Saturday’s dire defeat at home to Bolton Wanderers leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Unlike in the first two losses of the season to Derby County and Nottingham Forest, Reading didn’t do themselves justice. After a promising first half, the Royals shrunk back into the low-energy, non-inventive side that we saw for so much of last season.
Paul Clement was visibly angry in his post-match comments to the media at the weekend, and could now be tempted to make wholesale changes to the team that so badly under-performed in front of the home crowd. Below, we’ve taken a look at the players most likely to be axed and those that will be vying to replace them.
Whose spot is (probably) safe?
At the back, Liam Moore and Andy Yiadom put in solid performances against Bolton, with the latter building on a string of encouraging displays this season since arriving from Barnsley. With Reading short on quality at centre half and right back, both should keep their place.
Similarly, the Royals can’t call on many options out wide despite the recent arrival of Josh Sims from Southampton, so Yakou Meite is likely to continue. The Frenchman’s ability to play on the wing and as an out-and-out forward will count in his favour.
Up front, striker Sam Baldock didn’t have the best of games at the weekend but still managed to have two of Reading’s better chances (one in each half). Considering the squad’s lack of experienced strikers and his versatility - he’s lead the line and played off a target man in his two league starts - it’s a solid bet he’ll get the nod on Wednesday.
In the balance
Although Vito Mannone and Tyler Blackett have attracted plenty of criticism this season - Vito for his mistake against Derby and Blackett generally being a scapegoat for the last two years - neither did too badly on Saturday. However, with obvious competition in both their positions (see below), Clement has the opportunity to freshen things up by dropping the pair of them.
David Meyler on the other hand was much poorer against Bolton, failing to give Reading enough presence in the midfield and horribly miscuing a shot in the second half that could have brought the team level. That said, the absence of any experienced rival for the holding midfield role may see him stay put.
In the firing line
We were all surprised to see Paul McShane given a starting spot on Saturday, and it’ll be equally eyebrow-raising if he keeps it for Wednesday under pressure from the impressive Tiago Ilori.
In midfield, John Swift and Liam Kelly didn’t do too badly in the first half against Parky’s side, but ran out of ideas in the second. If Clement wants to freshen the team up, he’ll get that done most effectively by swapping out his two under-performing creative sparks.
It’d be harsh to drop Marc McNulty given his sparky first-half performance, but Reading are likely to need a target man up top to relieve pressure on the back four, and that’s a job Sparky can’t carry out. I’d give him the vote of confident if this were a home game, but an away match may be a bridge too far this early into his time in Berkshire.
Who’s coming in?
Despite the string of injuries that still afflicts Reading, there are a number of players ready to make the step up into the first team. The most obvious is centre half Tiago Ilori - the Portuguese defender was unlucky to miss out on Saturday but should replace Paul McShane at the back.
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson could very well come in for Marc McNulty, giving the Royals a focal point up top alongside Baldock. Out wide, Modou Barrow is near a return from injury and should be joined in the matchday 18 at least by loan signing Josh Sims. On the other hand, Adrian Popa managed a cameo off the bench against Bolton but looked short on fitness.
Although he had a sloppy game against Bolton, Paul Clement may prefer the energy of Leandro Bacuna in the middle of the park, whether in place of Liam Kelly or David Meyler. Alternatives for freshening up the midfield are Pelle Clement and youngster Andy Rinomhota.
At the back, Sam Walker and Omar Richards will push Vito Mannone and Tyler Blackett for their spots in goal and at left back respectively, but are more likely to make the bench.
Paul Clement has stuck closely to his favoured 4-4-2 formation this season, even if he’s tweaked it throughout Reading’s four games depending on injury and tactics. With that in mind, don’t expect him to move too much from it.
However, I can see there being five changes: McShane, Kelly, Meite, Swift and McNulty all out for Ilori, Bacuna, Sims, Barrow and Bodvarsson.
Subs: Walker, McShane, Richards, Kelly, Swift, Meite, McNulty.
How do you think Reading will line up against Blackburn Rovers? Should Paul Clement stick with the team that played Bolton or ring the changes? Let us know in the comments below and on Twitter @TheTilehurstEnd