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Reading 1-1 Charlton Athletic (4-2 Pens): Tactical Analysis

Let’s have a closer look at a midweek triumph (via penalties) over Charlton Athletic.

Reading v Stevenage - Sky Bet League One - Select Car Leasing Stadium Photo by Kieran Cleeves/PA Images via Getty Images

Reading returned to winning ways in a tense match-up against a strong Charlton Athletic team in the EFL Trophy on Wednesday, in what was a mostly uninspiring game that only came to life for the Royals late on, and took penalties to separate the two sides.

Ruben Selles continued his rather unique method of squad rotation, namely seemingly ostracising certain players for a few weeks, then getting them right back into the thick of it. On Wednesday that happened with Caylan Vickers and Sam Hutchinson, as well as Harlee Dean making the bench.

The last time Vickers played in the league was in our 4-0 loss at the hands of the Addicks, while Hutch and Dean haven’t featured in a league matchday squad since that fateful day at Shrewsbury Town, so it’s good to see a clear pathway back into first-team involvement after not playing for whatever reason, and shows that (hopefully) Selles has a plan laid out for his team selection each match.

I’m just grateful that we actually have some debates to have regarding who to play. I’m not sure how I survived seeing Jeff Hendrick and Mamadou Loum starting for 163 consecutive matches last season.

Anyway, let’s see how Reading squeaked past Charlton on Wednesday.


The opening goal came from, to everyone’s surprise, a cross, but it didn’t start there. Reading have been consistently strong in their pressing throughout the season, with the stats showing us to be the second-best team in the league at winning the ball high, but when one component is missing, the whole house of cards can come down.

Playing out, Charlton had their centre-backs very wide, with the full-backs hugging the touchline, meaning the lone Sam Smith up top had to cover three bases, as when ‘keeper Maynard-Brewer was in possession, it was tricky to press all those positions at once.

Because the Charlton defence was so stretched, it also meant it was more difficult to effectively press for the wingers.

Here Michael Hector receives the ball and progresses upfield about 30 yards, all while remaining largely unchallenged, so has the time to ping out a great pass to Tyreece Campbell on the left wing.

The 20-year-old takes it down, drives inside and crosses it into the mixer, where the situation around the box looks like this:

The ball squirms through the legs of Tyler Bindon, who really should have intercepted it without too much difficulty. Prior to this Lewis Wing can be seen rushing back to try and cover for the Kiwi at the front post, but the ball is played too fast for him to get to.

Nelson Abbey at the back post misjudges it too, running too far forward, leaving the slightly deeper of the two Charlton attackers - Alfie May - to tap it in. It must also be said that Clinton Mola is in no-man’s land here, miles away from his marker and in no position to actually do anything defensively.

Selles’ high line

Like earlier, there were a few situations where the defence switched off, and here again, they seemed to struggle to adapt from passing-around-the-back-trying-to-break-Charlton-down-mode, to defending mode, as a speculative hoof up field from the Addicks sets the danger man Alfie May through on goal.

The 30-year-old striker, who only turned professional in 2017, shouldn’t really be outpacing our centre-backs, and Joel Pereira feels obligated to rush out. No one ends up connecting cleanly with the ball and the chance peters out, but it highlights our weaknesses in anticipation and awareness in defensive scenarios.

Perhaps Selles’ system of having the centre-backs so high when in possession is partly to blame too, and you could argue it’s a risk worth taking, but a bit more training in defending those situations would not go amiss.

Still, I’d much rather have the Abbey-Bindon partnership than any other option.

Shape and movement

Selles brought on Femi Azeez, Harvey Knibbs and Charlie Savage around the hour mark, an undoubtedly attacking change, and it was great to see some of the link-up those alterations led to, particularly on the right-hand side.

Knibbs and Elliott were the centre mids here, with Savage holding. With only one man up top in Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan, it’s Knibbs to join in the second-striker role as we’ve seen earlier this season.

Mola was much improved after he moved to right-back, with some good runs and passes, but he’d do well to be any worse than he has been so far for Reading. He’s still nowhere near Andy Yiadom or Amadou Mbengue in terms of first-choice right-backs.

In this screenshot Matty Carson is also coming inside to fill into the no6 role as Savage goes further up, possibly taking a leaf out of Pep Guardiola’s book with the inverting full-backs. However, this leaves Vickers on the left wing quite isolated, and he hasn’t shown to be the sort of player to get onto back-post crosses yet, so I’d like to see him a bit more central and deeper too to give even more passing options in build-up.

It’s a Pizza Cup match, yes, but returning to winning ways was the main thing following that embarrassment at Eastleigh, and hopefully will ease us into a very tough match against League One high-flyers Barnsley on Saturday.

A win and other results going our way would potentially leave us in the dizzying heights of 21st, two points off safety, but adversely, all going against us would put us eight points deep into the relegation zone. It’s another massive match for Ruben’s Royals, and I for one am strangely confident about it.

Let’s go get three points on the board on Saturday.