As anticipation increases for the beginning of a new season, what if the new season were actually starting tomorrow rather than in a few weeks’ time? I take a look at what eleven Paul Clement would more than likely put out if that were the case.
A pretty straightforward decision in goal, probably due to the lack of competition rather than Vito Mannone being a stand-out performer. Saying that, he popped up with a couple of huge moments last season, non more so than the last gasp penalty saves against Leeds United and Queens Park Rangers. So, barring any injuries or a shock transfer, the Italian will start in goal.
More dilemmas would pop up for Clement when deciding his back four, and with any more defence additions to the squad being unlikely, this back four may be the one Clement actually goes with for the opener against Derby County.
At right back, Clement would more than likely go with new signing Andy Yiadom, who has been a regular fixture in the starting elevens during pre-season so far. At centre back I would expect captain Paul McShane to line up alongside Liam Moore, without whom we would almost certainly be preparing for a season in League One right now.
McShane’s leadership and bravery was severely missed last season and, if fully fit, he will be like a new signing. At left back, Chris Gunter would more than likely fill in, a job he did far too often last season as Stam consistently struggled to find his strongest eleven.
There are a lot of options for Clement to choose from when it comes to his midfield three, but if we were to be facing Derby tomorrow, I would expect Clement to go with another new signing in David Meyler who would slot in alongside academy starlet Liam Kelly, with John Swift in the number 10 role.
We certainly missed a holding midfielder last year, with van den Berg a very temperamental player to say the least, but Meyler fits the bill as a no-nonsense ball winner. The creative burden would fall on the shoulders of Liam Kelly - what the Irishman lacks in height he more than makes up with in ability. John Swift, along with the rest of the Reading fanbase and his teammates, will be hoping he recaptures the form of his first season in Berkshire.
Moving onto the forwards, the two wingers would more than likely be Modou Barrow and Sone Aluko. Barrow was a rare highlight in an extremely poor season last campaign, and his pace and trickery is key in this team. It’s fair to say that Aluko didn’t quite live up to expectations last season, but on his day he is definitely a threat to most Championship defences and would certainly get into the starting eleven at the moment.
Finally, up front on his own, Clement would probably go with another new signing in Marc McNulty. That’s maybe a tad harsh on Yakou Meite, as he has started all three pre-season games so far whilst McNulty is a new signing with only 30 minutes under his belt as a Reading player. But McNulty is a far better out-and-out striker than Meite and a natural goal scorer - as was proven last season as he fired Coventry City to promotion from League Two, scoring 23 goals in the process.
Subs: Jaakkola, O’Shea, Ilori, Bacuna, Edwards, Meite, Clement
So, there you have it, if Reading were opening their campaign tomorrow rather than on August 3, that is the starting XI I would expect Clement to go with. However, with another new attacker signing on the way, according to Clement himself, that could all change.