Could Izzy Brown be the man to improve Sheffield Wednesday's attacking woes?
It’s a curious case, that of Izzy Brown at Sheffield Wednesday.
The 23-year-old playmaker, on loan from Chelsea, has yet to start in any of Tony Pulis’ six matches in charge of the club and last started for the Owls at Bristol City on September 27, some 74 days ago.
An knee injury later, Wednesday’s efforts have struggled on, all the while with Brown invariably watching on from the sidelines.
With the side’s attacking efforts flailing – only Derby County have scored fewer goals than Wednesday’s nine this season – many supporters have called for Brown to be given a more integral role in the side. He has not played more than 10 minutes in a Pulis match so far.
Speaking last week, the new Owls boss reiterated the fact that he was still getting to know his players and that a manic pre-Christmas schedule is making it all the more difficult for him to do so.
“People should be conscious that I don’t know the players that well,” he said speaking ahead of the back-to-back away matches at Norwich and Huddersfield.
“I’m learning as much as I can and as quickly as I possibly can with regard to what the player’s strengths are, what their capabilities are and what they can do for the group and for themselves.
“They’ve pushed all the games together before Christmas and it’s non-stop. It doesn’t give you enough time to get a good feel for the players and an understanding of what their strengths and weaknesses are, you’re really just playing off the bat.”
Whether that bat might push Brown into more minutes for the visit of South Yorkshire rivals Barnsley on Saturday remains to be seen. Pulis, who has used Barry Bannan in a more advanced midfield role alongside Callum Paterson, may well be tempted to switch his offensive line-up.
Because it’s not just scoring goals that has been Wednesday’s problem, it’s been creating them. In fact, they are scoring at a better rate than the quality of chances would suggest.
Their ‘Expected Goals’ (xG) rating is just 0.83 per match, meaning they are one of only three Championship teams that are not creating enough quality chances for their team to be expected to score a goal per 90 minutes.
Coventry City are the only side with a worse xG rating (0.81) and the numbers suggest the Owls may well have their work cut out this weekend. Their home xG is 0.85, while Barnsley’s away figure is 1.15.
But should Brown be given an opportunity, his efforts would have to improve in order to make an impact.
This season his expected assists rating has nosedived since a stellar effort of 0.33 xA – or one expected assist every three matches – while on Luton last season, to 0.18 xA this time out.
He averages just over five passes into the final third per match, compared to over 10 per match by Bannan, whose xA has dropped from 0.2 last season to 0.11 in 2020/21.
Brown will need fitness, confidence and opportunity to make those improvements. It will be interesting to see whether Pulis is able to offer him the latter.