Players available in this position
After much upheaval in recent years, the full-back positions get a taste of continuity this season with Omar Richards in the side following his breakthrough season along with Tyler Blackett and Jordan Obita at left-back. The academy product is Reading’s longest serving player and, on the other flank, Chris Gunter has now clocked over 250 appearances for the club. He’ll get fresh competition this campaign from incoming Barnsley captain Andy Yiadom.
Furthermore, Paul Clement has plenty of versatile players to pick from in an emergency. Leandro Bacuna offered occasional glimpses of good form from right-back in his first season at the club whereas Paul McShane and John O’Shea can shift over from the centre of defence, if their lack of pace isn’t considered too much of a problem. Finally, Andy Rinomhota and Pelle Clement may be used as a last resort with new signing Darren Sidoel joining Teddy Howe and Ramarni Medford-Smith as the Under-23 options.
How did they perform last season?
It’s hard to complain. Obita got hit by a serious knee injury in October (and underwent another operation in May) to give a chance to academy player Richards. The youngster was a genuine shining light even if he didn’t fully earn the trust of his coaches or stay injury free himself. In turn, that gave Blackett opportunities which he didn’t necessarily take. It was a shame but not a surprise to see the very strong criticism that brought about and his form snowballed out the window, as one might have seen coming.
On the other flank it was all Gunter. The Welshman doing his job the way he does it might be brilliant in any normal, functioning, well-drilled team but when the horses around him are bolting, his mistakes and limitations get magnified. Nonetheless, he often switched to left-back when needed and did a sturdy job, allowing Bacuna a run in the defence that had its moments but generally left little impression.
What needs improvement?
At left-back, Reading need consistency in selection. With three senior choices, albeit one who won’t be fit for the first month or so of the season, Clement needs to pick a man and stick with him, in general adding to the manager’s need to form a clear first choice defensive setup.
At right-back, Gunter should benefit from the competition Yiadom provides. Hopefully it will emerge that one man suits the more defensive moments and the other, likely Yiadom, excels more in offence-oriented matches. With both established Championship players, the need for each player to keep one another on their toes should be a benefit.
What are my expectations ahead of the season?
- I expect Gunter will start the campaign as first choice right-back. If the team at any point collapses, as cannot be ruled out, Yiadom will be shipped in and his performances could be key to restoring a sense of order in such a scenario.
- Omar Richards is the intelligent bet to claim the left-back spot as his own. His best football may not have come under Clement last year but his youthfulness and pre-season with the senior side should count in his favour.
- The world will continue to turn with Blackett. He’ll play occasionally, get criticised unless something amazing happens, and it would be a surprise if anyone bought him when Obita comes back around the new year.
- Depending on the circumstances, I imagine Clement will be very slow with bringing Obita back into the fold. This may annoy some, depending on the etc., but Richards’ ability should enable a more risk-free approach with the former England U21 player.
How are Reading looking at full-back? Is there enough quality there for The Royals to push up the table and escape relegation?
Let us know.