Reading master the stats that matter
The importance of possession stats in winning a game of football is one of those highly contentious questions that never really goes away. As for me, I'm firmly in the 'possession doesn't mean anything if you don't put the ball in the net' camp. Reading have never really been a team comfortable with dominating the ball, and have arguably looked at their best when they don't try to. Saturday's win was a perfect example of this.
Going through the basic statistics, it's fair to say that the home side dominated the match. For Reading's 353 passes and 562 touches of the ball, Burnley had 540 passes and 562 respectively. Also, throw in the 62.3% to 37.7% overall possession figures and, well, it's a pretty clear picture. Unsurprisingly, for a team that a) has a talented squad b) was recently in the Premier League c) is riding high in the league and, most importantly, d) was playing at home - Burnley looked to impose themselves on the game, especially after Reading had taken the early two goal lead.
But, as the performance and result suggested, the Royals bossed the game in a very different way. For all of those impressive bits of info about Burnley's game, Reading nailed down the ones that, for me, matter more. On the attack, Steve Clarke's side completed 7 dribbles to Burnley's 3, 13 'key passes' to 6, and had an impressive 17 shots on goal (Burnley's figure being 9).
The defensive performance has also been highly praised in the post-match reaction, and rightly so. With Reading looking to shut out the Clarets, 23 tackles and 24 interceptions did just that (in comparison to 13 and 12 for Burnley). What's more, the Royals incredibly made a whopping 54 clearances on Saturday - almost 8 times as many as Burnley's 7 clearances.
All in all, it's clear that Steve Clarke has very much got his game plan spot on for winning tough away games like this. Of course, it remains to be seen how we'll set up next weekend when Middlesbrough, another very good side, come to town.
A good omen for this season?
Trips to Turf Moor tend to be portentous for Reading's promotion fortunes, at least that's what the history books tell us...
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/readingfc?src=hash">#readingfc</a>'s last six wins at Burnley have come in seasons that ended in a top six finish <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/omen?src=hash">#omen</a> 93/94, 94/95, 02/03, 05/06, 10/11, 11/12</p>— The Tilehurst End (@TheTilehurstEnd) <a href="https://twitter.com/TheTilehurstEnd/status/647818750390046721">September 26, 2015</a></blockquote>
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I'm not usually one for omens and such, but results at teams like Burnley can certainly be taken as decent measures of a side's quality. After all, Turf Moor is a tough place to get a result at, and the Clarets are a team that have graced the Premier League on several occasions in recent years. If Reading want to break into the top six in 2015/16, we're going to have to be able to grind out results at places where we'd have thought more about damage limitation last season.
Player in focus: Nick Blackman
The 'Daniel Sturridge of the Championship', as I recently saw him called on Twitter, has had a terrific start to this season. Blackman's goalscoring form has been electric, and the confidence is naturally flowing high. Part of this has been down to faith shown to him by the manager - he's not only been given regular game time, but he's also been played in his more favoured striking role, rather than on the wing. Or has he?
Certainly, if you'd asked the question: "did Nick Blackman play up front on Saturday?", the answer would have been yes - and I'm not trying to argue that point. But, what does stick in my mind, is that he's not a typical centre forward in the same way that someone like Orlando Sa is. Here's his heat map and touch graphic from Turf Moor to emphasise my point (in each image, Reading are shooting from right to left).
Looking at that, Blackman clearly has a favoured position - the inside right channel. That's slightly unusual for a centre forward, considering that you'd expect them to take up a more central, advanced position. I'd definitely think that of target men like Orlando Sa, and formerly Pavel Pogrebnyak - the less mobile centre forwards who hold up the play so that others can get involved. But that's not Nick Blackman's strength as a player - he's at his best when running at the defence and cutting in onto his favoured left foot - he can do this more easily from the position indicated on the above images.
What's more, this suits Reading's counter attacking play away from home, when fluidity and pace on the break are vital. Nick Blackman's form this season isn't an accident - it's part of a wider evolution in our offensive style. Contrast the interchanging movement we've seen this year with the predictable hoofball of last season - it's unsurprising that Blackman is doing so well now.
It's also interesting to examine his defensive contribution, or in this case a lack thereof. On Saturday, Blackman made no tackles or blocks, and only managed one interception and one clearance. Usually, those are stats that you'd use to condemn a player, but for me that would be missing the point. Although Blackman isn't, as I said, a typical centre forward, he is nonetheless the most advanced player in the team. If he'd given that defensive performance on the wing, you'd have to feel sorry for his full back. But, when you put it in context with his attacking prowess this season, a different story emerges.
Playing further forward in a freer role has given Blackman room to express himself. Long may that continue.
All stats in this article (bar the embedded tweet) are taken from WhoScored.com.