have outgrown this club.
Thomas Lehne Olsen (Striker, Lillestrom)
He might have turned 30 in June this year, but Thomas Lehne Olsen may have just entered his footballing prime. The tall target man striker had throughout his career been considered a decent and very useful finisher upfront, but with some limitations.
In 2021 he totally proved any doubters wrong by amassing a staggering 26 goals. Unfortunately, he got beaten to the golden boot by a margin of just one goal (Omoijuanfo, 27) but this was a seriously strong season by Lehne Olsen. Bear in mind, he didn’t even reach double-digit goals in the 2nd tier OBOS Ligaen last season. So, what changed?
Well, it certainly helped that he had some better technical service this year and a change of formation and system at Lillestrom also aided his cause. But to put it simply; he combined his technical skills, experience and improved positioning which generated this monster of a striker who was almost unplayable at times. He only had an xG of 17.33 and wasn’t just a penalty box poacher. Nobody scored more goals outside of the area than Lehne Olsen this season (4). He also amassed 5 goals with his head which was the joint-most.
The Lillestrom frontman proved himself to be a multi-dimensional striker who can score a lot of goals with the right service.
Sheriff Sinyan (Center-back, Molde)
Molde knew they were likely to lose their best defender Stian Gregersen in the summer transfer window. His ready-made replacement was already at the club in the form of Gambian international Sheriff Sinyan, who they acquired from Lillestrom in June 2020.
In the second half of this season, he became one of the most feared defenders in the Eliteserien. His 76.36% defensive duels won is the best in the league of those with significant minutes. He is very formidable in the air too, winning nearly 64% of aerial duels. From a physical perspective, he is an excellent specimen, but he has strong technical abilities as well. With a passing success rate near 92% and nearly an 80% success rate of passes into the final third, this is an area he has really improved. Sinyan is also a menace from attacking set pieces and contributes with the occasional goal.
He is primed to dominate the league for Molde at the back next year and not many will get the better of him. There is a good chance that Sinyan will become the best defender in the Eliteserien.
Fredrik Andre Bjorkan (Left-back, Bodø/Glimt)
The best left-back in the Eliteserien for the last three seasons has been Fredrik Andre Bjorkan. He was so strong in 2021 that there would even be a case for some to say he was the best player in the entire league. Such were his dominating and consistent performances; nobody can get remotely close to him in terms of the left-back spot.
Compared to other fullbacks, Bjorkan ranked #1 for offensive duels, passes, dribbles, progressive runs, deep completions and ranked #2 for total assists from defenders. Out of anyone in the entire division, he ranked 4th overall for total dribbles (168) which is a really high number considering his position. He is physical, technical, and intelligent. Comfortable with both feet he can play an inverted role if needed.
It was well known that his contract expired at the end of this season and several clubs were locked in a battle to obtain him. Eventually, it was Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin who won the race and he will line up in German football from the start of 2022 onwards.