Reading face their toughest test of the season so far on Wednesday night, going up against league leaders Norwich City at the Mad Stad. The Canaries have responded well to relegation from the Premier League last season and, despite being beset by injuries in 2020/21, are on track for an immediate return to the top flight.
So what’s been the secret to their success so far, and how much should we be worried about what they’ll have in store at the Mad Stad? We spoke to Norwich City reporter Connor Southwell from Pinkun. We also chatted to him about Reading on their Terrace Talk YouTube show, which you can see just below:
How’s the season gone for you so far?
On the surface, Norwich City are sitting at the top of the table and are pretty close to the two points per game ratio that is considered important for teams gunning for promotion.
The evidence after 18 games suggests they’ve managed relegation pretty well. They were planned for it and acted accordingly. An injury crisis that, at its peak, has ruled out 14 players is beginning to ease and they continue to grind out results with success.
So things are looking good. One defeat in 14 as well coming into this game. Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki are bubbling away. It feels like only a matter of time before they give a side a real beating. Any wins will suffice, though.
What’s Norwich’s tactical approach like? Has it changed much since your previous time in the Championship?
In terms of the fundamentals, not really. Everything you’d associate with a Daniel Farke team is the same. They look to build from the back. They enjoy having possession and want to be the protagonists in every game. The instinct is to attack their opponents.
Farke has tweaked it somewhat. Ollie Skipp has provided some real balance into midfield and the overall defensive structure has improved drastically. There is more of a willingness to press teams out of possession as well to force turnovers in positive areas. Plus some real variation in terms of attacking options.
Tactically, City have tweaked things without having a major crisis after relegation. That continuity has served them well so far.
What are the main strengths of this team?
The quality they have. It’s helped enormously with grinding out results. I don’t think they’ve really stepped out of second gear often. But they have enough quality to just lift their levels within games to produce a goal.
The last three results have all been 2-1 wins. They are finding a way to win. I think it’s an overly defensive division this year anyway, and there is expectation surrounding them so teams are setting up differently against them than they encountered two years ago.
With a condensed schedule like never before, it is difficult for teams to constantly produce performances because of the extra physical and mental demands being placed on them. That’s where having match winners like Emi Buendia is useful.
Then it comes down to whether you can access that quality consistently. So far, City have proven they can.
Despite the aforementioned defensive structure improvements, this side still gives away chances and looks vulnerable on the counter attack.
Farke does opt to push his full-backs very high positionally, meaning there is space in behind Max Aarons particularly if a side can turnover the ball and hit those areas with real pace. Crossing opportunities are conceded regularly by Norwich as well, so if you have a tall striker or winger, get them to compete aerially against Aarons.
Plus, City currently have a makeshift left-back in Jacob Sorensen who was signed as a midfielder. Despite some steady displays, it’s noticeable how teams are beginning to target that area of the pitch. See Harvey Elliott on Saturday.
What have you made of Reading this season?
I’m not just saying this because these words are going to consumed by a largely Reading audience, but I thought they’d do okay. There’s a nice blend of young talent and experienced pros and, under Mark Bowen, I thought this would be a season of steady progression.
I was somewhat confused by the managerial change but it’s clear Paunovic has exceeded those expectations so far. Funnily enough, I think they’ve started to look better since the four consecutive defeats. I won’t mention xG so don’t worry.
But they need to back a manager and back a project. The problem with Reading is you never know when things will self-implode.
With Michael Olise, they have a match winner. If they can combine that with a potency up front and a defensive solidity then the play-offs are a really viable outcome.
The damning reality is you don’t need to do too much to be in the play-off picture in the Championship, but you do need quality to win promotion.
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
This is will be a tight game, I expect. Norwich will look to dictate and I expect Reading to remain compact and look to play on the break.
That is a game state City have faced in all bar two fixtures this season. Then it comes down to whether they can unlock a study and obdurate defence. The answer in the last three has been ‘yes’.
So I think the Canaries will find a way again. 2-1 Norwich.