Why have we started so slowly?

I’m sure I will not be the only Reading fan who was at the Swansea game incredibly disappointed with what I saw, not for the first time this season. We looked like we’re lacking a lot of things already and things will get worse before they get better.

The most painfully obvious observation I could comment on is our lack of a striker. Personally, I’m getting more and more frustrated with hearing Jaap come out with comments suggesting that we were priced out of any potential moves for any striker during the transfer window. I’ve got a few comments on that:

1) DON’T GET RID OF PLAYERS BEFORE THEY ARE REPLACED

I remember tweeting after Dom Samuel departed that it was far too early for him to be leaving. Not that I thought he’d set the league alight this year, but for the simple fact that if you have two senior strikers in your squad and you sell one before bringing in any replacements – prices are going to increase. Now, I do not have a business background in the slightest – but surely that’s not a difficult thing to understand? If you’re going to complain at vastly inflated prices – perhaps don’t contribute to that yourself.

2) WE CANT RELY ON KERMOGANT (I think)

For some reason, a lot of fans have suggested that as soon as Yann returns from injury we’ll automatically start scoring again. I’m not saying that Yann won’t play like he did last year, but I think expectations may need to be lowered. For a start, being out that long with no pre-season means realistically Yann will need a month or so to get back to full fitness. That’s not taking into account the fact he is in his mid-30s and this time period could be a lot longer. Whose to say Yann will be able to get anywhere near the level he was last year? If he isn’t, where will we be come January when prices for forwards will have risen even more in conjunction with the severity of our issues. Reliance on Kermogant is definitely a dangerous game. We’ve all seen how injuries have hampered McCleary’s form – let’s not forget that Yann is a good few years older. I hope I’m wrong and I could well be wrong in which case I’d happily eat my own words – but I am worried.

3) LOOK DOWN THE LEAGUE’S OR INTO EUROPE

It amazes me that if the prices were as shockingly inflated as the owners and Stam will have us believe, why did we not look elsewhere? Take Josh Morris at Scunthorpe for example. He had a very bright season in League One last year, helping his side reach the playoffs. Would Scunthorpe really have turned down a bid of £3m let’s say? For a man who’s been scoring frequently in the division below and who looks ready to make the step up, personally, I am amazed to not see us go for a player like him. Where did we get Adam Le Fondre from again? Or take a look at Leeds. Saiz and Roofe have scored 11 between them this year. Did they come from this division? Nope. It seems however unless it’s from Holland, Jaap and Brian are struggling to source talent outside of the Championship/Premiership.

The next major issue I’d like to address is the lack of a plan B. We all know what Jaap did last year having implemented a style of football that although may have initially been divisive, it worked very well. This year, however, it is clearly not. Teams sit back, make it impossible to break them down and lead to us having to resort to crossing the ball when predictably given the lack of goalscorers in the squad we have no man on the end of it. Then what? When that doesn’t work – do we switch it up? Nope. Last night we did not change our style once, we were playing negative, conservative passes around the back after going behind which made Swansea’s job a lot easier to hold out against us. Take the home game against Bristol City. There was a 10-minute spell at the beginning of the second half where the tempo and the intensity were high, and what happened? We carved out chances, the fans got behind the side and everyone with a blue and white allegiance in the ground got a lift. There was never even a remote indication that this could happen yesterday. Incredibly frustrating, but I’m afraid to say incredibly predictable. Jaap is a fantastic coach, but his lack of flexibility is concerning me more and more with the fact that more and more sides are showing they’ve figured out how to stop us.

Do the players deserve a lot of criticism? Well, I don’t think so. Sure Bodvardsson has hardly hit the ground running but he has the pressure of being the only forward in the squad on his shoulders at a new club. Whether he is good enough or not, the fact is if you pin all your hopes on one man, it’s not surprising he may struggle to regain form if things go pear-shaped.  Okay, we’ve been a little fragile defensively but again – the pressure on the defenders will be immense given the fact they know should we go behind the chances of us making a comeback are lower than ever at the moment since Jaap took over.

The owners have shown they’re willing to spend. The players are trying to relay the instructions of Jaap, which at the moment isn’t working. A lot of hard work is needed to rectify this on the training ground to start picking up points with the squad we have. Unless we change things around however, I think we’re going to struggle to do so.

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Five players to look out for in France..

As everyone is aware, the Euros or indeed any major tournament offers the chance for up and coming young talent to really announce their talent to a huge audience. You hear stories about these players every tournament – just take a look at the World Cup in Brazil. A young James Rodriguez wowed crowds and earned a huge move to Real Madrid and elevated his career to new heights on the basis of a single tournament. Who could be this years stand out youngsters? Here are five potential candidates I see having the potential to really break onto the big time, along with a rating showing the likelihood of this happening.

Breel Embolo – Switzerland

For FIFA lovers, this name may not come as a huge surprise to you. Rated highly in the virtual world at least, the frontman really does appear to have a great deal of potential in his game. Any striker that can combine both pace and power to good effect usually manage to cause a number of issues for the defenders paid to eliminate this threat. Embolo appears to have these traits already at a young age – with his ability already having attracted the attention of top clubs like Wolfsburg, who bid 27 million Euros for the youngster in January. The only potential drawback is his side Switzerland who may not reach the latter stages of the tournament.

BOY WONDER RATING – 2*

Renato Sanches – Portugal

The man who’s already raised a number of eye brows this year following his high profile move to German giants Bayern Munich. Sanches is a very versatile midfield and can be deployed in a range of roles across the midfield – combining attacking flair with energy and work-rate to match. This synergy of abilities has led to Sanches emerging as one of the hottest young talents across Europe. Portugal are however a squad undergoing somewhat of a transition, meaning it may be one tournament too early for Sanches to prove his worth. He’ll be a big threat though, that is for sure.

BOY WONDER RATING – 3*

Harry Kane – England 

Although most people already have heard of the Spurs frontman – the Euros may well be the tournament that really lifts Harry Kane to the next level. Having already proved a number of doubters wrong by not falling foul of ‘second season syndrome’ Kane is one of the best upcoming forwards in the world game in my eyes. English fans always love an old fashioned number 9 up top and Kane already appears to be the next one to fit that bill if his performances for club and country so far are to be believed. With a strong Spurs contingent behind him, you already feel this tournament could well be made for Kane to make himself an English legend already at such a tender age.

BOY WONDER RATING – 5*

Romelu Lukaku

Lukaku has really made a name for himself already in the English game. His performances this year in a stuttering Everton side have been nothing short of exceptional at times. Having watched him in the game against Bournemouth, it’s very rare for such a young player to have the intelligence and confidence that the big man possesses. Belgium undoubtably dissapointed at the World Cup in Brazil so when you combine the desire to right a few wrongs with the experience and development in Lukaku’s game, I feel this could be a massive tournament for the big Belgian. I’m aware he’s 23, but I feel this is the tournament where he really could prove he deserves the big move he’s been linked with this campaign.

BOY WONDER RATING – 4*

Anthony Martial 

Having already proved a selection of doubters (including myself) wrong following his big money move to the red side of Manchester last year – Martial could well hit the next level on home soil in the Euros. With Karim Benzema ruled out not through injury but through a series of legal misdemeanors – the stage may well be set for Martial to be the main man for the host nation. Under the assumption Mourinho will have huge funds to improve his new United squad, Martial will no doubt be keen to prove his worth to the Special One.

BOY WONDER RATING – 4*

 

England Squad Reaction

Earlier today, Roy Hodgson finally announced his final selection of players who’ll represent the country in the forthcoming Euros. A lot of opinion has been circulating across social media and if the reaction is to be believed, it’s the worst ever decision in the history of human civilisation, managing to overtake the decision of the German people to elect a new chancellor in 1933. Has Roy lost the plot? Has he made the right decision? For me, it is the latter. Here is why.

The first selection issue that has aggravated a selection of supporters is the exclusion of Danny Drinkwater. The main argument for his inclusion for most people is his exceptional season for the Champions Leicester. Jack Wilshere has been included and Drinkwater has been dropped, and for me that is the right decision for a selection of reasons. Firstly, natural talent. Jack Wilshere does apparently have knees made of soggy Weetabix and ankles made of glass but on his day you’d have to go a long way to find a more naturally talented central midfielder than him. I voiced my opposition to the suggestion of his inclusion whilst he was unfit. However he seems to have got over the injuries that have plagued him this year. He’s been more consistent in the warm up games and has looked like his old self. An interesting point I saw earlier on Twitter is this: can you see Robert Huth being included in the German squad over Mats Hummels because of one exceptional season? When you take this into consideration, his inclusion does seem a lot more reasonable. In fact if anyone deserved to be dropped for Drinkwater I’d cast my vote for either Lallana or Henderson. Each of whom have hardly set the squad alight in the last couple of games (incidentally neither has Drinkwater.)

The second major story is the inclusion of both Sturridge and Rashford. Again, I’d agree with this decision from Roy. I’ve explained in previous posts why I think Rashford is worth the risk (https://mattjoyblogs.com/2016/04/18/why-rashford-may-be-worth-the-risk/) and again for me Sturridge fully fit is a huge threat going forward. Fitness is always an issue, but you just have to look at the goal Sturridge managed to bag in the Europa League final. Not many people in English football could have not only the audacity but also skill to score a goal of that calibre. A lot of people have argued that Michail Antonio could have been taken instead of one of these players. I agree Antonio has had a truly exceptional season. But unfortunately for him Hodgson doesn’t play a wide formation normally, and thus selecting Antonio may have been a bit of a waste of a space. Certainly I can see Antonio being in Hodgson’s plans after the Euros, but you can’t really change your tactics to accomondate a single player so for me – good call Roy.

The last question really is the midfield. Although no inclusions aside from the one in the first paragraph have been raised you do have to wonder how we will line up in the centre of the park. For me you do have to have Wayne Rooney in the middle of the park. His experience and quality is obvious to me and anyone who believes he’s not a threat any more for me is incorrect. I think Eric Dier has to be in there to provide the steel protecting the somewhat questionable back four. I’d then have Jack Wilshere (fitness dependent) alongside Rooney in the centre of the park – and then Dele Alli in the number 10. Alli for me provides a freedom and creativity we haven’t had at such a tender age for a fair number of years. Not to mention Alli has already established a fantastic link with Harry Kane, who I’d hope will be our main man in France.

That’s all from me today – expect a lot more posts in the coming weeks ahead of the big kick off. COME ON ENGLAND!

 

 

Is it all doom and gloom?

Arguably, we’re currently undergoing one of the most unstable transitions in recent memory. Stability and optimism seems to be an all too distant thing of the past. Take one look at the #readingfc hashtag on twitter and if you don’t feel like having a stiff drink by the time you’ve read 20 tweets then you’re a stronger person than me. Just in case there haven’t been enough people commenting on the current state of the club, I’m going to give it a go.

Where else to start than Brian McDermott. It’s a tough one with Brian, if you take a step back you can understand both perspectives from supporters. Some believe it’s a result business and Brian hadn’t delivered and other (like me) felt we should have given him more time. If you’re going to bring in a manager in December when realistically we were already losing our grip on the play-off places and expect him to be able to motivate a team mostly made up of loan players – you’re asking too much in my opinion. I am of the opinion that we should have given him until around November. If we’d given him a transfer window to make the squad his own and he’d still not achieved the results then yeah, fair play, he deserved to be out of the job. We’ve been blessed at this club in recent years with success (for a club of our size) and unsurprisingly it has gone hand in hand with a stable setup. Continually chopping and changing hoping for an upturn in fortunes rarely works.

I do appreciate however the logic behind the decision. Bringing a new man in now gives a new approach ahead of the season. If we had persevered unsuccessfully with Brian and been in a situation in November where we were facing another meaningless end to a season – not many people will have been happy. However, Brian wasn’t given the resources to turn things around in the small amount of time he was given. Why bring someone to the club half way through a campaign, not give him any money in January, and then get rid of him at the end of the campaign? Why even appoint him in the first place if this was the plan? Whether it was a mistake or not – hindsight is a wonderful thing. It certainly did more harm than good that’s one thing we can all see now.

Time to have a look at everyone’s favourite people at the moment – the owners. Cynicism and Reading Football Club go hand in hand. I wonder if our fans were so unbearably depressing and cynical back in the late 19th century? I can almost envisage the first ever game at Elm Park being criticised for one reason or another. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of the Thais, but I do feel some of the stick they’ve received doesn’t actually make much sense. The first of which is where is the investment? Well, last year, look at the calibre of players we brought in on loan. Who pays those big wages? Hmm, I wonder. I don’t recall them receiving any criticism when John, Piazon and Vydra were all signed in a small space of time. Funny that. Vydra was a huge disappointment agreed – but how can that be the owners fault? They had the ambition to fork out £2.5m to bring him in on loan – a slightly odd decision, but not one you can use to talk about the lack of investment they’ve put in. They certainly aren’t perfect, but criticising the signings made under their reign seems bizarre considering how happy we all were to see some of the names we had brought in before last year.

My last slight qualm I have with some of our supporters is complaining that we’re already NAILED ON FOR RELEGATION OH MY GOD WE HAVE SUCH A TERRIBLE SQUAD. Take a step back and look at our side. They ALL underperformed last year without doubt, perhaps with the exception of Ali Al-Habsi. But I do genuinely believe we have a basis of a very good side. Quinn, Mcshane, Williams, Obita, Gunter, Al Habsi, McCleary are just some of the players who I think would make it into a lot of squads in this league. Under the right management with a few more smart additions, especially up top, we don’t actually have the worst squad the world has ever seen, contrary to common opinion amongst some of our supporters.

This summer is definitely one of massive transition, and it is slightly worrying seeing the mass exodus of staff especially. I do think if we all just take a deep breath though, and not be drawn into the mass hysteria on social media (that I’ve definitely been guilty of as times) we might just be okay next year.

Why Watford Deserve More Credit Than They Are Getting

I’ve visited Vicarage Road once in my lifetime, January 2 years ago. That day I was stood at the top of the away end and actually watched Reading win on the road, which is quite a big deal in itself. Fast forward to now, and Watford seemingly have established themselves in the top tier and narrowly fell to Crystal Palace at Wembley in the FA Cup Semis. What I find remarkable is that despite a season most newly promoted clubs would consider a big success – Quique Flores is under a lot of pressure. Okay, the last few months in the league hasn’t been the most successful – it’s clear that the side believed their safety in the top tier was secured back in February to be fair. The club as a whole does deserve a lot of credit, for a range of reasons.

The first thing I did notice when I visited the ground was the apparent lack of atmosphere and life around the ground. I don’t mean this as a criticism of Watford supporters, but the state of the stadium was interesting considering the size of the club. Nowadays however, the new stand is impressive, the atmosphere in the ground (especially the ‘home end’, apologies for not knowing its official name) is a pleasant sight and sound, with choreographed displays frequently put on before games. When I went, I was stood about as far as was humanly possible from the home supporters, with a semi-demolished stand next to me – and you really did struggle to see how the club could continue plying its trade in that situation. Everything has changed, and the facilities at the ground really do suit an established Premier League side, which is what Watford supporters will be hoping for in the forthcoming season(s).

The investment in the squad hasn’t been the most eye catching for the casual observer, but the frugal approach to signing players has worked wonders for the club. Players like Prodl, Holebas, Capoue, Behrami and Ake hardly ignited the footballing world – but the investments have all been clever and more importantly they’ve worked. A few eyebrows were raised for example when Watford missed out on Juan Iturbe – but the decision not to pursue the Argentinian has been fully justified considering he’s currently struggling to get into the Bournemouth starting XI. Watford are proof that sometimes simply throwing money into a side isn’t always the best thing to do. Efficient man-management and finding a correct balance on the pitch sometimes does more than simply investing and hoping. They’ll have to follow up with another good window this summer, but you wouldn’t bet against that based on last year.

To be fair, the ultimate credit that can be given to Watford is they managed to convince us to dish out £2.5m to sign Matej Vydra on loan.

Obviously, one of the main reasons that Watford haven’t received much attention is mainly due to the abnormal nature of this season. With the remarkable success of Leicester, Spurs and West Ham this year, clubs like Watford have gone under the radar. If you’d have offered any Watford fan safety with a number of games remaining, they’d inevitably of snatched your hand off for it. Understandably the season has somewhat fizzled out, but with teams they’re playing fighting for points for different reasons, it’s somewhat acceptable to see a difference in motivation levels. The second season often proves to be more difficult than the first, and Hornets fans will be hoping the form in the past couple of months isn’t a sign of things to come.

Why Rashford *MAY* be worth the risk.

With the European Championships fast approaching, speculation is beginning to grow about who is going to fill those spaces on the short flight to France. One name that seems to be popping up more and more is that of youngster Marcus Rashford. Should he really be taken to the Euros at such a tender age however? Well – the jury seems out on that issue, however if he manages to get a couple more in the remaining games – here are 3 reasons why I’d CONSIDER taking him.

1 – OTHER OPTIONS

You’d of thought that at the moment, most people would have three forwards already in their minds for who they’d select for the Tournament. Vardy and Kane seem certainties, and Daniel Sturridge seems to have overcome persistent injury issues for the moment and appears to be playing much like his old self. The last place on the plane is one of debate. The main player who seems to dividing opinion is all-time record goalscorer Wayne Rooney. Would I take Wayne? Well, it’s all dependent for me on how he finishes the season. You cannot criticize his record for the national side, or for United for that matter – but is “reputation” enough to go by? For me, it has to be combined with current form and how he’d fit into the squad. Rooney wouldn’t be the sort of player you’d want to come off the bench to make an impact – he simply isn’t that sort of player. Rashford’s energy and style of play would suit being an ‘impact’ player more effectively. As for Danny Welbeck – I’m sorry, but he hasn’t done enough this campaign for one reason or another to take. I know his record for England is very respectable, but you can’t take him based on that alone.

2 – “Bursting” onto the scene

When you look at some of England’s most successful strikers in the last 15-20 years, two of those really made their name at a tender age in a big international tournament. Michael Owen terrorised defences in the 1998 World Cup, and only an unfortunate injury stopped Wayne Rooney in his tracks at the Euros 12 years ago. Rashford has that opportunity this year. He doesn’t seem intimidated by the big stage, he has similar confidence levels to the aforementioned players – and given he’d probably be fourth choice striker, pressure on him wouldn’t be too overbearing. He’s definitely a player for the future, should he keep up the form he’s shown so far in his United career, but why not give him a go to demonstrate his potential? He’d certainly play with a lot more freedom than Rooney for example, who’s performances at major tournaments is always scrutinized beyond belief. Rashford could give it his best shot, knowing full well the expectation will be on others to get the goals for the side.

3 – Quality

Contrary to the more cynical footballing supporters, I genuinely believe Marcus Rashford does have a natural ability and eye for goal that could well be developed with good management to make him a top class player. His strike against West Ham in the FA Cup showed not only his self belief to attempt it in the first place, but also genuine striking ability to finish with such class. One or two goals can be seen as a flash in a pan, but the consistent high level of goals he’s scored so far could well be rewarded with an England call up. One thing is for certain, if his call up for the Euros isn’t – and that is his ability to be in the right place at the right time, his ability to run and finish and a run of form he’s shown since his first call up – is no accident. I’m not trying to say he’s the best thing since.. Well, Harry Kane? But I do believe he’s shown excellent ability so far – and I can’t see how you’d call up Welbeck or Rooney over him BASED ON CURRENT FORM.

The question on everyone’s lips is whether Roy Hodgson will indeed pick a player based on form or on proven ability. If it was form, Rashford should be in the squad. However, given the fact Hodgson has hinted his hope that Jack Wilshere will be fit for the tournament, I’d expect it to be on reputation. If he doesn’t get the call up, a follow up of this run of form next season may well build up his reputation so even Roy can’t ignore him for Welbeck.

 

 

BPL TOTY

The Team of The Year is always a hotly debated subject amongst football supporters across the country. This season has been the most exciting in Premiership history, but who deserves to be in the best starting XI of the year? Here’s my choice for the best side from this campaign.

GK – David De Gea 

To be fair, this position could be filled with a number of players. Butland, Lloris, Schmeichel, Adrian, Hart and Cech have all had very good campaigns. For me however, De Gea has done the most for his side to claim points for a United side who’ve fallen below expectations this season. Whether he’ll still be donning a United jersey next year is questionable, ones thing is for sure however.. He’ll be a big gap to fill should he depart Old Trafford.

CB – Toby Alderweireld

Spurs’ structure and rigid nature defensively, combined with certain players enjoying a fruitful campaign up the other end (which I’ll get onto later) has been the main reason behind their success. The Belgian centre back has been at the heart of the defence all season, and has demonstrated an array of skills that have warranted his inclusion in this side. Athletic, strong, versatile and comfortable on the ball, Alderweireld could well be a big part of Spurs’ revolution for years to come yet.

CB – Wes Morgan

The first of two Leicester centre halves, Wes Morgan’s upturn in fortunes has been almost as remarkable as his sides title challenge. Last year, Morgan was widely regarded as a disaster waiting to happen. Without meaning to sound over the top, comparing Morgan last year to Bambi on ice would be a slight insult to Disney’s much loved character. This year however, alongside Huth, Morgan has formed a truly formidable defensive partnership, similar in my opinion to great pairings in the past, such as Vidic and Ferdinand. A worthy inclusion.

CB – Robert Huth

Similar to Morgan, Robert Huth’s brand of physically imposing defensive work has been a treat for purists to witness this season. A traditional centre half, Huth’s playing style hasn’t changed throughout his career, but this year he’s reached another level. The sheer desire to win is clear, and alongside Wes Morgan, it’s no surprise the Foxes have grinded out so many tight victories.

CDM – Ngolo Kante

Sometimes, footballers are given strange metaphorical nicknames. However, Ngolo Kante truuly summarises the “engine” sort of footballer. Kante’s fitness levels truly are remarkable, and his persistence and energy in the heart of the Foxes midfield has again reaped it’s rewards throughout the season. Every great team needs a player who’s prepared to run himself into the ground doing the dirty work for the sake of the side, and in Kante that is exactly what Leicester have.

CDM – Eric Dier

Two years ago, even the most dedicated and knowledgeable of football supporters wouldn’t of known a huge amount about Eric Dier. Now however, he’s an established international quality player. Dier has provided great protection to the Spurs back-line and allowed some of the more creative players to flourish going forward without having to concern themselves as much with defensive duties.

CAM – Riyad Mahrez

I wouldn’t want to insult anyone who’s made it to this stage of the post by repeating the classic lines about Mahrez, however most of them make legitimate points. An absolute bargain of a signing, Mahrez has provided pace, skill, goals, assists and unpredictability when going forward – which is always a recipe for success. The stats and league positioning speak for themselves, as does Mahrez’ nomination for a player of the year award.

CAM – Mesut Ozil

Especially in the earlier stages of the season, the German playmaker demonstrated the quality he possesses. Some people have claimed his first campaign in England was below par – and I’d agree with that. I’d agree purely because Ozil has shown this year his true class. At points this year, Ozil has looked in a different league to the opposition and even some of his own teammates. A slightly quieter second half of the season, but that’s due to the whole Arsenal squad under performing in the second half of this season. A deserved place.

CAM – Dimi Payet

West Ham have secured an absolute gem in the Frenchman Payet. Proven in Ligue 1, the transition into the Premiership isn’t always a smooth one. However Payet has demonstrated his ability and class throughout this campaign. It’s very rare to recall a game in which Payet has disappointed – and this consistency exemplifies why West Ham could well be moving into their new stadium with European football to look forward to. Also, he’s not bad at free kicks I’ve heard.

ST – Jamie Vardy

Depressingly unoriginal internet jokes aside, Vardy has had a fantastic season for the title chasing Foxes. After breaking Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record for goals in consecutive matches, Vardy’s goals haven’t dried up like many people (including myself) believed they would. A hunger to work for the side and ability when chances arise has seen Vardy make several appearances for his country, and he’s fighting it out with his strike partner in this team, and for England, for the golden boot.

ST – Harry Kane

Harry Kane for me could well be the future of England. He seems to have it all – every aspect that a forward would want. He’s only going to get better in the coming years, and this season he’s been spectacular. Fingers crossed this years Euros could be the tournament in which Kane truly proves his class at such a tender age, similar to the manner in which Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney introduced themselves on the international scene at major tournaments recently. Even if he doesn’t, you’d have to go a long way to find someone who doesn’t believe Kane warrants a TOTY place.