Paul Clement spoke to members of STAR (Supporters Trust At Reading) this week about all things Royals-related and, although much of what was discussed is kept under wraps, some of his thoughts have been shared by the club. Those thoughts cover a range of topics, but we’ve delved into the juicier stuff around tactics, youth development and transfers to see what we can learn about how Clement thinks.
Reading have, for the most part this season, stuck to some variation of 4-4-2, although that’s sometimes adjusted to more of a 4-4-1-1 or 3-4-3 in particular games. Talking to STAR, Clement confirmed that he’s a fan of 4-4-2 (no surprise there) and wants to keep to that, but he also hinted we might see his team try a 4-2-3-1 at some point.
“We’re looking for consistency, clarity - not constantly changing tactics. 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 is the main route for me – in some games we might need the extra midfielder.”
One notable tactical problem for Reading this season has been a lack of presence in midfield. That wasn’t so much of a problem last season when we typically went 4-3-3, but Clement’s insistence on playing two up top and two out wide has left us short on numbers and creativity through the middle.
Going to a 4-2-3-1 could suit some of our midfielders quite well. David Meyler, Leandro Bacuna and new signing Saeid Ezatolahi would fit the double-pivot roles, allowing John Swift to play higher up in support of a lone frontman. That striker would likely be Jon Dadi Bodvarsson or Yakou Meite, with Sam Baldock and Marc McNulty lacking physical strength.
Clement also suggested that his team have had to drop deeper than he’d like so that they can defend long balls. Reading were caught out by that for Bolton’s winner at the Madejski Stadium, with Sheffield Wednesday also getting plenty of joy last Saturday by lumping it up to Atdhe Nuhiu. However, the Royals won’t be copying that style of play.
“Ideally we’d like to defend higher but in the Championship it goes from back to front so quickly sometimes and you have to defend long balls. There has been a lot of very direct play against us in the opponents we have faced this season. I don’t want to be a team that lumps it back to front. We’re trying to get a balance.”
Opportunities for youngsters
There was a slight hint from Clement that we may see an academy player move up to the first team in the not too distant future, but the quote’s so brief and vague that I’m probably reading too much into it.
“You need to be dominating games at Under-23 level first. But some are starting to do the things you need to in order to get in first team.”
One of the more obvious possibilities is free-scorer Danny Loader, who may or may not be deserving of a promotion (relevant link below), whilst Andy Rinomhota could give Reading’s midfield a bit of a shake-up. The former AFC Portchester player appears to have caught Clement’s eye, and was rewarded with a sub appearance in the Carabao Cup win over Birmingham City.
If you’d been thinking that Paul Clement didn’t have much of a say in Reading’s summer transfers, the man himself has said otherwise. The Royals brought in eight players either permanently or on loan (nine if you include Darren Sidoel), and the manager is happy with all of them.
“I’ve signed eight players in this window and all the signings have come in with my blessing. Some I’ve pushed for very strongly.”
The last of those signings (chronologically) was Saeid ‘Scrabble Score’ Ezatolahi who joined for the duration of the campaign from Russian side Rostov. As far as we know he hasn’t been in England yet - the international break started two days after his transfer went through and he’s in Iran’s squad for the trip to Uzbekistan. Nonetheless, when he does get to Berkshire, he’ll take no prisoners.
“Saeid Ezatolahi is away with the Iran national team at the moment. He will be a big physical presence, 6ft 2ins, strong in the tackle, can head the ball. He’ll certainly be a presence in the box too.”
...and transfers out
If you’d been thinking that Reading needed more of a clear-out in the summer months, Clement kinda seems to be thinking the same thing, admitting that rejuvenating the whole squad could take time.
“We brought in eight players but we will need the next two windows to get the right blend and to trim the squad. But it is better to have more than less!”
Indeed, under-performing players, some of whom are still on long-term deals at the club, won’t be easy to move on. That being said, the following are all out of contract at the end of this season, so are likely to be out the door at that point:
Anssi Jaakkola, Paul McShane, John O’Shea, Tyler Blackett, Danzell Gravenberch, Joey van den Berg, Callum Harriott, Dave Edwards, Yakou Meite.
And, for the record, all of these players’ deals expire at the end of next season:
Vito Mannone, Chris Gunter, Jordan Obita, Tiago Ilori, Garath McCleary, Adrian Popa, David Meyler, Liam Kelly, Pelle Clement, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson.
Closer to the present, the “next two windows” bit suggests that Reading will try to ship some players out in January if they can, but that of course depends on the club finding buyers for those squad members.
You can read the full set of Clement’s quotes at the STAR event here (the ones released in public that is).
What do you think of what the manager had to say? Tell us in the comments below.