Dom Howson’s Sheffield Wednesday column: Why Carlos Carvalhal must find a happy medium

Sam Hutchinson
Sam Hutchinson

From one extreme to another.

The Owls earned plenty of plaudits for their entertaining, aggressive style of play in Carlos Carvalhal’s first season at the helm. Their attacking prowess and willingness to get forward in numbers thrilled Wednesdayites across the country.

Barry Bannan

Barry Bannan

Year two was a different story.

There were fewer goals and less swashbuckling football. Wednesday didn’t blow many teams away in their march to the Championship play-off semi-finals. It was not as pretty to watch.

The Owls’ success turned them into a prized scalp. Opponents packed their midfields and showed them more respect, especially at Hillsborough.

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Wednesday adopted a pragmatic approach and it worked to a large extent. The team finished fourth, two places higher and seven points better off than in the 2015/16 campaign, and racked up an impressive 17 clean sheets.

But the Owls have to find a better balance between defending and attacking to take the next step. The Owls need to find a happy medium.

It doesn’t require a drastic rethink. Carvalhal has laid solid foundations. He has the nucleus of a squad capable of challenging for promotion.

However, it is goals and clean sheets that decide matches and Wednesday have to provide better service to their forward line.

The positives have far outweighed the negatives under Carvalhal but the Portuguese chief has to show greater flexibility with his tactics and team selection. The Owls nearly always line-up in a 4-4-2 formation and Sam Hutchinson, Barry Bannan, Kieran Lee are shoehorned into a midfield four. Will Carvalhal be brave and mix up the middle of the park and occasionally tweak his system? Wednesday are a little predictable to play against.

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Despite recruiting David Jones and Almen Abdi last summer, some critics still feel the Owls lack height and physicality in the midfield engine room. Carvalhal has appeared reluctant to sign a big, midfield general in the past.

“I’m not a coach of rugby,” he said. “I’m a football coach.

“Barcelona win everything and they play with Xavi, [Andrés] Iniesta and [Lionel] Messi. Do you say ‘let’s put a physical guy in and put these small, talented guys out as we need rugby players on the pitch?’

“It depends on the mentality. If you want to play direct football and win second balls like the past, it is an option. If you want to pay a ticket to see football, you must select the players to play football.”

Carvalhal has worked wonders with Wednesday. His contract extension was fully justified. He just needs to be a tad more ruthless and let his players express themselves.

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