Jaap Stam tries out a new formation
Until now, Reading had pretty much only played a 4-3-3, along the lines of this:
When Stam wanted to shake things up, the holding midfielder would drop back alongside the centre halves, and the full backs would push up, putting Reading into a 3-4-3. Nonetheless, the shape of the side stayed pretty consistent, albeit tweaked.
However, against Burton, Stam tried something very different. Although the team was very fluid (particularly in attack), to me it looked like a 3-5-2:
Saturday's lineup was one of the most attacking ones that Jaap Stam has put out as Reading manager. We chose a strike partnership for the first time, with a number 10 and two wing backs in support. There was also no holding midfielder.
It's a very fluid formation because, with a few switches, Reading could quickly dedicate players defensively or going forwards.
When Reading were out of possession, Gunter and Obita could drop deep to make a back five, which was shielded by George Evans and Danny Williams. However, when the home side won the ball back, there was a mobile strike partnership supported by a number ten behind, with wing backs providing the width.
The 3-5-2 also suited the players well. McShane, Moore and Blackett complement each other well as a back three, giving a mixture of experience, pace and strength respectively.
Gunter and Obita clearly relished being let off the leash down the flanks, whereas Dominic Samuel and Garath McCleary did good jobs as central, mobile strikers.
Player in focus: Liam Moore
Sophie hit the nail on the head in her player ratings when she said:
"If I don't notice a player in a game, that means they have done nothing wrong, this was Moore for me today."
In games like the 3-0 win over Burton, centre halves don't get the plaudits they deserve. The attackers certainly won the game for Reading with three good goals, but the back three made sure that Burton were locked out of the contest.
Playing at the heart of that back three, Moore was a defensive rock off the ball and very accomplished in possession.
He made the most passes of anyone on the pitch (78), touched the ball more times than anyone else (98), was the joint best tackler (3 successful tackles out of 4), and made the most clearances (12).
Those stats show that he's not only solid defensively, but he's also cultured enough on the ball to excel in Jaap Stam's possession-heavy brand of football. He's just 23, but it's clear that the former Leicester City man has a very bright future in the game.
The games get a lot tougher now
The four-match winning streak in the league is impressive, but it does come with a caveat. Currently sitting in 18th, Nottingham Forest are the highest placed of the teams we've recently faced. Elsewhere, Burton (20th), Wigan (23rd) and Rotherham (24th) are all locked in a relegation battle.
That's not to take away from Reading's form, which has been impressive, but the challenge hasn't been as big as it could be.
Going up until the end of 2016, Reading face teams in the upper half of the Championship. In the next weeks, we face promotion-chasing Bristol City (10th), Fulham (8th) and Sheffield Wednesday (9th). After that, the challenge increases with games against Leeds United (7th) and Norwich City (6th).
How well Reading manage the upcoming period, especially without the likes of Joey Van den Berg, John Swift and Yann Kermorgant, will be crucial. If they can hold their nerve and stay in the Playoffs, we'll be very well positioned when the New Year arrives.
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