Rafael; Richards, McIntyre, Morrison, Esteves; Laurent, Rinomhota; Aluko, Semedo, Olise; Joao
Reading looked to back bounce back from their first defeat of the season last Friday night, but right from the off, Preston North End made sure that the Royals knew it would not be an easy three points.
In the home side’s attacking three (behind Lucas Joao), Sone Aluko started off on the left hand side, with Michael Olise on the right. The two men in behind, Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent, spent a lot of the first half sitting very deep, almost on to their centre backs. The space this afforded to Preston’s midfield put the attacking trio in an awkward situation – Alfa Semedo had to drop back deeper than usual at times to help contest the battle in the middle of the park, Preston outnumbering and outfighting the Royals’ central players.
Aluko pushed inwards to help out, with Olise staying out wide and so not affording North End too much space on both flanks. Laurent in particular was sitting very deep (perhaps neither men wanting to be dragged out of position a la Coventry) and so Reading struggled to win many a second ball. This though was not all down to positioning, becoming a theme throughout the game as Preston’s first goal came from one such instance of being too soft in the tackle.
The wide men moving in to help in the midfield areas isn’t too much of a new occurrence for this Reading side, the full backs usually so solid at the back. However, as the season has worn on and Reading have looked to create more chances (and have successfully been doing so), both men have been pushing forwards a lot more. This is something we are used to see from seasons gone by, but a big part of Reading’s clinical nature and defensive resilience has been choosing when to attack and committing the correct players forwards without leaving themselves susceptible at the back.
Coupled with the injuries to Tom Holmes (losing defensive solidity), Yakou Meite and Ovie Ejaria (losing attacking threat and so creating it from elsewhere), Reading have been pushing their full backs further forwards and, subsequently, creating more chances – but (perhaps because they know they’ll get another chance to score later in the game) are not being anywhere near as clinical.
An additional point to the Holmes injury is that Tomas Esteves can be hit and miss with his on-the-ball skill in getting out of danger (he can be so good on the ball that he even comes quite central for some attacks), the 18 year old only going to improve on his decision making on when to play out and when not to – also not helped by a lack of options of many an occasion though.
Of course, had Reading taken their chances, it may have been a different game – but it can’t be doubted that there is a potential issue to look at defensively at the moment. In an ideal world, Reading would be free-flowing going forwards and solid defensively, but with the multitude of injuries currently facing the side (Liam Moore to add to the above injury list), it is not proving to be an easy task – especially against a solid, ‘strong on the counter’ side in Preston, who more than took advantage of gaps in the backline.
Reading may need to figure out how to ensure they aren’t cut open when Esteves and Richards push up (inc. Esteves coming central as I mentioned just above), although it may well mostly be primarily a response to going behind and looking for a goal back.
Some great spells of play involving Aluko and Olise created chances for both Joao and Sone himself, Declan Rudd getting by in the away side’s goal. Something these two wide men did to create chances for the Royals involved Aluko moving infield when Olise was in possession and ready to cut in from the right. This central position allowed him to create for himself his almost-brilliant goal, and would’ve also created space on the left for Richards to push into.
Personally (and despite not quite being ‘on it’ with his finishing), Joao was a big plus point and a rare shining light with his ability on the ball, compared to some nervy and poor passing from Michael Morrison, Rinomhota and others. A few fantastic flicks created both attacks and chances for the home side, the Portuguese forward not able to put away a one on one for the second successive game – not quite angling his body away from the defender to prevent a challenge/force any challenge into a penalty.
As well as this, Joao regularly took out two or three men with one flick or piece of nifty footwork, resulting in space being created in a congested midfield/defensive area. Semedo also, it should be said, had a decent game – putting his physicality and skill to good use, if he can improve on his final ball/decision making, a complete number ten may be on the cards.