Sheffield Wednesday Season Preview: exciting football

wednesdaySince winning promotion to the Championship, the Owls had not exactly taken the division by storm, playing uninspiring football in the bottom half of the table. Until last season, that was. Seemingly out of nothing, new head coach Carlos Carvalhal built an exciting, vibrant team playing arguably better football than anyone else in the league. Are Sheffield Wednesday on their way back? The Football Lab spoke to supporter Steve Walmsley, who writes for War Of The Monster Trucks, which you can follow on Twitter @SheffWedWOTMT.

Preceded by defensive tacticians, Carlos Carvalhal has made Sheffield Wednesday a more enterprising team than it has been in previous seasons. As a fan, has it been refreshing for you to watch exciting football?

Yes, it has been a huge gust of fresh air. The comparison to the 14/15 season was remarkable, particularly at home where we scored lots of goals, won most games and always entertained. CC’s strategy appears to be to prefer to win 4-3 rather than 1-0 which is brilliant at home but our away form did leave a bit to be desired last season and is something we’ll need to improve on in 2016/17.

Fernando Forestieri was a joy to watch at times last season. Do you think he suits the slick style of play?

He was brought in because his style suits the strategy. He’s best when playing off a nominal wide position (our full backs provide the width generally) as he loves to play off a central striker and link with central midfield players. He can be effective up front but he definitely needs someone up there who can win the physical battle to hold up the ball and link play.

On the other hand, direct play worked for the promoted teams last season. Are there times when you will need to sacrifice the pretty football and get it in the mixer for a tall striker such as Lucas Joao?

Yes, the promoted teams were very functional and it got them up – but functional football can get found out in the Premier League. CC’s plan is for technical football but we do have to win the battles sometimes, and on occasions have a Plan B to be more direct when needed. Nuhiu is an impact player and can help change a game in that respect from the bench. Lucas Joao has the physical attributes but needs to get the mentality right for Championship battles – he got bullied a bit last season. Steven Fletcher is a good blend of the two and it’s good we have got him in.

Adthe Nuhiu departs, paving the way for free signing Steven Fletcher. Do you think Gary Hooper will perform best when playing just off Fletcher or Joao? If so, can you incorporate Hooper and Forestieri into the same team?

Nuhiu hasn’t gone yet and I think we’ll keep him for that impact role from the bench – he can be a real handful for tiring centre halves. I think Hooper will play off Fletcher and Forestieri will play off a nominal wide position, I think we’ll go with that at home and maybe be slightly different away from home.

Fletcher is your only signing to date, but you’ve not lost any players. A summer of stability or one of complacency?

Jake Kean has now come in to cover for the departing Lewis Price. We need another centre back and at least one left back for certain, a direct winger would be nice to have and may be a central midfield player. Last summer was a revolution, this year it’s more evolutionary but we need to up the quality and that doesn’t come cheaply. Much of last years best recruitment was done in August and September so I’m not too worried yet. I don’t think we are complacent but we are cautious about who we bring in and how much we pay – the deals are not always easy to do.

In the play-off final last season, you couldn’t quite cope with Hull’s physicality. Are you surprised Carvalhal has not signed a midfield ball-winner? Is Jose Semedo or Felipe Melo the answer?

Yes we got bullied at Wembley and we need that option to compete physically at times, particularly for away games. Semedo won’t be it no, but his value to the squad and the club is wider than that. Melo got a bad injury last season but what I saw in 14/15 I liked – he is big presence and is quite technical so could be the answer. If he isn’t that’s the type of midfield player we need to recruit.

Barry Bannan and Kieran Lee looked excellent last season. Do you like their creativity and dynamism?

Both were brilliant last season. Lee was my player of the season, closely followed by Bannan who only really dropped his level a bit after the red card at Forest. They were the driving force and made things tick. They will be critical to 2016/17 too I’m sure.

Left-back was an important area to fill this summer, with Daniel Pudil and Joe Bennett only available on loan last season. Are you happy with your current options in that area?

No, we are weak in this area. Dielna has been told he can leave and Helan has the pace but his positioning leaves a bit to be desired at the top end of the championship. We definitely need one left back and ideally two. Pudil was very good and we would welcome him back but Chansiri won’t pay £1.5m for a left back who is 31 and in the last year of his contract. I guess Villa might use Joe Bennett themselves next season so we might be looking elsewhere.

Jack Hunt seems to have developed nicely over the last 12 months or so. Are you content with him at right-back?

Going forward he is brilliant. Defensively he can get caught out but has improved in this respect. He hopefully will improve some more, but yes very happy with him.

Glenn Loovens is 32 now. Can you continue to rely on him? Would you like to see another centre-back join to partner Tom Lees?

At the end of last season I said that Sam Hutchinson should play centre back and CC has said this is the plan for this season. He reads the game much better from there than in midfield and should hopefully be booked less often. He can be injury prone though. Loovens is still a good player, if creaking a little, so with and him another decent centre back we should be ok in this department. Having a left back, in Pudil, who can provide cover for injuries was great.

Keiron Westwood has been arguably the best goalkeeper in the Championship over the last couple of seasons. Are you surprised he’s not moved onto a Premier League club?

There’s always speculation about him moving to the PL as he is good enough. We don’t want to sell and hopefully he doesn’t want to go – he spent a lot of time on the bench at Sunderland so maybe that’s on his mind. Long may he stay with us!

What are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

Bristol City might give it a go after some substantial recruitment. And if Dirty L**ds can be stable they might give the play-offs a crack with their new manager.

Where will you finish?

Many years of watching Wednesday has taught me not to make prediction! We should be in and around the top 6 but might be short of top 2. Anything less than play-offs will be a disappointment.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Sheffield Wednesday were a joy to watch at times last season, Forestieri a stand-out performer. Find some balance away from home and they will get closer to promotion. 3rd