Veljko Paunović’s Reading took on newly relegated Watford in round four of the EFL Championship last Saturday. The Royals held a perfect record coming into this fixture, having only conceded two goals across the games played so far. Vladimir Ivić’s Watford side also came in on good form, having been unbeaten in any of their previous league matches. George Pușcaș picked up his first goal of the campaign, and by the end of the 90 minutes, it contributed to the Hornets’ first loss of the season. The tactical analysis below will go over this Championship matchup.
Reading lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which has consistently been used by their new manager this season. Goalkeeper Rafael Cabral started between the sticks for Paunović’s side, along with a back four of Omar Richards, Liam Moore, Michael Morrison, and youngster Thomas Holmes. Holmes stepped into the starting eleven for the first time after coming on as a sub against Cardiff last weekend, as first-choice options Andy Yiadom and Felipe Araruna are both out with injuries. A midfield three consisting of Andy Rinomhota, Josh Laurent and Sone Aluko started, alongside wingers Michael Olise and Yakou Meite. Romanian striker George Pușcaș played upfront, who scored 12 goals in the Championship last season.
In the other dugout, Vladimir Ivić once again used his preferred 3-5-2, making two changes after their last match against Luton Town. Former Manchester United stopper Ben Foster once again started in goal, with regulars Craig Cathcart, Christian Kabasele and Ben Wilmot making up the back three. Jeremy Ngakia and Kiko Femenía were either wing-backs, with James Garner, Nathaniel Chalobah and Tom Dele-Bashiru playing in the midfield. The strike partnership of Ismaila Sarr and João Pedro once again started for the Hertfordshire side.
Reading going forwards
We will first look at Reading going forwards in this analysis. When fostering attacks, Reading’s tactics looked to play short from goal kicks as often as possible. Centre-backs Moore and Morrison would often receive the ball from Rafael, and then offload to a full-back, depending on what side the ball was on. From here they would progress up the pitch by making short passes to their centre midfielders, who would then look to play forwards into the wingers or striker. If the short option was not on then the goal kick would be hit long to Pușcaș, who would then attempt to hold the ball up until support arrived.
Above we see an example of Reading’s shape when trying to foster attacks from the back. Centre-backs Morrison and Moore sit on the edge of the 18-yard-box, where they can receive the ball from, along with full-backs Holmes and Richards sitting not too far from them. In this situation, Rinomhota is a passing option in front of the back four, with ex-Hull City man Sone Aluko coming short from his attacking midfield position. In this phase of play, goalkeeper Rafael plays the ball to Morrison, but due to Watford’s high forward press, the defender is forced to play long and find Pușcaș.
Here in the second half, we see that when Reading had the ball in the midfield, their wingers came short to make space in the Watford defence. Above, Olise shows his feet to Holmes which drags out the centre-back Craig Cathcart. Doing this creates space for Sone Aluko to run into and collect the ball. He can now drive down the wing and put a cross into the box, which was ultimately put out for a corner by the Hornets defence.
Reading’s transitional phases
The Royals often attacked down either wing and when finding themselves in the midfield with no forward options, they would recycle play using the full-back, centre midfielder and winger.
Here we see attacker Yakou Meite get shut down on the right-wing by Watford’s defence. To retain possession, he passes to right-back Holmes who then plays a one-two with Rinomhota, which keeps the ball moving. When Holmes receives it from the centre midfielder, he plays back to defender Morrison and Reading start a new attack. As we can see above, left-winger Michael Olise also showed feet in these situations, as if he received the ball, he could drive at the Watford defence and put them under pressure.
When winning the ball in their defensive third, Reading looked to drive forwards with their centre midfielders and then offload to the wingers. Above we see this happen, with Reading gaining possession due to an Omar Richards tackle on Jeremy Ngakia. Aluko, whose sister Eniola used to play in the WSL, picks up the ball and moves towards the centre circle. As Watford pushed a lot of players forwards in the previous phase of play, he now has more space than normal to play in Meite. The Ivorian winger collects the ball and exploits the extra space, travelling from inside his half into Watford’s defensive third. Progressing up the field this way allowed Paunović’s side to control possession in the areas of the pitch where attacks are most dangerous.
Reading’s defensive setup
Here we see how the Royals set up defensively when dealing with Watford’s attacks. In the second half, they changed formation to 4-1-4-1, which allowed them to create two banks of four that Watford would have to break down in order to advance. Aluko changed position from attacking midfielder to left midfield, and as part of his new duties, he presses wing-back Jeremy Ngakia. This shape ultimately restricted Watford to only having two shots on target throughout the entire game.
Here we see how Reading defended from the front when Watford had the ball. The front three press high, which prevents the defenders from being able to play out from the back. This is how Ivić’s side has fostered the majority of their attacks this season. Pressing this way forced the Watford centre-back to clear the ball, but didn’t go far enough, and Reading score from the resulting chance.
Due to how far Watford have been pressed back, there is now space high up the pitch for Reading’s full-backs to push into. Josh Laurent collects it and plays it to Rinomhota, who keeps the ball moving centrally. Holmes collects the ball and drives towards the box, feinting to shoot and plays into Pușcaș. The Romanian turns past the centre-back and shoots on goal, which takes a slight deflection and beats Ben Foster.
Watford’s attacking phases
Much like in previous games, Watford used their centre-backs to try and foster chances when going forwards.
Here we can see how high the Hornets pushed their centre-backs to play passes forwards. Wilmot is essentially able to drive into the midfield before picking out striker Ismaila Sarr with a long ball. Watford have scored by doing exactly this in their previous games and looked to continue in this fashion on Saturday.
When in Reading’s defensive third. The Hornets pushed on both wing-backs when attacking. Above we see Femenía and Ngakia high up the pitch along with both strikers, João Pedro and Ismaila Sarr. Doing this ensures they always attack with at least four players, getting more bodies in and around the box and increasing their chances of scoring.
Watford in the transition
When going from attack into defence, Ivić’s men pressed high to force Reading long. This stopped the Royals from playing through the middle where the majority of Watford’s gaps were.
Here we see Watford pressing Reading in their own defensive third, using the respective players on that side of the pitch. Having the wing-back, midfielder and striker close down Reading’s left-back is the fastest option to put him under pressure. We can see that it reduces the time he has on the ball, forcing him to try and find a player long due to the short options being cut off.
Watford’s defensive setup
Above we see how Watford quickly got players behind the ball during the second half. The Reading attacker is pressed by two of Watford’s players, with the defensive and midfield lines preventing any passes centrally. Right centre-back Cathcart marks Meite as he moves forwards, with the rest of the backline staying structured making it harder for the Royals to progress. Watford’s midfield three also track back, which ensures Reading are completely outnumbered when in dangerous attacking positions.
In conclusion, this Championship matchup was a very even contest. When looking at the stats, Watford seemed to have the better chances throughout the game, however, Reading’s effective defensive setup prevented Ivić’s side from having many shots on target. This made it four wins in four for the Royals, who will look to continue in this fashion as the season moves on. George Pușcaș scored his first goal of the campaign and will hope he can continue his goalscoring form off the back of last season. As for Watford, this was their first league setback of 2020/21. They will want to get back to winning ways after the international break, with their next match coming up against Wayne Rooney and Derby County.