How the centre-backs did last season
After seeing a summer transfer request affect his early season form, Liam Moore was back to his reliable best in the last few months of the campaign. The stand-in captain, he lead by example with a number of important blocks and tackles whilst never lacking an ounce of passion.
Arguably Moore’s performances were helped by having a consistent centre-back alongside him, and that came in the form of Matt Miazga, who arrived on loan in January. He replaced Sporting Lisbon-bound Tiago Ilori, and it became clear instantly that this was a huge upgrade.
Undoubtedly one of the key reasons for Reading’s survival, Miazga added a calming influence to the backline, and showed his strength in the air and with the ball at his feet. Both Moore and Miazga were nominated for our Player of the Month award in February, March and April/May (Moore was also shortlisted in January), with the American winning the accolade in March.
In contrast, it was a nightmare season for Paul McShane. The Irishman started the first four league games back in August, but conceded two second-half penalties against Blackburn Rovers that saw the Royals throw away a 2-0 lead at Ewood Park. After that horror show, he would play just 25 more minutes for the club (largely due to injury it has to be said) - a shaky cameo against Preston.
John O’Shea played as much of a role as you would expect a 38 year-old defender to play - 11 appearances in total in his one and only season as a Royal in which it was clear he had lost all of his speed but none of his aerial prowess.
Two centre-backs both 18 years his junior - Tom McIntyre and Gabriel Osho - made their first team debuts in December and gave good accounts of themselves to suggest that the future is very bright. Injury kept McIntyre sidelined for most of the rest of the campaign, while Osho went on loan to Bristol Rovers but didn’t make an appearance, having also spent time at Aldershot Town earlier on in the season.
Looking at the academy, Tom Holmes (19) made his first team debut in 2017/18 but injury held him back for much of last season, while Akinwale Odimayo and Andre Burley (also both 19) are regulars for the under-23s.
21-year-old Darren Sidoel signed from Jong Ajax last summer before taking what is slowly becoming a well-trodden path on loan to Belgian side KSV Roeselare in January, where he made 11 appearances. Primarily a defensive midfielder, the Dutchman can fill in at centre-back, as can senior players Tyler Blackett and Andy Yiadom.
Who might leave?
It’s not impossible to think that Reading may have an entirely different set of centre-backs next year. McShane’s contract has not been renewed which brings to an end his four year spell at the club, whilst his compatriot O’Shea will retire this summer following an illustrious career. Miazga meanwhile returns to parent club Chelsea, who he has not played for for over three years.
That means at the time of writing, Moore is the only senior centre-back under contract. But as one of the stand-out players in Reading’s squad, interest is always high in the former Leicester City man, who last year came close to moving to Brighton. Although there (hopefully) won’t be any transfer request this time around, an offer may arrive for him that is too good to turn down.
The academy centre-backs will be eyeing up plenty of first team opportunities as it stands, but should reinforcements arrive as you’d expect them to, loan moves appear likely for many of the youngsters. Fellow academy players Jamal Balogun and Moroyin Omolabi are set to be released.
Who might come in?
Of course the hope is that the club find a way for Miazga to return to Berkshire, whether that be another loan deal or a permanent switch. The latter would appear unlikely, considering the 23-year-old’s estimated value and the fact that Chelsea currently find themselves under a transfer ban.
As seems to be a continuing theme in these squad reviews, free agents may have to be relied upon - Joel Lynch, former Royal Tommy Elphick and one-time transfer target Yoann Barbet would be the obvious choices from centre-backs out of contract in the Championship.
Back in January, Villarreal’s Ruben Semedo was linked with a move to Berkshire, as was Donervon Daniels, who is now a free agent after seeing his contract expire at Blackpool. Looking elsewhere in League One, 22 year-old Matt Clarke will surely move to a higher level this summer after Portsmouth missed out on promotion, but Reading may be priced out of a move for him. That could lead the Royals to Tom Lockyer, the Welsh international who will be available for free having turned down a new contract at Bristol Rovers (where he was captain), citing a desire to play in the Championship. He won’t be short of offers.