Yet again I seem to be writing about a game where on the pitch there wasn’t too much action to talk about, so I shall race through the brief highlights before analysing where Reading go from here.
Derby set up with a 4-1-4-1, I didn’t think it was possible for Vydra to look more isolated than he did on his brief stay in Berkshire but he definitely did here. This was a Derby side content on sitting back and trying to get something on the counter with the pace of Ince, Anya and Hughes.
In terms of chances Obita made a great run just for his cut back to not find anyone in the box as all 3 players had raced to the 8 yard line. At the other end Tom Ince blazed a free kick over the bar and an Al Habsi fumble nearly allowed Derby a chance for the opener.
Then almost on the stroke of half time a McCleary corner found Kermorgant with a free header but a soft effort resulted in an easy save for Carson.
Both managers must’ve said some choice words at half time as suddenly the intensity was upped by both sides immediately from the restart.
Kermorgant had a fine chance but chose to pass instead of shoot in the box, Derby followed this with a succession of corners and free kicks. The final of these free kicks was given for an off the ball shirt pull by Gunter and the resulting free kick was deflected in off Matej Vydra. Vydra didn’t celebrate and explained his reasons for not doing so and fair play to him, it shows big character from a man who received so much stick while at Reading.
Stam’s plan B with 10 minutes left on the clock was to take off Gunter and bring on Mendes who provided an outlet for Kermorgant’s flick ons and Reading’s pressure was finally rewarded in the first minute of added time as a corner fell at George Evans’ feet who smashed the ball home.
On reflection, a draw was probably a fair result, yet again the talk will be about Reading’s lack of killer instinct in the final third. However for me this lack of instinct can be summarised not just in the final third, but all across the pitch. Derby were assessed perfectly for me on the podcast by Wimb as a team full of individuals who don’t have anything left to prove.
On paper they are a team of quality players, however a lot of these players have already achieved what will probably be the pinnacle of their careers so you wonder how motivated they are. With that said they didn’t appear to be a cohesive unit and if I’m honest they were there for the taking against Reading.
Which brings me on to the lack of instinct.
Too many times Reading slowed the play down. You can see some players are trying to adjust to keeping the ball as they take too many touches before playing the ball on. For me Swift and Beerens are the two players who are best suited to Stam’s style on occasions they can play the first time ball without looking. This is the dynamism you need to be able to break teams down when playing possession football, particularly when the opposition is willing to sit back and defend deep.
This goes further back than just the final third, when it clicks with the team the players should be able to pass without thinking almost. There should be the knowledge of exactly who you should pass to and where they will be, this stretches all the way from the defence to the centre forward. All the teams who can play successful possession football manage this perfectly which brings me onto my next point.
Go on social media after a below par Reading game and you will find at least one person typing in caps lock “we’re not Barcelona, possession football doesn’t work at Reading”. Now they are correct we aren’t Barcelona, nor should Barcelona be our benchmark, however there is a team that we should be aspiring to play like if the Stam formula is to succeed — Swansea City.
They showed in 2011 that possession football can work in this division playing a 4-3-3 very similar to Reading’s. Swansea need to be our benchmark if promotion is the aim be it this season or next for the Stam project, now apologies but I am going to bring up bad memories by looking at how the Swansea team compares to Reading’s current side and to be precise, their Wembley line up. Swansea: De Vries, Tate, Williams, Rangel, Monk, Britton, Dobbie, Allen, Sinclair, Dyer, Borini. On paper whilst there are 3 players who have gone on to be brilliant in the Premier League, this on paper isn’t a team that should’ve taken a strong division at the time by storm. What worked for them was how quick to play the ball they were and the cohesiveness as a unit.
If Reading are to push for the play offs the midfield need to all be able to play quick passes as Swansea’s did. One final thought too is that Borini was a much more mobile forward than Kermorgant or Mendes, it’ll be interesting if Reading are still in with a sniff of the play offs by January then will the owners roll the dice and look to bring someone in.
Let’s finish on a positive, we’re now 8th and this has been a better start than most predicted, onwards and upwards, URZZ!
Points change on this stage in 2015/16 (52): -3
Points change on this stage in 2005/06 (106): -6
Points change on this stage in 1997/98 (42): +7
Projected Points Total 2016/17: 75