Ahead of tomorrow’s all-Yorkshire play-off semi-final, Huddersfield Town head coach David Wagner insists all the pressure is on Sheffield Wednesday due to their huge transfer spending over the past two years.
The Terriers and Owls will look to take a giant step towards the May 29 Wembley final when the two sides meet in an eagerly-awaited High Noon showdown at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Carlos Carvalhal’s men have had the upper hand in recent meetings, the last four having gone the way of the south Yorkshire club. The bookmakers make Wednesday the favourites to prevail over two legs this time around, too, and Wagner understands why.
“I think the roles are clear, we are the underdogs and Sheffield are the big, big favourites,” said the 45-year-old German, whose first game in English football was a 3-1 loss at Hillsborough in November, 2015.
“Everyone knows how much money they have spent and what they have done over the last two years. They have been at a consistently high level for some time. But, on the other side, we have been underdogs all season and we are used to this role. It does not change our ambitions, we play to get to the final.”
Wednesday, competing in the play-offs for a second consecutive season, have been among the biggest spenders in the Championship since ambitious owner Dejphon Chansiri took charge a little over two years ago.
Last summer saw Adam Reach arrive for a club record £5m from Middlesbrough, a fee that will be shattered this summer when Jordan Rhodes’ move from the Riverside becomes permanent.
“There is no question the pressure is on them,” added Wagner, who broke Town’s club record fee last summer when Christopher Schindler arrived from TSV 1860 Munich in a £1.8m deal. “If you look at how much money they invested, an owner in a club wants to make a plus and not a minus.
“The only chance for Sheffield Wednesday to move into the plus is if they go into the Premier League. So, of course, the pressure is on them.”
Chansiri’s backing in the transfer market means Carvalhal has a squad that is the envy of many Championship managers.
The only chance for Sheffield Wednesday to move into the plus is if they go into the Premier League. So, of course, the pressure is on them.David Wagner
Nowhere is this more apparent than in attack, the Portuguese having an abundance of options even allowing for Gary Hooper’s absence through injury.
Fernando Forestieri, the scourge of Huddersfield in recent years with five goals in eight appearances against the West Yorkshire outfit for Wednesday and Watford, is one of those Carvalhal can turn to along with Rhodes, Steven Fletcher, Sam Winnall and Atdhe Nuhiu.
Asked by The Yorkshire Post if this abundance of riches in the opposition camp made planning for tomorrow’s first leg difficult, Wagner replied: “It is not hard to plan because they usually play the same style of football. Maybe it changes a little bit if Nuhiu comes on and they go for second balls and set-pieces.
“But if he isn’t involved then they have the same idea of how to defend and attack. They have quality, that doesn’t change.”
On Forestieri, who has scored twice against Town this season, the German replied: “Forestieri is a great player, a great offensive player. He hasn’t been involved as often in the last six or seven games for Sheffield Wednesday.
“Only this shows the quality they have in the offence and the money they invested. He will probably be involved and it is up to us to find solutions to stop him from scoring and performing.
“But they have a lot of top quality players. The good thing is there are no surprises, we are totally aware about the individual quality and the team quality. Plus, the offence and defensive qualities that Sheffield Wednesday have.
“We have to cause them problems, I am sure they have thoughts about us, too.”
With all four clubs bidding to reach the top flight being led by men from outside the British Isles, only the third foreign manager in 30 years of play-offs history will celebrate victory on May 29 – joining Ossie Ardiles, successful with Swindon and West Brom, and former Stoke City chief Gudjon Thordarson in an exclusive club.
“We have a chance against Sheffield Wednesday, even if we are the underdogs and they are the favourites,” added Wagner. “If we have proven something this season, it is that no-one should write us off. We are able to bounce back and have shown that often enough this season.
“I totally trust my players will be ready for Sunday with the support of the fans.”
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