A promising partnership
January signing Dennis Rakels played his second full 90 minute game for the Royals on Saturday, putting in what I thought was a man of the match performance. To my mind, he put in an energetic, lively display that gave Reading a dangerous presence up top.
As his heatmap (Reading shooting right to left) from the game shows, he moved around the pitch a fair amount, spending a fair amount of time in the channels, and got into the box on a number of occasions. That might seem like an obvious thing, but all too often this season Reading's strikers have been so starved of the ball that they've had to drop deep to get involved in the game.
What allowed Rakels to get forward so much? In short, the hard work of Yann Kermorgant - who took up a much deeper position than Rakels did, as his heatmap shows (again, Reading are playing from right to left).
Impressively, Kermorgant took part in the most aerial duels of any player on Saturday, with 11 - almost all of which were just beyond the halfway line. As it happens, the runner-up in this category was Jake Cooper with 10, so you can see how aerially dominant the Royals were at the weekend. In contrast, Rakels did not contest any aerial duels at all - evidently, this wasn't his job.
However, there are two little stats that do stand out in Rakels' favour. The first, naturally, is shooting - he had three shots on Saturday (the joint highest in Reading's team), all of which were from inside the area. Added to that, he was judged offside twice - there was only one other of those decisions in the whole game. That may sound like a bad thing rather than a good one, but it does indicate Rakels' desire to play on the last defender.
So, in summary, as many fans noted after the game, the Kermorgant/Rakels partnership is one with a lot of potential, because the duo compliment each other so well.
You can find all of the quoted stats at WhoScored.com, where the heatmaps are also taken from.
A clever move to get the Royals level
Reading got back into the game on Saturday via an excellent goal from Deniss Rakels, the Latvian racking up his third of the campaign since arriving in January. For me, the goal showed off several promising signs from a Reading point of view.
First of all, Taylor plays his part in the 4-4-2 diamond well, providing the all-important width. The Wigan loanee gets forward well on the left wing, swinging in an accurate cross to find Yann Kermorgant.
Next, the Frenchman, acting as Reading's target man, passes straight to Rakels with his first and only touch. His strike partner has intelligently found the perfect bit of space in the box.
Finally, it's an instinctive finish from Rakels, who hardly catches the ball sweetly, but does more than enough to lash home pass Ingram.
It looks like such a simple goal, but that's what made Reading's equaliser so good. The Taylor-Kermorgant-Rakels move was well-executed, doing the basics to perfection. The way in which that trio linked up to get the Royals level will please McDermott no end. Furthermore, it shows that Kermorgant and Rakels are striking up (pun intended) a great understanding already.
The gifs were made, with the help of Giphy, from the official highlights, which you can find here.
The difficulties of preparing for next season
With Reading destined for a mid-table finish this season, Brian McDermott has recently been playing teams that we're actually likely to see at the Mad Stad next season. Indeed, he confirmed as much in his post-match comments, saying that...
"It's common sense to select the players who are going to be with us next season, it has to be that way - and it's what I tried to do today."
However, with a whole host of Reading's players currently being on loan, or out of contract in the summer, that's a very hard thing to do. The team that Brian put out on Saturday was as follows...
Al-Habsi; McCleary, Ferdinand, Cooper, Taylor; Norwood, Evans, Quinn, Cox; Rakels, Kermorgant.
Subs: Bond, Gunter, Hector, Barrett, Piazon, John, Vydra.
Looking at those 18 players, only 11 of them are currently contracted to be plying their trade in Berkshire in 2016/17. Ferdinand's and Cox's deals run out in the summer, whereas Taylor, Hector, Piazon, John and Vydra are all only here on a temporary basis. With that in mind, you have to sympathise with the manager, as his hands are pretty tightly tied by the situation he finds himself in.
So, although the set-up against QPR gives us some clues about how Brian sees the team shaping up in August, a lot will definitely change. The likes of Chris Gunter, Paul McShane, Jordan Obita and Danny Williams are all set to return, whereas Jake Cooper and George Evans may be seen as future prospects rather than regular starters. And, naturally, there's always the risk that some of these players could be sold. Wouldn't that be unlike Reading...