Literally everyone in the world of football knows Reading are in desperate need of a consistent and clinical goalscorer. What they might not know is how Reading now need to add a specialist left back to the transfer shortlist.
Jordan Obita has been ruled out with injury for the rest of the season, and this could derail Stam’s slippery second season further.
The only specialist
Obita is the one and only experienced specialist left back available to Jaap Stam. Over the past few seasons, Obita has cemented his place in the team with increasingly improving displays, growing in his defensive duties while keeping the attacking prowess he’s always possessed. When fit, he’s the natural pick for left-sided defender, either as a full back or wing back.
Without him available, Stam has a huge headache.
Does he opt for Tyler Blackett, the Manchester United academy product who struggles when asked to attack? Does he bring in Omar Richards, the academy product, in a straight swap for Obita? Or does he move Gunter over from the right and play the slightly-more-experienced-than-Richards Tennai Watson at right back? Is Stephen Quinn the answer? I doubt it.
Stam could play one of the multitude of wingers available to him out of position - someone like Popa or Clement, although playing three quarters of a season with a winger at left back sounds as painful as a punch in the face from Big Jaap.
Stam has options - loads of them - it’s just that none of them are good.
Fragile defence made more brittle
Reading’s defensive record speaks for itself. Played 10, conceded 12, scored 9. There are reasons the club is languishing in 20th just under a quarter of the way through the season - they can’t score, they’re not keeping the goals out, and they’re just ruddy boring.
Obita has been unavailable for much of the season, missing 10 games in total because of two separate injuries. You can’t help but feel he would have helped improve the start Reading have had.
Not only is he a good defender, but he also offers something unique to the defence that no other player does - a consistent quality attacking presence from the back. Chris Gunter does what is required of him, but has never shown his attacking quality in the blue and white hoops. None of the centre backs are Leonardo Bonucci - I mean, they wouldn’t be at his level, but none of them are that type of playmaking defender - and as already mentioned, Blackett offers nothing in attack.
When Obita is on the pitch, it gives the opposition something else to think about. With Gunter and Blackett playing, the opposition can quite happily stand off them and watch them fail to make an impact.
With Obita featuring, they know he can be a danger. Whether it’s delivering a quality cross towards the head of Kermorgant or Bodvarsson, or driving to the touchline with his pace to cut the ball back, no other left back option offers what he does.
A tactical straitjacket
Obita’s presence also gives Stam some tactical flexbility, with Obita the only capable player for the left wing back role. Popa has given it a go, as has Blackett, but only Obita has shown to be a truly good option for that position. He’s just so well-rounded. And the longer I type, the more in love I fall with the man I once dubbed the ‘Berkshire Neymar’. (He’s now the ‘Berkshire Roberto Carlos’, in case you were wondering.)
Without Obita, Stam must reconsider whether the 5-3-2 formation (or variations thereof) is worth sticking with. None of his current full backs offer what is required of them in those positions. You can make do with a defensive option in a four-man defence, but with a back 5, you simply can’t. There’s too much of an onus on the wing backs to provide the width.
That alone is a big issue for a manager who has increasingly used the 5-3-2 since the spring, as something of a Plan B and a big game option to get results on the board. He’s being denied this as a feasible tactic with Obita out.
The pressure is building, the fans are running out of patience, and the owners will be expecting more points on the board. Stam could be slipping further and further away from the technical area.