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Championship match preview: Sheffield Wednesday v Southampton

The 2023/24 EFL season kicks off on Friday night as Sheffield Wednesday host Southampton in the Championship. These two teams were two divisions apart last season but meet on opening night after the Owls’ promotion from League One and the Saints’ relegation from the Premier League. 

They are also led by new managers for the first competitive time with Xisco Munoz in the home dugout and Russell Martin replacing Ruben Selles on the south coast.

Match Preview

Sheffield Wednesday’s 2022/23 season was a wild ride. The Owls finished 3rd in League One with 96 points, a tally which would have been good enough for automatic promotion in each of the last 10 seasons but were pushed into the playoffs due to the imperious form of Plymouth Argyle and Ipswich Town.

Their dreams of promotion looked dead after they were beaten 4-0 by Peterborough United in the first leg of the playoffs but a heroic performance in the second leg led to them overturning the deficit and triumphing on penalties.

A tense final against Yorkshire rivals Barnsley was won in the dying seconds of extra time by a Josh Windass header.The Owls were still high on the fumes of going up when the rug was pulled under them by the sacking of manager Darren Moore. 

New manager Xisco Munoz has a job on his hands to maintain the momentum from last season in a higher division but a winning start to his reign on Friday against Southampton would be a significant statement of intent.

Southampton edured a wretched 2022/23 campaign as they finished rock bottom in the top flight with 25 points and they lost the same number of their 38 games, scoring just 36 goals and conceding 73.

The Saints will hope that new manager Russell Martin can lead them into a new era with his penchant for possession based football.

Southampton’s preparations for the new season have been disrupted by the significant interest in their key midfielders Romeo Lavia and captain James Ward-Prowse with them rejected bids from Liverpool and West Ham United for the players, whilst full back Tino Livramento is close to joining Newcastle United.

They will hope to blow away the negativity from last season and begin the new campaign with three points at Hillsborough on Friday night.

Team News

Wednesday could give debuts to several new signings including defenders Di’Shon Bernard, Bambo Diaby and Pol Valentin. Winger Juan Delgado and striker Ashley Fletcher have also been brought in and could feature here.

Dominic Iorfa and Michael Ihiekwe are likely to start in the back four whilst the talismanic Barry Bannan will play in a midfield three alongside George Byers and Will Vaulks.

Playoff winning hero Josh Windass is expected to lead the line and could be joined in the attack by Delgado, Marvin Johnson or Mallik Wilks.

Despite the interest in Lavia and Ward-Prowse, both are available to start for Southampton on Friday night. Jack Stephens may start at centre half after the departures of Mohamed Salisu and Duje Caleta-Car, whilst Charly Alcaraz and Nathan Tella will lead the attack alongside Will Smallbone and Che Adams

Likely XIs and Prediction

Sheffield Wednesday (4-3-3)

Dawson; Palmer, Bernard, Iorfa, James; Vaulks, Byers, Bannan; Windass, Smith, Delgado

Southampton (4-2-3-1)

Bazunu; Livramento, Stephens, Charles, Manning; Ward-Prowse, Smallbone; Tella, Alcaraz, Edozie; Adams

Southampton are likely to have too much quality despite a raucous home support. The Saints may well edge a tight affair on opening night. 1-2.