VINCE BLISSETT (@Vince_RFC) takes a look at Saturday evening’s live Championship encounter between Reading and Leeds.
Reading v Leeds | Saturday 17:30 | Sky Sports
The August Bank Holiday rock music festival derby is the Saturday teatime offering this week as Leeds head down to the Madejski Stadium to face Reading.
We don’t call it that by the way, I made it up. Plus it’s not just rock these days; a lot of that mainstream rubbish has found it’s way in.
Anyway, I’m going to start with a disclaimer here, if you’re looking for a nice article all about Leeds then this may not be the place for you.
Reading’s new direction
As was the case for most Reading fans, I was very excited when Jaap Stam was appointed last summer with the club deciding to go in a new direction.
Nearly every pre-season prediction I saw, from pundits to fans of other clubs and even respected Football League people from this very site all had us down as relegation fodder. Us Royals though could sense there was something good happening.
The noises coming out of the club through pre-season were very good and everyone except the most sceptical of fans felt confident a decent mid-table finish was a realistic aim. No one would have ever dreamt of being almost assured of a play-off place with eight games still to play though.
Praise hard to find
Stam hasn’t found praise for what he’s done easy to come by though from the wider footballing world. Perhaps slightly unfairly the attention has all been on our play-off rivals. Presumably because one used to be a massive club and the other has an excitable friend of Jurgen Klopp in charge.
I’m sure Jaap doesn’t care and nor should he.
It’s clear everyone at the club loves working and playing under Stam. He’s even drastically cutting the gap to Paul McShane in my man love stakes. Jaap and the non-playing staff have their philosophy and have stuck with it, admirably it must be said.
The start of the season wasn’t the greatest with a new style of play being implemented and sections of fans weren’t happy with slow possession-based football. As the season has worn on though the persistence has paid off and the benefits are being reaped.
Expected dip hasn’t materialised
Expected goals – or xG as it’s known – has become very prominent this season it seems. I’m sure everyone knows the concept of it so I won’t go into how it works. This is where Reading don’t rank highly at all, leading those in the know to spend the whole season waiting for the Royals to fall off a cliff.
Obviously that’s not happened and I’m not surprised at all, if I’m honest. Expected goals is a very useful asset to have and will be very prominent for a long time but for me personally I’m not completely sold on the concept.
Watching lots of games, more than the odd one on TV, gives a far better reflection than taking statistical data from individual games. Better teams will generally be top of xG tables and worse ones at the bottom, no surprises there.
But there are teams who defy that simple logic, Reading being one good case.
Defending as a unit
Reading rank very low on the xG tables but I think there are good reasons to why that is. Having been a world-class defender you’d expect any Jaap Stam team to be good defensively, which Reading are, except the statistics say otherwise.
To me its clear that the plan isn’t to stop the ball getting into dangerous areas but to defend as a group and be highly organised when the ball gets to those areas.
You won’t see too many blocked crosses but you will see defenders attacking the ball and closing attackers down in dangerous areas making efforts on goal harder than they should be. Liam Moore typifies that with 51 blocked shots this season, 10 more than anyone else in the league.
Take the last game for example; Sheffield Wednesday had an xG of about 6.4 (I presume). Ali Al Habsi was lauded for making save after save but if you go back and watch the highlights the chances mainly came from set-pieces or attackers were all being pressured into taking lower quality chances.
Generally it feels as though if the opposition has had a clear-cut chance it’s found the back of the net this season.
Onto this game and Leeds’ main man Chris Wood picked up a knock with New Zealand in the week but it sounds as though he’s going to be fit to play.
It would be unfair to say Leeds are a one man team but they’d be no where near the position they are in now without him. He’s scored 19 more league goals than anyone else so they’ll be desperate he’s on the pitch.
Leeds are on a seven-game unbeaten run including beating Brighton at Elland Road before the break so are in good form.
Reading come into the game after a good win at Sheffield Wednesday, which came after a mixed period before, so spirits should also be high.
The form at the Madejski has been very good this season with just two losses to Aston Villa and QPR. Add in the fact that the final three home games see the current bottom-three in the league visit plus trips to Nottingham Forest and Burton still to come, a third-place finish is still within reach.
I’m sure neither manager will admit it but they’ll both be happy to take a point in this one and look ahead to potentially two more clashes come May.
I was initially thinking Reading draw no bet or off a scratch 0 Asian Handicap start around the 17/20 mark but I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve my bias head on rather than my logical one.
Obviously a home win would go down very well with me but from a betting angle I think the draw is the way to go in this one and holds appeal at 23/10 (Bet365).
Reading v Leeds – Draw (23/10 Bet365)