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Reading 2-0 Barnsley

Reading nicked a win, but Barnsley caused real problems last year with their high press.

Barnsley cut out the ball into central midfield, and aggressive positioning allows them to press the moment the ball Rafael passes.

The Tykes packed the centre to make it to force Reading's play wide. The press started almost immediately when Rafael distributed the ball, but was most noticeable when the ball went wide. It either won them the ball - Ejaria was dispossessed eight times - or forced a backwards pass. On more than one occasion the aggression shown resulted in Reading free-kicks.

Like the Luton match, the double pivot didn't attempt to drop into space, as we saw them do on opening day, and found themselves out of the game. Barnsley's three across the front made it impossible to play into them which meant they were largely passengers.

A common sight in the second half - the three midfielders being on separate levels. Olise would effectively shuttle between Rinomhota and Swift depending on possession.

To try to counteract the press Olise moved into central midfield around the hour mark, and Meite headed to the right-wing. The youngster's role was a lot freer than Laurent's; he dropped deep to pick up the ball and then got forward to join attacks, leaving Rinomhota as the lone defensive midfielder.

One of the key reasons why no Reading fan should get too carried away is just how poor our chance-creation was for the first hour - in that, we created nothing. In the first half, there was just a single touch inside the Barnsley box, a header by Michael Morrison from a free-kick. Reading racked up six shots, but three of those effectively came in the same attack - Meite's header being tipped out for a corner, before scoring from the set-piece (with Moore having a blocked shot in between).

Five Thirty-Eight have a model that takes into account 'non-shot xG', which basically tries to determine how many goals should have been scored based on non-shooting actions around the penalty area. Barnsley outscored us on that metric 1.2-0.4, highlighting just how little Reading had the ball in the final third.

But it barely matters how many chances we create when Meite has one in the box; A match that summed up his Reading career to date. Not a first-choice pick for many, gets one chance off the bench, takes it, and is barely involved in play beyond that. In Bowen's 4-1-4-1 he was asked to do a lot both ways, whereas in the 4-2-3-1 he has less defensive responsibility, and freedom to run beyond Joao. Build up is still largely still down the left and hypothetically means more technical players like Ejaria and Swift can create, while Meite largely looks to finish.

Meite's run surely would have resulted in a goal had the ball through not been blocked.

Joao had a quiet day - he touched the ball 22 times, less than half the number of times against Derby, despite Reading having over 100 touches more. It's hard to put any of the blame on him when he wasn't given an opportunity to hold it up. Even then he managed to enact both sendings off - being dragged back for the first, before his through ball was cut out by Andersen's arm. The press being a clear factor in Barnsley turning over the ball in the latter, with Meite's run causing real danger (although whether the defender knew anything about it is debatable).

Swift had a poor game but was involved in the big moments. His ball over the top was the reason the striker was fouled for Barnsley's first red, and his cross for Meite won the corner we scored from. There was one sumptuous ball out to the right, but more than anything you're left wanting more. It was a surprise to see Olise drop deep instead of the man who played there all year, but hopefully this is part of Paunovic's master plan. Swift, like the rest of the centre, was starved of the ball, but even when the attack works as planned - he's not involved unless he goes looking for it. The ball over the top comes from the edge of his own box, while the cross into Meite is on the left wing.

Olise's goal took the season's total to three set-piece goals, even if this one wasn't a perfect routine. It was a decent strike into the far corner, but it was less about the strike as to how early he took it - with the keeper unsighted and diving late. Maybe Walton still wouldn't have got there, but my main takeaway is how nice it is to have someone who shoots first time in that position.

Puscas isn't offering anything in this position and then can't get forward to meet the cross quickly enough.

Puscas had a little more joy than the man he replaced, but he was playing after both dismissals with room to manoeuvre. Yes - he takes a chance early that he could have squared, but Ejaria also has a beautiful opportunity to play him through but shoots himself instead. More disappointing is his being in the wrong place after Aluko feinted each way and ended up putting a ball across the box.

Interestingly we mixed things up a little defensively, staying in the 4-2-3-1 shape and attempting to make it difficult for Barnsley's defence to pick passes into midfield, although we weren't as successful. Often failing to cut off the right passing lane, or giving a player just enough space to pick up the ball.

The full-backs were the real story (again). Araruna, replacing Yiadom, did what he needed to on the whole. There's still a slight worry about players getting behind him, but it wasn't exploited. Richards, meanwhile, continues his impressive form. He touched the ball almost 50% more than any other player, won some crucial tackles near his own box, and continues to make the losses of Obita and Blackett irrelevant.

As with the Derby game, there are some huge caveats here that make any real analysis of the Reading team as a whole pretty difficult, though it was worrying how poor Reading looked until Barnsley lost their second player. Stopping Reading from playing through the centre could be the key for how to keep Reading quiet this season, unless Paunovic manages to find a way to get joy from out wide. 

There are too many takes seriously considering this side for promotion. Wins against a bad Derby side, and Barnsley's nine shouldn't give credence to that theory, nor should a win against Cardiff. Reading have been badly burned by early season form before, come back to me when we're top in December.


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