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Summer 2024: Left Back

Finally, the summer. As ever, the first question on everyone's lips are - "who are we going to sign?". For Reading there is a glaring requirement to bring in players all down the left hand side, and so we'll first look at who could fit in at left back.

So, what do our current left back options give us? Reading have, largely, used three different left backs. Starting the season with Matty Carson, before moving to Clinton Mola and Jeriel Dorsett.

Let's start by examining what it was that caused Carson to be dropped.

The main reason he simply did not do enough work defensively. Of left backs that have played over 500 minutes this season, Carson ranks lowest in successful defensive actions per 90 with just 7.17. Mola and Dorsett are both around 11. Even in the U21's game against Sunderland in the Premier League 2 Play-Off Semi Final (a mouthful) his side was targeted. There's all sorts of defensive frailties in his game that are unnecessary to go into, but effectively he was dropped for a more solid option.

The crucial question - is that because the team were still learning the system? Is it in part of a failure of those in front to protect him? It's hard to know. The side were certainly not ready to be able to cover for Carson deficiencies, but I think his release is telling of how confident the coaching staff are that he won't fit the side. Carson only started a single league game with Reading's best defensive left winger - Paul Mukairu - in front of him but crucially he only won 3 out of 17 duels and must take some blame for Northampton's second goal in that match.

Meanwhile his attacking output was relatively good, but maybe not enough to make up for his downsides. Among LBs he ranked 3rd in progressive passes, 2nd in passes into the final third, and first in passes into the penalty area (all p90). Reading were playing an incredibly vertical brand of football at the time, but those are decent numbers regardless. The issue is that they're incredibly low percentage plays. His 63.3% passing accuracy was third worst in the division and even if they created shots (0.48 p90) he racked up fairly meagre xA numbers at just 0.07 p90.

All of this adds up to say that Carson's issue in the side that Reading morphed into is that he just isn't safe enough.

And while this is about Carson, everything said above also applies to Nesta Guinness-Walker. In fact, he was the player with the fourth worst passing percentage. There may have been other factors in his departure, but Reading did not win a league game in which NGW featured this season.

So let's operate under the assumption that Reading need a slightly more defensive minded left back - at least based on last season, Selles could always overhaul things during the summer. The next thing is how should that left back interoperate with his left winger in front of him. From the left wing selection throughout the season - Knibbs, Ballard, Mukairu, Ehibhatiomhan - I think we can assume they'll be right footed if nothing else.

They are largely players that look to fashion chances for themselves or play simple passes back inside. Because of the nature of them being right footed they all often try to cut into the middle of the pitch, leaving space outside them. But because most of the play goes down Reading's right, we don't necessarily want a left back that will bomb forward all the time. Azeez's contract extension makes it likely that Reading will continue to focus attacks down his flank again next year. 

Somebody that can play forward - yes. Somebody that will look to overlap at every opportunity - probably not.

Many have argued that Dorsett is not a left back, and therefore we should look to move the youngster across to centre back. With the release of all other left back options - Mola, Guinness-Walker, and Carson - I would expect him to stay on the left and - I know I keep stressing this - the defensive nature of the left back role does seem to suit him. My current feeling is that Dorsett quite capable of being a L1 LB, and has room to improve.

So in terms of arrivals, either we should be looking for a fairly straight replacement for Dorsett or we need improve upon him while retaining that defensive strength. Maybe we'd like someone who runs a little more with the ball when able, Mola's bursts forward were largely successful, though that does add some risk.

Okay so with that knowledge let's look at some candidates:

Zak Jules

Exeter | 07/02/97 | Contract Expiry

So, Jules would probably be the continuity candidate here. A centre-back that can play left-back, and has done regularly this season. Of course, he should be well known to many given the fact he came through Reading's academy. He has many of the same strengths and weaknesses as Dorsett. He's even less adventurous, but probably more resolute defensively. The ability to play at centre back - especially given our lack of left footed options there - is a positive too.

But equally he may be too similar to Dorsett to justify adding him at left back alone. Maybe one to add to the defensive pool, and could share the load at full back with Dorsett.

Rosaire Longelo

Accrington Stanley | 20/10/99 | Contract Expiry

This can be filed under a slightly more attacking option.

Longelo came through the academies of Newcastle and West Ham before moving to Accrington Stanley in 2022. He's been deployed in midfield as well but his defensive numbers are solid, albeit in the league below. At left-back he wins 70% of his defensive duels, and 54% of his aerial challenges. He's aggressive in his defending, which should suit his transition to Reading well. He's stronger than Carson, and does have the ability to get up and down the wing - though does rely on cover at Accrington.

His main weakness seems to be players overlapping wide outside of him, where he's not quite sure where to position himself - but good coaching should be able to correct that. And despite decent aerial duel numbers, he's not the strongest in that area.

The 24-year-old is incredible comfortable going past players with the ball at his feet - he attempted 19 dribbles in a game against Colchester this season (completing 11). Accrington play a direct brand of football and so he's not hugely involved in build up but he does have a good turn of pace to create separation for crosses.

James Morris

Watford | 23/11/01 | Loan

This may be a little optimistic but Watford's James Morris would also be a decent option if The Hornets were willing to let him go on loan. Morris has been in and around their first team this year, but his lack of attacking output has been a hinderance. He's the only contracted LB Watford have going into next season but that also means they'll already be in the market for new options and, given this is Pozzo's, will probably bring in multiple.

Morris is decently defensively, and a trier going the other way. Often he runs past the ball with little expectation of receiving it. His passing is safe, and he often tries to cross from deep with arching balls that are not always conducive to attacking. I don't think that Morris is currently at Championship level, and perhaps that opens the door for a loan to League One.

All stats Wyscout


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