Rafael; Gibson, McIntyre, Morrison, Holmes; Laurent, Semedo; Ejaria, Rinomhota, Olise; Joao.
Reading lined up in a slightly different 4-2-3-1, with Alfa Semedo playing deeper next to Josh Laurent and Andy Rinomhota in the ‘No.10’ role. This meant Semedo could have more of the play around him, rather than playing at the tip of a triangle and having to make the decisions while pushing forwards with the ball. The No.10 role was even a position John Swift slightly struggled with initially this season, until he started to drop back a bit deeper at points (after his injury).
Coming up against a 3-5-2, during the Royals’ attacks the Millwall wing backs (Scott Malone and Mahlon Romeo) would drop back and track Lewis Gibson and Tom Holmes’ attacking runs, while the wide centre backs (Jake Cooper and George Evans) were tasked with dealing with wide men Michael Olise and Ovie Ejaria.
Both Olise and Ejaria needed to find pockets of space in between the wing backs and wide centre backs (and hurdle challenges) to create chances from open play. However, the Royals were let down on many an occasion due to the referee not awarding resulting free kicks from the fouls that were made – causing Millwall turnovers to occur. These two men in particular however did again show fantastic energy levels at both ends of the pitch.
Probably due to the number of Millwall men in the middle of the park, Josh Laurent seemed to stay back more than usual, with Andy Rinomhota providing the majority of the Royals’ attacking threat from midfield. When Laurent would push forwards, Shaun Williams would look to track him, each Millwall man having their own man to match up to and congesting the central spaces.
For a second game in succession, Reading scored early and then took control of the game towards the end of the first half, the goal kicking them into life and upping their press while also controlling the game for a period. However, just like Millwall’s (and many other sides this season) early spell in the game, missed chances would soon be forgotten by Royals reply. And although the Royals did find a reply to this spell of pressure, Millwall managed the last laugh as they came on strong late on.
Despite the furore over the Tom Holmes substitution, both Andy Yiadom and Lewis Gibson came very central from late crosses into the box – something Omar Richards did against Brentford as he lost Ivan Toney for Brentford’s second goal – which is something that needs to be addressed defensively, as Rinomhota and Laurent moving out wide to stop these crosses isn’t proving to be a tactic that’s working.
This usually occurs when Reading are getting bodies behind the ball, but perhaps Paunovic should look at leaving the full backs out as wide as possible, with the central midfielders plugging the gaps (or, if Laurent and Rino can’t get back in time, the full backs simply just moving to their man, standing them up, and engaging in a one on one).