Today we continue to scrutinise Martin O'Neill's squad, breaking down each traditional position across the field in a bid to identify where we could do with some strengthening. The position that falls under the spotlight today is Sunderland's right-wing berth, a spot which Sebastian Larsson has made his own since his arrival on Wearside with little competition for the place.
Join us after the jump for a statistics-fest as we run the rule over Seb and the pretenders to his throne.Over the course of the 2011/12 season we saw five players grace the right-hand side of our midfield, namely, Sebastian Larsson, Ahmed Elmohamady, Craig Gardner, Stephane Sessegnon and Fraizer Campbell. The sexy Swede was the overwhelming favourite for this spot under both managerial regimes and clocked up twenty-one appearances on the flank. Tellingly Elmohamady was next in the appearance standings, but managed a measly seven appearances, falling well behind Larsson's total. Gardner, Sessegnon and Campbell bring up the rear matching Ahmed's total of seven between them.
Larsson's popularity with Bruce and O'Neill, as well as the fans, is reflected in the statistics which more than back up his current standing as our most effective player on the right-hand side. Seb managed to complete 645 passes across the season on the right-hand side, a figure which can be stacked up against our central midfielders and in fact eclipses the total managed by Craig Gardner of 522. Seb also managed to maintain a pass success rate of an acceptable 74.1%.
An interesting comparison to Larsson's passing statistics, and style in general, would be his team-mate on the opposite wing, James McClean, who made a similar number of appearances to Larsson - 20. McClean, a more traditional, chalk on the boots, winger managed far less completed passes, 396, but instead made more than three times the number of dribbles, racking up 27 to Larsson's 8.
It should come as no surprise that Larsson's stats do not paint him out to be the direct, hit the by-line before swinging a cross in style winger, but rather a more patient right-sided midfielder as of late, more confident in getting involved in the middle of the park than the traditional touchline areas for a winger. This is backed up by the number of key passes that Larsson managed from the right flank, 35.
Perhaps Larsson's preference to come inside more often than not rather than busting a gut up and down the wing on every occasion may also be explained by the niggling injuries that he has played with, which has forced the Swede to be a little more conservative with his energy levels during the 90. Having said that, when Seb has found himself in the wide areas he completed 44 crosses, far more than McClean who managed 35 from the opposite wing.
More tellingly, for the team as a whole, despite Larsson's impressive stats, both key passes and accurate crosses, he only managed one assist whilst employed on the right, which tells its own story in our forward line's inability, or unwillingness, to break into the penalty area during the season. It will be interesting to see how Seb's stats in this area differ next year as O'Neill brings in at least one commanding centre forward to fill this void.
Sebastian also chipped in with seven goals last year, with four of them coming whilst playing on the right, with the majority coming from his world class set pieces but not forgetting strikes such as the stunning goal he managed on the opening day of the season at Anfield.
Worryingly, for me at least, is the calibre of player that is pushing Larsson for his place on the training fields and also on standby should Seb suffer injury. Ahmed Elmohamady is just not up for the task in my opinion and whilst showing some glimpses of promise he has failed to flatter during his spell on Wearside and is already being
linked with moves away from Wearside, with West Ham interested in his services for some reason.
Quite bizarrely Elmohamady may have had his best performance in a red and white shirt in what is likely to have been his last game for the side during the 0-1 defeat to Manchester United on the final day of the season. Ahmed certainly managed to catch the eye with his cameo appearance, full of running and hard work, but much like the Egyptian's career to date, that is all he has to offer.
Stephane Sessegnon was probably the most successful of all Larsson's fallback options, achieving an 81.3% pass completion rate whilst deployed there for two appearances, as well as 4 key passes and even more impressively 2 goals. I would however put this down to Sess being Sess however, with his direct style and ability in abundance, I certainly would not have him in line to be playing out there on a fulltime basis, an assumption backed up by the fact he only made one cross whilst on the right flank - Stephane is many wonderful things, but a right winger he is not.
Craig Gardner certainly isn't the answer either. Although this could be a statement used for a number of questions posed of our trigger-happy midfielder. It is perhaps unfair to compare Gardner to Larsson, as given the nature of his style of play he would more often than not drift back in side from the right wing into his more accepted position in the centre of the park and I expect this explains his decent pass completion rate of 78.9%, whilst making no crosses or dribbles.
Fraizer Campbell was no stranger to the right hand side during Steve Bruce's tenure and he also appeared on the right wing three times, to very little effect last year. Campbell managed only 25 passes across these three appearances, with no assists, goals and tellingly for a pacey player, no dribbles. I know I will be preaching to the converted, but Campbell is no right winger and it is a detriment to both his game, development as a player and to the side for him to be employed there.
So where do we stand going into next year? Sebastian Larsson is quite clearly our number one choice for the right wing. However he is also currently our only real option. With Ahmed Elmohamady seemingly on his way out, continued speculation over Craig Gardner's and, more worryingly, Stephane Sessegnon's futures with the club we would be in trouble should Larsson pick up a long term injury.
It is therefore a worryingly weak area of the squad. Granted it is not a position which requires immediate and drastic attention and improvement such as left-back and centre forward which are far more pressing matters but we would be extremely short-sighted not to bring in further competition for Seb. We have recently been linked with some ideal candidates in my opinion; Aiden McGeady and Adam Johnson. Whether or not either are particularly realistic targets is yet to be seen, but both could instantly improve our starting eleven should we manage to seal a transfer