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Tactics Review: Disjointed Royals Get It All Wrong Against Birmingham City

A closer look at the shortcomings that contributed to Reading’s defeat to Birmingham City.

Reading v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship - Madejski Stadium Photo by Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images

Reading slipped to a second home defeat in a row against Birmingham City at the weekend, after another poor display without the likes of John Swift, Ovie Ejaria and Sam Baldock. Reading lined up in a 3-5-2: Rafael; Yiadom, Moore, Miazga, Morrison, Richards; Pele, Rinomhota, McCleary; Puscas, Meite.

Surprisingly, Mark Bowen did not make any changes from the Wigan Athletic game, with the same line up after a poor display the previous weekend. With Reading in a 3-5-2 again, and the opposition playing a 4-4-2, it seemed the obvious weakness was to double up on and exploit the wing backs and once more Omar Richards and Andy Yiadom struggled to get forwards at points of the game, strangely often being caught out by playing too centrally.

In Swift’s continued absence, Reading struggled with Pele and Andy Rinomhota as the holding midfielders. Where the once compact midfield against Leeds United showed off Mark Bowen’s promise of each player being closer together, Saturday afternoon was the complete antithesis of this. With Pele taking up Rinomhota’s role of sitting just in front of the defence, Rinomhota had to assume the Swift role of drifting back and forth in the midfield, but always seemed to be slightly lost, never really getting into the game as much as he should.

Wigan Athletic v Reading - Sky Bet Championship
Andy Rinomhota hasn’t taken well to his recent tactical adjustment
Photo by Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images

With a static attack and a Birmingham gameplan executed very well, his driving runs had to come from out wide, but did not occur nearly as much as usual. Where usually one of Swift/Ovie could link up play and create space for him, Garath McCleary’s game of his own driving runs meant that this was not something that could occur. This left the midfield stretched, with McCleary up high with the front two, Pele and Rinomhota sitting too deep and not applying pressure.

This occurred in the first half at Wigan and, with the restrained wing backs, meant that Reading had almost seven players sitting deep at times. Strangely, in the first half, Reading seemed to be pushing forwards a lot, and it was actually after the tactical change where things became trickier.

Where, against Wigan, Reading’s switch to four at the back meant that the already booked Morrison was sacrificed, this time it was the slightly underperforming Matt Miazga. The early stages of the second half began with incessant Birmingham pressure and chances, and despite having a fairly weak defence (especially from set plays), Birmingham just about deservedly won the game.

The game changer for Reading was most definitely Charlie Adam, with his fantastic range and quality of passing. Despite Reading chasing the game at this point and throwing bodies forwards, Adam provided an attacking threat not seen with Pele, managing to provide a bit more balance to the side.

It would be a surprise to see Bowen play 3-5-2 at Barnsley in midweek, if Ejaria and Swift are both not back in the side. A 4-4-2 may be the best option as allowing the likes of Lucas Joao to play behind Puscas, with Boye on the wing, has made Reading look far more threatening going forwards.