Reading are on the road once again as they travel to Sheffield United for one of their hardest games of the season.
Paul Heckingbottom’s side have picked up from where they left off last season and are currently thriving in the automatic promotion zone along with the Royals - and are one of the favourites to win a return to the Premier League.
Coming close to achieving that goal last term, they will be disappointed that they endured such a slow start to 2021/22 under Slavisa Jokanovic but will be hoping to redeem themselves during 2022/23 as they operate within a system they look comfortable in.
This evening’s visitors took all three points away from Bramall Lane last season - but will the Blades get their revenge tonight? They will certainly be favourites but nothing is won on paper.
For now, here are some thoughts ahead of this clash under the floodlights!
Who? Sheffield United
Where? Bramall Lane
When? Tuesday 30th August 2022
Opposition Manager? Paul Heckingbottom
The Blades are currently in very good shape and you can’t help but feel jealous of the squad they have at their disposal. There’s plenty of quality in there and to be fair to them, they have moved a lot quicker than they did last summer to address some key areas, with the signings of Anel Ahmedhodzic, Red Khadra and James McAtee being particularly exciting for the South Yorkshire outfit.
If I had to be picky, they could probably do with strengthening their right wing-back area with Jayden Bogle currently out of action - and they could also benefit from having one more striker at their disposal to allow Daniel Jebbison or Will Osula to go out on loan.
However, their squad is full of top-quality options in most areas and now it’s just about adding the final touches and ensuring they keep their most wanted assets at the club between now and the end of the transfer window.
They look decent enough without these finishing touches though and have a nice mix of youth and experience in their squad.
And thankfully for them, they have returned to a back three after suffering with a back four under former boss Jokanovic. Making that formation switch proved to be the Serbian’s downfall in the end - but it’s great to see them thriving once more. Let’s just hope they have an off night this evening.
Although the result at Millwall was nothing short of magnificent, it was the performance that made me prouder at The Den.
It may be early days - but we look so much more of a force now than we did for much of last season and long may that continue. Consistency will be key to our success or downfall this term though and this is why I’m remaining reasonably calm at this stage.
For me, it’s difficult for me to get too high, especially after what we’ve witnessed in recent years. But a lot of credit has to be given to the players for a superb performance - and the fact we could’ve scored three on the afternoon makes the victory even more pleasing. The back three were superb too, especially Tom Holmes in the first half.
Looking at transfers, it seems as though we’re in the mix to sign Massimo Luongo. Ideally, a more attack-minded midfielder would have been ideal if we’re to persist with our current formation but I certainly won’t say no to someone of the Australian’s quality and experience.
With our limited squad spots, this potential addition probably rules out an advanced midfielder and a striker both coming in with the left wing-back area needing to be addressed.
It’s still difficult to tell which position we need to look at most out of the two when the LWB area is sorted - but I guess it depends on the options that are out there.
In fairness, we risk having too many options in the middle of the park if we recruit someone like Omari Hutchinson too on top of Luongo, so I’m currently edging towards another forward if the latter deal materialises.
If another striker was to come in though, one of our academy graduates would probably benefit from being sent out on loan to gain more experience.
Opposition Player I’d Like: Sander Berge
There are so many players I could pick out from their squad.
Wes Foderingham would be a safe pair of hands between the sticks, Max Lowe would be a great left wing-back option, Iliman Ndiaye is an exciting player and Billy Sharp is a reliable goalscorer.
However, Norway international Berge is different class as someone who can operate in a deep role and in a more advanced position.
He can certainly be a goalscoring asset from central midfield and that’s needed at the Select Car Leasing Stadium to give us the best chance of replacing John Swift.
His fitness hasn’t exactly been the best since his move to Bramall Lane - but the 24-year-old is one of the best players in the division when fit and on form and is another physical presence we could benefit from.
Unfortunately, it would take over £20m to lure him away from tonight’s opponents and I’m not sure the EFL would be too pleased if we pursued a deal for him in the coming days. His wages would also be astronomical and he probably wants to be playing Champions League football sooner rather than later, so the SCL Stadium probably isn’t the right destination for him until the 2024/25 season.
The Last Meeting
Sheffield United 1-2 Reading
Starting XI: Lumley, Hoilett, Sarr, Hutchinson, Holmes, Yiadom, Loum, Fornah, Hendrick, Ince, Long
Following a solid display at the weekend, Joe Lumley has to get the nod between the sticks ahead of Dean Bouzanis.
There’s one change in the back five with Junior Hoilett coming in for Tom McIntyre. Putting the latter at left wing-back actually turned out to be a tactical masterclass with Sam Hutchinson’s diagonal balls - but we need a different plan to mix things up at Bramall Lane so Hoilett comes back in as a more attacking option.
There’s one other change and that comes up top, with Shane Long coming in for Lucas Joao. In fairness to the latter, he can’t be expected to be consistent if he isn’t given a run of games to settle back in.
But he wasn’t great at The Den and with that, Long is the man to come in and his defensive contributions from the front could end up making a real difference.
Moving on to my score prediction, I can’t see us getting anything out of the game but if we can be solid again, anything could happen.
Score Prediction: Sheffield United 2-0 Reading
Here are my predictions for this round of second-tier games:
Birmingham City 1-3 Norwich City
Burnley 2-0 Millwall
Cardiff City 1-1 Luton Town
QPR 1-2 Hull City
Wigan Athletic 1-0 West Brom
Watford 1-2 Middlesbrough
Bristol City 2-1 Huddersfield
Coventry City 0-1 Preston North End
Stoke City 3-0 Swansea City
Sunderland 1-1 Rotherham United
Blackpool 1-1 Blackburn Rovers