Normally after a 3-0 home defeat you would be armed with damning statistics of a miserable performance. But Reading’s encounter with Derby was quite the opposite.
The Royals virtually matched the Rams in possession, had more shots, forced more saves and enjoyed territorial advantage. The stats seem to back Wimb’s match report that Reading were a little unlucky and that the scoreline did not reflect the game.
There were though two stats that once again showed Reading’s weaknesses. Chris Martin’s opening goal was the sixth headed goal Reading have conceded this season. Only Birmingham City are as bad as the Royals for aerial vulnerability.
Too many crosses?
The other statistic was one that I highlighted in my season in numbers article during the international break. Reading have yet to lose a game where 4% or less of their passes were crosses, whilst the Leeds game is the only match Reading have avoided defeat when 5% or more of their passes were crosses.
Now by me mentioning this statistic you already know that Reading breached the magic 5% figure against Derby. In fact they comfortably beat it, attempting 39 crosses from 398 passes (9.79%). It was a similar story against Brentford.
It might seem strange to highlight this statistic given Reading’s obvious defensive frailties but it actually gives an insight into why in recent games Reading have looked vulnerable defensively and failed to score in four of their last six games.
On the attacking front it may seem odd to criticise such an obviously offensive move like a cross. Glenn Murray’s first goal against Fulham is clearly an example of how such a move can be devastatingly effective. Indeed Reading’s opening chance of Saturday’s game came from a superb cross from Hal Robson-Kanu.
Those two examples may stick in the mind but the reality is the more crosses you have the more likely it is that the opposition have you got you exactly where they want you: on the wings, firing hopeful crosses over to an expecting defence.
This is not a new problem for Reading but in Simon Cox it looked like Reading had finally found a player who could help them overcome this weakness. Reading’s best performances this season have been characterised by how effective Cox was at dropping deep and linking up with the midfield.
Against Brentford and Derby though, Reading have come up against teams who line up with a holding midfielder and two more attacking central midfielders. Reading’s central midfield have simply been outnumbered.
As the graphic below shows, John Eustace sat right in front of Derby’s central defenders. His presence meant Reading struggled to bring their strikers into play and were forced to attack down the wings. Oliver Norwood’s attempts to play too many long balls was clear evidence of this.
The other down side was that it forced Oliver Norwood and Jake Taylor to venture further forward. Their average positions were almost identical to Will Hughes and Craig Bryson’s.
Taylor actually had a very effective game. He was clearly told to close down Derby and it was a job he did well. No other player on either side did as many tackles or interceptions as the Welsh international. His two shots also showed he offered an attacking threat.
Norwood was once again notionally Reading’s deeper central midfielder. But as mentioned, with Cox struggling to get into the game, he was forced to play high up the pitch. The graphic below highlights how much more offensive the former Huddersfield man was compared to John Eustace.
The heat map shows Eustace, on the right, was quite happy to stay deep. He offered defensive protection and was always a passing option to both his defence and fellow midfielders.
Time for a change?
Given Reading’s leaky defence it might be time for Nigel Adkins to try something similar. Such a move would surely help out the defence but it may also help offensively too.
Dropping deep like Simon Cox tries is very different to running forward like Bryson and Hughes did on Saturday. They started from deep, meaning they were more involved in Derby’s build up and were always able to see the game in front of them.
They could also contribute to a slow paced possession game and make runs forward. Simon Cox on the other hand is always at the risk of starting too high up the pitch to allow him to help build play from defence.
It is clear that Nigel Adkins has some big decisions to make. The last two games have shown that teams have found Reading out. Stop Cox and you stop Reading.
Nigel Adkins may have to decide whether he wants to sacrifice Cox for more defensive protection (perhaps in a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation), or sacrifice width with the diamond formation he has used on occasions this season.
The current 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 formation can be very effective at bringing out the best of Reading’s attack and in particular Simon Cox. Unfortunately the opposition have realised.