Players available in this position
Reading’s fairly large crop of central midfielders looks pretty much the same as it did last season, except they’ve swapped one ginger-haired Irishman for another - the permanently injured Stephen Quinn being released and David Meyler coming in on a free transfer from Hull City.
The FIFA-playing 29 year-old will be an option to sit in front of the defence, as will Dave Edwards. Leandro Bacuna and Liam Kelly also took on a defensive roles a couple of times last season but may look to play further forward in 2018/19. The most natural attacking central midfielder options though are John Swift and Pelle Clement.
The most likely academy players to feature are Andy Rinomhota and Josh Barrett, whilst Ryan East, the Under-23s’ most used player last season, might hope for a senior debut in the new campaign.
Oh, and John O’Shea has played in midfield before (where hasn’t he played?!), but really at 37 years old there’s no way he’s got the legs for it anymore. At the time of writing, George Evans is still a Reading player, but his departure to Derby County is imminent.
How did they perform last season?
Most of the central midfielders showed that they were steady enough options for the Championship, but weren’t going to be the type of players that would get the club to the top of the division and into the Premier League. Academy graduate Kelly was the best of bunch, finishing third in the club’s player of the season poll and netting seven goals in all competitions, but certainly didn’t get the raving reviews he received in his breakthrough campaign. Bacuna too, was promising at times and the most likely player to drive the team forward from the middle of the park.
Elsewhere, Edwards underwhelmed after his move from Wolves, Clement showed his versatility but not necessarily his excellence as a centre midfielder and Swift struggled with injury and as a result, consistency.
Rinomhota was included in the squad for six Championship fixtures but never got on the pitch, but did appear twice in the EFL Cup. He also featured for the Under-23s, alongside Barrett who scored an impressive eight goals in 12 ‘Premier League 2’ games before signing for Coventry City on loan in January. Despite the Sky Blues earning promotion from League Two, the 20-year-old didn’t make the biggest impact at the Ricoh Arena - starting just one game in his five months there.
What needs improvement?
In a word? Creativity. Too often last season that final ball or crucial delivery was missing from Reading’s midfield. The Royals were once again were dominant in possession (on average they had the third most in the Championship) but just didn’t know what to do with it.
John Swift’s regular absence didn’t help with this, but even when he did feature, the former Chelsea man was a shadow of his 2016/17 self. It was hoped that Liam Kelly would be able to fill this void, but he couldn’t quite do it regularly enough.
No team in the second tier spent less time in the final third than Reading last season and only two sides created fewer chances, and that was in part due to the midfield’s reluctance to get the ball forward and put the ball in the box.
It’s why the club seemed to be interested in Peterborough’s Marcus Maddison this summer, a player who registered 23 assists last season. After being priced out of a move for him though, it’s not clear whether any other targets of a similar mould are on the radar.
What are my expectations ahead of the season?
- At 22, Liam Kelly still has the potential to get better and it would be great for an academy player to be the real star of the show as Reading win the 2018/19 Championship title. Please.
- If John Swift can stay off the treatment table he could be key, but after several separate injuries last season, that might be a hope rather than an expectation.
- Apart from challenging every player at the club to a FIFA match, David Meyler should be a solid option in front of the defence and keep spirits in the dressing room.
- Leandro Bacuna shouldn’t be required to fill in at full-back as much after the arrival of Andy Yiadom, allowing him to show his full midfield capabilities. What they are, I’m not too sure.
- After we’ve included him in this central midfield preview, Pelle Clement will show his versatility and play everywhere apart from central midfield.
- Dave Edwards is likely to feature only sparingly in what will probably be his last season at the club, but his experience will be key in the dressing room.
- Andy Rinomhota and Josh Barrett to perhaps feature in the early rounds of the EFL Cup as per last season, but ultimately seek loan moves away.