This week’s opinion piece is a range of thoughts on certain players and progress under Clement.
My first port of call is the midfield. Saeid Ezatolahi has been the obvious lift in the middle of the park, bringing in a better sense of control, and command that has been sorely lacking in Reading’s opening games of the season. A physically imposing holding player, and technically adept, he has so far proved very capable at this level. As well as performing well himself, he’s also lifted the performances of those around him.
His first appearance last weekend at home to Hull, where Clement made several changes, was a tough opening gig for the big Iranian. A lot of the attention was on John O’Shea’s first appearance but the two actually performed very cohesively, winning a lot of aerial duels, and made a very handy contribution to making O’Shea and captain Liam Moore’s afternoon much easier.
He had an equally galvanising effect on Leandro Bacuna and Liam Kelly against Hull. It was the most convincing performance we have seen under Clement and the most fluent. We all know we can play better, and show more cutting edge, and better balance.
Brentford was a tough test, an imposing side at home, but Reading were mentally tougher than they have been under Clement. It would have been so easy to fall apart after falling behind, especially so early on. Our equaliser was fortunate, make no mistake, but it was kind of fortune that a lot of players have deserved, particularly Jon Dadi Bodvarsson. He is the hardest working player I have seen play for Reading since Kevin Doyle, and whatever he lacks in ability, he more than makes up for in fight, passion and tenacity. He deserves to keep his place in the starting XI, and is fortunate that he can play on his as well as in a pair, which Sam Baldock, and Marc McNulty haven’t been able to show so far. McNulty has been very unfortunate to not have featured more, given how poor Reading have been up until last weekend. Hopefully an opportunity can arise in the coming weeks for him to prove his worth.
Like myself, many fans will have been pleased with the performances of Sam Walker since he got his chance in the league away at Preston. He has looked very comfortable at this level. He’s shown his strengths – shot stopping, and commanding his penalty area. Personally, those are the two most important attributes that a goalkeeper should possess. It’s unknown whether it’s his own personal choice, or a tactical change, but Walker doesn’t particularly enjoy messing about with the ball at his feet. One thing is for sure, it breathes confidence into the defenders in front of him, and the fans behind him. I don’t believe that Vito Mannone would be the ‘keeper of choice for the majority of Reading fans, now that Walker has been gifted a starting berth due to Mannone’s injury. Whether Paul Clement and Dave Beasant would choose him as their number one remains to be seen, though I’m sure they would be reluctant to leave Walker out based on form. He hasn’t made a glaring mistake thus far, so for the meantime I think he will remain in goal.
Elsewhere, Garath McCleary and Callum Harriott continued their comebacks from injury in a 2-0 victory at the weekend. They cannot be too far away from being brought back into the first team, which will provide an interesting conundrum for Clement, given the number of options that will be at his disposal.
Tyler Blackett returned to the bench to boost defensive options at Brentford. Paul McShane is still missing. Is it too dramatic and over the top to suggest that McShane should consider giving the club captaincy? Injuries have thwarted his time at the Madejski, and he has been captain ever since. I’m also unsure that he is first choice at centre-back either.
I suppose the only uncertainty is the future of current stand-in captain Liam Moore. His new contract is likely to feature some sort of buy-out clause (the type that I think is ruining the game, along with agents and their unfathomable fees) and with a possible departure in January it would be a bold move to appoint him official captain of the club.
There is a chance that his new contract was lucrative enough that he will remain at the club beyond this season. We won’t know the answer until the January window opens, although an upturn in form could also decide Moore’s future for him. I’m sure I’m not the only one but Liam Moore would be the last player I would sell from this squad. In truth, we don’t deserve a player of his quality. He deserves to be playing Premier League football and I’m not ashamed to admit that is simply going to happen in the next two to three seasons. Hopefully long-term replacements are being earmarked.
Picture Credit: Reading FC