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Tactics Review: Reading’s 4-3-3 Undone By Brentford

Veljko Paunovic tried out a different shape for the visit to West London but, as Jamie explains, it didn’t work.

Brentford v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Rob Newell - CameraSport via Getty Images

Rafael; Esteves, Moore, Morrison, Holmes; Semedo, Laurent, Rinomhota; Ejaria, Olise, Baldock.

Reading began the game in an unfamiliar formation, opting for a 4-3-3 for the first period. The fact that this only lasted 45 minutes shows that it didn’t quite work out for the Royals. With Ovie Ejaria in his usual position on the left wing and Josh Laurent in central defensive midfield, the rest of Reading’s offensive players were situated in somewhat unfamiliar positions. Alfa Semedo and Andy Rinomhota were pushed into the left/right central midfield/midfield positions, Sam Baldock playing further up on the right, and Michael Olise in a false nine/attacking midfield position.

As Brentford attacked, Semedo and Rinomhota would usually track the Bees’ corresponding midfield men, Baldock and Ejaria also tracking back onto either the full back/attacking winger, the Royals’ full backs often making it a three vs three out wide – both sides’ full backs, non-central midfielders and wingers in a battle against each other.

The problem with this match-up of Brentford’s 4-3-3 was of course tracking the movements and ensuring each man was always being picked up by someone. With Matthias Jensen drifting wide left on occasion, a disagreement between Rinomhota and Baldock on who was picking him up led to the Dane being in enough space to stride into the box and open the scoring.

For Brentford’s second, a fantastic ball across the field from Josh DaSilva, who started in the right central midfield position but moved out onto the left to create an overload before switching the play to the open Bryan Mbuemo. Tomas Esteves should have forced him down the wing onto his right foot, but the Frenchman had enough space to cut inside and bend a trademark unstoppable strike into the corner and beyond the grasp of Rafael.

The third and final goal for the hosts was similar to the first in originating from Brentford’s left wing and, added to some fantastic passing, Reading’s system could not deal with ‘Frankball’. This was epitomised by both Michael Morrison and Tom Holmes being out of position as the ball hit the back of the net, two players who actually remained in their usual roles but attempted to fill the gaps left over by the Bees’ movement dragging Reading men out of play.

Brentford v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

In general, Reading did not play badly. Once again, we saw the full backs pressing high, and the ‘wingers’ pushing up onto Brentford’s centre backs/the spaces in front of them and not letting them play or make the quick ground pass to the full back or midfielders dropping in.

This would sometimes result in clipped balls to the full backs where the Royals’ high positions of their wide defenders were conducive to pressurising both Rico Henry and Tariqe Fosu and forcing them back. Individual skill often allowed Brentford to beat this press, but Baldock certainly made an impact on the right wing in being a nuisance for the defence – the Royals just lacking a Lucas Joao in the middle to offer an all-round threat.

Rico Henry in particular impressed, the majority of Reading’s attacks coming down Brentford’s right (against the unnatural defender of Fosu), Ejaria, Semedo, Laurent, Aluko and Esteves all at different points looking to exploit this area, due to the absence of Henrik Dalsgaard. As well as this, Esteves being a more natural attacking full back, and Baldock moving centrally at points, helps to explain this. Likewise, Brentford exploited a certain flank, looking to take advantage of Tomas Esteves slotting in at left back, Mbuemo creating a lot of this damage (as well as drifting centrally as a natural left footed player).

Michael Olise in the false nine position meant that he could drop in to create chances from deeper, with Semedo pushing up, this movement relatively similar to that of the midweek clash with Norwich. Semedo himself was almost looking to play the DaSilva role in (as well as playing a bit deeper) moving across the pitch (mainly for throw-ins to offer himself as a target man), but again his lack of attacking thought and execution of pass does currently hold him back from being that all-round attacking midfield player.

In a game where the ball resided in Brentford’s third more often than the visitors’, as well as a similar number of shots on goal, the quality of Brentford’s attack mixed in with Reading’s poor first half defensive performance (plus key personnel being injured) gave the Royals too great a mountain to climb to salvage anything from this clash. However it must be said that even though the disappointing performances this season have usually only lasted for 45 minutes, individual mistakes are still costing the Royals more than anything.