Reading 0 Cardiff City 0: A tactical perspective
Blackpool blogger Tangerine Dreaming takes a tactical look at the Championship play-off semi-final first leg between Reading and Cardiff City at the Madejski Stadium.
Coming in to the game Cardiff were without a win in three games, whereas Reading had been enjoying some fine form and with home support they were marginal favourites for this first leg. However, as the match played out, both teams appeared evenly matched and the result leaves the tie finely balanced.
Stuck in the middle with two 4-4-2 systems where no central midfielder broke forward often enough.
This was a battle between two relatively plain 4-4-2 structures with slightly different approaches to the way they were applied. From a selection point of view, Dave Jones brought in Darcy Blake at left back and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas ahead of him down the left.
With Mark Hudson on the bench, Cardiff’s Player of the Season Kevin McNaughton was used centrally and this suited the visitors in order to cope with the mobility and agility of the lively Reading front two. Reading made six changes from the side that played the last game of their campaign, but it was pretty much a return to their first choice eleven.
Reading set out their plan to close down Cardiff all over the pitch and swarm all over them when they were out of possession, and once they had the ball they sought to play the ball directly to the front two either in to the channels or over the top.
Cardiff on the other hand stood off Reading, keeping their shape, but when in possession of the ball looked to channel their play through Peter Whittingham trying to utilise his passing ability to trigger attacks. An early moment of promise for Cardiff hinted at their starting tactics, get the ball to Whittingham who in turn would look to release Craig Bellamy who looked to drop deep and wide.
However, an early injury to Bellamy put an end to that. Michael Chopra was introduced and attempted to drop deep, but in truth he prospers when playing off the shoulder of the defender rather than linking the play.
On the front foot
In the first half Reading executed their game plan well, unsettling Cardiff all over the pitch, Jem Karacan’s energy fizzing through the centre of the pitch with Shane Long and Noel Hunt hassling the Cardiff centre backs. In possession Reading spread the play long and wide and around the half hour mark enjoyed some good success down their right hand side and were unlucky to not make more of the crosses and crossing positions.
Reading came out for the second half as they did in the first, but an injury to Hal Robson-Kanu wasn’t a part of the game plan and frankly Brian McDermott decision to sacrifice his strike duo by moving Hunt to the right wing took the key focus of their promising play out of the game.
Stuck in the middle
The stalemate was set very early on, both sets of central midfielders were set up with a lot of emphasis on sitting deep and holding their shape, rather than breaking forward, leaving large gaps between midfield and attack. Neither manager made positive steps to alter this and noticeable gaps between the defence and midfield of both sides went unexploited. When Craig Bellamy was on Cardiff had someone dropping deeper to receive the ball and link midfield and attack and it was to the detriment of the game that he went off so early.
The Long and the Hunt of it
Should Reading win the playoffs then a large part of that will be down to Shane Long and Noel Hunt. Reading look to release them early with long balls from the back. Long is capable of winning the ball and holding it up for Hunt to link up with. At times in the first half they played just a little bit far apart at times and struggled to link effectively. However, given their pace and eye for flicks and invention then Reading don’t really need a central midfielder to create at times.
As seen in the first half, if they don’t link up well enough then Reading don’t have another band of players joining the attack effectively to add more waves of pressure and phases of play. The away leg of the tie should suit this combination as Reading will no doubt to play direct on the counter and should Robson-Kanu be fit with Jobi McAnuff then Cardiff will have to temper their attacking instincts with responsible defensive cover.
This tie may well settle on the team that is willing to commit more fluidity to their central midfielders with the patter set in this game set to continue in the second leg. Reading’s pace on the counter could prove decisive, but Cardiff will be looking to the orchestration of Peter Whittingham and the power of Jay Bothroyd to dominate Reading in the final third to ensure that their counter attacking chances are few and far between.
If you liked this, you’ll love Tangerine Dreaming. Who will emulate Blackpool’s achievement and win at Wembley?