“Elfsborg`s Johan Larsson has the offensive abilities to make it as a right-back in one of the big leagues”
|Date of birth||5/5-1990|
The fierce and tense local derby between Elfsborg and IFK Göteborg always gets my attention. As a scout one need to see matches like this to understand what Swedish football is all about. With Johan Larsson making his usual appearance in the starting eleven added an extra bargain into the event.
Larson has previously played as a right-winger, but he has successfully been transformed into a so-called modern right-back. His pace and running capacity is strengths he knows how to take advantage of: both in defense and in offensive parts of play. In fact he`s got the pace to match nearly any winger – which is always a comforting thought for a defender.
This evening he was up against two other young players in Mikael Dyrestam (left-back) and Sam Larsson (left-winger). The two IFK Göteborg players were boosting with confidence after some great performances during the early start of the season. I felt that this would be a good occasion for Johan Larsson to prove himself in a big match. He had a great season last year so could he build on it? Only time could tell.
The opening minutes gave evidence of a Johan Larsson being a bit over-enthusiastic in his approach to the game. He should for instance have got a yellow card after only 40 seconds after a clumsy challenge on Tobias Hysen. His passing weren’t optimal either. He wanted to pass the ball quickly around, often on one touch, but it led to some unnecessary mistakes were the home side lost the ball in dangerous areas. As the game went on you could see Larsson adjusting to the pace of the game and by doing so he quickly got back in the game.
Larsson positioning was generally good, especially when he dropped back in defense waiting for the winger to make the next move. When the visitors attacked through the middle he read the game well to break up any through ball attempted. His clearances from the back more than once proved to be a perfect pass up field. It showed signs of a defender who keeps his calm even under pressure.
His right foot is amongst the best in the league. He struck the ball cleanly, particularly with long diagonal passes which rarely missed their target. It seemed like more responsibility is laid upon his shoulders when it comes to changing the run of play with long crosses. Oscar Hiljemark, who left for PSV Eindhoven in January, was capable of doing the same last season, but with him gone there is short of such quality passers in the team. It doesn’t seem to bother Larsson as he wants the ball literally all the time, and when he receives it he usually makes the right decision.
I counted three shots from distance from Larsson in the second half. He hits them with great power and usually good precision. Especially one shot had a good direction, but it was blocked inside the area before threatening the goalkeeper. Larsson is good at positioning himself in right areas where he can take fully advantage of his right foot.
The game against IFK Göteborg showed that Larsson is a player who loves to stay close to the touchline. He had great communication with his winger Stefan Ishizaki and they fulfilled each other very well in attack and defense. In tight areas Larsson has got a great touch which he is able to take advantage of, much because of the understanding in general between them two.
So often wide players are brilliant in their build-up play, but they fail to deliver the all-important final ball. Not so with Larsson, no matter what position he chose to cross from, always picked the right area to hit inside the box. However, a rare mistake occurred in stoppage time when he delivered a cross up on row X. Crowd was understandably frustrated by the mistake, but not as disappointed he was in himself.
A consequence of Larsson being such an offensive right-back meant that the visitors rarely attacked with Mikael Dyrestam and Sam Larsson both at the same time. Of course in this match the home-advantage needs to be taken into consideration. In this specific match their main focus seemed to be in defense, but when they saw a gap they did try and take advantage of it. Johan Larsson tried to close the winger down early, as often as he could, far up the field. This led to him being outplayed on a couple of occasions.
Instead of over-committing himself so far up field he should have been more patience. Had the home side played a team in the Champions League they would easily have been punished by a goal or two. Even thought it might be the team’s game plan – to close the attackers down early, it still must be done with caution.
Making an error up field is of course a part of the game, it happens every now and then. Another part is getting quickly back to your own position after a mistake. In the first half I noticed Larsson jogging back in defense when clearly he should have been running in order to make up for his error. Such thing will be punished in the bigger leagues and will not be tolerated at a higher stage. The lack of enthusiasm caught me by a surprise. On this specific episode I made a note and wrote: “Missed the tackle high up in the field, not making any effort of getting back into position – simply jogging back!”
I have highlighted his pace, but his timing and cleverness in his running pattern is also worth mentioning. He`s good at completing his runs forward even when he isn’t used as a passing alternative. If he receives the ball he is capable of dribbling past a defender before looking for a shot/or cross. The importance of opening up space for your teammates should never be underestimated and Larsson seems to have got it right.
A funny moment in the first half was when Larsson approached his teammate, veteran left-back Andreas Klarström, and telling him to take advantage of the space in front of him. He pointed with his fingers and signalizing in what areas the left-back needed to explore more. In my notes I wrote: “Larsson saying if you (Klarström) do as I tell you then expect more crosses from me”. By taken up such responsibility it shows that the young Swede understands his role in the team. He isn’t afraid of taken the leadership role when it is required.
In my opinion Johan Larsson is the best right-back in the Swedish league. Some of my criticism above might indicate a different story, but in order to judge a player`s potential you need to highlight his weaknesses just as well as you point out his strengths.
Absolutely all players have got areas they need to improve on: even the world’s best footballer.
Larson has got extreme qualities which he knows how to take advantage of. If a club in Europe can take advantage of his strengths, like Elfsborg are doing at the moment, then we will hear a lot more from the player in the future.
Scouting report on Johan Larsson written on 17.04.2013.
Written and approved by Øyvind Christoffer Johansen, Chief scout.