Rafael; Richards, Moore, Morrison, Holmes; Laurent, Rinomhota; Ejaria, Olise, Meite; Joao.
I have to admit, being able to set foot in Madejski Stadium for the first time in nine months meant that not a lot of attention was placed on the small specifics of how Reading set up tactically and the intricacies of the movements that allowed them to control the game from minute one. Thankfully though, the excitement of watching live football did not make it tough to notice just how impressive the Royals were.
Even with 10 men, Nottingham Forest were struggling to contain waves of Reading attacks. A lot of the game seemed to just entail Reading in possession and patiently attacking, with a few Forest counter attacks now and again coming to nothing. The Royals’ eagerness to push forwards was highlighted by the very advanced positions of Omar Richards and Tom Holmes, the two academy men providing options for both Ovie Ejaria and Yakou Meite to cut inside.
This would regularly force the defenders into a decision on whether to track their men or prevent the overlap, but with the sheer amount of Forest men back (Joe Lolley and Anthony Knockaert trying to prevent any cases of being doubled up on), a lot of the time Reading had to rely on smart moves and individual quality to play through the Forest wide men.
This happened to be something the Royals had in abundance – Richards and Ejaria on the left putting together skillful passages of play in which Richards drove into the box on multiple occasions (something we’re seeing more of now) and Ejaria able to cut in and force Brice Samba into a few saves, Richards’ forward-thinking tendencies giving him more freedom to do so.
On the other flank, Holmes has been showing just how much he has been improving going forwards, delivering much-improved crosses into the box and, at the other end of the pitch, looking far more comfortable in possession when under pressure – transforming into a complete right back some would say. With Meite also cutting in and firing shots off, the threat these (inverted) wingers and their respective full backs showed (especially in the first half), with Forest hounded from both flanks.
Although Lucas Joao was not involved too much in the game, he never fails to show his ability to hold the play up and drop in deep to progress attacks, take defenders out of the game and make space for other attackers (Meite to push into the space from right, Rino from deep etc).
When either wide men looked inwards, the magical feet and footballing brain of Michael Olise meant Reading also threatened from this area. The intelligence with which he would drift in between the midfield and defensive lines and, when receiving the ball from behind, would either let it run in front of him or take a touch and spread it out wide regularly took out many a Forest midfielder from the game and ensured a speed to the attack that caused problems for the visitors’ backline. The youngster once more showed just how adept he is all over the pitch, shifting out wide right to allow Meite to push up as a second striker – his delivery causing many a problem for Samba and his defenders in the Forest box.
With Josh Laurent in a deeper position as usual, Andy Rinomhota took up a more advanced role, similar to that of the last couple of game. The tireless central midfielder would regularly make runs in behind the defence, through the gaps left by players closing down shots/trying to make tackles etc.
This worked well for two reasons – one being Olise dropping back into Rinomhota’s usual position of not being too advanced and the other coming about through Rinomhota himself. On the rare occasion Forest would counter, both Rino and Laurent would charge back and make some simply impassioned challenges. This was most impressive coming from Rino, on account of his high position upfield and the ground he recovered to get back – both these men and the defenders ensuring that Rafael was a spectator for 99% of the game.
In the end, the only thing that could stop Reading from scoring was Reading themselves. Not wanting to run the risk of being dispossessed and giving Forest a chance out of nothing (as they did in the second half, giving Forest a couple of counter attacks), Reading would make the easy pass and not try to execute the stylish ball through the lines too often. In fact, at times they did not even risk the crossfield ball to Holmes (always in acres of space).
Both full backs helped make use of the man advantage by stretching the play in an attack-vs-defence situation (the majority of the second half) where Forest were camped on the edge of their box. Usually, Rino and Laurent would win back possession for the Royals, but with major issues going on in the away camp off the field, their visitors did not look like they’d get anywhere near their goal without being gifted something.
Disappointingly though, Reading did take their foot off the pedal in the first half at 1-0; a half-time team talk, coupled with Liam Moore directing play through shouts of “keep it moving”, “quicker” and “patience”, inspired them to go for the kill and take the three points that were never in doubt.
It’s starting to look like Reading are causing these poor performances in the opposition. Even though the Royals have been aided by early red cards for two games running, 65 shots in the last three matches shows a dominance not seen yet this season by this side.
Even so, Reading must still evolve a slight bit more when it comes to breaking teams down (in midweek unable to, on Saturday not too fussed about it but still slightly struggled) and taking more of their chances, with only 25 of those 65 coming on target. Eventually though, we may finally see the thumping that we’ve been getting glimpses of in the last week.