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Reading 3-0 Rotherham

For the second match running Reading made hard work of a newly promoted side, but ultimately deserved the three points.

1 in 2 of Semedo's passes went astray

Paunovic's decision to give Semedo his full debut in the attacking midfield slot ended up looking like a mistake. Nothing would stick to the loanee, and his passing was astonishingly poor - almost scuppering the move leading to the opening goal by passing straight to Rotherham, before Ovie managed to win the ball back.

How it's meant to work - Laurent shades to the left so he can cover Richards (and helpfully also tracks the man coming into his space)

That lead to a change in formation, to a 4-1-4-1. Rinomhota partnered Semedo, and left Laurent to sit between the lines. The issue is that fundamentally changed how well the screen in front of the defence works. With Rinomhota and Laurent they're able to cover wider because they're not expected to be perfectly central. That allowed Rotherham the ability to exploit the advanced positioning of the full-backs.

There were further tweaks in the second half. Instead, lining up in a fairly fluid 4-3-3. On a couple of occasions, they were dragged across too far, and allowed space elsewhere on the pitch, but on the whole, it meant that the screening was restored. It was noticeable they could still find some joy down the left, and Joao ended up playing a much more defensive role than normal trying to cut off the source.

Reading's full-backs push up to provide the width. When the ball comes out to Esteves, Richards drops off slightly to keep defensive solidity. The right-back is left 1-on-1, beats his man but hits a poor cross.

As the match progressed we saw the full-backs become more cautious, but it was clear they were tasked with getting forward and providing width. Five seconds into the game Morrison was waving at Esteves to press on. Ejaria and Meite noticeably started narrower - but the formation changes meant we didn't get to see too much of it. Esteves, another man making his first full appearance, looks a real talent. Willing to get forward, able to commit players, and had a quite incredible 30-yard effort saved. He's only going to get better.

Dropping Olise was always going to lead to a dip in our dead ball effectiveness. Ovie may be many things, but set-piece specialist has not been one of them thus far in his Reading career. It's not a surprise that Yakou Meite's spectacular second goal came after Olise had entered the fray, plus he almost caught Blackman out with a freekick toward the end that the keeper managed to get a finger on to keep out - apparently a plan after the analytics team decided the Chelsea loan player starts a little high on wide free kicks.

Meite is clean through but is too slow on the ball, finally attempting to cut it across to Olise only for Mattock to cut out the ball. A lot of Meite's speed on the ball requires him to knock it ahead of him - which is difficult when the keeper could come to collect.

Meite's day could have been even better - for the second time in two games he had the opportunity to run clear of the defence, but just couldn't get himself away. Although, to be fair, that passage of play lead to his overhead kick. With seven minutes left he managed to cut in off the left wing, breezing past the defender, but had no options and ended up hitting a poor shot (winning another corner).

I want to reiterate a point I made in a previous post. At this moment in time Reading are getting into good positions and not capitalising on them. They don't lead to a shot, so they don't show up in stats. But there's real signs that there's more to come from this team, and I don't think that's entered the discourse as much as it should have.

Anyway, I digress. Back on topic with my not-really-hot take. Paunoball is not real. It has never been real. Both of Reading's goals in the second half came from direct, long balls that set players away. While there was a bit more intricacy to send us one-up, it was still a ball from Morrison into midfield that initiated a 3v4. If anything Paunoball is an intense scrutinising of the opposition. How do you beat a high press? You ignore it, if you can. 

Reading's midfield shield is pulled across to the left, meaning Hirst is free when the ball lands to him. Esteves covers the right hand side of the goal, while Moore plays as a second goalkeeper to cover the left. A better shot should still convert, but Reading - as always - get men between striker and goal.

Yet again the defensive unit kept Rotherham to long shots or half chances. True, Hirst should have done better when the ball fell to him unmarked, and just inside the box, but Reading cover the goal well - Moore almost acting as a second keeper. Then there's a chance with two minutes left where Rotherham overload the box and Ihiweke gets a header from a decent position. That time Moore picked the right option initially and then gets across to put pressure on The Millers' defenceman. Even if that goes in, it's a team chucking everything they can at us and only managing a consolation.

The only real downside to the afternoon was how ineffectual Puscas was, but there are heavy caveats. The constant changing of formations didn't help too much, he was either isolated or playing out of position - pushed wider in the 4-3-3. Ideally I think we'd copy the gameplan from Watford, where he wasn't involved in build up too much with Aluko behind him, focused solely on finishing the chances others create. Olise is more than capable of playing that role too.

Realistically we weren't going to learn too much from another game against a promoted side - unless we'd been comprehensively turned over. But there's also promising signs. Okay, Paunovic may have made an initial error, but managed to rectify the situation. In doing so Reading showed they're not just a one trick pony, they're a whole field of ponies.


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