There’s a lot to say about the prolific Portuguese this year. The man is on fire, with 14 goals in 17 games, many of those taken with style, strength, and just a little shimmy. When you’re talking about Reading FC, sometimes it can be tempting to focus entirely on the big man and his scoring boots, so that’s what we’ll do this week!
Editor’s note: This piece was written before the Birmingham City game.
Simply too much class pic.twitter.com/2yxFkGDjlN— The Tilehurst End (@TheTilehurstEnd) December 8, 2020
Lucas João. Our best striker since…
Ok ok. We’ll need to see a full season of clinical finishing before we can put João on the Mt Rushmore of Reading strikers. Still though, I haven’t been this confident about a Reading striker in a while. João is strong enough to hold off, and stylish enough to effortlessly turn, a gamut of Championship defenders. Looking purely at his current goal record, João has a chance to have the best season from a Reading FC striker since Shane Long in 2010/11.
That season, Long finished with 21 goals in 44 games, almost a perfect goal-every-other-game record. That form was enough to earn Shane Long his big move to the Premier League and he’s been an inconsistent but valuable Premier League attacker since. How does that 2010/11 season compare to João’s current work though?
All discussions about João’s potential end-of-season goal total are tempered by legitimate worries about his health. However, if João continued scoring at his current pace in the Championship (11 goals in 15 games) he’d finish with 33 goals. Now while I don’t think that’s a realistic target, João missing out on 20 goals this year would imply injury or a serious drop-off, and even 25 goals seems optimistic but achievable.
If João is able to beat that total then, who’s next to challenge? Well for that you need to delve a whole decade further into the past to the 2000/01 season in the old Division Two! That year, Jamie Cureton picked up 26 goals in the league, including this one, apparently scored with our only on target shot of the game: just like our results from earlier in the season!
26 goals then. As discussed: possible but tough, especially with João’s health concerns. However if João can sandwich himself in-between Long and Cureton, he’ll come away from the year with the best season from a Reading FC striker in 20 years! Not a bad return at all from the third most expensive forward player in the squad! What’s really exciting though is the implication of where those goals put the team. If João can push his goal total up above Cureton’s 26, there’s no reason this Reading team can’t finish in the top six and maybe even higher…
Speculating on what may happen is a fool’s game, but it is exciting to consider the run João is on in historical context. In any case, he’s certainly the most stylish and exciting striker that Reading fans have seen in a long time.
With that in mind, here’s my rundown of João’s five best goals from the season so far
5. Blackburn Rovers (away)
The last of our scoring glut against Blackburn, this breakaway goal showcases João’s ability to make intelligent runs into space. He may not be the most tireless runner, and his pressing could sometimes be described as “louche”, but João is great at drifting into a space just vacated by an over-eager defender. Here, as Blackburn’s Lenihan comes up to chest down a goal kick, Semedo pounces on the weak ball to put João through.
From there, the outcome is never in doubt, with Blackburn caught out of position, but João still oozes quality. As he reaches the box and the covering defender comes across, João calmly slows his run down, waits until the defender is screening his own goalkeeper’s vision, and then curves the ball around both the defender and the goalkeeper. It all happens within three seconds of entering the box. Absolutely lethal.
4. Wycombe Wanderers (home)
Route one isn’t the prettiest way to play football, but a goal is a goal, and this one against Wycombe certainly isn’t ugly. Starring an unlikely assist from Liam Moore, here João makes use of his immense strength and a deft touch to end Royal frustration against local rivals Wycombe.
I’d have this goal a little higher in my list if it weren’t for the small amount of luck João receives as the ball comes in from Moore: it appears the ball goes through João and hits the defender behind. That’s where the luck stops though, as João pounces on the loose ball and holds off two defenders that try to harry him, before pounding the ball low and hard past the keeper. João’s composure under opposition pressure has been a constant this year, and this goal is a great example of that.
3. Cardiff City (away)
Here’s where ranking these goals got tough. From here on out, they’re all brilliant. A great piece of build-up play from Josh Laurent suddenly has Cardiff’s defence forgetting that they are in fact able to make a challenge. His pass puts João in the centre of the box, just yards from goal but there’s still a lot of work to do with Cardiff’s centre backs both closing in.
A running theme then takes over: João holds off one defender before switching the ball over to his left to avoid the second. His finish isn’t perfect but the power he’s able to generate on his weak side is more than enough to barrel his shot past the ‘keeper for the eventual game winner! João’s ability to make a little space for himself in the box is an ever-present danger this Reading side offers, and he uses that to great effect here.
2. Colchester United (home)
The best of the bunch from his hat-trick in the Carabao Cup. Here João showcases his inventiveness and quick feet. Whenever he picks the ball up in the box, I’m always confident in his ability to find space for the shot. The way he does it here though is inspired.
Sure it’s against a League Two outfit, but when João picks up the ball in the box, three players rush to surround him. João makes light work of all of them with a delightful drag-back and turn that fools his two closest defenders and sends the third packing out of the box. From there, he curls a lovely shot away from the keeper and earns himself the match ball at the same time. That João has both the thought to make that turn and the ability to pull it off is part of what makes him so exciting to watch.
1. Bristol City (home)
Here we are then at what is in my opinion João’s goal of the season so far. I’m filing it here because it’s taken so quickly and with such ease while being so clinical that I don’t think any ‘keeper in this league would have stood a chance.
After a wonderful piece of build-up play from Meite, João makes his run late, and completely catches Zak Vyner out with a dart to the right. As the ball comes in, he drops his shoulder and turns Vyner. He then needs just one touch to take the sting out of the ball and one more to pass it into the net off the post. The keeper actually makes a great attempt, closing the space quickly and getting close, but that’s exactly what makes this finish my #1 of the season for João so far: João had fine margins to work in, and he made an absolute mockery of them.
I hope to revisit this list later in the season! Hopefully by the end, João will have spent more time on the pitch than in the physio’s office and we have a new slate of goals to pick through. In any case, I haven’t been this excited by a Reading striker in a long time. João’s ability to make space for himself, his inventiveness and the speed with which he dispatches a shot make him an electric presence up front: one that makes you stand up in your seat when he picks it up 10 yards out. Long may it last!