So here we are, a new managerial era is upon us at the Madejski Stadium with the arrival of Jose Gomes. The Portuguese boss has made the switch from Rio Ave, and joins Reading with a two-part brief. Besides needing to give the Royals a short-term boost to keep them in the division, there’ll also be hopes that he can improve the side in the long-run, pushing them up the table and hopefully closer to the top six.
Looking into how he’ll go about doing that is a little tricky. Having spent the bulk of his managerial career in the Middle East, and only recently joining Rio Ave, there’s not much detailed information about Gomes’ ideas and philosophy.
Nonetheless, we’ve put together some of the information we do have to get a closer look at what he’s likely to bring to Berkshire. Most of the below comes from either WhoScored’s profile of Rio Ave, which generally gives a good indication about a team in general (in this case Ave), or Portuguese writers that know Gomes himself better than us.
NB: The Portguese league (Primeira Liga) has 18 teams in it.
So what’s his footballing philosophy?
If you hated the days of possession football under Jaap Stam, you’re bang out of luck - those days are coming back. Under Gomes, Rio Ave have been one of the best sides in the Primeira Liga for keeping the ball with an average possession rate of 55.6% (3rd), while they complete more passes than any other team in the league (82.6%). They also rank highly for the number of passes they make overall, coming third both for total passes (438.2 p/g) and accurate short passes (324.2 p/g).
However, what sets Gomes’ Ave apart from Jaap Stam’s Reading is that Ave are pretty easy on the eye. Besides keeping the ball well, they actually manage to convert that into goals. At time of writing, only four sides (Porto, Sporting Lisbon, Braga and Benfica) have found the net more often than Ave in 2018/19.
A key part of that has been goals from open play (Ave are joint third in this regard), although they’re dire when it comes to a set piece threat - they’ve only managed one such goal so are joint second from bottom.
Interestingly, Ave don’t outright excel at chance creation on the whole, registering the 7th highest number of shots per game and coming 8th for shots on target. Those aren’t bad positions to be in, but do suggest Gomes’ side are clinical with their chances. Indeed, top-scorer Carlos Vinicius is on six goals from his opening nine league matches.
Where Ave do stand out is in dribbles (3rd) and being fouled (1st), so Gomes evidently likes to let his players get up the pitch and run at the opposition. Either that or the opposition find Ave incredibly annoying to play against.
That all doesn’t sound too bad - what are Ave like defensively?
This bit doesn’t make for good reading at all. In fact, Portuguese football writer Tiago Estêvão puts Rio Ave down as one of the worst teams in the league without the ball.
“They’re poor in defensive transition, because they don’t press (performing most of their defensive actions in their own third) and when they do so they do it poorly. Therefore they let their opponents create plenty of great chances because they’re just so easy to carve through.”
João Pedro Cordeiro of Portuguese outlet Bancada echoes that, saying:
“In terms of defensive organisation, Rio Ave is quite probably the worst team in the league, and they have been saved countless times by their individual quality. To be clearer, even though they have a high average possession, they only do defensive actions in the final third.
“They simply don’t press the opposition, and they’re the opposite of “tight in the back”. They’re also not very good, putting it nicely, defending set pieces. They’re the 17th team in the league in terms of aerial duels also.”
Well that’s not very promising. Reading are already very poor defensively - the fourth worst for goals conceded this season - so bringing in a manager that apparently wouldn’t be very good at improving that doesn’t make much sense, on the face of it at least.
It also echoes our 2016/17 season quite a bit, when we were great at keeping the ball but often very average or even outright abysmal in terms of guarding our own net. Elsewhere, Cordeiro puts Ave’s success this season down to the goalkeeping heroics of Leo Jardim - again similar to the impact of Ali Al-Habsi when we got to the play-off final.
There’s really not much to be optimistic about when you look at Ave’s defensive stats from this season. They concede 15 shots per game (3rd worst in the division), make 14.1 tackles (2nd worst), 10.5 interceptions (worst), and make the fewest fouls per game (12.8). That last one might seem like a positive, but I’d argue that it shows a lack of physical presence and bite, especially when combined with the low number of tackles.
What impact has Gomes had at Rio Ave?
It’s worth putting all the above stats into a bit of context. Rio Ave aren’t one of Portugal’s elite sides but are still pretty good and tend to compete for European football season. Gomes leaves Ave sixth, but they’d not finished outside the 5th-7th range since 2015.
He’s also - at a quick look at least - not had a huge impact on Ave’s playing style. They were already a team that keeps the ball, having registered average possession rates of 53.8 in 2016/17 and 57.6 in 2017/18.
However, Gomes has made Rio Ave matches more entertaining. The previously mentioned ‘good at attacking, bad at defending’ has seen Ave’s totals for goals scored and conceded jump up this season compared to their previous two campaigns.
2018/19: 1.69 for, 1.61 against.
2017/18: 1.17 for, 1.23 against.
2016/17: 1.20 for, 1.14 against.
There are reasons both to be optimistic and pessimistic when it comes to the impending managerial spell of Jose Gomes. The Portuguese boss has a clear playing style and his brand of football is probably better than that of Paul Clement, but his Rio Ave side were defensively very frail. How he approaches a very different challenge in Berkshire is anyone’s guess.