It isn’t often that a Championship club, a league renowned for it’s traditional English style, is compared to one of Europe’s elite. However with Jaap Stam as manager, Reading Fc have earned that recognition through their possession based style and comfort on the ball from defence through to attack, which provides some of the most eye-catching matches in the English second division. Leading them to being dubbed ‘the Championship Barcelona.’
Jaap Stam was appointed as manager of the Royals in the summer of 2016, ever since then the Dutchman has moulded his squad into a traditional Dutch style of play. Averaging 57% possession, the highest in the Championship this season, the Royals have transformed from a mid table side into an adaptable unit capable of challenging for automatic promotion.
At the start of the season, Reading were inconsistent as they struggled to adapt to the new style of play, notably against Wolves where the ball seldom left the feet of the back four, resulting in a 2-0 loss due to defensive errors forced by the pressing of the opposition’s attackers. However as the season progressed Reading grew into Jaap Stam’s philosophy and boasted an exceptional home record, and cemented their position at the top of the table despite dubious away form.
A major part of Reading’s starting 11 under Stam were acquired in the summer through the genius of Reading’s director of football Brian Tevreden and manager Jaap Stam.
In defence Reading signed two promising young Englishman for around £1m a piece in Tyler Blackett from Man United and Liam Moore from Leicester City. Furthermore they have recently signed Tiago Ilori from Liverpool. Perhaps one of the main reasons the Royals managed to snap up these young players for such reasonable prices is so that they have the opportunity to learn from one of football’s greatest ever defenders, nonetheless they have been brilliant additions to the squad.
In midfield the Royals signed aggressive defensive midfielder Joey Van dem Berg, who Stam previously managed at SC Heerenveen, for free in the summer. They also acquired arguably their player of the season so far in creative attacking midfielder John Swift from Chelsea for free, who has created 21 chances and completed 21 take ons despite being sidelined for 6 weeks through injury.
In attack the Blues signed Dutch international Roy Beerens from Hertha Berlin, who has brought an element of quality to Reading’s side when playing on either wing. Tevreden also signed two young promising wide players in 20 year old Yakou Meite from PSG who has been nicknamed ‘La Brute’ due to his pace and power, in addition to tricky English winger Callum Harriot from Charlton.
These acquisitions were perfectly suited to Stam’s favoured Dutch style of play, and have all proved their worth as first team players or impact subs, highlighting Tevreden’s exceptional work in the summer.
How they set up:
At the beginning of the season Stam employed a traditional Dutch 433, where the front 3 of Yann Kermogant, Gareth McCleary and Roy Beernes were extremely fluid and interchangeable when in attack.
The centre backs were split and the full backs provided width high up the pitch when in possession, allowing space for the defensive midfielder to drop in between the centre backs and dictate the play from the half way line.
In the midfield were industrious box-to-box midfielder Danny Williams, who makes up what he lacks in technical skill with his unrelenting work rate, alongside John Swift, who’s exceptional vision and attacking intent instigated many of Reading’s attacks.
When out of possession Reading, especially the front 3, applied a one man press with the other players cutting off passing lanes.
Recently Stam has decided to switch to a 352 system with Mccleary, a traditional winger, playing alongside Kermogant in the striker positions. The new formation has complemented the squad perfectly, and with Mccleary or Beerens up front has given the royals a new option in behind in attack.
Lately, academy graduate Liam Kelly has worked his way into the team and has shown his exceptional technical skill and vision from central midfield. Furthermore, the 21-year-old Irishman presses relentlessly when out of possession and despite his small stature, he has proved an asset in a defensive sense.
With the assurance of 2 fellow centre backs, Paul McShane, Liam Moore and Joey Van Dem Berg have often brought the ball out of defence and initiated attacks with marauding runs and pinpoint passing adopted by defenders in La Liga and Eredevisie.
Overall, teams have founded extremely hard to counteract Reading’s 352 and have often dropped back and asked the Royals to break them down, which they have done. Otherwise many teams have tried to match the Blues’ formation, where Stam’s side ordinarily come out on top.
Although the Royals have played brilliantly so far this season and have exceeded all expectations of them at the start of the season, it would be hard to see them achieve automatic promotion with Brighton and Newcastle looking a cut above the rest in the Championship.
Stam’s side have shown frailties in their side multiple times this season, notably capitulating in a 5-0 loss against Fulham, which leads me to believe they are not consistent enough to be title contenders.
However they will almost certainly finish in the playoffs.
The main hope for Reading fans is that Stam will stay at the club and provide stability in a period of uncertainty about the ownership of the club. If the Dutchman does stay the Royals have a bright future ahead of them and will have a good chance of reaching the Premier League.