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Reading v Derby: 3 Things To Look Out For

Reading face one of their most difficult challenges so far this season with Derby County at the Madejski Stadium this Saturday afternoon. Facing a tough task against the high flyers (who have already knocked us out of the League Cup), Nigel Adkins needs to get his game plan right. Jonny Scott picks out three areas where tomorrow's game could be won or lost.

Jamie McDonald

1) Tricky Tricky Tricky

In Championship terms, Derby are the Real Madrid of attacking midfield play. Where Madrid have Ronaldo, Bale and James Rodriguez, Derby have any combination of Jordan Ibe, Jamie Ward, Will Hughes, Simon Dawkins and the Lampard-esque Craig Bryson. Ibe ran rings around the Reading defence when the two sides last met in the cup, and Chris Gunter had a real time of keeping him under wraps. Jamie Ward is more like Simon Cox, a deep lying striker rather than an out and out midfielder, and his approach has reaped the rewards with five championship goals already this term.

One player to look out for in particular is Will Hughes. He was relatively wasteful against Reading in the cup, often choosing to cross instead of shoot, but the amount of times he got behind our defence was worrying. If we afford him such space and freedom again, especially with the likes of Ward and Martin around him, we can expect to be punished.

How do you tackle attacking midfielders? Defensive midfielders. This is a game that needs Hope Akpan playing well, so here's hoping he is fit and ready to go following his international debut. His energy and tenacity will be very important in tracking the movement of Derby's forward line, if he is unavailable then Reading will have a tough time tomorrow, with no other fit Reading midfielder really able to fill that combative midfield role.

2) Cyrus Christie is a Tank

Reading need to be afraid of Cyrus Christie - the marauding right back has 4 assists, more than any other defender in the league. His power and directness have caught many an unsuspecting defender out, so Jordan Obita is going to have to forget the troubles he had before the international break and put in a solid performance to keep Christie subdued.

In terms of what to expect from Reading, Adkins is in an interesting position team selection wise. With Christie prone to wandering forward, it may leave plenty of room for a pacy left winger to exploit some space - Nick Blackman seems a good choice for that. Adkins could, on the other hand, play a more defensive option, and stick a workhorse like Jamie Mackie or Ryan Edwards out there to try and help Obita out defensively. Considering Obita will likely be up against an equally tricky attacker (I would suspect Jamie Ward will line up against him), he may need all the help he can get.

Counter attacking may be the way to go in this game, so don't be surprised to see some long diagonal balls pinged from right to left to try and catch Christie out of position. Now, if only we had a player whose game was based on long diagonal passing...

3) This One Will Be Harder

When we last played Derby, a 2-0 loss in the cup which I had the pleasure of reporting on, Reading enjoyed large spells of possession in the second half, and had Derby on the ropes for a 15 minute spell with some brilliant football being played. What ended that spell of Reading dominance was the removal of the ineffective Leon Best for the rather imposing figure of top scorer Chris Martin. Martin set up Russell for the first goal and fired in the cross for Pearce's own goal, so he can be pretty effective. Pearce will mostly likely have the major duties on the physically imposing Martin, with Hector being asked to deal with the more mobile threats in Derby's arsenal.

Stopping Martin's hold-up play will be key: if Derby's tricky players can't get the ball then there is more freedom for Gunter and Obita to join the attack. If Pearce and Hector can't stop Martin then the Reading fullbacks will have to hold back to deal with the midfield runners. If Reading's fullbacks can't get forward then we will have a tough time of it: with no (fit) out and out wingers in this squad we rely on our fullbacks to provide width, and as I mentioned about Christie above, width is likely to be an important part of Reading's game plan.

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I realise that these are 3 defensive things to look out for, but when you come up against a team as offensively impressive as Derby you have to focus on negating them. If we are to expect one thing from tomorrow: expect to see a counter-attacking set-up from the home team. Patience is key against Derby.

...Then again we might end up with two passing-minded sides squaring off against each other and have an instant classic on our hands. Who knows?