After a short break, the Royals are back in training ahead of the 2020/21 second tier campaign.
So far, we have made just one signing since the end of last season and, with many players leaving the club, this has left the squad looking light in a couple of positions. However, Mark Bowen will have to make do with what he has at the moment: Josh Laurent’s hunger for success, few wingers and plenty of strikers.
Here’s how Reading could lineup in pre-season as they look to build momentum for next month’s Championship opener.
The Brazilian keeper has been exceptional since his arrival at the Madejski Stadium. Luke Southwood and Sam Walker are likely to battle it out for second spot – but you have to say Rafael’s starting spot is more than secure. The fact we were able to pick him up on a free is a bonus and he’s managed to establish himself as one of the best (if not the best) Championship shot stoppers in the division.
LWB: Omar Richards
After the departures of Tyler Blackett, Jordan Obita and Ramarni Medford-Smith, Omar Richards will be in competition with 17-year-old Imari Samuels for the left back spot until Mark Bowen brings in a reinforcement. Richards has spent time as a more advanced player on the left-hand side in the past year – and the left wing-back spot could suit him. Not only will this allow him to get forward more, it will also take the pressure off him defensively to a certain extent.
LCB: Tom McIntyre
The young academy graduate has always impressed fans – and this could be a career-defining season for him. If his performances alongside Michael Morrison at the back end of last season are anything to go by, this is a young player who is certainly ready for football in the second tier.
McIntyre’s previous injuries will be a worry, especially with the lack of depth we have in defence – but he could be a shining light next season if he can remain fit. This is one of the main reasons why I’m so cautious about using this 3-4-1-2 (or 5-2-1-2, whatever tickles your pickle) formation – but let’s see what happens in the remainder of the window.
CB: Michael Morrison
The former Birmingham City captain led by example at the back last season – and we need his presence in the heart of defence again in this upcoming campaign. With two reasonably athletic central defenders either side of him, Morrison has the potential to excel and shut out most Championship teams. We need to be wary of a Paul McShane-esque decline as he gets older – but his performances in Berkshire so far are a great cause for optimism.
RCB: Liam Moore
This is a huge season for Moore. After being dropped by Bowen multiple times, the captain will have a point to prove. The former Leicester City player is a source of frustration for supporters, because we know he can do a lot better. Matt Miazga’s arrival in January 2019 could have been the revival of Moore’s Reading career – but he seemed to struggle in stages last season. He’s seen three managers sacked during his time here – and now he must respond to his critics.
RWB: Andy Yiadom
When a player of Chris Gunter’s experience and influence leaves a Championship side, it can be a huge loss. However, the presence of the Ghanaian has put a lot of minds at ease. It was a great bit of business to bring him in under Paul Clement – and his leadership skills (as former captain of Barnsley) could also come in handy to help the likes of McIntyre and Richards develop further. I hope we can keep hold of him for years to come, as an unsung hero in the starting 11.
LCM: Andy Rinomhota
After battling with Pele for a spot in the starting lineup for much of last season, Rinomhota is pretty much a guaranteed starter now. We need to build our midfield around him because there’s no doubt the club desperately needs more signings in this area. Hopefully playing five at the back will give him the license to push forward a bit more, although this will depend on what role new signing Josh Laurent has at the heart of midfield.
RCM: Josh Laurent
The new signing will be hoping to make an immediate impression on Mark Bowen and his team mates heading in to the new campaign. The one thing he’s unlikely to do is sit in front of the defence, a type of player we’ll need if we only play four at the back. One thing he will be though is hungry for success in the Championship – now is the time for Laurent go set the second tier alight and fulfil his true potential.
CAM: John Swift
If I remember correctly, Swift was deployed as a more advanced midfielder under Jaap Stam in his first season at the club. Mr Dai seems unwilling to sell him, even at a high price so it looks like he could be here again for his fifth season in Berkshire. Even though he has settled in well in a deeper position, he would probably fancy his chances of creating more goalscoring opportunities further up the pitch. Like McIntyre, there will be concerns over his injury record but he is set to be a key player yet again over the next year.
ST: Lucas Joao
Joao has become one of the most important players to the manager and how he wants to play. He needs to stay fit if he wants to be in contention to be one of the top goalscorers in the division – but he will also need to be on the same wavelength as George Puscas if the Royals are to play in this formation effectively. Having the duo, with Yakou Meite also able to play up top, we have the potential to score a lot more goals than we did last season. Service to the two up top will be crucial – but the wing-backs and Swift could ensure they have enough to work with.
ST: George Puscas
Although some supporters may be disappointed about some of the Romanian’s performances last season, he has proved he can score goals and take a penalty. Having a strike partner will help him massively, whether that’s Lucas Joao or Yakou Meite. Having these three as options up front will give Bowen a nice selection dilemma – but I really hope Puscas succeeds. Getting return on our £8m investment will be important and we can only do this by giving him a sufficient opportunity to shine.