Given that our last defeat against Bournemouth contained four traditional wingers in midfield, (Obita, McAnuff, Robson-Kanu, and Drenthe). Our options have been limited yet again. So what will our midfield comprise of against the already promoted Foxes? Guthrie is now injured again, Williams is still nursing a knee problem, Akpan has also been out of action of late.
Who on earth can we field in the middle in what is arguably the most important area of the team in the biggest game of the season?
I think it's a question that has likely puzzled many almost game after game, such has been our unpredictable line ups. Of course, most of this has been down to decimating injuries in the central area and quite a few of those have been fairly long term.
Forgive me if my interpretations of the statistics of the season are ever so slightly wonky, but to my crude calculations, we've fielded no less than EIGHT different midfield pairings in the Championship. (Nine if you include our brief foray in the FA Cup.)
From the outset of the season, we looked pretty strong with the guile of Guthrie and the industry of Karacan. That pairing ended when Jem's season was cruelly cut short with a terrible season ending knee injury against Leeds. As a pair, they only lost one game out of seven.
Then, Chris Baird was drafted in to partner Guthrie, the former appeared to complement Guthrie quite well. During their stint together we only lost twice, but winning only three.
Baird then fell foul to injury and never played again for us. After that point it's safe to say that the centre of park became unpredictable at best. Williams had been struggling with injury since the very start of the season. Hope Akpan proceeded to become the mainstay of the middle along with whomever appeared to be fit at the time.
No pairing has played more than 9 fixtures together to date, that being Danny Williams and Hope Akpan. That duo has (maybe surprisingly) won more games than any other pairing also, with five wins from those nine games. Still, less than a quarter of the season as a partnership.
What surprised me further was that when the two Danny's were pitched together, our results have been less than majestic, only winning three out of nine! It's arguable that many Reading fan would consider this our 'best' midfield duo. Who would have thought that?
Damn lies and statistics!
Of course, there's much more than judging results purely on who is playing in the centre midfield, but this no doubt mirrors our general lack of consistency overall. Thinking on seasons gone by, our midfield pairings have been totally key to our success.
Partnerships throughout the XI appear when a squad becomes settled and each one knows their roles inside out. Only fleetingly have we really appeared to be a solid functioning unit. Midfield encapsulates this perfectly.
You can look no further than Harper and Sidwell, ably assisted by Gunnarsson, in our record breaking (still!) championship winning season in 2006. Leigertwood and Karacan to a lesser degree in 2011. Yet the sheer fact that has been no true midfield pairing that Reading have been able to rely on week in, week out must have been a huge frustration to Adkins and the players themselves.
This area really does act as a mirror for how our season has panned out, how settled and composed we could have been. Nigel will, of course, say that this could be used as an excuse, and to some extent I agree, but when the engine room of any team is disrupted constantly one cannot help but feel that performances (if not results) would have been much improved.
At many times this season we've looked disjointed, unbalanced, with players unsure of their roles in a variety of tried systems. The epitome of square pegs in round holes. Unsurprisingly, players have probably been brought back from injury too quickly, causing more issues longer term, but this is understandable when options have been ever so thin.
What would our season have been like if we could have just primarily used Guthrie, Karacan and Williams? Maybe we will never get to find that out as the unpredictable future of the club remains unresolved.
Stability. It's pretty fundamental. Remind me what that is?!