Selecting a winning team is hard at the best of times, but doing so when you’re near the bottom of the table after an underwhelming start to the campaign is even tougher. However, that’s what Jaap Stam has to do this Saturday with the visit of Middlesbrough. Garry Monk’s side, who were relegated last season, have arguably failed to live up to the hype - they sit squarely in mid-table, despite summer spending in excess of £30 million.
Injuries have cleared up a little bit for Reading recently, but Jaap Stam’s comments to the official site suggest that we will be without a senior striker at the weekend. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson is out, Yann Kermorgant is unlikely to be fit enough to start, and Joseph Mendes is a long-term absentee.
Bearing all of that in mind, I’ve put together what I think is the best team that Jaap Stam can put out to face Middlesbrough.
We should emulate our two best performances this season
Reading have had three league wins this season - at home to Aston Villa, and away to Birmingham City and Leeds United. Interestingly, Jaap Stam set his team up very differently on each occasion, going 4-3-3 in the first of those matches, 3-5-2 in the second and 4-4-2 in the third. Nonetheless, if we’re to come up with a side capable of getting three points against Middlesbrough, we should be learning the lessons that those earlier victories provide.
First things first, the defence. It’s essentially a choice between a back three and a back four, but for me the back-line we played against Leeds United is the best model. Jaap Stam mixed things up that day, bringing in Tiago Ilori and Leandro Bacuna, whilst moving Chris Gunter to left back. However, it was ultimately a case of keeping things simple - a back three can be complicated to organise, but all our defenders are used to playing in a back four.
Looking at the attack, the performance against Aston Villa is something to emulate. Despite the lack of a striker, Reading not only bossed possession but moved the ball forward well and created chances. For me, two elements were key to that: Pelle Clement dropping back and linking the play well, and two quick wingers either side running at the defence. In fact, the latter is just how Reading got one of their goals against Villa:
Freshen up the team
Of course, there’s something in that team I haven’t really touched on properly - the choice of players. I’m sure there’s a lack of confidence at the moment, that’s only likely with the form we’re in, but the silver lining is that it gives those on the fringes a chance to impress.
The likes of John Swift, Pelle Clement, Adrian Popa and Liam Kelly (who’s missed two of Reading’s last four games) will all have been chomping at the bit in recent weeks, desperate to get on the pitch to help the team turn things around. By bringing them into the side, Jaap Stam gives them a chance to impress and to stake their claim to a place in the side.
Particularly in the case of Popa, who impressed on Monday night for the u23s in their 3-2 win over Aston Villa, a recall to the first team is deserved. He’s not done too much wrong this season, except being caught in a log-jam of wingers that includes a few under-performing players at the moment.
What side should Reading put out against Middlesbrough? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us @TheTilehurstEnd