This week I had the opportunity to speak to one of my friends and colleagues from the Championship Round Table Podcast @ChampionshipPod to discuss the upcoming fixture.
Simeon Pickup is a Reading fan and the editor of The Tilehurst End. Below are my questions and his thoughts ahead of the game.
“There’s no single answer that can account for our poor start to the season, so instead I’ll have to list a couple. The loss of key players (Ali Al-Habsi went to Saudi Arabia, Danny Williams joined Huddersfield and Yann Kermorgant has been injured until only recently), a string of injuries to first teamers, new arrivals taking time to gel in, and ineffective, changing tactics have all impacted on our campaign.
Last season, Jaap Stam was able to come up with an effective formula pretty quickly, and as a result we were very good at grinding out wins and draws despite not always playing that well. There’s been no similar formula this season, so the form has been very stop-start.”
What are Readings strengths and weaknesses this season?
“Ball retention has typically stayed as excellent as it was last season, although many people would quite reasonably argue that it’s not necessarily a strength. Also, I’d argue that Reading’s attacking options are a bit more dynamic than they were in 2016/17 - new signings Modou Barrow and Sone Aluko have, after taking time to bed in, started to impress and have been a consistent source of goals so far.
The weaknesses are, however, a lot more numerous. Reading don’t have a commanding centre forward to rely on - only Jon Dadi Bodvarsson came in in the summer and he’s hardly a prolific frontman - and we’ve often had to play no striker at all. Similarly, the defending hasn’t improved this season either, and we remain one of the more generous teams in the division in terms of giving away stupid goals from set pieces and other avoidable situations.
Looking at the manager, Jaap Stam’s inconsistent tactics can be counted as either a strength or a weakness, depending on how you look at it. Although he’s shown he’s capable of mixing things up - playing 4-4-2 for the first time ever in a 1-0 win at high-flying Leeds was a stroke of genius - he’s also shown bouts of stubbornness, reverting to non-direct, possession-heavy tactics when it’s really not needed.”
If you were the manager of Sheffield Wednesday, what would your strategy be and how would you approach the game?
“Press, press and press some more. Reading hate it when a team disrupts their passing rhythm, particularly high up, preventing us from building out from the back. If you can stop us from knocking the ball about, we’ll likely struggle to cope with it and be forced into aimless punts forward - which will be particularly ineffective if tiny Sone Aluko is our centre forward on the day.
Going forwards, attack us with pace and get men into the box - we can often struggle to deal with knock-downs and loose balls, so make sure you’ve got someone on hand to take advantage.”
Which Sheffield Wednesday players concern you the most ahead of this fixture?
“I would have said Fernando Forestieri, but Google reliably informs me he’s out with a knee problem, so thank God for that. Instead I’ll go for top-scorer Gary Hooper, whose goalscoring record at this level always makes him a threat.
Elsewhere, Barry Bannan’s ability to dictate play all over the midfield is something I’ve been jealous of for quite a while - I’d love Reading to pinch him if that was ever on the cards. Also, I’m worried that Adam Reach will bang a worldie from about 30 yards if we give him the space.”
Are there any particular players Sheffield Wednesday should be fearful of on Saturday?
“If you don’t like playing against pace, let me introduce you to left winger Modou Barrow. He has speed in absolute abundance, and is the kind of young, confident wide forward that loves to put the afterburners on and charge at a fullback. He’s only been here a few months, but the 25 year-old is already endearing himself to the fans with some energetic displays, and is joint top goal contributor for the team with three goals and two assists so far.
On the other flank, Sone Aluko is a more composed, deliberate winger, but is dangerous nonetheless. Reports that he came in for about £7.5 million are off the mark - the fee was probably a lot lower than that - but expectations were high nonetheless. After a difficult few weeks, he’s recently settled in well and is starting to show why Jaap Stam was so desperate to bring him in from Fulham. Assuming that we actually play a main striker against you, expect Aluko to start down the right and cut inside onto his left foot, both playing passes and getting onto the end of them himself.
At the back, Liam Moore is our biggest asset. Defensively solid, very composed on the ball, personally committed and he has an eye for goal - in fact, he’s our joint top-scorer with Barrow. His ability to play the ball out from the back helps the team tick, so he’s not just an old-fashioned rugged centre half. Reports linking him with West Ham, Celtic and others are well-deserved, but no-one can have him for anything less than £12 million at the very least in my opinion.”
How do you see this match going and what is your score prediction?
“Sheffield Wednesday will come to the Madejski Stadium trying to be hard to beat - you won’t park the bus, but Carlos will set you up to frustrate our gameplan, just as every other manager seems to do when they play at our ground.
Ultimately, the first goal will be key - should we get it, I fancy our chances to hold on to the lead and see out the win. However, should you score the opener, we could struggle to break you down and get the match back level.
Nonetheless, I’ll be cautiously optimistic and give the most boring, overused of all possible score predictions: 2-1 to the home side.”
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Simeon for taking time out to answer these questions. You can tweet Simeon, or follow him @BucksRoyal