SEASON PREVIEW | Hopes and expectations for 2018/19

SEASON PREVIEW | Hopes and expectations for 2018/19

Andy McElwaine (@andymcelwaine)

The summer is a wonderful time. Most of us go on holiday to some far-flung destination, some finally get to put that decking on the garden, many will at last decorate that spare room, lots will reconnect with old family who they haven’t seen since that wedding five years ago, while most us will watch a World Cup – hugging complete strangers when a former United player nets a goal against Sweden. One thing which does happen every summer without fail is talking about our fine club and wondering with great anticipation what will happen come the new season. Now what happened in Russia was great; I watched it most of it on my summer trip to Japan (in the middle of the night due to the 7-hour time difference), which was odd seeing the scenes back home and not being part of it, but it will never, ever compare to that buzz when Wednesday are playing on a Saturday afternoon.

This season I am full of realistic expectation. I have a few reasons for this. Firstly, I think Jos will make our players fitter than the proverbial butcher’s dog. For the first time in many a year, our pre-season has probably been a slog for the players compared to the meander of recent seasons. I really like how Jos has been cautious with any player coming back from long-term injury, rather than throwing them back in to the fray when they are only 80%. Jos has also had time to experiment with the vast majority of players, whether that was during last season’s injury debacle, behind closed doors or in friendlies. Yes, he’s had some tough lessons to learn (the drubbings at QPR and Bristol City) and made some big mistakes along the way (Boyd as a lone striker, really?) but best to get them out of the way while he is still learning in a season which was already over when he was appointed. But we did look much tighter and played as a unit. And once he got Forestieri back, our form was mostly very good. Jos has a very good pedigree from his time in Germany and I think we will see that more this year.

Secondly, we have many players who Jos hasn’t even been able to select with regularity yet who are back to full fitness or on the road to recovery. Westwood, Van Aken, Hutchinson, Bannan, Abdi (if fit, a top player at this level), Lee, Fletcher, Winnall, Hooper, Matias, Forestieri are all quality additions to the squad who weren’t around much since his arrival. It’s a cliché, but they are as good as new signings for us. It is frustrating we haven’t signed anyone, but we all know the reasons why. Due to previous seasons’ mismanagement in the transfer market, bringing in the wrong type of player and especially ones who are older has hit us hard. But I am not telling any of you how to suck eggs. We know this and we must deal with it accordingly. Some of us urge Mr Chansiri just to ‘go for it’, alas it’s not as simple as that – look at what’s recently happened at QPR with a £42m fine. No thank you, I don’t want that.

Hunt is a huge loss though. In one area we did need to strengthen, we let one of our better players go. All due respect to Liam Palmer, he isn’t a player you’d immediately think of in a promotion winning squad, and we don’t really know much about Ash Baker yet, so the right wing-back position is an area we can improve upon. A shame nothing came of the Jack Baldwin or Sam Byram links. I’d have liked another central defender in but would like to see Hutch join the back three – think we’d really see the best of him there and it may also mean we’d get more than 20 games a year out of him.

We do lack pace, and have done for a few years now, with only Forestieri and João who give us that option. So these two will be vital for us you’d think. It’s nice to see some youngsters coming through, however none of them have really indicated that they are the answer to our problems yet. Jordan Thorniley has played well in parts when called upon, although I am looking forward to seeing more of Alex Hunt, Matt Penney and hopefully Preslav Borukov.

This season, I really hope we can push for the play-offs. With the squad we have I think that’s the best we can do. If we can keep key players fit and be more flexible in our approach than what we were last season, I do think we can just about finish in the top six. However, that may be a little too much of my glass being half full. I think we will miss out by a few places. One of the major issues against us is sometimes ourselves. Our fans can be incredibly critical of the club when things may not go to plan and it’s quite ugly at times. We’re all Wednesday, aren’t we? Apparently not so it seems at times. The amount of negativity and in-fighting on Twitter (we are apparently going to get relegated after losing to a very impressive Villarreal side who finished fifth in Spain) and the inevitable fall out is quite disheartening. Let’s just get behind the players, the club, the chairman, the manager and let’s see what happens. You never know…

 

Bradley Smith (@brad1867owl)

It’s a big year for the Owls. Starting with a trip to newly-promoted Wigan Athletic, the squad will be looking to pick up from where they left off at the tail-end of last season. It has been a somewhat muted preseason with little happening in the way in incomings and the only outgoings being that of consistent first-teamer Jack Hunt and Jordan Rhodes. However, with Jos Luhukay finishing his first preseason in the helm against Spanish giants Villarreal and a much shorter injury list, this current Wednesday team are much more like the team we’ve seen challenging for promotion in the two years prior to the humdrum 2017-18 season. Only this time, we have youth; youngsters who are looking brighter with each passing minute of first team football that Luhukay affords them.  O’Grady, Thorniley, Neilsen have all impressed in limited minutes and even those who haven’t yet graced the hallowed turf such as Alex Hunt and the young Bulgarian Preslav Borukov are thought to have a bright future at Hillsborough.

Our talisman Fernando Forestieri is back and sharper than ever with the creative flair that the Owls desperately missed in his absence. Bannan is back orchestrating the midfield, showing us Wednesdayites just what we were missing. Tom Lees is back in his familiar role as the ever-present rock at the back. You cannot forget Adam Reach, the man who played everywhere last year without complaint and with the integrity that you’d expect from a man of his class. And the often understated and underappreciated, but always loved big man Atdhe Nuhiu up front firing on all cylinders.

Another man who I am desperate to see have a top year for the Owls is the new man and Jos’s only signing Joey Pelupessy. I believe this man has all the tools to be a future captain at Sheffield Wednesday and seems to have settled well in Sheffield, with his burgeoning bromance with Lucas Joao and Big Dave lightening up Instagram. It took him a few games to settle in at first, but towards the end of the season, we began to see why the gaffer signed him.

With all the big spending that has gone on around us in the Championship and the dangers of FFP proving too much for some teams (Villa and QPR), I think Wednesday’s lack of spending will come as blessing rather than a curse. This 2018-19 season needs to be one of stabilisation and sacrifice, rather than spending and ultimately suffering. Let’s work with what we’ve got, get some more youngsters bled into the first team and make sure that the players who have returned from injury, stay returned from injury. It’s a funny old game football and anything can happen and with Jos’s reputation as something of a promotion expert, the boys might just surprise us.

WAWAW.

Glyn Thornhill (@CRATESOFSOUL)
As Saturday approaches football fans up and down the football leagues are eagerly anticipating the opening fixture. Generally they split into three camps:

  1. Always the eternal optimist who thinks this will be their season for promotion glory.
  2. The glass half full / half empty.
  3. The realist who understands it’s a marathon and looks at the bigger picture.

So what for my beloved Sheffield Wednesday?

If the internet forums and social media outlets material is to be taken as fact we are in turmoil with a transfer embargo looming. But, playing devil’s advocate, would that be such a bad thing?

Panic buys and inflated prices for average players are an all too familiar trait at this stage of the transfer window….

Cast your mind back to last season with the 3 relegated teams from the Premiership loaded with cash from parachute payments.. Well how did it work out for those?

Throwing cash in The Championship is not a guaranteed promotion outcome.

How many expert football pundits had Cardiff in for promotion or Sunderland relegation last season?

And that is a perfect example of the unpredictability of this league.

Ignore the football pundit predictions they are always wildly inaccurate.

Jos should certainly have us fit with pre-season having started fitness in June.

The return of long time absentees: Steven Fletcher, Joost Van Aken, Gary Hooper, Sam Winnall, Kieran Lee will all be new additions to the squad under Jos’ tenure.

Newly promoted Wigan Athletic await on Saturday and it will be interesting to see if Jos goes with a neutral set up or an all-out attacking formation.

My hopes for 2018 / 2019 campaign:

  1. The squad to remain injury free.
  2. Jos continuing to show his commitment to developing younger players.
  3. Having flexibility to change formations in a game when plan A isn’t working – our downfall early last season when it was clear to see we had no alternative when plan A failed.

So my prediction I think with the current squad we should be well capable of a top ten finish, and if we remain injury free, and Jos can continue to get the best of players his has available, who knows?

In Jos we trust.

Remember it’s the hope that kills you.

U T O

 

 

Nigel Lewis (nigellewis11)

Whilst being the title of East Sussex threesome Keane’s debut album of rock balladry it also happens to sum up my overriding emotions as Saturday’s long-awaited trip to Wigan draws near.

Once again the pre-game excitement begins to build midweek with the prospect of an away trip with my daughter, (who has annoyingly recently turned into an adult – costs me more for tickets but then again will now go to the bar when pushed) via the wonders of British Rail.

Yet, the dark spectre of Deepdale looms dark in our memory. Rewind 12 months and a similar trip over the Pennines beckoned, a journey full of hope and expectation before the season seemed to implode in front of us in ninety scarcely believable minutes. A set of strangers clad in a kit reminiscent of overripe bananas, proceeding to wander aimlessly around the pitch without purpose or coherence in front a rapidly disbelieving away support.

Now, following a summer of a rumoured transfer embargo and the now annual social media frenzy over ticket and membership prices, surely our only hope is that we have no hope or expectation.

Personally, I feel somewhat relieved that we are not now in a position where a top 6 finish is an absolute minimum and anything short seen as a complete disaster. We can perhaps take a more practical and considered view of the club’s progress through the season, especially the development of the younger players.

A settled sense of acceptance now seems to pervade the club in that we have a somewhat reduced squad and are in the hands of a practical, experienced and calm manager who will now work with the players he has. He may even go completely “old school” and try and improve them and the team through coaching and management without resorting to flailing around wildly in the transfer market like most of the division.

As we now seem destined to play with 3 centre backs and 2 wing backs, my only curiosity is the permutation of the other 5 outfield players in our regular team shape. Will this be playing with a central midfield 2 (supported by the wingbacks to create a midfield 4) or 3 in midfield which would then give a more solid 8 as the team “base” when required.

I think that the principle shape and set up of the team will rest on the position in which Jos feels that the team’s undoubted talisman, Fernando Forestieri will be most effective.

If, as I hope, he goes with Fernando as part of an interchangeable front three then this could be a structure in which the little man could thrive depending on the effectiveness of the team structure and, let’s be honest, how the mood takes him. Will he be the joyous, gravity-defying football sorcerer in oversized shorts bending the game to his will or a brooding, whirling maelstrom of perceived injustice snarling around the pitch as the pantomime villain he is so often painted?

Our season may depend on it.

 

 

(Images: swfc.co.uk unless stated otherwise)


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