HE started the season as a right-winger with a reputation as a dead-ball specialist, but 21 games in, Sebastian Larsson is talking about the possibility of going a season without scoring. Stuart Rayner reports.
SEBASTIAN Larsson has expanded his repertoire this season, but one very important element has gone missing in the process – goals.
At the start of the campaign the Swede was Sunderland’s first-choice right-winger and, according to his former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger some months earlier, the best dead-ball specialist in the Premier League.
Then came Adam Johnson. The £10m winger has not cost Larsson his place in Sunderland’s team, but he has had to adapt to survive. He has only started five Premier League matches in his preferred position this season, and has regularly been shunted to full-back in the latter stages.
Since Johnson’s arrival from Manchester City, Larsson has had to reinvent himself as a holding midfielder to get a game. In that respect he has succeeded, regularly preferred to specialists like David Vaughan and Jack Colback.
That in itself has not been enough to push him out of the goalscoring picture, but with Craig Gardner proving more productive from direct free-kicks, Larsson gets far less opportunities these days to live up to Wenger’s billing. As a result, his predominance on the team-sheet is not matched on the scoresheet.
Not since March 31 at Manchester City has he scored for Sunderland (he got two that day), and even that ended a 14-match barren run. In 2012 he scored as many goals for his country (three) as for his club. His last was particularly memorable because it came against England at the European Championships, but even that was in the dim and distant past. It rankles.
“It was a while ago that I scored,” reflects the likeable 27-year-old, who only has one assist to his name this term. “I am disappointed I haven’t scored this season. The position I am playing in doesn’t help. It is a more withdrawn role, a holding role, so I am not popping up on the wings as much.
“But I still like to get on the scoresheet, and I have not been able to do that this season.
“It would be really disappointing if I went through the season and I hadn’t scored a goal. It is down to me to change that.”
There could be few better places to do that than Anfield and the famous old ground where Larsson marked his Sunderland debut with a special goal on the first day of last season as Steve Bruce’s radically revamped Black Cats kicked off the campaign with a draw.
The blond winger’s acrobatic volley on the swivel seems a lifetime ago. So much has changed at the Stadium of Light since it is astonishing to think that tonight will be the first time Sunderland have been back since.