Reading have had a big problem with their attack this season: not scoring from open play. In the ten competitive games under Jaap Stam so far, Reading have only scored five goals that have properly come from non-set piece scenarios: Roy Beerens against Plymouth, Callum Harriot’s brace at home to MK Dons, Yann Kermorgant's winner at Cardiff City and John Swift’s strike at Barnsley/
Why is it that Reading are struggling to score from open play? For me, the problem comes from how Reading's forward line is set up.
Wingers and wide forwards
Reading's front three season has typically consisted of Yann Kermorgant, Garath McCleary and Roy Beerens. In other words, we're playing with a main striker and two wingers - not two wide forwards.
What's the distinction between wingers and wide forwards?
A wide forward typically has the pace and trickery of a normal winger, but combines that with the goal-scoring instinct of an out-and-out striker. That makes them ideal in a 4-3-3, as they're dangerous not only out wide, but also when getting into the box and going for goal themselves.
What's the problem at the moment?
Garath McCleary and Roy Beerens are wingers, not wide forwards. They're at their best when using their pace out wide, spreading the play and whipping crosses in for the forwards. That would be fine if Reading were playing 4-4-2 with a pair of strikers for them to supply the ball with, but it doesn't work in the current system.
As mentioned above, McCleary and Beerens are playing either side of one main striker: Yann Kermorgant. As a strong but immobile target man, you can't expect the Frenchman to stretch a defence with his running or get in behind - he hasn't got the pace for it.
Instead, he's at his best when holding the ball up to bring others into play. Naturally though, that requires support - support which McCleary and Beerens can't give because they're not suited to doing that.
What's the solution?
We're not realistically going to switch to 4-4-2 any time soon, and I wouldn't want us to do so. The 4-3-3 gives us plenty of manpower in the midfield, is ideal for Stam's possession game and gets the best out of players like Joey Van den Berg, Stephen Quinn and John Swift.
However, we don't have to keep the same makeup in the front three, and could try introducing a wide forward to play off Yann Kermorgant. Although Deniss Rakels will be out injured for a while, Joseph Mendes has experience in this role. Speaking when the Frenchman signed for Reading, Jaap Stam said:
"Joseph is the type of player we have been looking for and the sort of player we need in this team. He has good height, he is strong on the ball, he's quick and he's a goalscorer as well.
"He can play in a central role as a striker or in a wider forward position, so he gives us good options."
Alternatively, if Stam doesn't want another striker, there's another option - a largely forgotten player who is in fact our joint top scorer: Callum Harriott. As I put at the very start of the piece, the ex-Charlton man scored a brace against MK Dons in the League Cup a few weeks ago.
Sure, it's hardly a scientific way of looking at things, but those two goals are probably the best bits of finishing we've seen this season. Could Harriott be the clinical finisher we've been looking for?
The ideal option
Despite the merits of the above, Dominic Samuel would be an ideal choice for a wide forward. After all, he has pace in abundance and his strike rate (6 in 13 for Coventry, 7 in 25 for Gillingham) suggests that he's got the finishing too.
As it happens, when Samuel picked up the injury in pre-season that ruled him out of the opening part of the season, he had started the game as a wide forward. From what I saw of his brief appearance against Swindon Town, he had the two key traits of an effective wide forward: the pace of a winger and the goalscoring instinct of a striker.
Jaap Stam could do a lot worse than to give Samuel another go.
Agree with Bucks? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.