Now that the dust has settled after Saturday's season opener at the Madejski Stadium, we thought we'd delve a little deeper into what went well against Preston, and why.
Reading dominated the game
Reading bossed the encounter with Preston North End, but it's worth fleshing out how well Jaap Stam's side managed that.
The Royals finished the game with a whopping 70.5% of possession, making 547 passes (a completion rate of 84%) and taking 714 touches. In contrast, the visitors only managed 223 passes (61%) and 338 touches.
Preston didn't put up much of a fight on the day in truth, failing to close the Royals down in any area of the pitch. Nonetheless, the ease with which the home side adapted to their new Dutch brand of football is very encouraging.
From defence to attack, Reading looked naturally comfortable on the ball, and were positive enough to constantly try to create goal-scoring opportunities, particularly in the first half. In short, the polar opposite of the second half of last season.
Why were Reading able to dominate the game?
Because the defence adapted to the new style of football very well. Sure, Preston didn't put a lot of pressure on them*, but the back five's passing stats were particularly impressive.
Having done quite a few of these stat-based Further Reading pieces now, I've come to expect a certain pattern in high-possession performances. Typically, the midfield is the most influential, with one player (typically Oliver Norwood) the stand-out distributor of the ball.
However, things were very different against Preston. In fact, the top five passers all came from the defence - Chris Gunter making 89, Joey Van den Berg 73, Jordan Obita 68, Paul McShane 65 and Ali Al-Habsi 62. With 52, George Evans was the only midfielder or forward to come close to his defensive teammates.
As part of that, the centre halves played a very high line. Here's the combined heat map (Reading shooting left to right) for Paul McShane and Joey Van den Berg.
Plus, they came high up the pitch to distribute the ball...
As you can see, the defence's role in the new style of play is very important, with an influential back five allowing Reading to dominate possession. With the likes of John Swift, Roy Beerens and others looking to create chances in the final third, they need the ball played into feet.
Encouragingly, the defenders did just that. How many times last season did we see the back four half-heartedly pump the ball long down the pitch? Against Preston, the back five only made a long aerial pass forwards twelve times.
It's early days, but what I've seen so far is very encouraging.
*When Preston did put pressure on Reading, they had some joy. On one occasion, George Evans was caught on the ball and Ali Al-Habsi had to make a very smart stop in a one-on-one...
Player in focus: John Swift
I had to dedicate a section to Reading's man of the moment, really. The summer signing won the game with a well-taken 35th minute strike, and looked dangerous for the whole match.
John Swift popped up across the pitch, but spent most of his time in an advanced midfield position, facilitated by George Evans and Danny Williams playing deeper in the midfield. That allowed him to focus on getting Reading onto the front foot, rather than having to track back.
The stats show just how involved he was in doing that. With 58 touches, he had the most of any midfielder or forward, also registering the most shots (4) and the joint-second highest number of dribbles (3).
Interestingly, Swift only made one cross in the entire game, but when he did, he put the ball on a plate for Rakels to double Reading's lead.
Against Preston, John Swift provided a positive, attacking energy that we haven't seen much at the Madejski in recent times. With his creativity and technique, Reading had a threat that could both go for goal and try to bring others into play. Getting the former Brentford loanee in could prove to be one of the club's best pieces of business in recent years.
The stats in this article come from WhoScored and SkySports. The gifs are made from the official highlights, which you can find here.