Sheffield Wednesday: Carvalhal needs right balance

Tom Lees
Tom Lees
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Fair play to Carlos Carvalhal - he kept opponents guessing with his team selection and tactics throughout the opening month of the campaign.

The affable Portuguese boss said he was a big believer in squad rotation and has stayed true to his word.

Carlos Carvalhal

Carlos Carvalhal

In seven outings, Carvalhal has utilised 22 players and resisted the temptation to field the same starting 11 in back-to-back matches. Centre-back Tom Lees is Wednesday’s only ever-present.

Some alterations have been forced on Carvalhal. He, and the Owls, could have done without injuries to senior stars such as Keiren Westwood and Glenn Loovens.

There has, of course, been a number of new faces come in.

Their 15 summer recruits all arrived at different points, so trying to blend them all together into one cohesive unit is no easy task.

Michael Turner

Michael Turner

Following the international break, Michael Turner, Daniel Pudil, Fernando Forestieri and Barry Bannan will be pressing hard for first-team spots, having had time to acclimatise to their new surroundings.

There is nothing wrong with squad rotation. As Carvalhal has previously acknowledged, the second tier of English football is a gruelling marathon not a sprint.

It is imperative to keep players fresh and sharp for the business end of the season.

But too much chopping and changing can potentially be disruptive, cause confusion and unsettle the dynamic of a team.

Barry Bannan

Barry Bannan

More than a decade ago, the British media dubbed Claudio Ranieri ‘The Tinkerman’, accusing him of constantly fiddling with his Chelsea line-up. Some people questioned the Italian’s squad-rotation policy.

Ranieri, now in charge of Leicester City, having succeeded former Owls skipper Nigel Pearson last summer, is quite happy to live up to his nickname.

“I am the Tinkerman, I take the flag,” he said.

There are other tinkerers in management, according to Ranieri.

“When you play a Pep Guardiola team, you do not know if they play three, four or five at the back,” he said. “When you change something, the opponent has more and more difficulties for this reason.”

Many observers tipped Leicester to be involved in a scrap for survival following Ranieri’s surprise appointment.

Last month, they looked anything but relegation material, picking up eight points from their opening four fixtures. The early signs are that Ranieri is the right man to continue and build on Pearson’s fine work.

What Ranieri has sensibly done is keep faith with the bulk of Pearson’s squad who pulled off the great escape last season.

Leicester finished last season strongly and Ranieri could have turned around to their Thai owners and demanded they make wholesale changes.

Instead, what Ranieri has focused on is making subtle tweaks, adding extra quality and competition for places in certain positions. All the good habits Leicester started to get into under Pearson have not been undone.

Carvalhal’s remit is clearly different to Ranieri’s. Success for Leicester this year will be retaining their Premier League status. For the Owls, it’s pushing on and mounting a top-six challenge.

When Carvalhal arrived, Wednesday needed to strengthen in all departments, having released 11 players and seen Lloyd Isgrove and Will Keane return to their parent clubs. Chris Kirkland and Chris Maguire also turned down new contract offers. Major surgery was required.

Chairman Dejphon Chansiri has certainly done his bit in the transfer market. Has ambition been shown with their recruitment drive? Absolutely.

But the Thai businessman expects to see a big improvement in the product on the pitch. It is now all about winning with style.

It is early on in Carvalhal’s reign but have the team delivered the attacking, aggressive, entertaining brand of football Chansiri wanted? In patches, but probably not enough for Chansiri’s liking.

The pressure is on Carvalhal to find a successful, winning formula.

It is all very well Carvalhal wanting to turn the Owls into a more attractive proposition, but they have got to get the basics right first before attempting to play an expansive game. Middlesbrough ran them ragged nine days ago, exploiting Wednesday’s vulnerable backline.

The secret of the Owls’ success under Stuart Gray was their defensive solidity. He made them compact, well organised and hard to break down. Everybody knew their roles as they chalked up 19 clean sheets in all competitions.

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Before the first international break in 2014, Wednesday had recorded four shut-outs compared to just one this time around. The Owls’ great strength appears to have become their biggest weakness.

After seeing his side produce a disjointed display against Boro, Carvalhal will be acutely aware he needs to re-lay their solid foundations on the training ground before the trip to Burnley.

The former Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas chief will mix and match again at Turf Moor this Saturday.

Westwood is nailed on to get the nod in between the sticks, Loovens is poised to return at centre-back and debuts will probably be handed to ex-Watford pair Pudil and Forestieri. Knowing Carvalhal, he may throw in another surprise or two.

Up to now, there has been a lack of continuity in selection but Carvalhal will, sooner rather than later, have to decide what his best 11 is and stick with that personnel to ensure greater consistency of performance.

The best managers/head coaches are prepared to tweak their methods for the sake of putting things right.

Sometimes less is more - and Carvalhal could do a lot worse than to take a leaf out of Ranieri’s book.