Reading return to the Madejski Stadium this weekend looking to win another three points against Watford, who are also unbeaten in the league so far going in to this tie.
The away side are notorious for chopping and changing their managers frequently - and like Reading - they have opted to appoint a Serbian.
Vladimir Ivic has had previous managerial spells at POAK and Maccabi Tel Aviv and will be looking to take the Hornets back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. Both sides will have to be on the top of their game if they are to come out victorious in Berkshire - but which team will step up to the plate?
Here’s the facts and stats you need to know ahead of this weekend’s clash.
What? Championship Matchday 4
Where? Madejski Stadium
When? Saturday 3rd October
Opposition Manager? Vladimir Ivic
Three games, three wins. This is a fantastic start and I think much-needed because of the injuries and current lack of squad depth. Even if new signings do come in before the transfer deadline, it may take them a while to settle in. Jose Gomes had this problem last year and ultimately, it contributed to his downfall.
In terms of existing players, Michael Olise has been exceptional so far - but I would also like to single out Michael Morrison. With the former Birmingham City captain in defence, we seem to be solid and I hope he remains in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future. He was a big part of last weekend’s victory against Cardiff City, where we saw the Royals battle hard to win all three points. A good performance.
As I mentioned, our injury list looks like it’s about to get a little longer. Even before the Cardiff game, it was revealed Andy Yiadom would be out for a while - and John Swift will be joining him, after sustaining a hamstring injury.
Three more injuries during the game at the Cardiff City Stadium left Reading fans concerned, with Lucas Joao dislocating his shoulder and Felipe Araruna going down the tunnel in tears. Yakou Meite was also withdrawn - but this was just cramp according to Veljko Paunovic. All this highlights the need to add depth to the squad - something the club are currently trying to do in accordance with EFL rules.
The main challenge for the Royals this weekend will be trying to get through the away side’s defence. The Hornets have played three, won two, drawn one, scored twice and have yet to concede. In all fairness, it’s clear to see why they have been so solid in defence. Getting the better of Craig Cathcart, Christian Kabasele and Ben Wilmot (as well as former Royal Nathaniel Chalobah in midfield) will be extremely tough for most Championship sides – but they also have quality up front.
Personally, I would not mind having Troy Deeney, Ismaila Sarr, Joao Pedro and Glenn Murray as forward options in the Championship – although the future of Sarr remains unclear. Gerard Deulofeu, Andre Gray and Danny Welbeck could also be nearing a return but let’s take a look at the list of other players who have been unavailable so far this season:
Etienne Capoue, Roberto Pereyra, Daryl Janmaat, Isaac Success, Adam Masina, Will Hughes.
When they all return, Watford could dominate this league.
The Last Meeting
Reading 0 – 2 Watford
Well, we were certainly outclassed in this 2018/19 Carabao Cup game under Paul Clement. Current first team coach John O’Shea started alongside Liam Moore and Tiago Ilori in defence and couldn’t quite get to the ball ahead of Success in the 37th minute, who took the ball past Sam Walker and finished coolly to put the away side 1-0 up.
They would double their lead just past the hour mark when Ilori’s clearance found its way to Domingos Quina, who struck the ball past Walker from long-range. The goalkeeper could only stand/kneel and watch as it landed in the top corner – a magnificent strike from Quina on his debut.
Here’s the Reading lineup from that day for those interested: Walker, Richards, Moore, O’Shea, Ilori, Gunter, Kelly, Bacuna, Swift, Meite, McNulty. Andy Yiadom, Josh Sims and Sam Baldock all came off the bench, whilst Anssi Jaakkola, Paul McShane, Andy Rinomhota and Pelle Clement were unused substitutes.
The Last League Match
Cardiff City 1 – 2 Reading
I have to admit I could only see half the game because of those ghastly shadows – but it was a great win for Reading nonetheless!
After a reasonably uneventful first half, the Royals took the lead two minutes after the break when Michael Olise’s glorious free kick was headed home by Morrison (nope, not Sean, Michael) – and they made it two on the 66th minute when Lucas Joao held off his man to strike the ball home.
This joy was nullified to an extent by the injury to Felipe Araruna (with Joao and Yakou Meite also having to go off after), as well as Lee Tomlin’s consolation 15 minutes later – but the away side held on for all three points! This could be a vital win with the injuries we now have.
- Reading have lost their last three games in all competitions against this weekend’s opponents. Can they get their revenge on Saturday?
- After failing to keep a clean sheet in any of their last ten games in the Premier League last season, Watford have yet to concede a goal in the Championship so far.
- Ivic’s side have only scored twice in three games though – and they will need to turn up the heat in Berkshire if they want to come away with all three points.
Let’s finish this section off with a stat that has been widely shared around social media – and it’s a very good one for the Royals:
- Derby ✅— The Sack Race (@thesackrace) September 26, 2020
- Barnsley ✅
- Cardiff ✅
Veljko Paunović is the first #ReadingFC manager to begin a season with three league wins on the spin since Ian Branfoot back in 1985, when the club were down in Division Three! ⚪️ pic.twitter.com/6LMdW4AqnH
Likely Reading lineup: Rafael, Richards, Morrison, Moore, Holmes, Rinomhota, Laurent, Olise, Ejaria, Meite, Puscas
Paunovic has two options – he could stick with the original system, or he could switch it up and go with five at the back to fit Gibson in the starting lineup.
For now, I have stuck with the original system and one that’s won us nine points out of nine. Rafael starts again, with Richards at left back, Liam Moore and Michael Morrison in the heart of defence at Tom Holmes on the right. Against the attacking players Watford have, this could be a major challenge for Holmes – but I think he can rise to the challenge and put in a solid performance.
Andy Rinomota and Josh Laurent have done well together in midfield so far – and will probably start together once again in midfield, with Michael Olise, Ovie Ejaria and Yakou Meite as the attacking midfielders. This leaves George Puscas up front on his own, which isn’t ideal. However, this is where Veljko Paunovic’s tactics and management skills will be tested to the maximum. I seriously doubt we will risk Lucas Joao this weekend, especially with the international break coming up.
An alternative could be to play Gibson in a back five with Andy Rinomhota at right wing-back, Laurent and Olise in a deeper role, Ejaria in attacking midfield, with Meite alongside George Puscas in attack. It’s a major headache for the manager – and I will be fascinated to see what he goes with. Keep an eye out for new signings too because they could also provide Paunovic with a dilemma after the international break.
Score Prediction: Reading 1 – 1 Watford (getting splinters as we speak)
Other Championship Fixtures
All Saturday 3rd October (3pm KO) unless stated:
Coventry City vs AFC Bournemouth (Friday 2nd October 7:45pm KO)
Norwich City vs Derby County (12:30pm KO)
Blackburn Rovers vs Cardiff City
Luton Town vs Wycombe Wanderers
Middlesbrough vs Barnsley
Nottingham Forest vs Bristol City
Rotherham United vs Huddersfield Town
Sheffield Wednesday vs Queens Park Rangers
Swansea City vs Millwall
Brentford vs Preston North End (Sunday 4th October 2pm KO)
Stoke City vs Birmingham City (Sunday 4th October 3pm KO)