Reading have just one more side in the current top six left to play: Burnley. The Clarets sit top of the table with 32 points after eight wins, eight draws and a solitary defeat, which came all the way back in mid-August. Getting anything from this trip will be a tall order for the Royals.
Top of the table with just one defeat all season - what’s been behind the bright start?
I think it’s been a combination of Kompany instilling a high-possession style of play which naturally limits the amount of chances opponents get in a match, coupled with patient build-up play from some technically gifted players that he’s brought in to compliment a core of players retained from last season.
You’ve also drawn the joint-highest number of games - why is that?
For all the praise that Kompany has got and all the good play we’ve seen, there have been matches where he’s got it wrong tactically when we go ahead in a match and it looks like we need to see out a 1-0 win rather than have the chance to run riot as we have done against Wigan and Swansea. This then means that one lapse at the back and we let a team get a point out of a game that we should be seeing out.
How’s Vincent Kompany got on so far in the dugout?
As I’ve already touched on he’s getting a lot right in the style of play and the players he has brought in. Early on in the season there was frustration from some sections of the fanbase that lots of possession was all well and good but we weren’t finishing off enough chances.
Also, some team selections and substitutions haven’t gone down well with fans believing that some players are being played out of position (Vitinho at left back rather than right back) or the better player isn’t starting (Barnes ahead of literally any other forward). Overall I’d say the majority of fans are now warming to him and are on board with his philosophies and approach as results start to come and we’ve risen to the top.
How does he set up his side tactically?
We have almost always played a 4-2-3-1 this season, but rarely played the same starting 11 twice - a mixture of little injuries, rotations, tweaks and suspensions forcing the changes. Our strongest 11 at the minute now seems to be Muric in goal, Vitinho, Harwood-Bellis, Beyer and Maatsen in defence, Cork and Cullen holding and running things in the middle, Tella, Brownhill and Zaroury as attacking midfielders with Jay Rodriguez up top.
In the mid-week match against Norwich where we struggled to break them down and only got ahead thanks to a penalty, he recognised the importance to see the match out and switched to a back five towards the end, bringing Charlie Taylor on to be a third centre back.
Who are the key danger men Reading should be wary of?
Nathan Tella on loan from Southampton has been our most lethal finisher this season, but not far behind him are Josh Brownhill, Anass Zaroury and Manuel Benson - the latter two arriving from Belgium in the summer and bringing some exciting attacking moments that Burnley fans have been waiting a long time to get out of their seats to see.
Are there any weaknesses in this Burnley side that Reading could exploit?
As mentioned above, our inability to see out a 1-0 lead has been our biggest weakness this season. Teams have managed to exploit Charlie Taylor’s new role at centre back which seems to have run its course now that German Jordan Beyer has settled in alongside THB. However, pull us out of position or catch us on the break and you could get lucky. Our keeper is a bit of a wild one as well, keeping Claret hearts racing with his decision making!
How do you see the game going on Saturday, and what will the score be?
As unpredictable as this league can be, I am fairly confident we will see a Burnley win on Saturday. Last Saturday’s second-half stylish 4-2 comeback win at Sunderland followed by the gritty 1-0 win over fellow promotion-chasers Norwich on Tuesday will mean the Clarets come into Saturday full of confidence.
I expect Reading may well do what many teams have done so far this season and set up to try and get a point and be hard to break down; try and play us at our game and you may go the way of Swansea and find yourselves on the wrong end of a 3-0 or 4-0 beating.
It’s crucial we keep our performance levels up, with matches against Sheffield United and our noisy neighbours coming before the World Cup, and we’ll be aiming to go into that break in the top two. I’ll go for a 2-0 win for Burnley this Saturday. Jeff Hendrick should get a warm reception on his return to the Turf and best of luck for the rest of the season.