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Tactics Review: Why Reading Never Got Going Against Luton

Veljko Paunovic completely overhauled Reading’s team for the Carabao Cup clash, and it didn’t pay off.

Reading v Luton Town - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

Southwood; Araruna, Holmes, McIntyre, Bristow; Watson, Tetek; Aluko, McNulty, Baldock; Puscas

It was clear from the way Reading played, not just on Tuesday evening but also at the weekend, that Veljko Paunovic likes to have defenders who can play with the ball and build up from the back. Whereas Reading’s ‘first XI’ focused more on pressurising and winning back possession from Derby, this Reading side had a lot more of the ball to begin with. Where Derby looked blunt, with few options presenting themselves, Reading did in the same places.

A central midfield pairing of Dejan Tetek and Tennai Watson wasn’t conducive to passing through the midfield. Tetek showed his quality all game, with a driving run the highlight, and Watson didn’t fare too badly out of position, but neither man seemed to be the type to spray a ball out into space. Saying this however, when higher up the pitch, both men had moments where they could link up with the attack and offer a bit of threat, but could’ve perhaps done with a player behind them, who could shoulder the responsibility of dropping back to pick the ball up from the centre backs.

This may be an issue that prevents itself to the first team in games where they have the majority of possession. Of course, Josh Laurent and Andy Rinomhota are more experienced and so Reading would have a higher number of turnovers and both men would be more comfortable dropping in deep to collect the ball when needed, something maybe Tetek and Watson were slightly apprehensive of. This left McIntyre and Holmes as each other’s only options at times (bar Luke Southwood), and apart from a few nice moves to get out of tricky situations in the first half, Luton managed to end up with the ball and on the attack far too often.

Reading v Luton Town - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

Strangely, Reading seemed to have initially set up in a 4-4-2, with Aluko on the left and Baldock on the right. It’s possible that this was a 4-3-3 with McNulty as a number 10, and was rotated to allow Aluko in to the middle and then onto the right, but the constant movement of the attackers was not a positive as it can so often be with some teams. Instead, it was another example of how little this side has played together (entirely justified though).

The wingers did not create space for the full backs to receive a diagonal ball out wide, as we saw sometimes against Derby, another factor meaning that McIntyre and Holmes struggled to raise the tempo of the Royals’ play as there was simply not enough movement. Baldock and McNulty were playing out wide (out of position), but a few times when they dropped back to receive the ball, again the tempo and movement of the side was too static (also applies for when Aluko dropped in centrally and practically played as a defensive midfielder for a short spell in the first half).

Reading (like Luton) decided to use the wide areas, but either struggled to pick out Puscas with a cross or lost out in the aerial battles. Even when the ball dropped loose on occasion, there would be no one ready to make a move/in the right position – another way in which they struggled to link up as a team at times. It must be said that for periods Reading looked good on the ball, and strung a few nice moves together, but all in all lacked quality in attack.

Surprisingly, after a Dejan Tetek excursion through the Luton midfield, Reading did not try to attack these central areas and make use of the young man. The odd long ball over to Puscas either did not come off or saw the Romanian caught offside, as Holmes and McIntyre struggled to find a balance between when to release it forwards and when not to (though not helped by a lack of options of course). Both centre backs, other than a few mistakes from passes), did as much as they could’ve, but would’ve taken lessons from how to defend a physical striker – Danny Hylton dominating the Royals in the air (another big reverse from the weekend).

Reading v Luton Town - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images

It’s clear that Paunovic was more inclined to test out as many players not involved at the weekend as possible, as against Colchester, than balance his side out more effectively. This was not necessarily a bad idea, as the side was strong enough to win the game on the night.

A more positive note than the result though came from the debuts of three young players (Tetek, Lynford Sackey and Nelson Abbey). Sackey, coming off the bench alongside Abbey, was a threat out wide as he stretched the play and linked up with Araruna on the right to give Reading a bit more excitement going forwards. At first it seemed odd to play Araruna at right back, but seeing as he and Tetek are similar players, he could provide energy on the right-hand side, with a more relaxed Watson learning in midfield and helping to link up the play.

It could be said that this side wouldn’t have played against Manchester United next week had they been victorious (or at least a fair amount of them), but regardless, the younger players will learn a lot from this game. Each of these men will only improve and it should be noted that it is never easy to play against older, more seasoned professionals. Hopefully they will all get another chance to show that their futures can be bright in blue and white.