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What Is Reading's Best Team?

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With Reading struggling for form, Bucks asks the obvious question. But is there more to it than that? Well, as it happens, yes.

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It's certainly a source of debate - when everyone is available, what exactly is the best starting XI that Reading can put out? With constant changes to the team due to injury, sales and purchases, it's been hard enough for both Steve Clarke and Brian McDermott to find a solution.

Of course, the last really good Reading side - the one that won the title under Brian McDermott - was largely unchanged from week to week. An arguable lack of squad depth meant that, on the bright side of things, the gaffer knew his best set-up. In the final few months of that campaign, how often did we see this?

It was a very well-organised, disciplined unit. Indeed, few would argue that the quality in that XI was better than the quality currently on show, but it was so very effective at grinding out wins. Why? Naturally it was for various reasons, but the consistent team choice was certainly a major factor.

Agree with what Bucks is saying? Disagree? Leave us a comment below.

What this current Reading squad needs is that same consistency. It's gone through so many changes throughout this season that cohesion and organisation have largely been hard to come by. Looking at the stats from WhoScored, 19 players have made 10 or more league appearances this season (including the now departed Nick Blackman and Orlando Sa). Some of those not included in that 19 are Jake Cooper (on 9) and new signings Yann Kermorgant and Deniss Rakels - meaning that, by the end of the campaign, even more will have been involved in the first team.

Working out Reading's best team

The problem with doing that is that it kind of misses the point. Reading's squad is so short-term focussed that it has around 10 players who won't be here next season - Chris Gunter, Andrew Taylor, Matej Vydra, Michael Hector, Hal Robson-Kanu, Anton Ferdinand, Lucas Piazon, Alex Fernandez, Ola John and Simon Cox. Unless contracts are renewed, or loan deals are made permanent, that's a lot of players with futures away from the club. So, in determining what Reading's best team is, do you include the above or not?

For the purposes of the article I've decided to do both - the first of the below graphics includes those ten, whereas the second does not. Naturally, these lineups are just my opinion - so feel free to call me out in the comments section if you think I've made a glaring error.

Reading's best team including the ten who'll soon leave

As it happens, all of those players were fit and available for Saturday's game against Wolves, with Anton Ferdinand and Ola John on the bench. That's a good team really, isn't it? Get them playing consistently and get some form into the side (yes, I know, easier said than done) and it's a formidable prospect.

There's experience at the back, with Ferdinand and McShane have struck up a solid partnership early on in the campaign. Elsewhere, you can include a recently revitalised Hal Robson-Kanu, an Ola John who's arguably not got as many minutes as he should, and Matej Vydra - who we could see the best of now that a proper strike partner is playing alongside him.

Reading's best team without the ten who'll soon leave

On the face of things, that XI isn't too bad. The notable absences of Robson-Kanu, Vydra and John are replaced by a trio of perfectly solid players at this level. Get them on form, and they could quite feasibly fit into most promotion chasing sides. Where this team does fall down is the lack of experience in the defence - the departures of Gunter, Ferdinand and Hector leave this theoretical Reading looking very inexperienced at the back.

Where I've put a player in brackets, that's where we have a long-term replacement waiting in the wings. OK, Ali Al-Habsi and Danny Williams are quite likely to stay in the summer, but you'd imagine that Jonathan Bond and Aaron Tshibola will have longer spells here.

The subs' bench is another concern. Have a little think here - who do you put on the bench for this XI, considering that you can't include those starting and the ten who could very well leave in the summer? Hard, isn't it!

Summing up

If nothing else, the disparity between those two teams spells out the problem that Brian McDermott has. There's no point involving players that will be gone in a few months, but sidelining them threatens results in the short term.

As I said in a piece last July, there's more to creating a good side than buying new players - you need to work with what you've already got. Looking at the two 'best XI' sides that Brian McDermott can put out, that's easier said than done. Sure, he'll have funds to strengthen in the summer, but really that needs to be for the purposes of reinforcing what he's already got, rather than replacing a huge chunk of his squad.

Really, we need to decide what we want from the rest of this season. Is it to do as well as we can, or is it to prepare for the next campaign? I'd argue that our 2015/16 is basically gone, so we may as well look to the future. It'll be interesting to see what that future holds.