Sheffield Wednesday: Can Xisco Muñoz build upon the Owls’ spectacular promotion?

After a brief two-year stint in League One, Sheffield Wednesday have made their return to the second tier of English football – the EFL Championship. For a team that had been in the Premier League as recently as the year 2000, does their promotion bring an end to two decades of decline?

We’ve taken a look at the club’s chances of success this season, factoring in their recent managerial changes, summer transfer window and pre-season results.

Progressing through the playoffs

Sheffield Wednesday broke plenty of long-standing club records last season, recording a staggering 96 points as they finished third in League One – sealing a spot in the playoffs. A hefty 4-0 defeat against Peterborough at the Weston Homes Stadium looked to bring an end to their hopes of a swift return to the EFL Championship, as the Owls looked utterly dejected following a dire performance.

But a week later, Darren Moore’s side emerged totally rejuvenated. Three goals in ninety minutes ensured that a lengthy period of a stoppage time would be the Owls last chance to clinch a late equaliser – and Liam Palmer did just that, cueing a further thirty minutes of extra time at Hillsborough.

Sheffield Wednesday looked to crumble just before half-time of extra time though, as Lee Gregory found the back of his own net following a free-kick delivery. Yet with eight minutes remaining, there would be one final twist – as Callum Paterson found the all-important equalising goal from inside the penalty area.

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A tense penalty shootout ensued, with the Owls converting all five of their efforts from the spot. Daniel Butler missed Peterborough’s second attempt though, ensuring there was no way back for Sheffield Wednesday’s opponents.

A closely-fought playoff final at Wembley Stadium came next for Darren Moore’s side, with the game seemingly destined for another penalty shootout to decide their fate. That was until Josh Windass found the back of the net in stoppage time of extra time, arriving late into the box to send a headed effort past the ‘keeper. Josh’s father, Dean, had achieved a similar feat on the same turf fifteen years prior, as he scored the winner to promote Hull City to the Premier League with a slender win over Bristol City.

Xisco Muñoz replaces Darren Moore

Yet despite Darren Moore masterminding one of the greatest playoff campaigns ever seen within English football, the culmination of the 2022/23 season would bring an abrupt end to his managerial career at Hillsborough.

Less than a month after steering Sheffield Wednesday back to the EFL Championship, the manager left his post via mutual consent – reportedly after failing to agree the financial terms of a new contract with the club’s chairman, Dejphon Chansiri.

Xisco Muñoz was elected as his replacement, with some understandable concerns raised regarding the Spaniard’s ability to keep the Owls in the second division. Muñoz has managed just 92 competitive fixtures throughout his managerial career, boasting a win percentage of just 46.74%.

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Those figures worsen further when you realise that the percentage is artificially boosted by his 72.73% win rate while managing Dinamo Tbilisi in the Georgian Erovnuli Liga. Muñoz left that role to take up the Watford job, though he lasted less than a year in charge of the Hornets.

SD Huesca were quick to secure the Spaniard’s services, but once again, he left that job after less than a year – having managed a worryingly low win percentage of just 31.25%. His next challenge would come in the form of Anorthosis in the Cypriot First Division, though he lasted less than three months in charge of the club, winning just four of the thirteen games he oversaw.

It’s safe to say that the appointment of Xisco Muñoz is a gamble, and one that Sheffield Wednesday fans have every right to be concerned about. If the move pays off though, it could prove to be a stroke of genius from Dejphon Chansiri.

Who’s arrived at Middlewood Road this summer?

Pol Valentín joins the Owls this summer, having left Sporting Gijón for a fee in the region of £260k. The Spanish side limped to a disappointing 17th-place finish in the second division last season, with Valentín jumping ship as a result. From left-back, he created two assists in 22 appearances.

Di’Shon Bernard has left Manchester United to sign for Sheffield Wednesday, having spent the last few years rising through the youth ranks at Carrington. Primarily operating as a centre-back, the Jamaican international spent the latter half of last season on loan at Portsmouth, where he made ten appearances.

Juan Delgado has made the move to Sheffield Wednesday from Paços Ferreira in Portugal. The 30-year-old right midfielder lacks experience at a club of Sheffield Wednesday’s stature, but the risk associated with the move is minimal, as the Chilean has signed on a free transfer.

Anthony Musaba has played just two minutes of competitive football for AS Monaco since signing for the club in 2020. The right winger has spent the majority of his time out on loan, plying his trade for Metz, Heerenveen and NEC Nijmegen. Last season, he scored once in 318 minutes of Eredivisie football.

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Reece James – no, not that Reece James – has also signed for Xisco Muñoz’s side ahead of the 2023/24 season. The left-back spent last season on loan at Hillsborough, but has now made that deal permanent after leaving Blackpool.

Bambo Diaby has also put pen to paper on a contract at Middlewood Road. The 25-year-old defender recently spent time on the sidelines for breaching ant-doping regulations, but came back to make 17 appearances for Preston North End last season.

Ashley Fletcher has joined the Owls on a season-long loan from Watford. The striker signed for the Hornets in 2021, but has spent the last two seasons on loan at New York Red Bulls and Wigan Athletic respectively. The 27-year-old made 26 appearances in the EFL Championship last term, scoring twice.

Who’s left for pastures new?

Fisayo Dele-Bashiru has signed for Hatyaspor in the Turkish Süper Lig. The 22-year-old was a product of Manchester City’s academy, but made the move to Sheffield Wednesday in 2020. He went on to appear 86 times for the Owls across all competitions, with last season being by far his most fruitful – registering four goals and an assist in 33 EFL Championship appearances.

Jaden Brown has opted to remain in League One, signing for Lincoln City. The 24-year-old left-back made nine appearances for Sheffield Wednesday in the EFL Championship last term, registering two assists.

David Stockdale has also drawn the curtains on his stint at Sheffield Wednesday, with the 37-year-old heading to York City in the National League.

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What did we learn from preseason?

Sheffield Wednesday’s preseason has been far from ideal. The Owls were held to a 1-1 draw by York City to kickstart their preparations, before recording their first – and only – win of preseason against Chesterfield three days later.

A goalless affair against Real Murcia CF looked to show further signs of Sheffield Wednesday’s weaknesses, but a hefty 4-0 defeat at the hands of CD Eldense – a team from the Spanish second division – proved telling as to just how severe the problems are at Hillsborough.

Doncaster Rovers and Luton Town both recorded slender wins over Sheffield Wednesday, to ensure the Owls ended their preparations for the season in the worst possible way. As things stand, Xisco Muñoz’s tenure at Hillsborough looks like it will be short – and not so sweet.

What’s realistic for the Owls in 2023/24?

It’s hard to envisage Sheffield Wednesday doing anything other than struggling in the EFL Championship. The impact of losing Darren Moore simply cannot be understated, and it could truly be the Owls downfall as they look to remain in the second division.

That being said, I do think they’ll stay up by the skin of their teeth. Xisco Muñoz will likely have moved on by the end of the season if his previous managerial stints are anything to go by, and it could be his replacement that rescues the season for the Hillsborough-based club.