Rafael; Richards, Moore, Morrison, Esteves; Semedo, Laurent, Rinomhota; Olise; Joao, Meite.
Reading spent the majority of this game in a 4-3-1-2 formation – Alfa Semedo dropping into the Andy Rinomhota/Josh Laurent partnership, with Michael Olise playing centrally just in front of the trio and Yakou Meite and Lucas Joao up top, tirelessly working the channels all throughout.
Due to the fact there was not a whole lot of width in the midfield (despite the excursions of Rinomhota and Semedo), both Joao and Meite’s hard work gave Olise and Semedo licence to burst forward into space (something we saw for the Ivory Coast man’s goal). To keep their shape off the ball, one of Semedo, Rinomhota and Laurent were able to push forwards and apply the press, with Olise dropping back into the three.
As well as Meite and Joao being able to push towards the flanks when needed, both Tomas Esteves and Omar Richards used the spaces out wide to great effect, pushing forwards and helping the attacks.
Richards in particular did superbly as he dropped a shoulder and delivered a cross that eventually led to Laurent sweeping home Reading’s third, and his first in a Royals shirt.
Reading were slightly hindered in their attacks, thanks to some tactical fouls from Blackburn, not allowing their visitors too much freedom when their intense high press was broken.
The midfield battle was key as to who would have the next chance in this exciting clash. If Reading managed to beat the press a big chance would present itself, however, any hoof upfield would just return possession to Blackburn (mainly from set plays, when everyone was back), so Reading’s attempts to play through the press were risky as any turnover resulted in more Blackburn pressure on the Reading penalty box.
As spaces opened up late on, both Rinomhota and Semedo were finally able to use the wide spaces to create attacks, Rino almost forcing a defender into an own goal from a low cross from the left.
One man who coped very well with the pressure applied on him was Tomas Esteves. The Porto loanee was regularly put into awkward situations (in attack and defence) due to both Blackburn’s press and Reading desperately trying to keep hold of the ball, but rarely did he lose possession, despite playing some dangerous passes/playing in some dangerous areas early on.
He was able to push forwards partly thanks to Andy Rinomhota, who could move into the right back slot and draw Blackburn’s men in, affording Esteves some space – until Rovers players were on him of course.
At times, Reading could revert back to their 4-3-3, with Meite on the right and Olise on the left, both men swapping positions as well – not to mention Semedo also pushing up onto the left and allowing Olise into the middle on occasion.
We could also switch to a 4-1-4-1, Laurent dropping in deeper (even between the centre backs when in possession deep in their own half), meaning the fluidity (and physicality) this Reading side had all over the pitch was tough for Blackburn to deal with - and they struggled at the back in the first half.
The 4-1-4-1 was mainly utilised when Blackburn’s full backs were in possession, allowing Semedo and Meite to move out wide and help prevent the threat that shown in full force when Omar Richards was dispossessed, leading to Harvey Elliott crossing for Adam Armstrong to score Blackburn’s first. It was also shown when Joe Rankin-Costello crossed for Armstrong to finish superbly for his second - and even for a third time when the forward almost grabbed his hat-trick.
It may be pointless to mention all these different formations when all the men in red seemed to be everywhere all throughout the game - but it’s important to note that they were able to interchange with each other depending on what was occurring throughout the game.
One of the most impressive aspects was when Lucas Joao dropped in to help link up the play with Olise, Reading being in a 4-3-2-1, demonstrating how much of a handful he can be.
This is whether he’s dropping in, playing off the shoulder (epitomised by his counter attacking goal – less on the shoulder of the centre back, but utilising the space left by him) or even pressurising left back Barry Douglas by his own corner flag and almost creating an attack out of nothing.
One negative from this game may be Reading not killing it off at 3-1. At the start of the second half, a few attacks were slowed down a fair bit by both Semedo and Olise, leading to a sustained spell of Blackburn possession and pressure (not committing as many fouls and becoming more effective with their winning of the ball back), until Semedo won the ball back and played in Joao for four.
Reading’s occasional reluctance to go full throttle in every attack (and take shot after shot after shot) may be due to not wanting to produce unnecessary turnovers – especially in a game like this – something that is paying dividends thanks to the quality of the attacking force Reading have, the solidity at the back, and the all-round balance of the whole side.