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How Do Reading Cope Without Key Players In The Backline?

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With Paul McShane suspended and Jordan Obita potentially sidelined through injury, Jaap Stam has some defensive thinking to do.

Fulham v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Play Off: First Leg Photo by Harry Hubbard/Getty Images

In many ways, Reading put in an excellent defensive performance in their play-off semi-final first leg at Fulham on Saturday, marred slightly by just one momentary lapse of concentration that led to the hosts' equaliser. The Cottagers were limited to just one shot on target other than the goal, and all of the Royals back five were given at a least a seven in our player ratings, except for skipper Paul McShane who was downgraded to a six purely for his red card.

And there lies a potential problem for Jaap Stam in Tuesday night's second leg. The Irishman's sending off for his tackle on Kevin McDonald means that he will be unavailable for the Madejski Stadium clash, and indeed the final if we get there. In addition, goalscorer and man of the match Jordan Obita left the pitch on a stretcher at the weekend, and was pictured on crutches wearing a protective boot as he left Craven Cottage.

This means that changes will have to be made to a backline that performed so well in the first leg, and perhaps even a switch back to a four man defence. Last week, Will provided us with a superb tactical analysis of both three at the back and four at the back formations, but below are a few options of how the Royals' defence may line up at the Mad Stad.

Option A - Stay with five at the back and risk Obita

Stam played five at the back when Reading kept a clean sheet against Fulham in January as well as on Saturday, so he might well be keen to do so again. He may also be keen to take a chance on Jordan Obita, who performed so well at Craven Cottage and scored a brilliantly taken goal.

Although as aforementioned the 23-year-old looked in a relatively bad way in at the end of the game, the stretcher, protective boot and crutches may simply have been precaution. When talking to Radio Berkshire, Stam used the phrase "IF Jordan Obita is doubtful", suggesting that he may well be available. Or perhaps that is just me living in hope.

If Obita is fit to start, then the only change will be in the centre of defence where Tiago Ilori would replace Paul McShane, with Joey van den Berg or loanee Reece Oxford other options - although the latter hasn't featured since the 7-1 thrashing at Norwich over a month ago.

Option B - Stay with five at the back and switch some players around

If there's no Obita, then Tyler Blackett would probably be the only option at left wing-back in a five man defence and that doesn't sound overly promising. That would probably then mean a central trio of Moore, van den Berg and Ilori.

Alternatively, Blackett could stay in the middle and Chris Gunter could switch to the left-hand side as he has done occasionally in the past. This would mean a new face on the right, probably Garath McCleary or Tennai Watson. Yet this seems unlikely, with McCleary himself not fully fit and more useful further up the pitch and Watson in action for the Under 23s in their Premier League Cup final defeat last night in Swansea. Danny Williams has also played the right wing-back role a couple of times, but was superb at the heart of midfield on Saturday.

Option C - Switch to four at the back

I personally feel that we are more vulnerable with just a four man defence, but it may well be the only sensible option. The Royals played with four at the back in the 5-0 thrashing at Craven Cottage in December, with Liam Moore absent through suspension.

Blackett is still a little shaky as a full-back, but more comfortable than he is as a wing-back, with Gunter again an option if Stam REALLY doesn't fancy the former Manchester United man out on the left. One thing I haven't mentioned yet is that Ilori has been known to fill in at left-back in the past, but that is a highly unlikely scenario.

The centre-back pairing in a four man defence would be Moore and either Joey or Ilori, yet perhaps the former might slot in to the holding midfield role to give the defence more protection. Again, other options available in the middle are Oxford and even George Evans, but these are other unlikely suggestions.

How would you like to see the Reading defence line-up on Tuesday night? Have your say in the comments below and vote in the poll.

Poll

How would you like to see the Reading defence line-up?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    Five at the back - risk Obita
    (97 votes)
  • 11%
    Five at the back - Blackett on the left
    (20 votes)
  • 6%
    Five at the back - Gunter on the left
    (11 votes)
  • 28%
    Revert to four at the back
    (50 votes)
178 votes total Vote Now