The 'calming persona' that unleashes Barry Bannan - is Massimo Luongo Sheffield Wednesday's most important player?
It may well be that Massimo Luongo holds the key to both Sheffield Wednesday’s defensive and attacking capabilities.
The Australian international, who made his long-awaited return to League One action in their 3-2 win at Accrington Stanley on Saturday, provides something his teammates can’t.
His is a calming presence in midfield, one that made more tackles than anyone else on the pitch on his comeback game (six) – a remarkable statistic especially given he was yellow carded just a couple of minutes in. He achieved a mammoth 12 ball recoveries.
But it is not just defensive qualities that he offers.
His mere presence frees up the likes of Barry Bannan to go forth and play with the sort of free spirit that helped inspire only the fourth attacking display in 88 league matches to return three goals or more.
With the presence of Luongo behind him, Bannan offered a season-high number of crosses in the Accrington game (nine) and produced his highest non-penalty xG rating of the season (0.25).
“He’s perfect for me,” Bannan told The Star on Luongo in the build-up to the game. “He plays that position really, really well. If you look through the squad, there are people that can play that position but it’s Massimo’s natural position.
“He thinks like a defensive midfielder, whereas when you put there people in there that are attack-minded like me, I’ve had problems when I want to get too involved going forward and others are the exact same.
“Mass is perfectly suited for that position which then frees me up to go and do what I want to do and like to do without having to think about the defensive side. He gives me that license to go ahead which benefits me and benefits the team.”
Another member of the Luongo fan club appears to be Darren Moore. The Australian wasn’t an ever-present in the early stages of the season but it seems his absence in recent weeks – which covered 13 matches and 92 days of the League One campaign – has brought him to the very front of the pecking order.
The evidence of the Accrington win suggests Wednesday can be a different beast with the 29-year-old in the side and that in a campaign already so dominated by fine margins, Luongo’s return – should he be able to stay fit – could be a game changer.
“He gave us balance, he held the middle of the park,” Moore said. “With Baz and Fiz alongside him there was much more balance in there.
“Credit to Baz, Wingy and Fiz for what they’ve done in the past few weeks, but it’s not their natural position whereas when Mass comes in there he just sits in and directs traffic.
“He was excellent and he’s a cool, calm head when it got a bit frantic. He put his foot on the ball, his release passes today were excellent and his defensive duties were brilliant.
“He has a wonderful calming persona about him in terms of the information he gives to the players.”