Sideway Or The Highway
Something that has been apparent in Reading's opening games is a propensity to knock it around at the back, patiently playing without much probing toward the opposition goal. For a goalless draw it might have felt like Clarke was falling into the traps that claimed Nigel Adkins' and Brendan Rodgers' tenure at the Madejski, but it has become obvious that Clarke is simply making do, for now. With only an unfit Hal Robson-Kanu providing any natural width to the team, Reading are clearly unable to generate much spark from the flanks and are forced to knock it around midfield.
This is clear below, as forwards Nick Blackman and Orlando Sa's passing map is predominantly sideways and just outside the final third.
What's clear here is that no runners are bombing into the area from midfield to create an opportunity for one of the forwards to play them in. Many have complimented Sa's promising link-up play so early into his Reading career (note his 'key pass' in the D), and it seems that a pacey Garath McCleary, Tarique Fosu, or maybe Paolo Hurtado type winger could offer a way of getting in behind.
More indicative from the Leeds game is how no pass was completed from inside the area. Once again, getting wingers into the game should feed the strikers better; Sa's heatmap portrays a penalty-box striker forced to drop deeper and deeper to get into the match.
Credit must go to Leeds' solid defence, but Reading must learn to carve out chances against this type of opposition because they'll face many more like it at the Madejski in the coming months.
Width is the word of the day here at Further Reading; because Clarke set his side up to provide it with a mish-mash of centre-mids and strikers that, as we see, created few chances, but did manage to get the ball out wide. Here is the combined heatmap for Stephen Quinn, playing left-centre in Sunday's 4-3-3, and left-forward Robson-Kanu.
Here we see very little action around central areas for either player, but how both were dragged wide in an attempt to open up space on the Madejski's large pitch. Ultimately, however, it would fail through HRK, who was highly-involved but hasn't had a pre-season (and is HRK), and Quinn, who is not a creative winger.
The same goes for Blackman and Williams on the right flank:
This contributed to Reading's 24 crosses, six more than against Birmingham where the Royals rallied late on having made minimal use of the flanks for the majority. I remarked about service to Sa, and more crosses are evidently not the answer as only five of the 24 were completed.
The second coming of Oli Norwood as a vital player to Reading's tactical system is a welcome sign as we possess few players of the Northern Irishman's technical ability. His early months at the club won him last season's September and December TTE player of the month polls, and it's hard to see anyone taking this month's vote off him.
However, this may be short lived. Norwood was less effective in the second half as Leeds targeted the playmaker and he was forced into taking chances with long balls; resulting in a 65% pass completion rate after an excellent 78% rate against Birmingham in the opening weekend. Here is his passing map against Leeds, note the tendency for long balls that the team in general suffered from.
Now here is Norwood's 72% passing success rate performance in Reading's 2-1 win over Norwich City last December. Key to mention are the facts that he is, again, central to the Royals' play, but also that the Canaries played a diamond formation that put Norwood under large pressure. The former Huddersfield man is getting back to his best, and he can deal with the pressure.
What's also impressive is his defensive work-rate. Norwood spent large portions of last season near, or on, the top of the league's tackling and interception rankings for midfielders and on Sunday he made four interceptions, won all his aerial duels and half his tackles - something only Jordan Obita bettered.
The New Chelsea?
One final thought on what has emerged after the last few games is how Steve Clarke's time under Jose Mourinho may have rubbed off onto him, and then onto the Reading fans. Because, it seems that we're spending an awful lot of time shouting at the referee. No wonder, too, given how we've sinned 33 times in our opening two Championship games. That's the most in the division.
On Sunday we fouled Leeds double the amount of times than we did in February's 2-0 home defeat to the Whites, which makes a nice change, I know, but this continues a steadily increasing stat from years gone by. By the same measure, the Royals made 13.2 fouls per games in 2014/15 (2nd in the league) and just 11.5 under Adkins in 2013/14 (12th).
Only two games in, however, fouls are a 'watch this space' thought rather than founded upon damming evidence. Besides, our reasoning for shouting at the referees has been far from outlandish, as the two screenshots show below.
Not a foul:
Apparently a foul:
Some fans, myself included, have accused Reading of being too kind in the past, perhaps Steve Clarke is remedying that in a way we weren't quite expecting.
All stats from Squawka & WhoScored.
What do you make of the role of width in the team's attack? Is Oli Norwood really coming to form? And how on earth was that not a foul? Answers on a postcard or comment below.