Opinion: A Crucial International Break

The last international break was somewhat glum, following a torrid run of results.

As we prepare to endure another weekend without club football, I’ll run through what Paul Clement, and members of his squad must gain from this break, before what is expected to be a season defining block of games.

Before the Royals face Middlesbrough on December 22nd, there are five games that are likely to show what the rest of the season holds. Anything above 9 points would be evidence that Paul Clement may be capable of steering what is still a sinking ship. I don’t think five games is enough to suggest that Reading will finish much above mid-table. Less than seven points will wind up the pressure pot more than it already is.

Whilst nine players will be away with their countries this week, that still leaves Clement with a core of players to work with. He must use this time wisely. He has a couple of issues to contend with.

I’m not sure that anyone at the club really knows who is our best goalkeeper. For me, that is a real issue. It’s fair to say that Vito Mannone didn’t have the full confidence of Reading supporters last season. Second fiddle to Mannone last year was Anssi Jaakkola, who didn’t showcase his full ability when called upon. Summer signing Sam Walker impressed in his first appearances, and indeed has Jaakkola this season. However, neither have shown unquestionably that they should be first choice. Clement rewarded Jaakkola’s strong showings on his return from injury, which may suggest that he is at very least second choice. Vito Mannone’s return from injury is not too far away, so we may see him given a chance. The situation is certainly not clear.

Another contentious area is at centre-back. Tiago Ilori has not reached the levels that his price tag may have suggested. His performances this season have no doubt improved, which made his admission from the starting XI in the last few games all the more surprising. John O’Shea taking his place ticks some boxes, given his experience and leadership qualities. Paul McShane has made just four appearances this term. It’s unacceptable to say the very least for a club captain, and I can’t imagine many would be handing out a new contract if the power were in their hands, myself included. He must stay fit if he is to warrant a first team return.

Ultimately Clement, in my opinion, should build his team around what he thinks is his best partnership. For me, that is Liam Moore and Ilori. The fitness of O’Shea will be seriously tested in the next couple of months, so Ilori should be hopeful of regaining his starting berth.

This may also prove a crucial break for the likes of Sam Baldock, Josh Sims, Sone Aluko and Marc McNulty. Whilst Baldock has proven very useful in recent games, he must continue his work and cement himself in the first XI. For Sims, Aluko, and McNulty, minutes on the pitch have been very few and far between. They must show their fight, and force their way into what is a busy squad.

I’d suggest that there is little case for any major tactical changes, but certainly individual choices and changes. The games running up to Christmas will test everyone, including us as supporters, so I’d urge anyone who reads this to make every effort to get to the Madejski and get behind the boys.

Picture Credit: Reading FC

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