Championship Preview: Why Wednesday need defensive balance


Jose Semedo

Here are The Football Lab’s thoughts ahead of 2 games in the Championship this weekend. Both Brentford and Sheffield Wednesday go into their match at Griffin Park off the back of a victory, as Brentford triumphed over Preston last time out while Wednesday recorded a League Cup victory at St James’ Park in midweek. Preston and Wolves look to end poor runs of form at Deepdale, with the two teams having won just one league game between them since mid-August.

Brentford v Sheff Wed

Brentford and Sheffield Wednesday are in similar positions this season. Both clubs have parted company with a well-regarded manager, Mark Warburton and Stuart Gray respectively, in search of a continental style of football and a modernized approach.

Brentford boss Marinus Dijkhuizen is arguably among the most underrated tacticians in the Championship, because he has often made substitutions that have changed a game in his side’s favour. Brentford performed very poorly in the first half against Preston last week, but when he switched to a 4-4-2 formation, the dynamics of the team changed drastically. Energetic substitute Sergi Canos made an impact, Lasse Vibe was more effective in a central role while Alan McCormack slotted in seamlessly at right-back.

Dijkhuizen’s effective tactical changes are made more impressive by the small number of players available to him. There are around 8 squad members who would ordinarily expect to start, but are now out injured, with defender Andreas Bjelland, midfielder Josh McEachran and forward Jota among the notable absentees. When asked about the causes of these injuries at a recent Supporter Q&A evening, Dijkhuizen said that he is asking himself the same question and that the training methods are the same as last season.

And yet, the severity of Brentford’s injury crisis is disproportionate with their recent performances. The Bees deserved more than a point from their trips to Elland Road and the Riverside respectively and came from behind to beat Preston at Griffin Park.

The West London club’s next visitors are Sheffield Wednesday. Although the Owls have completed back-to-back wins, and deserved their 3-2 victory over Fulham due to the number of chances they created, this blog will continue to oppose the men from South Yorkshire.

Sheffield Wednesday have some of the most technically gifted players in the division, but the lack of defensive balance in that team is a major concern. Marco Matias is perhaps more effective as a number 10 rather than out wide, due to the reduced defensive responsibilities, but one could say the same about many players in the Wednesday squad.

Lewis McGugan, Fernando Forestieri, Barry Bannan, Alex Lopez and Matias all have the potential to become one of the best players in the Championship, if they are given a free central role in which they have the licence to push forward. However, new head coach Carlos Carvalhal has been guilty of trying to shoehorn too many of these types of players into the team for their technical brilliance, without considering the tactical implications.

In doing so, Carvalhal has neglected sturdy performers such as Jose Semedo. The holding midfielder played a key part in Sheffield Wednesday’s strong defensive display at Newcastle in the League Cup, in which the team restricted Toon to just 1 shot on target. Semedo is among the most effective anchor men in the Championship, but he never has the impulsion to drive forward and create. There needs to be one or two midfielders like Semedo in that Wednesday midfield who are not so attack-minded, but can offer solid protection for the defence, thus allowing the flair players more time on the ball.

Brentford look a more balanced side at the moment and this blog will predict a win for them.

Preston v Wolves

Preston have been linked with a move for Adam Reach and if that transfer comes off, it could be their most important signing this season. One of the few things Preston lacked in their promotion season last year was pace and width on the left hand side and with Kyel Reid having failed to make an impact since joining last summer, their need for a left winger is obvious.

Reach would give Preston the option to diversify their attacking play, which may lead to better ammunition for their strikers. The likes of Stevie May, Will Keane and Joe Garner are being criticized by a few North Enders, who argue that the team will improve when Jermaine Beckford returns to the starting line-up, yet one might question whether the front men are getting the service they require.

Keane and May are only 178cm tall, and they will inevitably struggle in a team that plays long balls forward. Garner may be relatively tall, but he is not a natural target man, he needs early balls into his chest or feet around the edge of the penalty area, where he can get a shot at goal without being closed down. The form of Preston’s strikers is unlikely to improve until they receive better quality service.

The forwards at Wolverhampton Wanderers are having similar problems. Benik Afobe is not playing at his best and in a lot of games this season, he has found himself running back into midfield out of frustration due to the shortage of service. The problem with starting 2 strikers, Afobe and either Nouha Dicko or Adam Le Fondre, is that they have to be getting quality service from midfield throughout the match. Otherwise, the team is overrun in midfield, and that seems to be the case at Wolves.

In the closing stages of last season, Afobe and Dicko formed a lethal strike-partnership that caused havoc on the break. However, the counter-attacking opportunities do not seem to be there for the duo at the moment, and midfielder Kevin McDonald has not shown the creativity he showed last season. Kenny Jackett will have to hope that new signing Nathan Byrne can inject some pace into the team’s attack, or that one of the wingers, either James Henry, Sheyi Ojo or Rajiv Van La Parra, start to be a bit more proactive.

At the other end of the field, Wolves have similar problems to Preston, in that they lack leadership. With Danny Batth out injured and Richard Stearman having left, there is nobody in the Wanderers team who can guide the younger players. 22-year-old defender Ethan Ebanks-Landell is looking prone to errors at the moment, but his defensive partner is 20-year-old Kortney Hause. The decision to let Stearman, one of the few experienced players in the squad, go to Championship rivals Fulham at the beginning of the month, was very poor judgement from the club.

One could say the same about Preston. Aside from perhaps John Welsh, they do not have too many players who can organize and rally their teammates, which captain Tom Clarke has struggled to do. This may be part of the reason why Preston have thrown away leads against Bristol City and Brentford in recent games.

There is a sense of negativity surrounding both clubs at the moment, and this blog predicts a goalless draw.