At his press briefing yesterday, Carlos Carvalhal paid possibly the biggest compliment he has ever played to one of his Owls stars.
Shortly after confirming Tom Lees will return to action against his former club Leeds United tomorrow, the Wednesday boss said: “Tom is a fantastic player.
“He’s one of the best central defenders in England not just in the Championship to me.”
Praise doesn’t get much bigger than that and Carvalhal’s bold claim has certainly raised a few eyebrows.
Whether you agree with Carvalhal’s comments or not, one thing’s for sure: the Owls badly missed Lees’ leadership and organisational skills at Burton Albion in midweek.
Wednesday made a string of defensive mistakes which the Brewers ruthlessly punished. Without Lees and club captain Glenn Loovens, the Owls’ injury-hit defence was found wanting.
As Carvalhal has freely admitted, his Wednesday side struggled to cope with Burton’s direct style of play.
Carvalhal stated: “We had three centre-backs out of the Burton game and any team in training or a game would have a problem, not just our team.
“We have Jose [Semedo] and Daniel [Pudil] who can cover the position but in a few days we lost Tom and Jose which is not normal. Sometimes these things happen. It is something we wished hadn’t happened but the reality is we missed three players.”
Lees returned to training on Thursday after shaking off the foot problem he suffered in Saturday’s goalless draw away to Norwich City. He is expected to line up alongside Sam Hutchinson when the Owls entertain a Leeds team who are still searching for their first win under Garry Monk.
“Tom is training normal and has completely recovered,” said Carvalhal, who believes Loovens is close to making a first-team return following ankle surgery. “He is a very, very important player to us.”
Lees has featured prominently in Wednesday recording 17 league sheets and equalling the club-record for shut-outs in each of the last two campaigns.
It is still early days but Lees and company have already kept two this time around, frustrating newly-relegated Aston Villa and Norwich City.
Lees told The Star: “It would be really nice to beat the record but obviously, it looks quite far off at the moment! It’s a big task.
“We do a lot of work defensively with the staff and the manager. It’s one of their big things conceding goals.
“We do work on it tirelessly through the week and are well prepared tactically by the manager.”
The 25-year-old is expected to replace Semedo, who is a big doubt after hobbling off against Burton after picking up an injury. Semedo was sent for a scan and Carvalhal hopes the issue isn’t too serious.
Carvalhal said: “We don’t yet have the results. I think Jose will be out of the game.”