Reading were busy in the January window, picking up five loan deals, the most notable of which being the acquisition of Nelson Oliveira - and his match winner against Blackburn Rovers has seemingly cementing him as the prodigal son of RG2. His arrival may well have prompted an upturn in results, but this has not been done alone.
Another acquisition that deserves particular praise is January signing Matt Miazga. Since joining from Chelsea, Miazga has played 90 minutes in each of the five games he has been involved in, slotting into the heart of the defence and looking like forming a promising partnership with Liam Moore. The pair were unbeaten in four until the Sheffield United game last Saturday, having conceded only two goals in four, registering another two clean sheets.
Bolton Wanders 1-1 Reading
Reading 0-0 Aston Villa
Sheffield Wednesday 0-0 Reading
Reading 2-1 Blackburn Rovers
Sheffield United 4-0 Reading
Miazga is a physically imposing figure at 6”3’ and his aerial ability has become a real asset for this Reading side. He currently has an aerial duel success rate of 92%, having not lost a single defensive aerial duel in the 450 minutes he has played.
We may well be looking at a small sample size, but it tells us a lot about his ability in this part of his game. Compare this to Tiago Ilori who Miazga has replaced - the Portuguese defender registered aeriel duel success rates of just 55% in 2017/18 and 62% in 2018/19, so the improvement is obvious to see.
This added security when defending, coupled with the arrival of Emiliano Martinez, has added a calmness to the backline that was previously not there. Reading now look capable of soaking up more pressure, in particular from aerial threats.
The Royals’ new-found ability in this area will be be tested in the coming weeks against Rotherham United and Ipswich Town. Both play a direct style of football, with the latter leading the league in long balls played per game: 87. Rotherham record 82 and will look to play via Michael Smith who averages 16.4 aerial duels per game away from home.
There is going to be a need for Reading to defend set pieces successfully in the coming weeks, with each team we face placing an emphasis on getting goals from free-kicks and corners. As shown in Mark O’Haire’s table which you can see below, each of our next three opponents record over 40% of their goals from set pieces.
Had a look at the teams that were most reliant on set-piece goals in the Football League (attached).— Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) February 19, 2019
*set-piece goals includes penalties pic.twitter.com/AzbMy1q2rD
It’s certainly something that Reading will need to wary of in what could well be a defining period in our fight against relegation.