The first matchday of the season is finally here!
Reading travel to Staffordshire this afternoon for their 2021/22 Championship opener to face Michael O’Neill’s Stoke City, who have strengthened considerably since the end of last term and like a strong side going into this season.
The Royals, on the other hand, are severely lacking in squad depth due to their current transfer embargo and will need to be on their A-game if they want to take all three points from this clash at the bet365 Stadium. But will they turn up and put in a performance we can be proud of? We’ll wait and see.
For the first time this season, here’s everything you need to know ahead of this opening day clash.
What? Championship Matchday 1
Who? Stoke City
Where? bet365 Stadium
When? Saturday 7th August 2021
Opposition Manager? Michael O’Neill
After a mediocre past few seasons, the Potters seem to have got their act together financially after a wild summer of spending in 2018 and are now looking towards a much brighter future.
Michael O’Neill may not have enjoyed success in Staffordshire just yet, but with the likes of Mario Vrancic and Nick Powell as attacking midfield options to provide service to Sam Surridge up top, things are finally coming together for them.
One position they probably need to address before the start of the season though is their wing area. James McClean and Tom Ince both look set to leave the club before the end of the transfer window after being omitted from the Potters’ pre-season training camp in Northern Ireland and without replacements, they may look a little one dimensional going forward.
On paper, both are useful Championship options to have, but Ince’s move just hasn’t worked out at all and the club need to freshen things up. Replacements for the duo will help in their quest to make this fresh start.
It’s clear we need to make some signings in the transfer window. No one can have any doubts about that whatsoever.
Not only is quality required when competing in the Championship, but also a sufficient amount of squad depth in each position and Reading don’t have that at the moment.
Although we have to take our fair share of the responsibility for the financial mess we’ve got ourselves in to, it would be good if we had some clarity from the EFL. Not only does the club deserve to know what’s going on, but the fans too. We’ve had plenty of statements about Derby County, isn’t it about time we got one?
This lack of clarity and our current embargo has left us in a poor state going into this tie - but we can only hope some of the younger players including Ethan Bristow and Femi Azeez can step up to the plate.
One To Watch: Sam Surridge
23-year-old Surridge joined the Potters from AFC Bournemouth on Wednesday for a £5.5m fee, coming in to compensate for the losses of Sam Vokes and Lee Gregory who have sealed permanent deals to Wycombe Wanderers and Sheffield Wednesday.
Their new signing never really got a full chance to impress for the Cherries so the fee they paid for him is a little surprising for us outsiders, but he will be hoping to justify his price tag in the upcoming season and beat Steven Fletcher to a starting spot in Staffordshire.
Whether he can do that remains to be seen, but he will be hungry for success after making a fresh start and Reading need to beware of this at 3pm.
The Last Meeting
Stoke City 0-0 Reading
- Reading were unbeaten in their first eight games of last season, winning seven and drawing one. Any chance of a repeat lads?
- The Royals are winless in their last nine games against today’s opponents. Can they stop it from becoming ten today?
- Stoke City won just one of their last seven league games during the 2020/21 campaign. Time for an improvement?
- However, they have kept a clean sheet in every one of their last nine league wins - an impressive record for a side who have clearly benefitted from their defensive prowess. But can they succeed without Nathan Collins?
Reading lineup: Rafael, McIntyre, Moore, Morrison, Yiadom, Rinomhota, Laurent, Camara, Swift, Azeez, Joao
Well, this just shows how much we need a few additions. There are some individuals stars here like Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent, but the fact we’re having to start Tom McIntyre at left-back and academy player Femi Azeez on the opening day of the season is alarming.
Rafael retains his place in the starting lineup after having a wobbly season last term - and will be hoping to recapture his 2019/20 form that saw him become one of the Royals’ most valuable assets. Luke Southwood is likely to be his understudy - and it will be interesting to see how Coniah Boyce-Clarke and Jokull Andresson get on this season - whether it’s at the Select Car Leasing Stadium or elsewhere.
At left-back, it has to be Tom McIntyre to start. Teenager Ethan Bristow is the most natural option there, but he will probably be benched in favour of McIntyre who did an adequate job in that position on a few occasions last term. Usual centre-back pairing Liam Moore and Michael Morrison are set to line up alongside him, as well as right-back Andy Yiadom who is our only fit, natural option in that position at this stage.
In midfield, Andy Rinomhota lines up alongside Nottingham Forest-linked man Josh Laurent - and you can rely on both to do a good job. The greatest thing about the duo is their consistency and they are likely to show that again next season as their enter the final year of their contracts. Hopefully we can get them signed down to new deals soon, because both should be at the front of the queue for a fresh contract.
Femi Azeez and Mamadi Camara join John Swift in the three behind Lucas Joao with Ovie Ejaria and Yakou Meite’s absence. Although it’s concerning to see two inexperienced players come in, hopefully Azeez and Camara can provide us with something different going forward in the absence of Yakou Meite. They’re obviously talented players and could become great assets to have - now they need to step up to the plate at a time in need.
With Ejaria often cutting in, we need someone to hug the touchline and run at defenders like Mo Barrow did when he was in Berkshire. Kadeem Harris could be that man if we can get him signed down, but it’s down to the EFL to give us clearance now.
Moving on to the score prediction, there’s no real point in me going on for too long. This is all that needs to be said: it’s Stoke away. It’s always a dull affair between the two sides at the bet365 Stadium for some reason.
The Potters will be hoping the likes of Mario Vrancic and Nick Powell can help to break the deadline, but again, it’s Stoke away. 0-0 for me, no shots on target. Knowing how my predictions usually go though, this could be a goal fest.
Reading would happily take a point in this one.
Score Prediction: Stoke City 0-0 Reading
Other Championship Fixtures
Blackburn Rovers vs Swansea City
Bristol City vs Blackpool
Cardiff City vs Barnsley
Derby County vs Huddersfield Town
Luton Town vs Peterborough United
Preston North End vs Hull City
Queens Park Rangers vs Millwall
Sheffield United vs Birmingham City (8pm KO)
Fulham vs Middlesbrough (Sunday 9th; 1:30pm KO)
Coventry City vs Nottingham Forest (Sunday 9th; 4:30pm KO)