Sandnes have gotten off to the best possible start in the 2017 OBOS Ligaen season with two wins in two and no goals conceded, the strikeforce of Kent Eriksen and Kjell Rune Sellin has attracted most of the headlines so far but one other player has quietly been impressing all of pre-season and now in the actual league campaign.
With the big name signings of Remi Johansen and Roy Miljeteig this Spring, it would be easy to overlook a player brought in by the club from newly promoted Tromsdalen in the early stages of pre-season.
23 year old Tomas Kristoffersen had made over 100 league appearances for Tromsdalen before making his first move away from the club to Sandnes Ulf this year. It is safe to say that Tromsdalen lost one of their key men from the past few years, but were happy to see him now moving on to bigger and better things with promotion chasing Sandnes.
In 2014, a then 20 year old Kristoffersen played in almost every OBOS Ligaen game for Tromsdalen as his hometown side suffered relegation back to the 2.Divisjon. His talent then was obvious and to some it could seem strange that he has only now just made his 'big' move to a larger side.
Sandnes have enjoyed a solid start to their 2017 OBOS Ligaen season, largely in part to the firepower of strike duo Sellin and Eriksen. Kristoffersen, however, has quietly been asserting himself at the base of the Sandnes midfield and in my eyes has become absolutely key to the way the side play.
The Sandnes defence was rock solid last season and that trend has continued into 2017 with the back four of Vevatne, Nielsen, Geertsen and Sola/Olsen reprising their duties and form from last year. Anel Raskaj, now of AFC Eskiltuna in Sweden, was often utilized as the deepest lying midfielder with his role being to break up play and start counter attacks.
Despite Raskaj clearly having the talent to do this job, something just did not click last year with the players' performances seeming well below more often than not. This year however, despite being just two games in, new signing Kristoffersen has taken to the role like a duck to water and is already showing how valuable he can be to Sandnes.
As you can see from the Gif below, one of Tomas' main traits is his ability to effectively break up play before starting dangerous counter attacks from previously volatile defensive situations. Prior to joining Sandnes, I spoke to Tromsdalen manager Gaute Helstrup about the player and the TUIL boss told me that whilst the scrappy defensive work may not currently be one of his best attributes there is certainly room to progress in that area in the future with Sandnes.
Video courtesy of Instatscout
In his time with Tromsdalen, the player was often deployed as something of a deep lying playmaker, sitting at the base of the midfield starting attacks but not necessarily getting involved in the defensive side of things. It was a role that suited the youngster perfectly as he was allowed the space deep in midfield to orchestrate play.
For Sandnes, his role has now changed slightly to incorporate a more classic defensive style of play. Kristoffersen is now expected to break up attacks whilst also remaining on top of his playmaking duties from the base of the Sandnes midfield diamond.
Video courtesy of Instatscout
Attached above is another example of how Kristoffersen has broken up dangerous attacking opportunities from the opposing side before regaining possession and building from the back. Despite being just two games into his Sandnes career it is clear to see that this is an aspect of his play that can certainly be built upon further in the future.
The balance of the Sandnes midfield this year has allowed Kristoffersen to function exactly as his manager would have wanted. In 2016, many of my qualms around the side centered around how they would set up the support network behind Pontus Engblom and Kent Eriksen. A lot of the time, the midfield 3, 4 or 5 were horribly mismatched just to be able to accommodate the attacking qualities of Bojan Zajic and Vidar Nisja.
This year, manager Bengt Saeternes has clearly spent time working out how to balance his midfield better. With only one of Zajic or Nisja now likely to play from the start, Sandnes can balance new signings Johansen, Miljeteig and Kristoffersen better together without sacrificing any of their defensive or attacking duties.
The fluidity of the midfield is key, whilst Kristoffersen sits deep at the base the trio ahead of him are able to interchange positions when needed with Johansen and Nisja tending to drift further forward than Miljeteig at times. The fact that both Nisja and Johansen are able to drift into wider positions further up the pitch also adds another attacking quality to this midfield diamond. Below is a simple diagram of how the Sandnes midfield looks in 2017.
----------------- Kristoffersen ---------------------
---------Johansen -------------- Nisja -------------
------------------- Miljeteig / Zajic -----------------------
With the Sandnes defense so solid and the attack so fluid, 2017 is now shaping up to be a promising season for the club who will surely now have promotion on their minds after a great start to the campaign.
If they can keep the harmony in midfield going for the rest of the season there is no reason why that quartet could not challenge even Glimt's talented midfield of Normann, Jurado & Jacobsen on any given day. Sandnes' conductor Tomas Kristoffersen may well continue to go under the radar with his performances as the season goes on but the side will certainly benefit from a consistent presence at the base of their midfield.
If Kristoffersen can keep on improving his already impressive defensive game then it would not surprise me to see him become one of the best deep lying midfielders in the OBOS Ligaen and then, who knows, maybe even the Eliteserien in the future...