FLU-HIT Seb Larsson is hoping to shake off illness and help Sunderland come in from the cold at the Sports Direct Arena tomorrow.
The Swedish midfielder has been under the weather this week and Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill is keeping his fingers crossed the Swede can make a full recovery before the big derby.
But even if the winger is not at 100 per cent capacity, O’Neill is expected to ask the player to give the team whatever he can – just as he did in the New Year’s Day game against Manchester City when he was also ill.
The set-piece specialist had been struck down by a virus in the run-up to the game against the league leaders.
He recalled: “The manager was aware I wasn’t well and asked me if I could give him 30 minutes.
“But in the end, I ended up staying on for the whole 90!”
The midfielder was completely spent by the final moments but did set up one final attack by picking up the ball on the edge of the penalty area and advancing into the centre circle before passing to James McClean.
He then doubled up with exhaustion – and was barely watching as McClean played in Ji Dong-won for a famous winner.
O’Neill will look for more of the same from Larsson tomorrow – knowing he has the big-match experience and ability to turn games.
On Wednesday, Larsson complained of feeling unwell before Sweden’s game against Croatia.
However, he went on to score two goals after appearing as a second-half substitute and O’Neill would love him to make such an impact in front of goal tomorrow.
Larsson has not scored in the league since the 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers on December 11, in O’Neill’s first game in charge of the club.
There has been a suggestion that perhaps teams are working hard to mitigate the “Larsson Factor”.
Arsene Wenger labelled him the best free-kick taker in the Premier League earlier this season and opposing teams are aware of the threat he can pose from deadballs.
But O’Neill believes Larsson remains a potent threat, no matter how teams look to deal with him.
“I don’t believe teams are going into games with special plans to stop Seb,” he said. “Yes, they might warn against giving away free-kicks around the area, but we all do that.
“His delivery for corners is excellent and he carries a goal threat from free-kicks.
“So he’s a very important player for us.”