Our friends over at The Tilehurst End stopped by to answer our questions about Reading. We’ll be doing it again next week for the return fixture. If you haven’t yet read the questions they asked us and our answers, be sure to check that out.
Cottagers Confidential: Reading have been a statistical anomaly all year. We recently looked closer and realized that a lot of their success came from scoring first and holding on to win and punishing the bottom teams in the table. Their GD and xGD were hurt by their struggles in games decided by more than one goal. Does the idea of playing a team like Fulham who had a lot of success against the top six and is very capable of building up a multi goal lead in the first leg worry you?
The Tilehurst End: Well anytime you face a team that's stuffed you 5-0, you're going to be a bit nervous. Throw in that 4-2 from 2015/16 and yeah, we don't love going to Craven Cottage. There is that potential for a spanking, we've seen it away from home all season long, that when we lose, we lose hard. Norwich 7-1, Brentford 4-1, Brighton 3-0, Preston 3-0, Newcastle 4-1, there's certainly a pattern there. The hope here is that Jaap has been able to figure out how to stop such maulings and the fact we've finally been able to link up the three best defenders at the club in Paul McShane, Tiago Ilori and Liam Moore, should certainly help to limit the risk of another painful afternoon at Craven Cottage.
As for whether Fulham worry me? Well yes and no. While you've been able to turn it on in patches, you're also prone to slipping up when you think you're on a roll, which is why you seemed to finish 6th and not inside the top two. I think there might be a touch of overconfidence creeping in, especially when you listen to the likes of Scott Malone openly say 'teams fear us', that combined with the fact you beat us 5-0 might just lead to a bit of complacency I hope we can exploit.
CC: Fulham and Reading are the two most possession oriented teams in the division. Fulham are just ahead of them in most of the possession metrics. Does Reading have a plan B if they are unable to garner the possession they are used to?
TTE: We've seen against Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday that we're capable of being a bit more direct when needs be. The bigger issue seems to be when we fall behind, as teams seem to do pretty well at just picking us off (again, another reason for the spankings...). I think Jaap realised for the 1 1/2 home games we had against you that we'd probably lose the possession battle and did a good job at adapting the game plan accordingly. Jaap is very much a rookie manager who's made and will make mistakes, yet he's learning and the more experience he's picked up, the better he's become.
CC: 62% of your goals were scored by your top 4 goal scorers. 54% of the assists came from the top four creators. Are you at all worried about being top heavy on offense and being able to be shut down?
TE: Not really, although Stam has said openly he tries to win games first and then defend second, not something you'd expect from one of the best centre backs of the past twenty years! As our injury worries have cleared up, our options in the squad have grown. Suddenly we've got top quality players like Lewis Grabban to bring on, or the suddenly prolific Joseph Mendes. We've also got more defensive options from the bench, with Tyler Blackett, George Evans, Jordan Mutch and Reece Oxford all fighting just for bench spots. That depth is going to make us a much different proposition to our last trip to West London, when we went into it without Liam Moore and Yann Kermorgant, two of the three players who finished in the top three of our Player of the Season voting.
CC: Predicted Lineup and Score?
TTE: Predicted Lineup: Al-Habsi, Obita, Ilori, Moore, McShane, Gunter, Evans, Williams, Kelly, Beerens, Kermorgant
Score Prediction: 1-1