Another passing masterclass
Let's start with the basic stats from Saturday's game: Reading yet again owned the ball, finishing the game with 65% possession, completing 82% of our passes. We also made far more passes than the hosts (593-313) and touched the ball the more often (767-498).
Three Royals were key to that: Paul McShane and debutant Tiago Ilori at the back, and Liam Kelly in the midfield. They were the three most frequent passers on the pitch (78 each), and replicated that with touches of the ball (89, 91 and 92 respectively).
I'll pick out two of those players for specific mention: Ilori and Kelly. In the former's case, Reading have done very well to bring in a talented centre half who's so comfortable on the ball, even if it did take several decades to get the deal finalised.
Meanwhile, Kelly runs the show in the middle of the park. I haven't seen him in the flesh too much, but when I have, his intelligence on the ball and his tenacity off it impress me a lot. He displayed those traits to perfection at Pride Park by orchestrating the play so well.
Reading lack a holding midfielder away from home
That all being said, one thing sticks out for as a weakness: Reading's defence looks flimsy on the road when we don't field a specific holding midfielder. The back three centre backs are the only dedicated defensive players in the team, with the wing backs and central midfielders (in this case Swift, Evans and Williams) seemingly having license to get forward.
To be clear, I don't object to the formation - the 3-5-2/5-3-2 is sensible enough, but when there's no anchor in the middle of the park, who protects the defenders? Not to mention the fact that they play a high line themselves.
Compare the two heat maps below. The first shows Reading's three centre halves, whereas the second is Reading's three central midfielders. In both cases, we're shooting from right to left.
You can see from the first how high up the pitch the defenders are playing. Paul McShane, Tiago Ilori and Liam Moore went all across Reading's half, even frequently moving higher up still. And yet, the midfielders didn't drop back into the defensive third often enough to cover.
Out of Danny Williams, Liam Kelly and John Swift, although all of them obviously have their uses, none is a dedicated holding midfielder whose main task is protecting the defence.
This is why I think Jaap Stam needs to look again at Joey van den Berg. The Dutchman was much maligned by Reading fans after some shaky displays in defence, but let's not forget that he was very much out of position. When the former Heerenveen man is deployed in front of the defence, and is allowed to use his tackling and, shall we say... physicality... he's a very effective defensive option.
Reading's next away game is a visit to Birmingham City on January 31. For added defensive stability, we could do a lot worse than to consider restoring van den Berg to the team.
Jordan Obita's red card
The Englishman's pretty silly second booking in the dying moments at Pride Park gives Jaap Stam a selection headache going into Tuesday's match against Fulham. With Obita unavailable, it's hard to tell who’ll come into the side to take his place.
Predominantly, the question is this: do Reading want to play with full backs or wing backs when the Cottagers come to town? In either case, there's no obvious solution. Callum Harriott deputised for Obita at wing back before, but he's now injured, whereas Tyler Blackett has looked shaky as a left back.
For me, Reading look better in a 3-5-2, which obviously means we need to play wing backs. With that in mind, I'd advocate playing Tyler Blackett as a left wing back. Sure, that's not an ideal solution, as the former Manchester United man hasn't played in this position before.
On the other hand, he is the only left-footed option available, has the stamina to get up and down the flank, and could do well in a position with less defensive responsibility.
How do you think Jaap Stam should replace Jordan Obita on Tuesday? Leave us a comment below or tweet us @TheTilehurstEnd.
All stats in this article are taken from WhoScored.