Rafael; Richards, McIntyre, Morrison, Holmes; Laurent, Rinomhota; Ejaria, Swift, Olise; Joao
In a game with very few chances, or even moments of quality, Reading were looking to stifle the home side while taking any potential chances that did come their way.
Due to the lack of out-and-out width in the side though, Reading struggled to create these chances in a congested midfield battle where John Obi Mikel used his experience to break up play and stop the Royals’ link-ups. Like the Preston North End game, many a Stoke City man looked to break up the play by committing fouls, before carrying the ball away in order to prevent the Royals from taking quick free kicks and exploit any spaces that had opened up – allowing the Potters’ players to move back into position instead.
Reading’s attacks mainly involved John Swift dropping in deep while one of Andy Rinomhota or Josh Laurent would make a driving run forwards. However, due to not being able to breach City’s back line, even Lucas Joao would drop in before attempting to beat a man, create space and find a teammate in attack. The problem was that Joao did not proactively look to do this enough, finding Ovie Ejaria a few times in space but needing to do so far more often in order for Reading to really create a chance of note.
In contrast to the game against Bournemouth, where they matched their opponents’ system, Reading did not push their full backs too far forwards. Perhaps due to playing away from home, it was a more conservative approach, however of course having enough talent up top to cause issues for the Stoke defence.
With Reading’s wide men’s tendencies to drift inwards, coupled with the full backs not pushing forwards, Stoke did dominate the wide areas. Here they looked to deliver in crosses for Steven Fletcher/Sam Vokes – ones which were comfortably dealt with by both the Royals’ defence and Rafael.
However, a similarity to the Bournemouth game was Reading’s willingness to press the Stoke defence. Although not resulting in many turnovers, added to the referee seemingly giving the home side a free kick whenever Reading were about to win back possession, the work rate and energy at the top of the pitch was certainly there (despite Stoke passing out of danger relatively comfortably throughout the game).
With the full backs looking to secure the wide areas and the Stoke danger men of James McClean and Josh Clarke being almost man-marked, both Omar Richards and Tom Holmes would move up and pressurise the wingers when they would drop deep but also stay back when they would not do so – perhaps explaining why at time it seemed as if only the attacking players were pressing.
The midfield battle may have been the reason for not looking to advance the full backs, as usually Rinomhota and Laurent move into these positions to cover the spaces left over. A possible suggestion at not looking to overload the Stoke full backs may have been due to the previous result against the Potters (and again the fact that the game was away from home).
Instead, Reading looked to create overloads through Michael Olise drifting over to the left and combining with Ejaria. Even though this did not create much, the introduction of Yakou Meite certainly had an impact, in the form of a more powerful attacking threat who could drive forwards while also making diagonal attacking runs in behind (see from Ejaria’s late cross that didn’t quite come off).
In a game where the Royals tried as much as they could to create and score (while their moves rarely came off), but looked to keep their defence as solid as possible – it was the typical away performances of finding a balance in a game that one goal would decide.