Inside Sheffield United's Sander Berge transformation as midfield star shines for Norway v Sweden

Sander Berge’s evolution from sitting midfielder to rampaging goal threat took its latest step yesterday, with a starring role in Norway’s 3-2 Nations League victory over Sweden is Oslo.

Monday, 13th June 2022, 4:30 pm

The Sheffield United man had a 90 per cent pass accuracy from 84 touches, a 100 per cent success rate in his dribbles and 75 per cent in ground duels as Ståle Solbakken’s men registered their third win in four Nations League matches this summer.

Berge was known as a sitting midfielder in his days at Genk before coming to Bramall Lane in a club-record deal, with then-Blades boss Chris Wilder keen to mould him into a box-to-box midfielder on the right of a midfield three.

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Injuries, lockdown and then Covid-19 have hampered his time in South Yorkshire so far, but he showed signs of his best form last season as Paul Heckingbottom’s side made a late dash for the Championship play-offs.

Berge formed a devastating attacking trio with Iliman Ndiaye and Morgan Gibbs-White as the Blades lost on penalties in the play-off semi-final against Nottingham Forest, and looks to have taken that form into action with Norway as speculation continues to rage about where his future lies.

“He preferred sitting when he arrived,” Heckingbottom told The Star of Berge’s transformation.

“I got to know him at the end of [United’s second Premier League season, when Heckingbottom took over as caretaker boss following Wilder’s departure] and you saw the athleticism in terms of pace and how looked dangerous.

James Garner of Nottingham Forest with Sander Berge of Sheffield United: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“We spoke about getting more goals. If he looked athletic and could burst past people in the Premier League, then a level down in the Championship was a good opportunity for us and him to show that athleticism he has got.

“People are surprised how powerful he is. They maybe see him run on his own, and the languid style. And then, all of a sudden, you see him bursting past people.

“That’s where we can take advantage of that in the Championship, and it’s good to see him take it on board. The majority of his goals weren’t even running past people with the ball. They were from his determination to get in the box, which has been really important.”

Privately, Berge acknowledges that people in Norway see him as a future defender because of his imposing frame and physical attributes but there is no doubt that United’s tactical work with him, unlocking that fearsome attacking threat that saw him border on unplayable at times last season, has made him a more all-round – and consequently, more valuable – player.

“When I came to the club, I was on the right of the three and it took some time, with Covid and then injuries, to adjust,” Berge said last season.

“It’s all about getting rhythm with the players around you; especially in the Championship, which is a different playing style than the Premier League.

“Here it’s box-to-box and chaos and second balls, and I have to join in with the attacks. I’ve found my comfort zone in the team, in the side, and I know how to attack and defend and link up with the players around me.”