Looking for a mix of Reading opinion and talking points to get you through your work week? Look no further than the mid-week musings post. Today, I tackle selection headaches in midfield, areas of the squad that could still need improvement, and how Reading’s great defensive shape is bearing out statistically.
Let’s get started!
Could we play Rinomhota further up the field?
Josh Laurent has quietly had a great start to the season. Granted, I’ve got a bit of a thing for box-to-box, “engine” type midfielders, but I think Laurent also has a touch of calmness about him that helps our defence play out from the back. The play of Laurent, and the arrival of Alfa Semedo on loan might have spelled selection trouble for 2018/19 player of the season Rinomhota then, but with Swift out for the foreseeable future, perhaps we could rethink Rino’s position?
I love Tom Mcintyre, and fully subscribe to the “future captain” narrative around him. That said, if I never see him in a midfield three again I’ll be happy. McIntyre did well disrupting Watford’s rhythm in the middle of the park when he came on and was a sure hand whenever he found himself further back, in a more appropriate position. After his introduction however, Reading’s offensive flow felt curtailed and our ability to counter-attack was somewhat stifled.
Perhaps the answer here is to instead move Rinomhota further up the field to replace Olise.
Rino is a player who moves forward with the ball effectively, always looking to gain ground. He certainly shares a lot of defensive, disruptive qualities with Laurent, but he often turns that aggression into attacking intent, as his marauding run in pre-season against Gillingham showed.
If Ejaria is healthy against Middlesbrough as it appears he will be, he should play. If we want to add more hustle and bustle further up the field though to properly combat what we can expect to be a “sturdy” Neil Warnock defence, perhaps Rinomhota might be the way to go, even ahead of Olise.
Olise is exciting, and has played well, but can look a little lightweight at times. That isn’t something you could say of Rinomhota. The Championship is a gruelling league campaign, and you need to find multiple ways to win games: perhaps the following lineup gets us through bruising encounters?
We covered two positions of need, but do we still need a winger?
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Reading’s transfer business so far this window. After the manic week that involved us sacking Nigel Howe and losing Mark Bowen, many of us expected Dai Yongge to push FFP rules to their breaking points. A month later though, we’ve made only loan signings: colour me shocked.
Meanwhile, the overdue downsizing of the squad feels as though it finally took place this summer. While this was a necessary change at the club, it did leave us a little light in some positions. Watching us win against Watford this weekend was a joy, but I couldn’t help feeling like we needed cover at right back and central midfield. 48 hours later, we had cover at both with the signings of Alfa Semedo and Tomas Esteves on loan. Great business in my opinion that hugely improves our depth.
The last piece of the puzzle appears to be a winger. Pauno certainly seemed interested in one as well: Riquelme spent enough time at the Madejski hotel to write both a Yelp and a TripAdvisor review before eventually joining Bournemouth. Currently, our cover at the position includes only Yakou Meite and Sone Aluko. After Sone’s performance against Watford, we’re perhaps in better shape than we thought there, but it appears we’re lacking some pace.
Our 4-2-3-1 formation appears to be able to go quite narrow when needed, as proven by the more centrally comfortable Ejaria holding down the left spot of the forward “three” for large chunks of last year. If we can bring in a winger that can hug the byline and get a cross in however, that could add another dimension to our offensive capabilities and give us a “plan B” on the bench.
Aluko could certainly prove to be exactly what we need as the season goes on, but until he proves he can still play well consistently in a Reading shirt, it’s worth questioning whether we might still bring in a winger before the domestic window closes.
Reading aren’t allowing shots in the box
One feeling I can’t shake about our incredible start to the year is that I can’t really remember Rafael having to make a decent save yet. Whoscored.com tells me he’s made nine saves so far from 10 shots on target (just 2.5 shots on target against per game!) What’s more, thanks to our outstanding defensive organisation this year, it’s likely half of those 10 shots came from outside of the box.
Perhaps the presence and leadership of Liam Moore and Michael Morrison at the back has allowed defensive consistency from last year, but Pauno has so far taken the team to a new level. As per Whoscored.com again, Reading are currently joint top of the league in % of total shots allowed that are outside of the box - with 49%. That’s up from 28% last year. With 10.3 shots conceded per game on average, that means we’re conceding just five shots total in the box a game on average.
Conversion rate on shots in the box is naturally higher than outside, so pushing opposing teams to shoot from outside is clearly a winning tactic. This organisation has led to us losing in the overall shots count in every game we’ve played so far this year, but leading in the shots on target count, perhaps a clear indicator as to why we’ve been more “clinical” than our opponents.
This is a really common tactic in ice hockey and basketball: to allow your opponent “low percentage” scoring chances further away from your net or basket in favor of blocking up the shooting lanes and areas that players score from more consistently. When our keeper is as good as Rafael, the team can feel confident letting him mop up shots that come in from far out.
Our ability to soak up pressure has certainly been a key feature of our wins so far with Reading successfully holding onto one-goal leads against Cardiff and Watford. If it bears out statistically though, as well as from early momentum, that’s only a good thing.