After impressing with various substitute appearances this season, fans are increasingly calling for Femi Azeez to be included in the starting lineup. However, Azeez has not managed to hold down a starting spot so far this term and has instead almost become a utility man, filling in wherever Paul Ince thinks best.
There are four main positions where Azeez could fill in when required. These are: left-wing-back, attacking midfield, on the wing and up front. What position is the most sensible for Azeez’ strengths and where does he best fit?
Left wing back
With Abdul Rahman Baba currently on the sidelines and Nesta Guinness-Walker clearly not the preferred option, the left-wing-back spot is up for grabs. Azeez has played in this position sporadically but could be suited to this role due to his attacking impetus and lightning-quick acceleration.
Reading have struggled to create chances from out wide this season due to a lack of accurate crosses. This is where Azeez could make his mark, as seen against Rotherham United, when he came off the bench and provided two excellent deliveries to help the Royals to a 2-1 win.
He would have to change his style of play though as Ince wants his wing-backs to be secure defensively. We have not yet seen if Azeez would be up to the defensive side of the task.
In the attacking phase he could prosper due to his wicked left-foot deliveries into the box and his acceleration on the counter-attack which has become an increasingly important aspect of this Royals side.
On the wing
Azeez has played the majority of his football for the Reading under-21s side stationed out on the right wing, where his pace and inside runs are taken advantage of best.
As seen in the recent 3-1 home victory over Blackpool, Paul Ince does have the ability to switch to a back four which frees up space out wide on the wings. This could provide Azeez with his best opportunity to get into the starting XI as Reading are lacking in depth in the wide attacking positions.
When stationed on the right, Azeez likes to come inside and exchange passes, as well as cut in and shoot with his dangerous left foot. He could offer the Royals an outlet on the right as he is capable of holding up the ball and winning fouls. With Reading under immense pressure in various games, this characteristic could prove to be extremely valuable.
It will not be easy for the 21-year-old to get straight onto the right wing though as Yakou Meite arguably had his best game of the season out on the right against Blackpool and will surely be a shoo-in for the next couple of games.
With the creative burden placed on Tom Ince, deploying Azeez alongside him or instead of him when he needs a rest could prove to be a smart decision.
Azeez arguably had his most impressive performance of the season in this position when Reading came out 2-0 winners vs Watford in the FA Cup. It should therefore not come as a surprise if, towards the back end of the season, we see Azeez line up in this position more often.
With Paul Ince voicing his support for a 4-2-3-1 formation with an attacking midfielder, Azeez could give his manager the confidence to line up in this formation.
While the attacking-midfield position is linked with lazy players, Azeez is not the sort of player to let laziness creep into his game. Although not as hardworking as the ever-present Ince in midfield, Azeez does work his socks off for his teammates whenever called upon.
Creativity has been a sticking point for the Royals so far this season, so experimenting with Azeez in attacking midfield could help relieve some of that burden off Ince. Azeez has the ability to dribble past anyone, but also an impressive knack of finding his teammates with the ball after, thus making him a viable option in attacking midfield.
Paul Ince should definitely consider playing Azeez here when coming up against stubborn defences.
Azeez could also be deployed as a centre forward, as we saw in his only Championship start of this season - against Cardiff City. Azeez struggled to get in the game and was substituted with half an hour left of play.
It would be harsh to judge him on this performance though as it was an all-round completely lacklustre team performance by the Royals.
Playing at centre forward in Paul Ince’s preferred 5-3-2 formation does have lots of potential. Alongside the physical focal point of Andy Carroll, Azeez could have the freedom to pick up space and find dangerous positions after Carroll’s knock-ons and brilliant hold-up play.
This position could also give Reading a better chance of retaining the ball and progressing into the final third with the dribbling ability of Azeez. With the Royals one of the most deep-lying sides in the league, Azeez at centre forward could well give the overworked backline some respite. The only caveat may be how Azeez adapts to the Championship’s physicality as he has yet to be tested regularly enough in this aspect of the game.
With only seven Championship appearances to his name so far this season and only a single start, Azeez has lots of work in training to do if he wants to impress Paul Ince and make his way into the starting lineup.
However, his versatility could pay dividends and allow him to gain a more important role in the squad whether out wide or centrally.