Sheffield Wednesday v West Brom - Match Preview
It’s a frantic month of football that has been compared to playing in a World Cup.
But if the Championship run-in was actually a major tournament, it’s very unlikely Albion would qualify from their group.
The opening two games since football resumed following the coronavirus outbreak has seen them held to a goalless draw by Blues before being beaten at Brentford.
But while those results are disappointing, it’s the manner of them which prompted Slaven Bilic to call a meeting with his players on Monday morning.
Despite what on paper is a wonderfully-talented frontline, the Baggies have struggled to create clear cut chances in their two outings so far.
“We have to impose ourselves and affect the game more,” Bilic said. “We have to play with more energy, with more passion and desire.
“That is what was missing and the guys know that.
“It all starts with desire, it all starts with passion. It all starts with basic things and we need that back.”
Bilic clearly felt his players needed a wake-up call.
And they may get another one when the Croatian picks his team, with the boss hinting he will make changes at Hillsborough.
The first thing Bilic has to decide is how he is going to set his team up.
It was a surprise to see the boss ditch the 4-3-3 system that had been so successful prior to lockdown in favour of a 4-2-3-1 formation for the Blues game.
Fans were then surprised again when he stuck with it for the trip to Brentford.
But Bilic did switch back to 4-3-3 during half-time at Griffin Park – a change which lifted his side.
And it’s hard to see him not starting with it tonight.
That means Filip Krovinovic is likely to be resorted to the starting XI and will join Romaine Sawyers and Jake Livermore in a midfield three.
Matheus Pereira will move to the right wing, with either Callum Robinson or Grady Diangana on the left.
But Bilic has a call to make up front where Charlie Austin and Kenneth Zohore will be hoping to start ahead of Hal Robson-Kanu.
The Welsh international has enjoyed an excellent season.
But he’s been quiet in Albion’s two games since the resumption and has cut an isolated figure up front on his own.
It was Zohore who got the nod to replace Robson-Kanu from the bench at half-time at Brentford. A more traditional targetman, Bilic may feel the team will benefit from his directness at a time when all teams are lacking match sharpness.
Equally, though, the boss knows Austin is the best finisher in the squad.
And he may feel the former Southampton man is the way to go if chances continue to be at a premium.
Elsewhere, whether there is a change of system or not – it seems unlikely Matt Phillips will keep his place on the right following two underwhelming displays.
Bilic may also decide to recall Dara O’Shea at right-back at the expense of Darnell Furlong – with the Irishman more defensively minded and perhaps better equipped to deal with the physical threat of Wednesday’s Connor Wickham.
While O’Shea is an intriguing option, it’s important to note – despite all the doom and gloom surrounding their performances – Albion have defended very well since the restart.
Blues created next to nothing against them.
And Brentford – a very good attacking side – also failed to test Sam Johnstone, with their goal the only real chance of the match.
If the Baggies keep that defensively solidity, then surely goals and points will soon come.
They haven’t been themselves since football’s big restart.
But tonight is their chance to show everyone what they are truly about and that they have the quality and hunger needed to win promotion.
From potential points deductions to long winless runs and players refusing to stay – it’s been an eventful season for fans of Sheffield Wednesday.
Nevertheless, the Owls have impressed in their two outings since lockdown with a home draw against Nottingham Forest followed by a win at Bristol City.
Those results have been achieved, in part, thanks to a shift in system – with boss Garry Monk switching to a 3-5-2 formation.
It’s a change that allows him to partner Connor Wickham and Jordan Rhodes in attack – two players who have proven themselves as top Championship strikers in the past. The system also suits midfield creator Barry Bannan – a player with an excellent passing range, but someone who isn’t the most mobile.
Prior to lockdown, Wednesday had a spell where they won once in just 10 games.
But Monk is pleased with the progress his side is making.
“The players deserve huge credit because they have come back from the enforced break with a fresh attitude and mentality,” he said.
“It is only a couple of steps forward, but I have been really pleased with the last couple of games. No-one is getting carried away because there is a lot of work still to do. But the signs are good that the players are taking on board what we want from them.”
Despite those positives, it is still events off the field that are dominating the agenda at Hillsborough.
Monk will have a depleted squad tonight after Steven Fletcher, Fernando Forestieri and Morgan Fox all rejected short-term deals to remain at the club until the end of the season.
With money tight, Sam Hutchinson and Sam Winnall have also been released.
And, following complaints from a number of rival clubs, Wednesday are still waiting to find out if they will be charged by the EFL for breaching profitability and sustainability rules.
Predicted XI: Johnstone, Gibbs, Ajayi, Hegazi, O'Shea, Livermore, Sawyers, Krovinovic, Robinson, Pereira, Zohore
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