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Tactics vs Nottingham Forest (H)

Reading lined up against Forest in the now familiar 4-2-3-1 that Bowen has been using for the last few matches. The only change being that Baldock came in for Joao due to injury.

Reading's Default 4-2-3-1

Both teams were happy for the opposition to have the ball in their own defensive third. At some points Reading dropped off almost to the halfway line - which allowed them to overload the middle third and cut off passing lanes. With the ball at the back both sides found it difficult to play through the midfield, ending up hitting speculative long balls, or having passes intercepted trying to force the play.

Ben Watson has a tame shot from 25-yards 

When a side does find a way through the plan becomes to force a shot from as far out as possible by keeping bodies behind the ball. And if all that fails then someone was always there to throw their body in front of a shot. Adam and Swift both made last ditch tackles which saved almost certain goals. Pelé in particular was crucial to the defensive efforts throughout. His remit seemed to be to stop Tiago Silva, which I think he did incredibly well. When Silva drifted elsewhere he sat in front of the back four, and was one of the reasons why Forest were so lacklustre going forward after the initial exchanges.

Ameobi breezes past Adam with space to run into

In the opening twenty minutes most of the Forest attacks exploited the Reading left hand side. Charlie Adam was in all sorts of bother trying to get across to shield Blackett when Ameobi was in possession. Too often he'd be caught out trying to press the ball and leave space in behind - which was something Bowen has identified as an issue before. When Sow ventured forward it seemed to be  Adam's job to track him, which also wasn't going that well. He hadn't really been exploited, but at a thrown-in ten minutes into the game there was a coming together between the two which seemed to happen because Adam couldn't really be bothered to keep running (and also because he'd already been unhappy with a foul by Sow).

Charlie Adam Touches - 20-45 Minutes (Attacking Right)
Charlie Adam Touches - Second Half (Attacking Right)

Around twenty minutes in Bowen pushed Charlie Adam forward, which meant sitting on 34-year-old Ben Watson instead, and Swift was tasked with defensive duties. After that switch Reading looked much more comfortable, on the whole frustrating Forest as the home side sat in a tight defensive block in the middle of the pitch. However it did come at a cost going forward. Swift is obviously known for playing a frankly ludicrous number of key passes, something which Adam is unable to match.
Charlie Adam crosses from the left; Meite comes in off his wing

He also played a very different role to Swift's; drifting out wider on the left, and then putting crosses in for Meite, who came off his wing while play was on the left flank to give an option in the box. Swift had a bit of a hard time initially; On more than one occasion losing possession with poor passes. Toward the end of the half he'd settled, and was opting to bring the ball out himself before picking out passes. That gave players more time to get further up the pitch and open up a bit more space to play them into.

Reading In Possession 2nd Half
John Swift Touches - 20-45 Minutes (Attacking Right)
John Swift Touches - Second Half (Attacking Right)
In the second half Reading switched formation to something like a 4-1-4-1 without the ball. In possession there was a more deliberate move from Meite to head up top to form a sort of asymmetrical 4-1-3-2 with Adam covering large amounts of the right. That gave Reading a presence in the area, without compromising the defensive shape, particularly because Forest were also focused on playing down their own right flank. It enabled Swift to get on the ball in dangerous areas, safe in the knowledge that Pelé was covering behind, and also meant that there was far less space for Ameobi in particular to operate in. Ejaria had a deeper starting position to add to Blackett and Swift already covering that left flank.

All that added up to Reading controlling the play. Forest had 55% possession in the first half, which switched round to 58% in favour of Reading in the second. In every metric Reading were superior with Forest having to play on the break.

After the departure of Baldock on the hour mark Reading switched back to the more traditional 4-2-3-1 - a sign that Bowen trusts Puscas to hold the ball up. After Adam was withdrawn Swift moved forward and Ejaria filled in at the base. That seemed like an attacking move, but it's difficult to comment on too much because it only lasted a couple of minutes before Ejaria's injury forced him off and Rinomhota came on in his stead.

The tactic with Puscas has often been to play him off the shoulder of the last defender, and just trying to get him into as many scoring positions as possible. That's worked to the extent that he does get himself in very good positions, but has had trouble converting those chances. However on Saturday he dropped between the lines to try to link up with the midfield and move the team up the pitch. His one chance was a difficult volley with the ball coming over his shoulder - from the same position as Grabban's mentioned previously, but he couldn't generate the power needed to beat Samba.

Meite Aerials Won (Attacking Right)

Meite may wind up both their players and our fans, but his role in the team is crucial. Obviously his aerial presence is important at both ends of the field, but also his ability to draw a foul allows our excellent dead ball specialists the opportunity to produce. He actually won the most free-kicks of any player on the park, and overall this season is our most fouled attacking player (Yiadom and Rinomhota the only 'regulars' who win more). The frustration is with composure and decision making more than anything. Clearly his end product needs work - only one of five shots ended up on target (3 off, 1 blocked), although many of them were fairly difficult opportunities, and of the 20 passes he attempted during the match only 9 found their man.

Blackett finds an opening to try the undercut - although doesn't have Swift as a #10

Reading's best attacking asset continues to be full backs getting ahead of their winger. The undercut seemed especially prominent. Ejaria or Meite will go wide to the touchline, attracting at least one defender, allowing Blackett and Gunter to run into the space opened up on the edge of the box, where they can look to cut the ball back to the penalty spot. It works especially well on the left where Ejaria often draws in multiple opponents, and has the ability to beat his man if that's a better option. Although Blackett actually got both his assists for Swift on the overlap the general principal remains the same, and it almost created a goal for Tyler himself this time.

Swift looking to put it in a 'dangerous area'

When it comes to corners and free-kicks there wasn't loads of nuance. The general idea for free kicks out wide is to put it into that corridor between keeper and defence for someone to try to get a touch. It almost worked early on for Swift, but just evaded everyone. From the left Adam takes it so we still get that slight outswinger, which makes it easier for someone at the back post to get a touch. Corners are Adam's almost entirely. Aimed toward the edge of the six yard box for someone to head home.

Our first corner of the game

There was one interesting routine. Forest leave a lot of space open towards the front post, which Reading looked to exploit. Swift played the ball on the floor toward the front post. Baldock ran from the back post across the six yard box, and pulled the ball back for Adam, who was running round from the top of the D. Presumably the end result should have been to fire home at the near post, but Baldock directed the ball onto the wrong foot of Adam and he couldn't control. It's another sign that Bowen puts a lot of stock in set piece situations.

Grabban finds space on the edge

Obviously Reading's inability to defend corners was almost their downfall in the end, but there was more than one warning. A corner earlier in the match eventually saw Meite head to the edge of the box only for Grabban to volley over, in a sequence that foreshadowed their goal. They'd also run a similar inswinging routine to the front post, which Adam headed clear. Instead in the 95th minute Puscas jumped in front of Obita and neither of them dealt with it, which allowed the Worrall to hook the ball back in. Again, nobody picked up the man on the edge and Watson struck home under no pressure. Still, at least it did no real harm.

I think this match is actually quite a fascinating look at the way that Bowen isn't afraid to tinker with the team throughout the course of the 90 minutes. Swift, Ejaria, and Adam all rotated around when needed. Meite too ended up playing in multiple positions. It was his tactical changes that saw us take control, the only real worry is playing Adam in a position where he was obviously unsuited to begin with.


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