Following our opening few games this season, I thought: how could we have lined up this season if we had kept our best players (excluding retired players) from years gone by? Would we be in the Premier League? We would never know, but let’s have a look at how we could’ve lined up this season.
This is potentially the position where Reading have had the most quality in recent years, with an abundance of talent including Ali Al-Habsi, Adam Federici and Alex McCarthy etc. But one goalkeeper stands out: Emi Martinez.
The recent Copa America winner was not only excellent during his time at Reading during the second half of the 2018/19 season, he has also been fantastic at Aston Villa and recently being named in the Copa America team of the tournament. If we somehow still had him, he would be by far the best keeper in the Championship.
This is a position Reading have had some consistency in with mainly Chris Gunter and Andy Yiadom. But right now, despite his previous injury record, I would have to start Jack Stacey just over Andy Yiadom.
Both are very good going forward, but Stacey’s younger age and small amount of Premier League experience edge it for me. Stacey is now at Bournemouth after completing a £4 million move back in the 2019/20 season.
For me left back picks itself. Tyler Blackett and Jordan Obita are two viable options but, due to previous injury records, I don’t think we could see them complete a whole season. So Bayern Munich left back Omar Richards would be the first choice for me.
Being only 23 years of age and while his stats may not show it going forward, he always causes a problem. However, defensively is where he was a different level to the other two, making 114 tackles in the 2020/21 season which was the most in the campaign. Being a player at Bayern Munich must show you have talent, and it is great to see one of our own competing at the very top.
This decision is a lot tougher than the previous two with Liam Moore, Matt Miazga, Michael Morrison, Nathan Ake, Rob Dickie and Jake Cooper all viable options, just to name a few. I think on the left-hand side I would have to start Nathan Ake.
The ex-Chelsea and Bournemouth man is currently playing his football for Premier League champions Manchester City and, despite not playing as much as maybe he would’ve liked, moving for a fee of around £41 million to the Premier League champions suggests that he is a good player and we certainly saw that during his time with Reading in the 2014/15 season.
On the right was a tough decision but I would still start Rob Dickie; his start to the season shows the quality he has. The stunning block at Hull City and three goals in three games so far this season also show the immense quality he has.
Another tough decision and the partnership of Josh Laurent and Andy Rinomhota is hard to look past after their outstanding season last time out. We still have had very good players on the books in previous years: Oliver Norwood, Lewis Baker, Nathaniel Chalobah and Pele.
For me I would take Nathaniel Chalobah. Premier League experience and being a Chelsea academy graduate mean he would certainly have the quality, and I think Lewis Baker would be the right fit alongside him. His ability to pick out a pass and break up play would be decisive for this team.
I think these attacking positions are very tough. On the right we have had Yakou Meite and Garath McCleary along with others. The main two it must be between are Meite and GMac, and the ability McCleary had was undeniable. When he was on it, he was unplayable, with his ability to beat a man and create a chance or score a goal.
But the goalscoring ability of Yakou Meite means he just edges it; he scores goals and is productive, which his starts back-up. His speed and strength are massive, he can bully defenders and is an outlet on the right-hand side.
The left is also a very difficult position to choose from, but despite not being his main position I would start Michael Olise, after the stunning year he had last season, scoring seven and claiming 12 assists along with the EFL young player of the season award.
His ability to carry the ball, beat a man and the stats he put up are key in this hectic league. His dead ball ability is something that again could be vital. Again, I personally cannot wait to see how he gets on in the Premier League, because he certainly can compete at the very top and to see him link up with Eze and Zaha this year for Palace could be deadly.
It’s very hard to look past John Swift and Michael Olise, but despite that, Eberechi Eze has to be our attacking midfielder. While he didn’t make a first-team appearance for Reading, he was on our books back in 2014 and his talent has been shown.
His 2019/20 season with QPR was a big one, winning QPR’s supporters’ player of the year, scoring 13 goals and claiming eight assists in a stellar season. He went on to make the move to Premier League side Crystal Palace for a fee around £16m; he impressed again as he found his way into England’s provisional 2020 Euro squad. His pace and technical ability would be a real asset at this level.
A difficult position with Lucas Joao, Shane Long, Adam Le Fondre and Nelson Oliveira all playing for the hoops in recent years and performing well. Whilst all are very good options, I think Michail Antonio would get the nod up front. His physicality would be worth the start alone. Bullying defenders and bringing other into play would be essential to this team. His Premier League experience and finishing capabilities would be massive to the team and would almost certainly help fire this team to a potential promotion.
So, with this team, where would we finish? The amount of quality the side has at their disposal is unreal. Having a front four like that and the ability to drive and beat a player, plus a formidable back line, would leave this team in very good stead.
I personally believe that, if we had this team, we would be looking at winning the league and nothing less. Furthermore, the couple of academy products show the quality and strength the academy provides for the club. It is going to be a massive asset not only this season but also moving forward.