The Centre Midfield Conundrum - Time to drop Williams?
For the majority of fans so far this January, Reading's number one priority should be about replacing Nick Blackman. For others the window is about pursuing the idea of signing another goalkeeper to replace the shaky Ali Al-Habsi and Jonathon Bond. However, the area of the team which concerns me each week watching Reading is the centre of midfield. After some largely unfounded rumours that Williams may be moving to Middlesbrough, I thought I'd take a look at a player who is beginning to divide fans.
It goes without saying that Williams is a good player but my problem is that unfortunately I think he holds an even better player in Oliver Norwood back somewhat. Don't get me wrong, Williams' energy and passion for the game are fantastic, however I think his tactical awareness and perhaps the way he is used by Reading managers means that his skills are actually somewhat misused. It seems that we often have a lot of games where one central midfielder has been MOTM, and the other, largely anonymous. So I'm hoping that through either a change in tactics, or a change in personnel, we may begin to see an even bigger return from our centre pairing.
The two stalwarts in that spot right now are Williams and Norwood, with both often lauded by fans as two of the hardest working players on the pitch. Both are also claimed to make huge differences to the side but how do they stack up statistically? Norwood has an average of 2.2 "key passes" a game, the most of any Reading player by over half a pass while Williams lags behind somewhat on just 1.0. With assists, Norwood currently sits on three, with Williams on two for the campaign to date, so again advantage to the Northern Irishman.
A lot of the time, Reading fans see Norwood as the ball carrier, where the play goes through and the stats back this up. Norwood's control is far better with the former United man five times less likely to exert 'bad control' than the American (0.4 v 2.0 per game), while Olly is clearly more keen to move the ball on, with only 0.3 dribbles v Williams' 1.2 per game. As a result, Williams averages less in the way of passes, with 20 less passes a game (62 v 41). So the stats back up the popular idea that Norwood is the player who has the ball come through him more and onto other team mates.
The question is, does Danny Williams play the defensive role behind Norwood or not, and do Reading need a player like that? One which is happy to sit back and do the dirty work, which seems currently to be a responsibility split between both men.
Whilst Williams does shoot more, with an average of 2.8 shots per game vs Norwood at 2.1, is it really what you want him to be doing? His goal record has never been strong, with this actually being his best ever goalscoring season, with five goals. His dribbles per game has never been higher than this season and it feels like he almost doesn’t trust his team mates during games, instead preferring to run into blind alleys.
Looking at the defensive numbers, it's actually Norwood that makes the most tackles per game for Reading, with an average of 3.0 tackles per game with Williams down at 1.2. Interceptions, again advantage Norwood who leads the way at 3.3 v 2.2. So looking at all that, It just leads me to ask, what exactly is Williams' job in the Reading team?
To give credit where it's due, Williams did exactly what I've been looking at him to be doing all season against Derby which was to fight his way into the box, attack the ball, getting a run on a defender and managing to score a great header. If he continues to show that kind of form, and I hope he does, then maybe he does have a place in the midfield.
Yet I still have to question whether it's time to drop Williams to try something new. I for one, am looking forward to the return of Aaron Tshibola, or possibly even giving Hector a job of sitting in front of the back four. The centre of our midfield currently doesn't seem balanced as right now we often seem to see both Williams and Norwood sitting very deep when Reading push forwards. That means neither of them are keen to attack the box when the ball spreads wide. However if you had a purely defensive midfielder sitting behind him, it would allow Norwood to push forward more and try to punish defences by joining in with the slick football Reading have been trying to play around opposition penalty areas.
So if not Williams who else? Well the rumours this window of bringing back in former Royal, Steve Sidwell may be the type of player who is ideal to let Norwood "off the ropes" as it were. Perhaps this is me looking back at Sidwell's glory days with rose tinted glasses, however let me know your thoughts on if Sidwell would be a suitable replacement.
So am I right to be questioning Williams long-term role in the side or should we stick with a Norwood/Williams combination? Let me know your thoughts below.
All stats are taken from WhoScored and Squawka.