Sheffield Wednesday v Swansea
Live on BT Sport 2
Carlos homecoming brings mixed emotions
Carlos Carvalhal returns to Hillsborough - the place he still calls "home" - less than two months after Sheffield Wednesday reluctantly sacked him in the midst of another faltering promotion campaign.
The Portuguese spent two-and-a-half years in south Yorkshire but never quite lived up to the high standards he set in his first season when he reawakened a sleeping giant by leading the Owls to an unlikely Championship play-off final appearance at Wembley.
Carvalhal was then backed heavily in the transfer market by owner Dejphon Chansiri, who remains a close friend, but he was unable to scale up on that early promise, leaving behind a team that lacked creativity and a squad that was bloated with highly-paid, underperforming or obsolete forward players.
So Wednesday fans must be scratching their heads at what has since transpired. Carvalhal was unemployed for only four days before rocking up as a surprise appointment at Swansea and he is now taking the Premier League by storm, having led the Jacks on a nine-match unbeaten run that includes victories over Liverpool (1-0) and Arsenal (3-1).
Owls still lacking imagination under Luhukay
Jos Luhukay was a left-field choice to replace Carvalhal in the Hillsborough hot seat and it's too early to say whether he promises any long-term improvement. But the early evidence suggests little has changed in terms of approach - if anything, the Owls have become even more defensive.
The 54-year-old Dutchman comes with a reputation as a promotion specialist in Germany, having taken Borussia Monchengladbach (2007), Augsburg (2011) and Hertha Berlin (2013) into the Bundesliga, but the initial response to his early work with the Owls has been lukewarm at best.
Luhukay admits the job has been much tougher than he anticipated, mainly due to circumstances beyond his control. A crippling injury crisis has robbed him of Kieren Westwood, Tom Lees, Kieran Lee, Sam Hutchinson, Barry Bannan, Gary Hooper and Fernando Forestieri - seven players who were all regular starters throughout the Carvalhal era.
On top of that, adverse weather conditions have also prevented Wednesday from training on grass no fewer than seven times over the past five weeks. Given those mitigating factors, you could argue that six clean sheets and an overall record of W3 D6 L1 is actually pretty good.
Ayew brothers could be the difference
It's hard to put a finger on what exactly has changed at Swansea, other than simply a lightened mood triggered by a couple of good results and the release of any lingering tension.
The Welsh club are stacked with players of proven Premier League pedigree and suddenly everyone is playing with freedom again since Carvalhal arrived. It's a sweeping turnaround perhaps best illustrated by the emphatic 8-1 replay win over Notts County 11 days ago that booked this fifth round date.
Attempts to dissect Swansea's recent displays and laud the Portuguese as some sort of master tactician have been sketchy at best - and no doubt amusing to many Wednesday fans - but there's a lot to be said for the manager's ability to control the media narrative with his charm and charisma, keeping the spotlight away from the players and firmly on himself.
The capture of Andre Ayew from West Ham on deadline day could also prove to be a masterstroke, teaming the Ghanaian up with his younger brother Jordan Ayew at club level for the first time in four years. They once produced combined total of 22 goals and 13 assists in a single season when playing together at Marseille.
Swans can cut loose later on
Sheffield Wednesday will be feeling a whole better about themselves after bagging a morale-boosting win over high-flying Derby (2-0) in midweek. Luhukay was able to make six changes for that game as a handful of short-term absentees returned but this could be a game too far with resources having been so stretched for so long.
Carlisle (2-0) and Reading (3-1) have both been comfortably dispatched at Hillsborough in this competition but the class advantage is most definitely with the visitors here and that, combined with Carvalhal's inside knowledge of individuals in the Wednesday camp should ensure a routine afternoon for the visitors.
Wednesday can be a tough nut to crack but the death or glory nature of knockout football is likely to work against them in the event that Swansea do make their extra quality count and find the breakthrough. A straight bet on the away win looks like decent value at 2.3211/8 and a speculative punt on the 1-3 correct score at 21.0020/1 or bigger also carries some appeal.