With any new manager comes a new footballing approach. Brian McDermott's style was direct, Nigel Adkins' one promoted ball retention, but what about that of recent arrival Jaap Stam?
Due to his inexperience at the highest level of management, we don't really have any past record to go on. But, as chance would have it, Stam decided to tell us directly.
Speaking to Get Reading, the former Manchester United defender made clear his fondness for the 4-3-3. That's not only because of how comfortable he is with it in general, but also because of the set-up's flexibility.
“We like to play 4-3-3. But from that formation you can have different varieties.
“One of the midfielders can drop between the two centre-backs and then the full-backs can go up.
“Then you have what the Italians have. Three at the back, with the full-backs further up field as extra attackers.
“From there on you can do or change what you want. It depends on the opponent as well.”
In other words, this:
Could turn into something more like this:
I like the sound of that a lot. As my fellow Tilehurst End assistant editor Will Jones has pointed out on various occasions, modern teams need to be flexible. That means having players who can operate in a number of positions in the same game, making it harder for the opposition to deal with them.
In the case of the 4-3-3, the lynchpin is the defensive anchor in the midfield. As Stam points out, depending on how you want to play, that man can either hold his ground in the middle of the park, or drop back to cover the forward runs of the fullbacks. Thus, the 4-3-3 becomes more of a 3-4-3.
Having that flexible defensive anchor can make the whole system very dynamic. If only we'd recently signed an experienced Dutch midfielder who can play that role...
Who does well out of the 4-3-3?
Most obviously, the full-backs. The addition of Joey Van den Berg into the side would give Chris Gunter and Jordan Obita the license to bomb forward down the flanks.
Elsewhere, I'd go out on a limb and suggest Stephen Quinn and Aaron Kuhl. As for the former, a midfield three would give the former Hull City man a position he feels comfortable in, and did well in last season. For me, shunting him out onto the wing wasn't the best use of his talents.
With regards to Aaron Kuhl, the academy graduate has looked promising at times, but hasn't truly found a position to call his own just yet. Only under Nigel Adkins did Reading seem to have need of a ball-playing CDM. In contrast, Clarke and McDermott overlooked him. As I see it, Kuhl would be a more than capable understudy to Van den Berg in the squad.
What do you make of the 4-3-3 formation? Is it one that Reading should be using under Jaap Stam? Let us know in the comments section below.