As I watch this match back on Wednesday morning, I can still barely believe what I’m seeing. It’s so incredibly refreshing after the Paul Ince era to see a Reading team with a positive, progressive playing style and an exciting crop of tight-knit young players representing our club.
Ruben Selles plays with a tendency - but most importantly not an insistence - to play out from the back. The vision, composure and passing qualities of Tyler Bindon and Nelson Abbey which, I must admit, surprised me wholly, perfectly complement this.
Also, before I start, as much as Reading were unbelievable on Tuesday night, it’s fair to say the Millwall players didn’t exactly put up much of a fight, and their centre-backs had a few shockers that even Scott Dann would struggle to pull off. We dominated, yes, but a couple of the goals were fortunate and the Royals have still got a very long, very challenging season ahead.
Let’s get onto the match analysis.
El Selles press
The first major pressing opportunity was instigated and executed perfectly here, with Mamadi Camara and Amadou Mbengue pouncing on the Lions’ full-back to keep them pinned back, while retaining a stable shape in midfield.
Millwall were allowed virtually no space on the wings throughout, which quickly shut down their back-three defence from building to the wing-backs.
In his post-match interview, when questioned upon the importance of the clean sheet and defence in the game, Selles said:
“We don’t distinguish our attacker from the defenders, because our first defenders are our attackers. If they didn’t start the pressure, we would probably face a lot more shots on target. It’s the whole team - we work as a unit.”
Now this is what we’ve all been waiting for. Sure, with this attitude we will sometimes lose, maybe to the better footballing sides who are able to play through our youthful yet imperfect press, but at least fans can now go to games knowing we’ll give the opposition a bloody hard time, no matter the result.
Directness in attacks
The last time we played Millwall, on March 11, Reading put in 24 crosses to Millwall’s 10. On Tuesday we had just seven crosses to Millwall’s 27. If that doesn’t show the incredible impact that Selles’ tactical changes have made to the squad, then I don’t know what will.
Selles’ system shows an articulated, detailed and proactive approach, whereas under Ince we were a side that exuded desperation, a lack of ambition and incoordination.
This directness is shown here, soon into the second half.
Instead of cutting back to deliberate on options, Femi Azeez surges upfield, creating a three-on-three scenario, and although it results in his wayward shot, it shows an intensity and desire to create and score that we haven’t seen for a long time.
This graphic shows the players’ average positions throughout the match, with notable examples being Caylan Vickers (42) leading the line in almost a front three along with Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan (15) and Camara (28), Harvey whereas Knibbs (7) stays much deeper.
The large gap in midfield was likely caused when Tivonge Rushesha (40) moved into right-back to fill in for Mbengue, but Lewis Wing (29), who maintained the right-centre-midfielder position throughout, stayed wide to give cover for the narrow front three.
The Royals’ firepower down the right is also show in the Millwall player positions. Murray Wallace, their left-wing-back, was pushed back so far as to almost form a back four, which just shows how well Camara and Rushesha did on that wing.
As unexpected as this result was to everyone, the style of play and new tactics had been building throughout pre-season, so to see them come into fruition on Tuesday was a joy to watch, and long may it continue.
A fantastic performance, yes, but for me concerns remain over some players’ decision-making, physicality and technical ability, particularly Azeez and Camara, before we launch the youngsters into the first team fully. But this is hands down the best game Reading have played this year.
Bring on the Vale!