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Blackburn 2-4 Reading


Reading set-up as they finished the previous game - in a 4-3-3 mirroring Blackburn (or, probably more accurately, a 4-4-2 diamond). Whether that was to match up Blackburn, or because we looked more comfortable after switching on Saturday, who knows? When Blackburn had the ball at the back Olise pushed forward to form a front three, with the midfield trio picking up their counterparts. Which made it hard for the home team to progress the ball, and forced them to play wide.

A lot to break down. Olise never catches Rankin-Costello, while Gallagher's run keeps Richards narrow. Meaning the RB has plenty of space to pick out the run of Armstrong across Morrison, and between the central defenders. Normally Laurent spots that kind of danger quicker, and could have slotted between the CBs - but that's being very picky.

Which, to be fair, is where Blackburn scored two almost identical goals from. Crosses from their right-hand side were steered past Rafael by Adam Armstrong. The former-Newcastle player hanging deep before making a run in front of Morrison on both occasions. It feels harsh, but at this point you expect Laurent to be in the right place - and he was a step off both times. Reading are hardly the first team to be undone by Armstrong, who already has nine goals this year.

Reading cutting off options our of defence. Front three form a screen, with the two CMs effectively covering the holes in it, and Laurent deeper.

In terms of getting the ball to the leading scorer so far this season, Omar Richards had the ball stolen from him to set up Blackburn's third-minute equaliser, which allowed Harvey Elliott time to pick him out. Reading switched to 4-2-3-1 just before the home side's second. Until then they'd done well to cut off passing lanes from defence into midfield, but this time there was an easy ball wide to Rankin-Costello. Richards sat narrow, following Sam Gallagher, and there was no pressure on the cross which Armstrong to flick into the far corner.

Blackburn didn't capitalise on their two best chances (one an open goal with Armstrong sliding in on the back post, the other an Armstrong header well saved by Rafael), but we should take heart in the fact that their goals were well finished and not expected to go in.

We shouldn't pretend that it was plain sailing, they had more chances than just those two. In fact, Blackburn looked dangerous almost every time they managed to get the ball wide, but they've scored more than anyone else in the division. There won't be many more difficult tests.

Alfa Semedo may have had a tough game at the weekend, but ended this match with two assists; both from nicking the ball away. The first relied on Michael Olise's run, but the second was a perfect ball into the channel for Joao. He was solid defensively but occasionally seems a bit lackadaisical with his recovery runs - which are particularly important when Richards is being pinned back.

I've picked this moment because I think it shows how Reading are evolving, but both pieces of skill that made me sit up and go 'wow' were actually from Richards. Here Esteves notices Armstrong ready to close the keeper down, and so manages to twist and turn, and actually get past Brereton. The throw-in he effectively wins leads to Olise's goal.

Yet again Reading's full-backs were crucial to their play in possession. Richards dribbling seems to, somehow, be improving. Beating his man is what led to the ball falling to Laurent for his goal. Meanwhile, on the right, Esteves managed to get himself out of quite a few tight spaces, though he was often faced with few options ahead of him, and Blackburn's left side seemed to be more regimented.

Defensively the latter did alright. He was a little slow to spot Douglas' run, which led to Armstrong's big missed chance at the back post. However, there was still a lot for the Rovers' player to do from that position and it was well worked in the build-up. I'm not convinced how well he defends crosses from the other flank as of yet, but with Morro and Moore that may not too much of an issue. Brereton had a few centimetres on him as well. When he does win the ball in a tackle, he's often composed enough to move us up the pitch. A huge asset to have in a team on the back foot with counter-attacking ability.

And on the counter, Rinomhota came into his own. Joao and Meite would pull the defence one way, and Rino could get down the other. One of Reading's best chances came from him getting behind the fullbacks when his deflected cross had to be kept out by Aynsley Pears. Joao went on to exploit the same space for his goal, just minutes later.

Joao only really has one finish available to him after the defender gets back, but the keeper keeps going toward the wrong side and can't make up for it with the dive

On the whole Reading's defence acts as a cohesive unit, but Reading's non-open goals emphasised how much the attack still relies on individuals. Olise, for maybe the first time, showed everything he had to offer. A brilliant run, coupled with a casual finish across the keeper. It's the sort of goal that makes people sit up and notice. Richards beating his man, and Laurent curling from 20 yards. Joao, admittedly 'properly' assisted by Semedo's through ball, slotting past the keeper. They're short phases of possession, followed by ruthlessly clinical finishers.

But as we move through the season, it's also clear that Reading's attack works. Okay, it may not function to the same ridiculously high standards that have been set up until now, but it doesn't need to. Brian McDermott's promoted side won no fewer than nine games 1-0. It's this exact reason why Sir Alex Ferguson famously said that defence wins you titles, and nobody is arguing about Reading's defensive numbers.

We next come up against a Coventry team that we should despatch. They're having troubles scoring, and are leaky at the back, a perfect combination. Whether the pressure of truly leading the league, combined with it being the first time being on TV, has an effect - we'll have to see.


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