If you’re low on time and have somewhere to be, the short answer to the question above is no. Essentially, teams change a lot in between pre-season and the actual campaign. Take 2016 for example, when the below Reading team lost 2-0 at AFC Wimbledon before going on to finish third in the league:
Al-Habsi; Watson, McShane, Cooper, Obita; Norwood, Williams, van den Berg, Fosu, Mendes, Swift.
Subs: Dickie, Evans, Kelly, Stacey, Quinn, Rakels.
Only seven players in that seventeen went on to play a particularly important role in the 2017/18 campaign, while quite a few just disappeared from any involvement in the first team. It’s too early at the moment to see if the same thing will happen with the Reading side that lost 4-2 at Kingsmeadow on Saturday, but you can still expect the following squad to change:
First half XI: Mannone, Gunter, Ilori, O’Shea, Richards, Kelly, Bacuna, Swift, Aluko, Meite, Harriott
Second half XI: Jaakkola, Yiadom, Blackett, Moore, Meyler, Edwards, Evans, Clement, Popa, Barrow, Smith.
Some of those players will no doubt leave the club, a few will arrive in their place, whilst others will surprise us by doing better or worst than expected. Those trends are really hard to pick up in pre-season. For example, if you went back to that summer of 2016, I’d have backed at least one of Jack Stacey or Zak Jules to break through into the first team in Jaap Stam’s first season. Of course, neither did. Similarly, you can’t take into account the players that arrive once the campaign has begun (the mixed bag of Liam Moore, Sone Aluko, Glenn Murray and numerous others).
Besides the make-up of the side in pre-season not being representative of what’s to come, there are similar problems with the attitude of the players and the approach of the manager. From the team’s point of view, they understandably won’t be putting in the same effort levels as they will from August onwards (‘Will they put in any effort at all?’ I hear you ask), whilst the manager can - at the moment - afford to experiment with how he sets his team up.
Going back to that 2016 team, you may remember that John Swift started life at Reading as a left winger - although Stam kept using his 4-3-3, the former Chelsea man’s role in it was very different. Similarly, Joey van den Berg lined up in quite an advanced role at Wimbledon with Oliver Norwood - a man that Stam very much wanted to keep but couldn’t - behind him. Joey would even start the season as a centre half before the arrival of Liam Moore a short while later.
None of this is to say that we can’t read anything into what goes on at pre-season. Defeats, especially two of them to lower league sides, give the manager problems to solve and, if they’re not solved, we’re in trouble. Take for instance Reading’s new defending routine entitled: Marking? Never Heard Of It Mate.
Luckily, we’re also in the amazing situation where we can ignore these defeats whilst football slowly but surely comes home. After all, there’s no way to paper over the disappointment of being beat 4-2 at Wimbledon quite like England coasting through to the semi-finals of the World Cup on the same day.
In all seriousness, I’m genuinely not too bothered by how bad the last two Reading games have been - although those that made the trips to Eastleigh and Wimbledon may very well fell differently. What really counts is how much improvement we make by August, and what impact that has on season, if any.
Are you worried about Reading’s poor form in pre-season? Or do you not care because you’re busy watching England? Leave us a comment below or get in touch on social media.