After comfortably seeing off Plymouth Argyle two goals to nil in the first round of the EFL Cup, Milton Keynes Dons will travel to the Madejski Stadium to face the Royals tomorrow evening in the second round.
After an impressive display against promotion-chasing Brighton on Saturday afternoon, many are beginning to warm to the ‘total football’ philosophy Jaap Stam is bringing to this Reading side. And with the fixture list beginning to get moderately congested, questions can now be asked whether the rotation players in Jaap’s system can replicate the success of their first round victory.
With that being said, here are some of my thoughts on who should make the cut and who should be rested for tomorrow evenings match-up against the Dons.
Between the sticks
Anssi Jaakkola enjoyed a relatively quiet game in the first round, not being significantly troubled by the far-from-threatening Argyle attack, but when called upon, the Finnish stopper duly delivered. One thing that stuck out to me in this Plymouth game is that throughout the 90 minutes, Jaakkola looked assured, receiving the ball and immediately playing it to another outfield player, accurately. A sign perhaps that the former Ajax Cape Town ‘keeper is settling well into Stam’s system.
With Ali Al-Habsi looking more and more likely he will be the number one ‘keeper this year, it’ll be good to get a look at Jaakkola in the League Cup, a competition where we can afford to test out new players and tactics.
The Back Four
With Joey van den Berg now suspended after picking up two yellows in the stalemate against Brighton on Saturday, Jaap Stam will have no choice but to change his starting XI for the first time in 4 games. And with Jake Cooper's inability to consistently pass the ball - as proven in the Plymouth game, the centre-half pairing has pretty much picked itself ahead of the MK Dons clash – Moore and McShane. New signing Liam Moore is expected to make his debut just four days after signing with the Royals, as suggested by Stam's quotes upon the unveiling of our new number 16.
"He played a couple of games with the Leicester U23s, he's been training as well. So he is fit, hopefully he will play on Tuesday night" - Jaap Stam on Moore's availability.
Tyler Blackett's signing came too late for the left back to be available for the MK Dons match, so once again expect Jordan Obita to start on the left side of the defence along with Tennai Watson on the right. Watson looked incredibly confident and impressed me against Plymouth, a player that looks as if he’s been playing first team football for years. Of course, it was against lesser opposition, so it would be interesting to see him opposing better players and a better team, with all respect to Plymouth.
I very much expect to see Stam utilise the same, or similar, formation tomorrow evening. The midfield three in this formation have often played pivotal roles in recent success, with John Swift and Danny Williams both putting in superb performances against Brighton. However, I feel Stam needs to rotate the squad a little, especially in the middle as George Evans and Swift have started every single game thus far this season, and fatigue may be starting to creep in. The Madjeski Stadium collectively held their breath when John Swift went down clutching his leg on Saturday, he is a player we simply cannot afford to be without.
Stephen Quinn made a nice little cameo off the bench as he returned to first team football after his lengthy spell on the touchlines, I feel he should be the man to replace Swift to give him a breather. He's a nifty, quick little player that will fit Stam's style nicely. I also expect to see Evans named on the team sheet in his usual position sitting in front of the back four.
Along with these two I would love to see youngster Liam Kelly involved, without John Swift's elegant and accurate set pieces, we possess no real danger from dead-ball situations. This is where Kelly would really offer something. However, it is more likely we will see Williams starting in his usual role ahead of Kelly, patrolling the midfield.
On Saturday we also saw a glimpse of summer signing Joseph Mendes, not a particularly impressive debut, mind, but then again he was introduced into the game where we clinging onto a draw with ten men, so attention wasn’t on him in that respect.
Yann Kermorgant put in one of his best displays of the season that game, working hard and providing a real threat on the attacking front, he just needs to find his shooting boots. He, like many others, have played a large part in all of Reading’s games this year, starting all but one, and I think now is a good time to rest the Frenchman. Rakels was never really given a chance under Stam, starting the opening game before being dropped to the bench up until now. Why not give him and Mendes a chance?
On the opposite flank to Mendes, I would like to see Harriott back in the picture. An energetic, busy winger who didn’t particularly provide much quality in the match he started against Plymouth, but his immensely high work rate and ability to close down opposition players is something that Stam is really looking for in his high-pressure system.
Who would you like to see play tomorrow night against MK Dons? Leave us a comment below.