Kristoffer Klaesson: Scouting Report
In this scouting report, James Mayley gives us the lowdown on Leeds’ newest signing, Norwegian goalkeeper Kristoffer Klaesson…
For a long time, big things have been expected of now-20-year-old keeper Kristoffer Klaesson in his native Norway. Klaesson has been capped internationally from under 15 to under 21 level and he received his first senior call-up in March of this year, although he was forced to drop out after testing positive for Covid-19.
Domestically, Klaesson made his senior debut in 2018 for his current side Valerenga. He had his first sustained first run of games due to injury to Valerenga’s usual first-choice keeper in 2019, before establishing himself as their number one in the 2020 season.
Breaking into the side at an incredibly tender age, Klaesson has demonstrated impressive confidence and ability to deal with the pressure and stresses of senior football as well as the additional expectation which comes from breaking into senior football at such a young age.
His physical and mental abilities have seen him amass an impressive 5128 league minutes in the Norwegian top flight, a huge number for a 20-year-old keeper given the tendency keepers to be trusted in the first team much later than their outfield counterparts.
These experiences and mental strength should stand him in good stead when attempting to transition to the even greater physical, technical and mental demands which come with Premier League football.
Analysing Goalkeeping Performance
When assessing goalkeepers, I like to keep the key demands of the role at the forefront of my mind. These are universal across all keepers, although different clubs will place different weight on the importance of each.
Here are four key areas I believe are fundamental to analyse when assessing keepers:
· Defending the Goal: Essentially the keeper’s shot-stopping ability encompassing areas such as his/her ability to make big saves, consistency, technique, footwork and positioning.
· Defending Space: The ability to defend the space between the goal and the defence. This can be further split into dealing with crosses and sweeping.
· Supporting/Starting Attacks: The ability to distribute/receive the ball, support attacks and ‘build pictures.’
· Communication and Organisation: How well a goalkeeper organises their defence and how tactically intelligent are they. This is by far the least-spoken-about aspect of goalkeeping but arguably the most important. As my old goalkeeping coach Tony Godden used to say, ‘great keepers make great saves, the very best keepers don’t have to make saves as they position their defenders to stop the ball getting to them’. This is also the hardest aspect of goalkeeping to assess through video, as such this section will be limited to a couple of observations rather than any conclusive analysis.
Defending The Goal
To begin with, let’s try to judge Klaesson’s shot-stopping ability by looking at the data.
We can do this by comparing Klaesson’s actual save % to his expected save % based on the difficulty of shots faced. Over three seasons in the Elitesarian Klaesson has a save % of 68.92% compared to an expected save of 68.45%, giving him an overall over-performance of +0.47%.
It is worth noting that Klaesson had a statistically very poor 2019 shot-stopping season, which is understandable for an 18-year-old breaking into the first team. If we factor his first season out, Klaesson’s over-performance jumps to exactly 3%. So, what does this tell us? Well, on paper, Klaesson appears to be a better shot-stopper than the ‘average’ goalkeeper.
There are a number of caveats to acknowledge at this point. Firstly, no post shot expected goal (PSxG) model is perfect.
Wyscout’s model, which I used, has two very large flaws. First, it does not account for shot velocity, meaning powerful central shots are undervalued and slower shots into the corner greatly overvalued. Second, the model is unable to identify goal line clearances and instead attributes these actions to the goalkeeper as saves.
For this reason, the model artificially boosts the goalkeeper’s performance, with keepers who play for sides who make a high volume of goal-line blocks, perhaps due to style of play or having better defenders, getting a bigger boost than others.
There is another important question about the transferability and sustainability of Klaesson shot-stopping over-performance. When it comes to transferability, we need to consider whether moving from the Elitesarian in Norway to the Premier League in England will impact his shot-stopping data.
In general, Premier League attackers are capable of finishes with more pace, movement, disguise and intelligence than their Elitesarian counterparts. These are all areas which the model cannot identify and that make Premier League shots harder to save. It is therefore possible — probably likely — to expect a drop-off in performance and a period of adjustment could be required to get used to these differences.
In terms of sustainability, we need to consider that shot-stopping performance can fluctuate wildly from season to season in the data. A number of factors influence this (e.g. form, type of shot faced) and while there’s not space to go into detail about it here (feel free to DM me if interested), we must acknowledge it as a limitation, especially given the relative lack of historical data resulting from Klaesson’s young age.
Given these caveats, goalkeeping shot-stopping data must be judged with a critical mind. That said, I would still interpret Klaesson’s shot-stopping data as a very positive sign for a player aged just 20, although it would be incredibly foolish to draw any concrete conclusions about his shot-stopping without comparing the data to video.
First, some basics. Klaesson’s positioning is generally good, taking deep positions for shots from range, positioning very effectively for shots in his box and generally getting his alignment right with the ball. He has shown minor flaws in his game by occasionally getting drawn to his near post or ending a little high for long shots, mainly due to his desire to sweep aggressively behind his defence. But these errors are few and far between.
Klaesson’s set position is not textbook but it does get him into an effective shot-stopping position. Pre-shot, he’s incredibly bouncy on his feet, starting with his hands by his sides and knees slightly inverted towards each other.
However, his movements just before the shot comes in are very good. He split-steps well into a good balanced position and initiates his arm swing just before the ball is struck to get himself into a position from where he is poised ready to explode into action.
From here, he manages to cover a lot of his goal when diving with the amount of power he manages to get when pushing off from his outside foot being particularly impressive.
This powerful and effective set position post-split-step is also vital for Klaesson’s biggest strength as a keeper, namely is excellent footwork and rapid speed across his goal. Footwork and speed are vital for a modern keeper and Klaesson excels in this regard as he moves brilliantly around his goal.
Klaesson’s speed allows him to excel in recovery saves. And by excel, I mean: he is truly magnificent at these saves. He is lightning fast getting off the ground, rapid in his movements across the goal also anticipating shots early. I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy watching the saves below!
Klaesson is typically good at reaction saves, especially from headers although less so from ground shots:
From headers, Klaesson adjusts his attention towards the attacker early allowing him to get into very good positions in line with shots and also get more visual information. This allows him to perform his arm swing and split-step early, enabling him to dive powerfully towards the ball and maximise his reaction time. Because of this, he often has the habit of making potentially challenging saves from close range headers look incredibly routine.
For his age, Klaesson’s pre-shot decision making is incredibly impressive. He reads the game incredibly well, especially in 1v1 situations, where he is excellent at controlling situations, working with his defence and generally making shots as hard as possible for the attacker.
On top of this, Klaesson is proficient at coordinating his movements with his defenders, giving them time to recover or force attackers wide. He rarely sells himself early either, as is a common feature of young keepers keen to impress, but instead times his movements off his line well left.
Take this 1v1, for example:
Klaesson knows that the attacker is moving to quite a narrow angle so stays big, makes the save hard and backs his reactions. It would be very easy to rush early and invite a simple chip or slide finish.
Or this one:
Klaesson knows the defender is on the recovery so retreats to a deep position, maximising his decision-making time and allow the defender time to get back. In the end, he makes a routine save as the attacker is left with a difficult, pressurised shot, but make no mistake just how good his decision making was to force him into that shot.
And I couldn’t not show this save!
Look how fast he is to react to the heavy touch and then use his speed to eat up the ground and get so tight to the attacker that he has nowhere to shoot! If we’re being critical, we can pick up on some flaws in his spread shape. We’ll touch on these later. For now, just enjoy this brilliant stop!
Despite the fact that Klaesson’s speed, reactions and ability to control 1v1s allow him to make a variety of big (unexpected) saves, there are a number of flaws in his game that need developing. It’s important to say at this point, Klaesson is currently not an elite shot-stopper by Premier League standards.
Klaesson can be erratic in his saves. Although his ‘bouncy’ set technique is likely to help aid his speed across his goal, it is also likely to contribute to a lack of calmness in his post-shot decisions. As a result, he has something of the Jordan Pickford in World Cup 2018 about him: he can seem incredibly pumped up at times with this seemingly negatively affecting his composure.
At times, when a simple catch or control down is the best option, he can overcomplicate saves, an example of this is below when he concedes an unnecessary corner with a late decision to punch over the bar, despite having plenty of time to read the shot.
Possibly linked to this is the fact that Klaesson’s saves selections are sometimes poor, making saves harder for himself. He also regularly pushes shots back out into dangerous areas:
Although he is generally balanced in his set position, Klaesson does occasionally move early and this has led to him conceding some goals he would hope to do better with. When he does go early, he typically shifts his weight to his weaker right side.
The video below is a prime example of this as he moves early making the finish much easier for the attacker:
Klaesson is also incredibly left-hand dominant often making saves with his left which would be easier with his right. The counterargument of course is that if he keeps the ball out of the net who cares? But there is a question of whether some of these poor habits he has developed will become more noticeable against better players.
Given his lack of experience in the top five European leagues, Klaesson’s ability to track the ball and read shots early will also need work if he is to perform well in the Premier League.
Having watched more than 200 shots faced by Klaesson, only one moved unexpectedly through the air. Despite making what turned into very good reaction save given his initial movements, it also flagged his lack of exposure to shots with such movement (at least in matches and likely in training).
This makes it incredibly hard to read Klaesson. Remember when we mentioned the transferability issues of his shot-stopping data above? This is a prime example of one of those issues.
Another big issue is in the block and spread shapes that he performs when attempting to make close-range saves. Despite often getting into great positions to make saves, Klaesson’s habit of turning in these situations, rather than remaining square on and increasing his goal coverage, has led to the concession of a number of goals he may otherwise have saved. This is a pretty big problem that will continue to prevent Klaesson from making big close-range saves unless corrected.
Klaesson can also lunge or leap into these sorts of saves. As the ball reaches him, he needs his foot and knee planted on the ground. Watch closely in this clip how both his foot and knee are high in the air as the ball beats him, making it impossible for him to save the shot struck along the ground.
Without wanting to really dig the knife in, there were also times when he went into his shapes early, giving the attacker too much space to slot the ball past him.
Klaesson’s effectiveness from close range shots is further limited by a lack of foot saves. This is one of the reasons he performs well from headed shots but is less effective from shots from the ground.
At close range, performing a collapsing save — in which the leg nearest the ball is swept under the body allowing the keeper to drop to the ground on his side — is slower than moving that same leg to save the ball. It will, therefore, never be an optimal approach for saving low shots close to the body.
Take this clip as an example:
If Klaesson goes with his right foot, you’d expect him to make the save far more often than not. But by attempting to collapse onto a shot at close range he makes the save considerably harder.
Klaesson is of average size for a Top Five league goalkeeper at 6”2, and while he gets good jumping height when coming for crosses, he does not have elite level spring off the ground in diving situations. Moreover, while he can make top hand saves diving to his right, being left-hand dominant means he cannot pull off the same type of saves to his left, making high shots in that direction a little bit harder to save. These are not major issues, although it does mean Leeds fans should not expect to see Klaesson pulling off spectacular top corner saves at Elland Road.
Finally, Klaesson has the habit of diving backwards in his saves. While you’d never coach this technique — with a slightly forward or lateral dive being preferable in most situations — it can have its advantages and be an effective approach with a number of keepers reaching the top while diving back in the majority of their saves.
However, in certain situations, it really limits Klaesson’s goal coverage, especially in recovery saves or cut back situations. If he can develop the habit of diving at attackers’ feet in these situations, it will open up the possibility of making saves that he is not currently able to.
By Premier League standards, Klaesson is not currently an elite shot stopper. In fact, his current level is probably below average. However, being a first team goalkeeper is very difficult so this isn’t to write him off.
There are so many good fundamentals in place that make him an attractive proposition and mean he could develop into a very good Premier League shot stopper. His speed, footwork, reactions, advanced decision making for his age, positioning and effective diving technique are an excellent platform to build upon.
Given the work the Leeds United coaching staff have done with Illan Meslier, who has some similar characteristics, there are lots of reasons to be excited long-term in this regard.
Dealing with Crosses — Data Analysis
The data regarding how often Klaesson comes to deal with crosses paints an interesting picture.
From his breakthrough in 2019 to now, we see a significant drop-off in the frequency of his exits and the percentage of exits under pressure. In fact, the data profiles of his performances in 2019 compared to 2021 show two completely different types of keepers. The 2019 Klaesson was aggressive and effective coming off his line while the 2021 data shows a keeper who rarely comes off his line, and when he does, he typically avoids pressure scenarios and makes a high volume of mistakes.
When analysing this data, it is important to note that the drop off in exits volume is in itself not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes as a keeper, the best thing to do is organise the defence and let them deal with the situation. However, Klaesson has become very inactive from his line from crosses and it at least poses the question as to why this is the case.
There are a number of possible explanations. For example, it could be a managerial instruction to stay on his line and let the defenders clear more balls, especially given Klaesson’s efficient technique and reactions for saving headed shots. It could also be a loss of confidence, resulting from some high profile errors.
Alternatively, it could be that Klaesson has become more selective through better judgement and reading of the play, as often a young keeper breaking into the team for the first time will be desperate to impress and can come for balls that they’d be better off leaving to their defenders. We will try to come to a likely answer during the video analysis.
What is concerning, however, is the drop in the success rate of his exits and the increased errors leading to shots and goals. This, combined with a reluctance to come under pressure this season, is something of a red flag, especially given the increased physicality of the Premier League with Meslier averaging 1.92 exits and 0.69 aerial duels last season.
However, it is very unlikely that Klaesson has become significantly worse from crosses this season. An alternative reading of the data is that, in 2019, he showed how positive and effective he can be when coming off his line and exposure to good coaching combined with identifying the current problem should get him back to those impressive levels.
With all this in mind, let’s move onto the video.
Judging Klaesson’s ability from crosses is not black and white. There are a number of very positive elements to his game in this regard but also some highly noticeable flaws.
The area whereby Klaesson most excels is straight balls into his box from central areas. In these situations he is aggressive and confident in his start position to defend the space behind his defenders, typically setting on or close to his six-yard box. He combines this impressive start position with good speed off his line to cover balls behind the defence and a good jumping reach for his size.
Klaesson has taken some brilliant claims, even when under pressure. For much of his time at Valerenga, especially when he first broke into the side, he looked confident in his handing and ability to defend crosses.
What makes this next catch even more impressive is that it came straight after a handling error from the previous cross less than 60 seconds before, showing excellent resilience and ability to recover from mistakes.
Although in general his punching is mixed, he is very effective with two-handed punches from straight balls:
These punches are easier for keepers to time and execute than crosses which come more sideways on and Klaesson typically clears well, getting decent distance, not shying away from contact and using his jumping reach to dominate attackers.
As with his shot-stopping Klaesson’s footwork is a big strength in terms of his ability to come for crosses. Especially impressive is his ability to quickly cover the ground behind him and make crucial interventions at the back post:
This ability to travel backwards at speed is also vital given his aggressive start positions and allows him to be even braver when defending crosses. It also makes his habit of being drawn towards his front post from crosses much less of an issue.
That last clip is interesting as while his footwork is superb and he makes a good claim at the back post, it also highlights a key flaw in his game. If you watch Klaesson’s set position, you will see he closes off early to watch the cross rather than remaining open.
Remaining at least partially open on crosses is important as it allows the keeper to both take in extra information (e.g. dangerous attackers and their location) and organise the defence. In the above clip, he looks around his box early to get some important details but then goes almost two seconds with no information in a closed position with his eyes fixated on the ball.
A lot can happen in those two seconds, attackers make runs and the danger changes. This habit has therefore lead to some poor errors of judgement when coming for balls due to not knowing the dangers around him.
His judgement in general needs development to be at a good level for the Premier League. At times, Klaesson got caught underneath balls by either arriving too early or overshooting them altogether. Not only can arriving too early underneath crosses make for some embarrassing errors of judgement, but it also exposes the goalkeeper physically as they are stationary against the forward who can get a run on them.
Klaesson appeared to especially struggle against whipped crosses, which are much harder for keepers due to the movement of the ball making them harder to catch/judge while the pace reduces decision-making time. He is considerably better defending straight hanging balls with more time to judge and tower over most attackers.
Finally, his punching is a real mixed bag. While his two-handed punching is strong from straight balls, his one-handed technique can be erratic and he has a habit of punching the ball down into dangerous areas. With his left hand, he can be effective but also has poor punches in him, while his right-handed punching is very poor and has cost his team a number of goals in the past few seasons.
So, what to make of all this information? Klaesson has shown good aggression, bravery, speed and jumping reach. He needs to become more physical, become more consistent from whipped crosses, improve his punching and work on his judgement.
However, there are good building blocks to work with for the coaches at Leeds. While he has become more inconsistent from crosses, an injection of confidence and some tweaking of his technical flaws could reinvigorate a player who has shown he can be aggressive and effective from crosses in 2019 and 2020.
Assessing goalkeeping sweeping ability through data is hard as most data suppliers do not supply metrics tailored towards goalkeeper performance. One thing we can do is compare the defensive style of teams, looking at where and how intensely they press. This gives us an indication of how much space behind the defence there is likely to be, and therefore, an idea of the sweeping demands which may have been placed on the keeper.
From the table below, we can see both Valerenga and Leeds play a similar type of high intensity and pressing game. It is likely, then, that Klaesson would be able to quickly adapt to the sweeping demands Bielsa places on his goalkeepers:
We can also look at the clearances and interceptions made by the goalkeeper:
It is important to acknowledge these are adapted outfield metrics, so often interceptions are just keepers picking up over hit long balls. However, they do give us a good indication of how often opponents look to get in behind the teams defence and how active the keeper may need to be
Klaessen and Meslier are not dissimilar, although Meslier appears to be more active off his line. Again though, that could be due to opportunity rather than ability. Before we make any sweeping conclusions (pun intended), let’s check out the video.
Klaesson regularly looks to protect the space in behind his defence and takes positive start positions, locating himself just inside his area for balls on the halfway line and regularly positioning outside his six-yard box when the ball is inside his own half.
He is often in position to make comfortable interceptions of the edge of his box which could have caused issues had he positioned deeper. This high positioning can also remove options for opponents looking to play in behind as many keepers would be much less aggressive than Klaesson in their positioning.
Klaesson is a brilliant sweeper of balls into his box with his speed and positivity allowing him to make a range of important interventions.
Here is an example of his proactiveness in the video below, positioning himself aggressively and then using his speed to comfortably sweep to the corner of his box:
He’s also shown competence in sweeping outside his box. However, he won’t do anything fancy and look to retain possession. Instead, he’ll play the percentages and clearing to an area of safety:
In conclusion, Klaesson is a very positive, effective and quick sweeper. He should have no issues adapting to the sweeping demands at Leeds, although improving his ability to retain possession and composure when sweeping outside his box is one area where he can continue developing his game.
Klaesson’s passing data has steadily improved year on year with his data from the 2021 season considerably better than that from 2019, and therefore, used for comparison with Meslier.
Without wanting to sound like a broken record, it is very important to understand what this data does and does not tell us. Perhaps the most useful function is to tell us what demands are placed on keepers in possession by assessing the percentage of passes played long.
Here we see a big difference between what Meslier and Klaesson are asked to do when on the ball. This is a strong indication that Meslier has a lot more demands placed on him during build-up play and is expected to play shorter much more than Klaesson.
This is an area of his game which Klaesson will need to adapt. This also needs to be considered when assessing the short passing accuracy. Although Klaesson has a higher completion rate of these passes, Meslier is expected to attempt harder passes much more regularly than Klaesson.
With these initial insights in mind, let’s move onto the video.
The first thing to be clear on is that Klaesson is by no means elite with the ball at his feet. However, it is clearly an area of his game he has worked hard on to improve, showing considerable improvement in this department since breaking into the side.
Take this clip from a recent game against Bodo-Glimt:
Klaesson demonstrates an ability to control the ball with the outside of his left foot, before staying calm under pressure to deliver a delightful clipped pass into midfield demonstrating excellent technique under pressure in the second phase of play.
Throughout these clips, note how often Klaesson is scanning for passes. This is an important skill for a keeper as doing this early increases the range of passes a keeper will be able to select from when receiving the ball.
It’s important to note at this point how Klaesson is heavily left foot dominant in both his touches and passing. He tries to avoid using his right in most instances. This can potentially cause problems when receiving from or passing to certain directions and when playing under pressure, especially as his first touch is decent but far from elite for a top-flight goalkeeper. Although his ability to control with the outside of his left foot somewhat mitigates this.
However, the continued improvements which Klaesson has made are very positive signs that he will be able to adapt to Leeds’ more demanding build-up style. Taken from the same game as the last clip, we see Klaesson work another pre-meditated pattern, first playing short to draw the press before releasing the fullback with a well-weighted clip under pressure:
This next clip shows another type of pass Klaesson has added to his repertoire. This time playing a low, line breaking pass that splits three pressing players to find a teammate in midfield:
However, it’s worth noting that these clips all came from one game where there was a clear strategy from the team to draw the press and then play through, round or over it. In most instances, Klaesson still favours supporting ball-side. This side is safer but also cuts his passing options.
As a result, he still plays long much more frequently than Bielsa would like. Klaesson does not play the types of passes shown above with anywhere near the regularity of Meslier, although he has of course demonstrated an ability to do so. Adapting the positions which Klaesson takes to support play will likely be high on the agenda of the Leeds coaching staff to improve the range of options he has in possession.
This next clip is a prime example of this. By moving ball-side rather than centrally he makes it easy for the central pressing player to block off both the central passing lane and switch of play:
Moreover, his lack of confidence on his right foot further closes off play. Leeds will likely look to coach Klaesson to stay more central in these plays, as well as open up with his first touch enabling him to play into midfield and out to the opposite wing, two passes which are important for sides to be able to maintain possession and beat the opposition press. As it is, Klaesson’s ball side positioning and first touch force him into playing long.
Despite this Klaesson’s improvement in possession is unquestionable. This has been allowed to happen as he has been able to make some pretty large mistakes in his distribution without being dropped. The two clips below are a month apart in the middle of last season.
While his short passing and contribution to build-up play has improved considerably, it is his long game and ability to start counter-attacks that is Klaesson standout distribution feature. Klaesson gets great distance in his kicks both from ground and hands. His goalkicks tend to drop midway into the opposition hand, while his sidewinder can be an effective counter-attack weapon although he does occasionally over-hit these given the power he can generate.
His huge kicks and effective ball striking from the ground mean that he can turn defence into attack even from deep inside his own box as these next clips show. If used correctly this kicking could be turned into a potent weapon.
It’s worth noting however that Klaesson’s ball-striking technique, while incredibly effective, is far from textbook. He strikes through the ball further and higher than most keepers and also strikes around the ball at more of an angle. While this allows him to generate great power, it can also result in mishits as there is little margin for error with this approach.
This breakdown in technique is not limited to first-time passes either and can put his team under considerable pressure.
Klaesson’s ability to throw the ball should also not be overlooked. Combined with his desire to look for opportunities to quickly transition it can be a useful asset to his side.
The speed with which Klaesson looks to distribute and his ever-improving decision making should suit Leeds’ system well. It’s not just long counters he looks to start also acknowledging when it is best to play short and delivering crisp, accurate rolls into the path of teammates.
As previously mentioned, the ability to organise and communicate with defenders is a pivotal skill for goalkeepers. Unfortunately, it was also incredibly difficult to assess as watching on video because:
· Klaesson is out of shot for most of the time
· It was very rare I could hear what he was saying
· When his instructions were audible they were in Norwegian so I had to guess at what was being said
It was possible to note down a few observations which I can share. However, it is vital to understand the context under which these were made.
Despite his young age Klaesson appeared confident communicating with his teammates. He appeared to have a good relationship with them as teammates were quick to congratulate him after important saves and he was loud coming for balls into his box. At times, he appeared to give key information as he could be seen pointing at players during build-up, especially when the game was building in central locations.
However, there are definitely areas whereby he can improve his communication. From crosses, his tendency to close early meant he could not provide a vital pair of eyes into the box to alert teammates to runs. When the ball was in central shooting positions he also appeared to stop giving information to teammates to solely focus on the shot. The ability to focus on a potential shot while also providing teammates with key directions is a very difficult skill but one which is important for keepers to try to develop.
Klaesson is a young goalkeeper with a lot of first-team experience for his age and the potential to achieve a level whereby he can be a starter in the Premier League.
He has some excellent aspects to his game namely his speed, reactions, aggression and bravery which provide an excellent foundation for success. However, his general shot-stopping, ability to build play and punching are not yet at the levels you would expect of a Premier League goalkeeper.
That said, he has already demonstrated large improvements in his game, especially in his distribution, which is a very promising sign. Combined with the rapid growth which the Leeds coaches have helped Meslier achieve, there is a good chance that Klaesson can develop into a very good Premier League keeper.
The reported £1.6m fee Leeds have paid for his services appears good business with lots of upside and very little risk.