Dom Howson column: Why Sheffield Wednesday need to go back to basics

Keiren Westwood

Keiren Westwood

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There is, according to Carlos Carvalhal, no Portuguese translation for clean sheet.

Most observers, including myself, probably thought it was safe to assume that Carvalhal, given he was a centre-back during his playing days, would look to build his Owls team from the back.

Surely Carvalhal’s main focus would be on team shape, organisation and keeping as many shut outs as possible?

Wrong.

It turns out that Carvalhal, who was little known in England, doesn’t remotely care about clean sheets - or at least that’s what he says publicly. For Carvalhal, attack is the best form of defence.

Carvalhal’s football ideology served Wednesday well last season. Their attractive style of play earned them many plaudits and took them to the brink of promotion.

A big part of Carvalhal’s remit has been to turn Wednesday into an aggressive, entertaining outfit and I think most people would agree he has successfully managed to achieve that at S6. As thousands of Wednesdayites and the rest of the nation witnessed in the opening 25 minutes or so at Birmingham City last weekend, the Owls continue to be a slick, passing team.

The issue is, as Carvalhal acknowledged post-match, Wednesday are not being efficient enough at either end of the pitch. A lack of a killer instinct in the final third is costing them but, perhaps more worryingly, teams are exploiting every single defensive lapse in concentration they are making right now. The Championship is an unforgiving, relentless division and sides are capitalising on the Owls’ collective and individual errors.

Keiren Westwood has made a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes, Tom Lees’ form, by his high standards, has dipped and all the full-backs have been inconsistent. There has been little continuity in selection this season.

Carvalhal has an unwavering faith in his football philosophy. When I asked him if Wednesday need to adopt a more pragmatic approach to rectify their poor results on the road, he replied: “Scoring one goal and putting players behind the ball is not our way.”

Nobody is calling for Carvalhal to totally abandon his possession, high tempo principles. Nobody wants Wednesday to completely shut up shop when they go ahead in matches.

But the Owls’ game management let them down at Birmingham and they failed to grind out the result. Clean sheets have so far been in short supply and the team’s inability to do the basics well is hindering their progress.

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