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Tactics Review: Royals Struggle Past Wycombe At The Mad Stad

Jamie has a closer look at the Wycombe win - another difficult clean sheet and three points.

Reading v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by David Horton - CameraSport via Getty Images

Rafael; Richards, Moore, Morrison, Holmes; Laurent, Rinomhota; Ejaria, Olise, Meite; Joao.

An unchanged side for the visit of Wycombe Wanderers was not entirely unexpected, with Veljko Paunovic very much following through on his statement of not taking their newly promoted opposition lightly – and it was clear how difficult this game would be right from the off. Wycombe began with two banks of four, in a solid 4-4-2, which Reading found difficult to break down in the first half.

The visitors’ press applied pressure to a Royals side unbeaten in five, but the multitude of stray passes hinted at a touch of nervousness – something Paunovic confirmed in his post-match presser. Reading were able to get their full backs forwards more than usual, Ovie Ejaria and Omar Richards providing the Royals’ main threat on the left hand side, Meite and Holmes slightly struggling against the experienced Joe Jacobson on their visitors’ left.

For some reason, Reading decided not to press Wycombe in the manner they’d done in the majority of their previous games. With the same occurring against Middlesbrough at the weekend, it may have been a tactic from Paunovic – looking for another way to defeat physical sides. Even though Reading had more possession than their visitors, there were periods of there not being too much pressure on the Wycombe backline.

This perhaps suggested that the home side did not need to prevent them from playing on the ball, looking to let Wycombe lose possession and be hit on the counter, while keeping it themselves when needed. With Wycombe pressing high themselves, Reading struggled to play through the lines as, like at the weekend, poor passes meant they lost possession or slowed the game down to allow Wycombe to put 10 men behind the ball (frustrating as Wycombe committed many bodies forwards for attacks).

In the second period, Reading began to exert their dominance on the game a bit more – holding onto the ball better and eventually breaking Wycombe’s lines with a fantastic ball over the top from Liam Moore, superbly Cruyff’d by Lucas Joao, before he finished through Ryan Allsop.

Reading v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet Championship - Madejski Stadium Photo by Tim Goode/PA Images via Getty Images

Although the goal did not include them, the double substitution of Alfa Semedo and Tomas Esteves for Yakou Meite and Tom Holmes changed the game. Holmes put in another fantastic defensive shift, along with both Moore and Morrison – again winning the majority of whatever was thrown at them. (In fairness, Moore had a weaker game, misjudging a few balls and so not looking entirely confident at every long punt forwards from Wycombe).

Although Holmes was dominant at the back, Esteves brought a much-needed attacking threat, the skillful young full back embarking on a number of dribbles infield to draw Wycombe’s midfield out, before playing it over to the left hand side (Esteves actually made the most tackles of any Reading man though, showing his importance in the transition between defence and attack).

As Paunovic pointed out after the game, overloading the left-hand side was important, Jack Grimmer not looking as comfortable as Joe Jacobson. Although Semedo looked to be playing all across the attacking midfield trio, his general position was on the left and his strength and pace helped to exploit Grimmer and show what an impressive acquisition he can be going forwards.

This all meant that both Semedo and Ejaria could switch between their flanks, Ovie still being able to cut in from the left and cause trouble, or double up on that side – Semedo also being able to provide an option, highlighting the overload. Thanks to the sheer versatility of Reading’s attackers, Olise shifting over to the right and Semedo/Ejaria playing through the middle/on the left demonstrated the effectiveness of these three in a possible trio going forwards.

Ejaria seems to be the key man at the moment, cutting in from the left, and this was reflected in 40% of the Royals’ shots coming from this flank – none coming from the right-hand side – and six dribbles completed throughout the game, toying with the opposition defenders and remaining untouched the majority of the time. Reading did attack down the right as much as the left, but struggled to create too much from this wing and did use it to create attacking opportunities down the left – making use of the wings more than their visitors, reflected in the two sides’ average positions (stats here are from WhoScored).

It can’t be brushed under the carpet that Reading did struggle at times throughout the game, a scrappy encounter meaning ball retention and the fluidity of attacks was poor, especially against a side tipped for relegation. Despite Wycombe’s impressive performance, their lack of cutting edge in attack combined with the solidity of the Royals’ in defence (and midfield) – especially impressive after the introduction of Adebayo ‘The Beast’ Akinfenwa – meant that one moment of magic was enough to seal another three points.