Rafael; Richards, Moore, Morrison, Yiadom; Laurent, Ejaria, Semedo, Olise; Joao, Puscas
Reading lined up in a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation in the absence of Andy Rinomhota. Straight away you could see that this made the Royals more compact in the middle, but left spaces out wide. Blackburn decided to pull their wingers in central, Harvey Elliott even dropping deep, while pushing their full backs forwards (their central midfielders subsequently moving over to cover these gaps). But rather than look to overload in these wide areas and drag Ovie Ejaria and Alfa Semedo out wide, they opted to try to intricately play in behind these attackers through passes in the central areas.
The majority of Rovers’ chances were shots from outside the box, finding little areas of space but having to contend with the back four ready to put in a block. The lack of midfielders closing down these men sometimes seemed concerning, but at closer look were man-marking the attacking players and preventing those nifty passes in behind - Ejaria on one occasion tracking Elliott’s movement right across the pitch (from one flank to the opposite goal post).
At the other end of the pitch, Ejaria would drop in deep and central in order to allow Richards up, while also acting as cover - a more wise way to attack.
Due to Semedo being a more central player than Ejaria, Reading looked particularly open on the right hand side, especially on the counter. With this posed a risk of pushing the full backs forwards, something the Royals did anyway in the first half. Added to Semedo being a central player by design, in order to overload the left wing, both he and Michael Olise would occasionally shift over. Josh Laurent in the holding position again showed off his fantastic passing ability - at one point spotting Ejaria making a run in behind when Puscas and Joao had dropped off the back four and left them confused.
Olise and Semedo would even switch roles themselves at times, showcasing the Royals’ fluidity in the middle of the park and their willingness to cover for their teammates. The negative to this was that at times the four in the middle didn’t look all too solid. There were many spaces Blackburn were able to push into, meaning Reading’s back four were having to deal with more attacks than they were used to - lacking protection in front of them.
A strength to this four in the middle and two up top was that Reading could choose whether to overload the central or the wide areas - this was dependent on whether the central midfielders or full backs were on the ball.
In these attacking areas, Reading excelled through George Puscas and his brilliant hold up play. High energy was the theme of the night, Richards showing this for the goal (Joao even back at RB at one points) - but Olise and Semedo also showcased this through them racing into the box as Puscas was putting his goal away.