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Derby 0-2 Reading

I'd almost entirely forgotten what winning feels like, but the gift from God that is Veljko Paunovic has bestowed it upon us once again. Although, to be serious, beating a Derby side that only mustered one shot on target against Barrow could certainly prove to be a false dawn.

Paunovic's first team selection brought no shocks and calmed some fears about last weekend's Colchester XI. Like Bowen he decided on a double pivot of Laurent and Rinomhota, with Swift flanked by Ejaria on the left and Olise on the right in front of them. Yiadom made a welcome return to the team after six months, alongside Joao who missed all but forty minutes of the restart. After a lot of talk around who would take the captain's armband, Moore may have been saved by the change of manager. You're already seeing Twitter change their take on the old-and-now-new Captain - he's been much better in these matches he's hardly been troubled in. (To be fair, the problem was the backlash to his performances in a poor team post-January last season, rather than coming back onside)

At one point during the game, Tim Dellor made reference to our dear departed Welshman. Mark Bowen would have done roughly the same thing as Paunovic, Tim said. I must admit I said something broadly similar in my look at Paunovic, but hearing it from BBCRB made me realise I must have been incorrect. I'm not sure we would have seen Rafael dekeing past an onrushing Derby attacker or having the possession-based approach that led to the first goal. Nor would we have had the intelligent set plays that we're already seeing from The Serbian.

It was notable that the defence were happier to keep the ball, and play amongst themselves until a pass opened up wide, or into Rinomhota

Paunovic's penchant for playing out from the back is already clear. Laurent and Rinomhota often coming deep to collect the ball, or going via Yiadom and Richards. Either way those in the double pivot were key, always trying to create those fabled triangles. Laurent dropping into LB, as against Colchester, opened up space for Ovie, and Olise went roaming if the ball got stuck deeper. Morrison's frailties on the ball were never exposed, partly because Derby never pressed, but also because he always had an option. If ever lacking a pass, instead of launching it long he would keep possession and go back to Rafael.

Reading defended in a 4-4-2, with little space between the lines and always tending to the side the ball was on. Derby couldn't find the switch quick enough to trouble.

Defensively the side were much more about cutting off passing lanes than tracking players all over the pitch. That allowed them to stay in shape a lot more, defending in a 4-4-2. And it was again noticeable how Reading tended toward the side of the ball. If the fullback was caught out, then the centre back was able to cover. That did leave space on the opposite flank, but Derby never managed to capitalise. 

In the second half, Reading started to play more defensively and mainly looked to counter-attack when able. Joao hit the bar after such a move, and a better pass from Baldock would have seen Aluko clean through. Paunovic seems happy to shut up shop when his side are two goals to the good. At Chicago, he'd go straight back to a more aggressive style if the opposition pulled one back.

Lucas Joao's role is subtly different too. When building through midfield it's less important to have a 'target man', but he still has a role holding up play. He's immensely good with the ball at his feet and always seems able to win a foul. Can Pedro Mendes offer that? Hopefully. I'm not convinced Pusacs can, but I doubt we'd play the same way with him on the field. 

Swift's role is no longer to progress the ball from deep, and more focused on linking with those around him

Swift mainly acted as enabler on Saturday - getting the ball as quickly as possible to Ejaria or Olise. There's no reason he couldn't have a larger role in the play and take the pressure off Puscas from having to be the one to link-up play.

Reading's issues with width haven't totally subsided, here all three attacking midfielders are on the left flank.

To be fair to Dellor, Reading's play did still gravitate toward the left, much like under Bowen. Ejaria ran rings around the Derby defence and took his goal well. There are still moments when you want him to be faster, or more direct; even on his goal it took him an age to actually arrive in the box. Though hopefully his style suits Paunovic's methodical build better than Bowen's counter-attack. Swift tended left - you can see that in his pass map, and Olise tended to pop-up on that side or come narrow too.

Maybe we should have given Ejaria a pre-season to stay fit, but there are two ways to read Aluko coming on. He truly has a big second chance at the club, or Reading are in desperate need of players who can play those wider attacking roles. Sam Baldock going wide on the right seems to suggest it's the latter. That said, if we're not going to get Aluko off the wage bill, then it's better he's able to contribute. He did what he needed to, kept calm under pressure but didn't much of an opportunity to impress.

Olise's fake, and Rinomhota's run push back the Derby defence. That means they're static when the ball is played versus Morrison making his run at the correct time.

With players that can buy a foul in your team it's always good to capitalise on the set-pieces, and we're already seeing signs that Paunovic is better at doing that. The first being seven minutes in, and a chance to put a free-kick into the box. Reading used Olise's fake and Rinomhota's initial run to push Derby's defensive line back, and allow their actual targets more space to run into. Not revolutionary, but a start. Then there was obviously the goal, and Liam Moore's run making space for Joao to run round and finish.

So, I think that we can say that Paunovic has started to make his mark. From the formations to the style of play, it all seems to line up with his managerial career so far. It's too early to get carried away, but hopefully we continue to see the good, and the problems that plagued him in MLS are consigned to the past. It'll be interesting to see whether we rotate for the cup match, or try to bed in his first team.


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