Alan Biggs at Large: Why Jos Luhukay's '˜new' system could get the best out of Sheffield Wednesday's star men
First point, first goals, two clean sheets and a new system bedding in. Not a bad start for Jos Luhukay. To say we knew precious little about him a week or two ago, he's found out plenty in a very short time as Sheffield Wednesday manager.
The most pleasing discovery for the rest of us? Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that signs of a successful switch to 3-5-2 is the most encouraging development in this column’s view. And that has as much, if not more, to do with those who aren’t playing than the ones who adapted to Luhukay’s template in the derby draw at Bramall Lane and his home bow of a 2-0 FA Cup win over Carlisle.
Whatever the formation, you want it to fit your best outfield players and accommodate all of them within it. For me, they’re all to be found – with the exceptions of injured duo Fernando Forestieri and Gary Hooper – in midfield.
Who wouldn’t have Barry Bannan, Sam Hutchinson and Kieran Lee as automatic choices? Sadly all are currently injured, of course, and getting all fit together is another matter amid a climate of change and a firm link to a midfield signing from overseas. But a simple switch offers that tantalising possibility and Luhukay cannot be judged properly until he can select from greater strength.
Midfield depth doesn’t end there. George Boyd looked sprightly as he advanced his comeback in midweek; Adam Reach can adjust to a variety of roles; Jacob Butterfield has points to prove and a background to suggest he will; David Jones can anchor midfield when Hutchinson is out.
Maybe here is the core of the side for next season, underpinned by the various wing back choices of Luhukay’s opening games. And with Marco Matias threatening to add to strike options, after he and Atdhe Nuhiu combined well to score in midweek, Wednesday are not short of variations even with so many out.
I maintain that some turnover of the squad is required to freshen things longer term - and the acquisition of a defensive kingpin. Luhukay will also need plenty of cover in this position to maintain a base of three centre backs.
It was constructive, I thought, that he chose the cup tie to bring academy players Connor O’Grady and Frederik Nielsen into the equation. Good experience for them and a signal that Wednesday may be turning the corner in developing their own.
All the more important with Tom Lees and Joost van Aken sidelined on top of Glenn Loovens’ suspension. That first-choice trio needs pressurising – as Daniel Pudil did with a fine display at Bramall Lane and Frederico Venancio did across both Luhukay’s opening matches.
As for the strikers, we all know the firepower is there. It’s about finding the right combination and the system to trigger it. Luhukay seems to be operating on the right lines in seeking a better way to attack AND defend. Early days and much uncertainty about the make-up of the squad – not least how and where Forestieri can fit when he finally returns.
But let’s see what Saturday’s clash with Neil Warnock’s Cardiff brings as Wednesday begin to regain some forward momentum.