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Reading FC 0-2 Brentford: Tactics Insight

How did the Royals go from a tactically disciplined performance at Wembley to another disjointed defeat at the Madejski Stadium in just a week? @WilliamOwain investigates:

Brentford FC Official YouTube Channel

Being Compact

They say a week's a long time in politics. Well I work at Westminster but I've yet to notice it though I definitely have as Reading fan this week. Last week I rewatched a superb performance from Reading on Match of the Day where they showed incredible passion, effort and tactical discipline.

This week I saw an almost polar opposite performance from the Royals and had to make due with under three minutes of highlights from Brentford's Official YouTube channel (for some reason the Reading YouTube channel seems to think us fans can only cope with a minute worth of highlights whether we win or lose).

Anyone who read my review of the Arsenal game may remember that I highlighted and praised how compact Reading played throughout the game. The picture below is a reminder. It shows Reading defending in the 85th minute and it's striking how little space there is between the Royals' defence and midfield.

Throughout the game Reading's defence and midfield went up and down the pitch together never leaving much space between them. It meant Arsenal rarely got onto the ball in the dangerous central areas and often had to play through two banks of four.

Things could not have been more different against Brentford. In under three minutes of highlights I found four examples of how Reading failed to defend as a team. It meant the Bees were able to play right through us with relative ease.

Nothing showed this more than the first goal. The first picture shows Harlee Dean about to play a long ball up to Andre Gray. Dean had received the ball without pressure direct from Brentford's goalkeeper and been able to carry the ball forward without a single Reading player anywhere near him.

The picture below, apologies for the poor quality, shows the ball midair. Nathaniel Chalobah has moved from the left to the right of the picture. As you can see there is a huge space between Reading's defence and midfield which begs the question what were they trying to do?

They didn't press the Brentford defence high up the pitch but aren't sitting deep and compact. Instead they are spread out playing as three units rather than as a team. The defending from Alex Pearce and Michael Hector was equally as bad as the team's positioning.

Another example is from a Brentford breakaway. Reading lose the ball on the edge of their opponent's box and Jonathan Douglas easily wins a 50-50 challenge against Chalobah. He then plays the ball through to Gray. Again notice the huge space between Reading's defence and midfield.

The final example is from a late Brentford chance which should have made it 3-0. Douglas is passing the ball through the middle of the park. Jamie Mackie is already drifting away thinking about Jake Bidwell.

The Brentford player, who I can't make out, receives the ball with no pressure and turns Pearce before playing in Alan Judge who missed. It is quite shocking how there are two Brentford players in the space between Reading's defence and midfield.

From these pictures it is hard to workout what Reading's game plan was. They didn't sit deep and compact avoiding unnecessary pressing like they did against Arsenal but also didn't play a high pressing game. Whatever they were trying they exercised it poorly and not as a team.

The False 9

Ah Hal Robson-Kanu! The one Reading player I never go too long without discussing. This is often because I am trying to go against the wind and defend him. Not this time though. Watching him on Saturday it was hard not to come to the conclusion that Alex Pearce would have been just as effective up front.

In 84 minutes of football Robson-Kanu managed just 25 touches. Where those touches took place shows how little impact he had on the game.

It is shocking for a lone striker to only get one touch in the centre circle. Robson-Kanu's lack of touches in the centre of the field shows how he completely failed to get into the game.

In his defence this wasn't just down to him. The heat map belows shows the touches made by both teams, with Reading on the left. That big black hole in the middle of Brentford's half cannot be the fault of one man. The Royals never got onto the ball in dangerous areas meaning they never controlled the game.

An Ineffective Midfield

The heat map also shows how Reading's midfield were just as unable to support the attack as they were the defence. It was noticeable throughout the match how isolated Robson-Kanu, and later Simon Cox, were.

The average positions of the team show the lack of any clear tactical strategy. Despite there not being that big a distance between the defence and attack, the team still manages to be spread out.

The defence looks isolated and the three man midfield is far too apart. The positions of Chalobah and Danny Williams hint at how they were trying to make up too much ground.

As I said earlier, Reading were neither defending deep or pressing high. It's not too surprising that a lack of strategy will result in your central midfielders neither supporting the defence or attack. In fact so unimpressive were Chalobah and Williams their WhoScored match ratings were very similar to Robson-Kanu's.

These ratings are a bit dubious as they only measure a player's actions meaning a player can come out with top marks for winning lots of headers even if their positioning costs their team the game.

Nevertheless, the fact that Chalobah (6.12) was rated worse than Robson-Kanu (6.19), as was Garath McCleary (6.12), perhaps explaining why they were both substituted early, and Williams (6.29) was only marginally better, shows how ineffective Reading's midfield was.

Oliver Norwood (7.64) was rated as Reading's best player but this heavily skewed by his half decent passing stats. He made 68 passes, 22 more than the next highest player, with an accuracy of 77.9%.

The graphic of those passes shows that Norwood's performance wasn't as impressive as WhoScored rated him. There are lots of nice sideways passes in Reading's half and the usual Hollywood passes. There are very few passes into the middle of Brentford's half.

Norwood is clearly a talented player. Unfortunately, like so many Reading players at the moment, there is a reason why he's at the Madejski Stadium. He has the technical ability to play in the Premier League but not the ability to be a consistently effective player. If Reading are to improve next season then players like Norwood and Robson-Kanu are going to need to start having more influence on games.

Weak Mentality

Last week I finished by saying I was excited to see what Steve Clarke could do with Reading. This week I'm going to finish with some stats that show the work he's got to do. When two decent managers fail with a team you have to start looking at the team.

Reading have lost 33 and scored just 30 in the 44 games where the opposition have scored first since they were relegated from the Premier League. Their record this season is particularly alarming: one win, three draws (two of which were against Blackpool and Wigan) and 13 goals in 24 games. Only Blackpool have a worse record.

Their record of scoring the first goal in a match is even worse. In the 15 matches this season where a goal has not been scored in the first 30 minutes, Reading have only once gone onto score the first goal and that was between 31-45 minutes.

That record means that Reading have not a won a league game all season when the score has been 0-0 at halftime. That shocking stat, along with their awful record of when they concede the first goal, suggests the current team are weak mentally. It will take more than a change of manager to change that.

All stats taken from SoccerSTAS, Squawka and WhoScored. Images taken from Brentford FC Official YouTube Channel, Squawka and WhoScored.