Sunderland’s recent £20m sale of Jordan Henderson to Liverpool, added to the £18m Aston Villa paid for the services of Darren Bent back in January, should ensure Steve Bruce is a busy man this summer as the club scour the market for new acquisitions. A poor second half to last season means the Black Cats boss will undoubtedly be intent on boosting the quality of his squad ahead of the upcoming campaign.
Bruce has begun by turning to a familiar face in the shape of Birmingham’s Seb Larsson, a player he knows from his own time as manager at St Andrews. Available on a free transfer, Larsson won’t dent the transfer budget and a look at his performances last season shows what he offered to Birmingham and suggests he should add plenty to Sunderland next term.
Seb Larsson (statistics/game)
1 Shot, 1.8 Key Passes, 0.3 Successful Dribbles, 1.9 Tackles, 1.1 Interceptions. 4 Goals. 6 Assists. Scored 1 Goal every 9 Shots.
Larsson played a total of 36 games for Birmingham last season, with 31 of those from the start. Alex McLeish’s side were the lowest scorers, with just 37 Goals, as they slipped into the Championship on the final day of the season, but Larsson was at the heart of much of their good play.
The right-sided midfielder was the side’s main creator, with 1.8 Key Passes per game and resultantly picked up 6 Assists, joint-top with Cameron Jerome. Larsson also found the net 4 times, meaning he contributed to 10 of his side’s Goals, more than any Birmingham player. Larsson’s 1 Shot per game, though on the low side, was bettered only by two regular first-teamers, an indication of Birmingham’s problems going forward.
He’s not full of trickery, though; just 0.3 Successful Dribbles per game shows he’s unlikely to go on mazy runs but Larsson’s 2 Successful Crosses per game suggests his ability to deliver a ball from out wide more than makes up for that. Defensively, he impressed despite playing out wide; 1.9 Tackles and 1.1 Interceptions per game shows his work rate for the team’s cause, too.
Birmingham midfield average (Ferguson, Bowyer, Gardner, Hleb, Fahey)
0.7 Shots, 0.75 Key Passes, 0.4 Successful Dribbles, 1.58 Tackles, 1.32 Interceptions. Total 14 Goals, 4 Assists.
A comparison with Alex McLeish’s most-used midfielders sees Larsson’s Shots average considering higher than all bar Craig Gardner, whose 1.8 Shots per game was the most of any Birmingham player. The likes of Lee Bowyer offered 0.6 and Alex Hleb as little as 0.2 Shots per match. Larsson’s creativity saw him make over twice the number of Key Passes than Gardner (1.8 to 0.79) while Hleb (1.26) was the only other Birmingham midfielder to average over 1 Key Pass per game.
Successful Dribbles was not a strong point for the club’s midfielders last season- Hleb was the best with 0.7 per game, with Bowyer as low as 0.1.Gardner’s defensive stats were the best of the Birmingham midfielders (3.1 Tackles and 1.4 Interceptions) though Larsson’s 1.9 Tackles were second best, topping Ferguson (1.5) and Bowyer (1.4).
Birmingham’s lack of creativity without Larsson is alarming; the five main midfielders picked up 4 Assists between them all season. Larsson’s 4 Goals may have been matched by Bowyer but while Larsson grabbed 6 Assists, Bowyer picked up just 1, the same number as Fahey. Gardner, the top scorer with 8 Goal, failed to make a single Assist all season, mainly due to his lowly Key Passes, though penalties helped boost his shooting stats, with 1 Goal every 6.52 Shots.
Sunderland Midfield average (Malbranque, Richardson, Sessegnon, Zenden, Catermole, Al-Muhammadi)
1 Shot, 1.1 Key Passes, 0.76 Successful Dribbles, 1.9 Tackles, 1.31 Interceptions.
Total Goals 10, Total Assists 15.
Steve Bruce used plenty midfielders last term, but here we feature the average of their six most-used (outwith Jordan Henderson) to highlight the stats of those remaining. Sessegnon and Richardson, with 1.8 and 1.4 Shots respectively, were the only Sunderland midfielders here to average over 1 Shot per game, with both playing further forward due to injuries to others on occasion.
Larsson will clearly add creativity to the side- the average midfield Key Passes is 1.1 compared to his 1.8 and his presence will help ease the loss of Henderson, who averaged 2.22 Key Passes per game.
Again, Larsson’s lack of dribbling is shown up here- Sessegnon, in particular, impressed the most of Sunderland’s midfield, with 1.6 Successful Dribbles per game, with Malbranque managing 1.1. Catterrmole and Zenden match Larsson’s 0.3, though Henderson 0.6 was also fairly low and won’t be a considerable miss there.
The Sunderland midfield matches Larsson for Tackles per match (1.9) though with 3.9, Lee Cattermole clearly boosts the average. Malbranque does better than perhaps expected here, with 2.2, though Larsson outdoes the rest, including Henderson, suggesting he will add more bite to the midfield.
Once again, Cattermole boosts the level for Interceptions, with 3.0 compared to Sessegnon’s 0.6 or Zenden’s 0.9. With 1.1, Larsson is pretty much around the average if Cattermole is taken out the equation.
Sunderland didn’t have one real stand-out player when it came to goal contribution, with Richardson top for Goals (4), matched by Larsson and four of our featured six tying for top on 3 Assists. Henderson returned 3 Goals and 4 Assists, managing 0.9 Shots per game- Larsson bettered him in all three categories.
Larsson may not be a direct replacement for Henderson, and there will inevitably be more purchases to follow the Swede to the Stadium of Light over the next couple of months, but it’s clear he will offer plenty creativity in comparison to what Sunderland currently have available, with delivery from set-pieces a crucial part of his game.
His ability to battle also fits the midfield ethos and with more clinical finishers up front to supply killer balls to (Gyan and Campbell scored 1 Goal every 6.47 Shots compared to Zigic and Jerome’s 1 Goal every 9.07 Shots) could prove to be an inspired purchase by Steve Bruce over the course of next season.