This article was originally written in July 2019 here.
Sander Berge is a big prospect playing for the Belgian Champions, KRC Genk. He’s a 21 year old defensive midfielder who is on the radar of a lot of big teams and will get a move this summer or next I’d imagine. He’s also a Norwegian international and could become part of the spine of their new generation that has some extremely promising players.
The midfielder stands out on the pitch for his size. At is 6’4″ / 193cm he has a large frame and makes use of his size really well. He’s able to shield the ball or a player easily, he shrugs off defenders and defends set pieces well. This really helps with his good dribbling ability as he can hold off defenders.
His size does lead him to be quite heavy footed and he can lack pace. However, the midfielder is a powerful runner and can get some decent speed on the ball, he’s decent over short distances which helps him in 50/50s and loose ball challenges. Berge reads the game well and was able to use small bursts to make interceptions and challenges. That said, his lack of agility can mean he can lose his man if they have some good movement and agility.
Although he lacks pace, it doesn’t harm his game. Defenders struggle to get near him when he’s on the ball and he doesn’t allow them space to run at him. He rarely gets into positions where he needs to recover or chase down a player. His double pivot partner (Malinovskyi or Heynen) was more mobile and they worked well together with the defence as a good unit and had the best defensive record in the league.
Berge’s work rate was mixed and at times could be quite static. I felt he could have made more effort to take up better positions and offer support to teammates under pressure.
His first touch was solid and received the ball well. His passing was good and progressed the ball well, as you can see from his passing profile below. His short passing was clean and weighted right with good technique. At times it could have been slightly more accurate, making it easier for teammates and keeping momentum in the attack. He tended to spread play wide to full backs and to his central midfield partner effectively.
He is a versatile passer, using different types of pass and parts of his foot well to get out of tight situations. He is able to play out of a press well, playing short passes through gaps and his body position didn’t affect which direction he was able to pass much. He is however quite one footed and rarely uses his left, but with his ability with his right to adapt to the situation it’s not a big issue.
Berge lacks a strong range of passing, his passing selection can be a relatively simple and retains possession well for his team. But does progress the ball well, finds players in space and is able to control the game. He is patient in possession and reads play to a good level, waiting for the right pass at the right time. The midfielder is able to control the tempo and build momentum through his dribbling and varying the tempo of his passing. He attempts few long passes and if he does they tend to be directly off of kick off. He doesn’t attempt to put players in behind through wide channels often and had mixed success with his attempts which lacked consistency. He doesn’t tend to switch play much with chipped long passes, which again came varying success and needs to build up some consistency with them.
The Norwegian’s broad frame probably wouldn’t suggest good dribbling ability but he’s actually a good ball carrier. He is able to drive into space and break defensive lines. He is press resistant and able to get out of a press well. He has decent tight control and can get up to some speed. He is a powerful runner and holds off defenders easily, often picking up fouls. He doesn’t use skill and fast feet but he doesn’t need to. It’s impressive to watch as he can drive through tight spaces and defenders can’t do much to stop him as long as his touches are close. He only uses his right foot to control the ball and can’t necessarily change direction that smoothly. If his touch become’s heavier then he can lose the race easily.
In the air, the 21 year old is decent. He defended corners well and was difficult to compete with at times, although could use his body more. His headers on loose balls when unchallenged in midfield were accurate to the feet of teammates and showed his awareness. It frustrates me a lot when players just head high loose balls back up with no real target.
Defensively Berge didn’t tend to dive in except for loose balls. He closed down players quickly, using his large frame to not allow them to go forward or shrugging them off of the ball. He got his body and long legs between the player and the ball, shielding it well and taking it into possession.
Berge was confident on the ball. He often invited pressure, sucking in players to create space for other which he fed with simple side ways passing. He took his time on the ball to draw in the presser before releasing. He was calm with the ball and wanted to drive into midfield. He could be a little risky but it didn’t lead to any glaring errors.
His awareness was brilliant. He was constantly scanning the pitch, in and out of possession and checked his shoulders when recieving. He was able to make quick passes when under pressure because he knew where teammates were. His touches were good and he made space for himself knowing where the press was coming from. It also allowed him to play the ball quickly once he’d won possession.
His decision making was sound but at times lacked creativity. He retained possession for the team well but didn’t meet forward runs or hit the wide channels when the option was on sometimes, but as I said before his passing range isn’t amazing. He knew when to release or carry the ball and knew how to play to his strengths.
Berge knew his role well and worked well with his midfield partner. His vision was good which came with his awareness which I talked about above. His positioning was decent but at times I wanted him to make more effort to be accessible to teammates, especially when they were under pressure. He picked out full backs and midfielders in space well.
He often sat deep in deeper buildup between the centre backs and dictated play from there, as the ball progressed up the pitch so did he as he would join the midfield and was constantly involved in play.
Overall, I think Sander Berge offers a pretty unique type of player. He is a modern midfielder with dribbling and pass ability who can break up play well. He adds an extra level of physicality you’ll struggle to find elsewhere in a midfielder, especially with his level of technical ability. He can break lines really well and progress the ball. At 21 he has time to improve small details in his positioning and passing and should make the step to a bigger league soon.