Reading v Swansea City: a tactical preview

The battle for a place in the Premier League sees two teams with contrasting styles take to the pitch at Wembley, writes Tangerine Dreaming.

In their semi-finals, both managers got their game plans spot on in the second legs to secure their passage to the final. Both managers know each other well and Brian McDermott will be trying to get the better of Brendan Rodgers after the latter led his Swansea side to two 1-0 wins against Reading in the regular season.

Line ups

At this stage it appears that both managers will select similar line ups to those that they used in the semi-finals. Reading will line up in a disciplined 4-4-2 structure with Swansea in an approximate 4-2-3-1.

Reading v Swansea

Stephen Dobbie tends to play in behind Fabio Borini and as Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair advance high up the pitch, they show a distinction between Joe Allen and Leon Britton who tend to sit that little bit deeper.

Reading’s central midfield duo of Jem Karacan and Mikele Leigertwood tended to sit tight and flat against Cardiff as the wide men showed more progression to join the attack. The Reading strike force may well be Shane Long and Noel Hunt, who split as a pair with Hunt generally dropping off and drifting to the right.

Strategically speaking

Both sides have very distinct styles. However, Reading do have a manager in McDermott who may well adapt his style for the occasion as mentioned on this site earlier in the week. So what are their strategies likely to be?

Reading are more direct with their passing, seeking territorial gains. Their forwards (Long particularly) hold the ball up well and they are intelligent with their passing and movement, unpredictable and creative in their thinking. The team will seek to bring their wide men in to play either with vertical passes from the full backs or from lay-offs and through balls from the forwards. The wide men will then seek to make runs beyond the defensive line or cross from deep.

Jobi McAnuff seems comfortable attacking down the line or cutting inside, while Reading’s central midfield is about pressure and winning the ball. McDermott might ask them to sit tight and not press too high up as that will give them greater defensive stability before seeking to counter at speed. He may well look for quick delivery from his keeper to Long to set up quick counter attacks.

Swansea base their game on a foundation of short passes, looking to sustain periods of possession. They can build up play in a slow, considered manner from back to front, moving up the pitch together. Their passing will look to pull the opposition around the pitch and out of position. They balance this by having the ability to introduce fast counter attacks, using pace to get in behind the opposition defensive line. They can also work the ball intricately on the edge of the box when teams sit deeper.

Borini is comfortable with the ball in to feet and Dobbie has tricks and deft flicks to release players from their markers. When observing Swansea in their second leg semi-final it was very obvious that the team has a division between defence and attack – four players attack while six sit and defend. This gives them excellent defensive cover and in their two games against Reading this season their defence has yet to be breached. This divide can be breached by the right-back, Angel Rangel, who will seek to make forward runs to support the attack and look to overlap should the opportunity arise.

Let’s take a look at four of the possible tactical battles that might take place.

Fast and wide

This game might well hinge on how well Reading’s full-backs deal with Swansea’s wide men. Swansea will look to either play Dyer and Sinclair in behind Griffin and Harte or expose them to one-on-one situations. McDermott might ask both to sit deep and for them to preserve their defensive line to make it hard for through balls to be played and to look at cutting off crosses from reaching their targets. By sitting his defence deep he may well nullify any effect that pace might have against his slower full-backs.

However, McDermott also has a dilemma as Nottingham Forest countered both the Swansea wide men very well. Dyer in particular struggled when his marker sat tight behind him and stopping him from turning and running. Whatever decision McDermott makes will be critical. If he fails to stop the Swansea wide men then Reading will struggle to get anything out of this game.

Between the lines

This game may well be a classic encounter between a team playing a three-band system (Reading) and one playing a four-band system (Swansea). The result could be that Stephen Dobbie finds space in behind the Reading midfield and in front of their defence. This will cause Reading a lot of problems should they pay no attention to it. However, McDermott can counter this threat. He could counter it directly by asking one of his central midfielders to step back and in to a more recognised defensive midfield role. Or he could combat it from a team unit perspective. Either by reducing the space between the midfield and defensive lines or by shrinking his midfield rather narrow to reduce the passing angles between the players so that the supply to Dobbie is cut off.

However, if he fails to cut out the space afforded to Dobbie, then Swansea will enjoy a considerably advantage and, given Dobbie’s ability to excel in combination play with his fellow forwards, scoring chances for Swansea may start to develop with alarming regularity.

Hunt-ing high and Long

Reading’s approach may well be set from early on in the game. Should their energy by directed into pressing Swansea all over the pitch then they will be looking to unsettle Swansea’s passing rhythm. However, once they have the ball their forwards will hold the key to breaking down a strong and resolute Swansea defence. Shane Long and Noel Hunt have a good understanding and Long offers a variety of attacking points and that alone will cause their centre backs to be on their toes and alive to his threat. They may try to play him high up the pitch and an offside trap to thwart any attempts of running beyond the defensive line.

The closer to the goal he is, the more threatening is his combination play with Hunt. Swansea however, have an in-built counter to Hunt in that Joe Allen and Leon Britton will be sitting deep, both of whom would cut off the space that Hunt would normally like to drop off in to. Given this dilemma then McDermott may seek to get the ball wide quickly for his wingers to get behind the Swansea back line and have them running towards their own goal. Should this happen, the runs of Long and Hunt may well open up the Swansea back line.

Works both ways

Reading may well be very threatening from set pieces, Ian Harte still delivers a free kick worthy of the best in the world. Added to this Reading will look for good delivery from corners to reach the head of Matt Mills who can be very dominant in the air. However, Brendan Rodgers will see corner situations as a positive as he will seek to win the duels and break at speed. Likewise, McDermott will use the defending of a corner to his team’s advantage and with Long as an outlet to hold up the ball then quick, direct delivery from Adam Federici’s long flat kicks might release Long in to scoring opportunities.

Key players from a tactical perspective and why?

Jem Karacan (Reading)

Karacan will likely set the tone for Reading’s pressing as he is lively and energetic. Technically, he is excellent and his sensible use of the ball in the central areas will add a level of composure when Reading have possession. Karacan is positionally very disciplined and will only break out of central midfield if instructed to do so. If he is given space around the box, then he will try and shoot.

Shane Long (Reading)

Long is a quick and direct runner with and without the ball. He has good close control and is an opportunist when he sees a chance develop. Although he isn’t over six foot his is very adept in the air, able to win headers, flick on and cushion the ball. Long is also very hard to read with his movement and his behaviour is unpredictable.

Fabio Borini (Swansea)

Similar to Long, he is quick, unpredictable and hard to read. Again he goes straight for goal and will shoot on sight. Borini appears comfortable with his back to goal and has an element of cleverness with tricks that can deceive defenders.

Scott Sinclair (Swansea)

Two-footed and adaptable, Sinclair is able to play along the forward line. He is fast off the mark and can sustain his speed over distance which makes him a threat in any area of the pitch. He can finish well with intelligent placing of shots which results from being composed in front of goal.

Game on

On paper, Swansea will dominate large periods of the game and they may well have the greater share of the chances at goal. However, Reading will be resilient and will look to strike quickly. Should they get an early goal then that might be a position from which they could seek to defend. Whoever wins will be a worthy addition to the Premier League and judging by the way the two teams set up, neither will necessarily struggle to compete at that level.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

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