Stuck In The Middle With Seb

With Charis Mavrias soon expected to join Adam Johnson and David Moberg-Karlsson in Paolo Di Canio's options on the right flank, it is fairly apparent to all of us that Sebastian Larsson is no longer seen as a right midfielder by the manager. His pace is not what it used to be and without that trait, he doesn't really seem to fit into Di Canio's sharp, quick attacking strategy. The manager prefers the idea of having inverted wingers – hence Adam Johnson being seen as a right-sided player with his deadly left foot – and Larsson’s style of play would not be suited to being deployed on either wing as long as this game plan is kept intact.

However, this by no means leaves Larsson out of the equation as far as plans for next season are concerned. Having started every preseason friendly so far in central midfield alongside impressive new boy Cabral, it is clear that he is seen as a valuable option in the middle of the park by Di Canio. With his most impressive attribute remaining as his ability to place the ball on a sixpence, Larsson could prove to be a revelation if he can learn to play balls over the opposition back four and into the strikers. This would provide many more chances to our promising forward line than last season’s barren lack of supply and provide an attacking outlet not offered by the rest of our central midfielders.

His defensive play is also coming along famously, as they say; his tenacity and concentration allowing him to make telling contributions to the team in the form of blocks and interceptions. A passing accuracy of 83.5% (taken from is better than that of Craig Gardner and Alfred N’Diaye, but is worse off than young Jack Colback, although it must be said that Colback often attempts simpler passes than his Swedish counterpart.

Unfortunately, our number seven is a long way from the finished article in the ‘number eight’ role. His tackling is usually dependable, but like his ex-Birmingham teammate Gardner, he has a bad habit for diving recklessly into tackles and was lucky not to see red at all in the last campaign. Another thing that frustrates me about Seb is the fact that he seems to have almost entirely handed the free-kick responsibilities to Gardner when a shot at goal is on the cards. Gardner may have wowed us with a few screamers from set pieces, but Larsson’s ability to beat the keeper from dead ball situations is far more consistent and much more distinguished than Gardner, who opts for power over placement. Arsene Wenger said of his former youth player in 2011 “I think Larsson is a top, top player, maybe the best in the league as a free-kick-taker", After the swede had put us ahead in a league game against the Gunners with a tantalising free kick.

Larsson appeared in all of last season’s League encounters, only two of which he started on the bench, and 21 of those games were played in the middle. A measly haul of three assists and one goal could be put down to adapting to his new role, but a larger contribution is required in 2013-14 should he expect to be a regular. His ability to shoot from distance was broadcasted with aplomb when he scored his sole goal of 2012-13 against West Ham, albeit with his weaker left foot. This eagerness to shoot, along with his creative side shining once again and his improving defensive contributions, could make Larsson and Cabral a very attractive midfield pairing.

At the age of 28 and with 55 international caps, he will be viewed as one of the senior members of the squad. And, despite a recent tabloid affiliation with Lazio, it is widely expected that he will remain a Sunderland player beyond the summer. And with the link with Spurs’ Tom Huddlestone seemingly fizzling out, maybe Di Canio has seen enough improvement from Larsson to give him a key role in the squad for the third season running.

Is Larsson good enough to be first choice centre mid? Or should he just remain the utility man? Please leave a comment!

Thanks to Joe Walton @JWalton9 for the pic.

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