The Eight Point Plan For Jose Gomes At Reading

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 27 December 2018, 11:22

Jose Manuel Gomes has been announced as Reading’s new Head Coach this week. After a reported move for Vitoria Guimaraes boss Luis Castro fell through, the Royals turned to the 48-year-old, who was manager at Rio Ave. Of course, the obvious task for the Portuguese tactician is to keep the Berkshire club in the Championship – but how does he go about doing that and then get the club back on an upward trajectory? We have a few ideas…

1. Identify a style of play

During the previous regime, Reading did not have an obvious, coherent style of play. They are not the patient, possession-based side we saw under Jaap Stam, yet nor are they a counter-attacking outfit.

Fans might be inclined to describe them as a side that likes to cross the ball, especially with a powerful striker like Yakou Meite, who averages 1.7 headed efforts per 90 minutes, the second most in the Championship.

And yet, they only complete 3.7 accurate crosses per game this season, the joint-fourth fewest; essentially, if they do have a game plan, it comes to the fore for on average one minute in every 24, which would seem like a damning ratio.

The fact Rio Ave average 55.6% possession per game – the third-most in the Primeira Liga – shows that Gomes likes his teams to keep the ball on the deck.

We could therefore see a similar approach to the one we saw under Stam – but with, perhaps, bigger gaps between units and more emphasis on attack.

2. Make Reading strong without the ball

Portuguese journalist Tiago Estevao (@TiagoEstv) says of Gomes’ managerial work at Rio Ave: “they’re good on the ball and create plenty but I think that may be largely down to the players.

They are poor in defensive transition, because they rarely press - performing most of their defensive actions on their own third - and when they do so they do not do it particularly well.”

His side have conceded 21 goals, the joint-fourth most in their division and that’s with goalkeeper Leo performing at an unsustainable high rate in the early weeks of campaign; Rio Ave possess the league’s worst Expected Goals (xG) ratio, which shows Gomes’ side can be easy to carve open.

Reading do not possess better individuals than many of their Championship rivals and thus, they cannot afford to be as open as Rio Ave are. It is important, therefore, that Gomes learns from his time at his previous club and instils a pressing system that reduces the burden on the defence. Injuries to centre-backs such as John O’Shea and Liam Moore have seen the likes of Tom McIntyre and Gabe Osho start under Scott Marshall’s tutelage; the two youngsters deputized superbly but with limited senior experience, they cannot be expected to bail the team out too often.

For that reason, Gomes should stay true to his principles whilst ensuring that his side have a coherent plan for when they do not have the ball.

3. Make 4-2-3-1 work

Given that Rio Ave have used 4-2-3-1 in every game so far this season, we can presume it will be Gomes’ formation of choice. Reading have used that system on nine occasions this term; the main advantage is that it can maximize the creative talent of John Swift in the number 10 role. During a run of decent individual form over September and October, Swift showed that he can liven up the attacking play, but he is also inconsistent; Gomes, who allows his players plenty of creative freedom, might be the type of coach to get the best out of him.

The downside to 4-2-3-1 though is that it forces two of tenacious ball-winner Liam Kelly, charismatic technician Leandro Bacuna and direct runner Andy Rinomhota into a double-pivot. Bacuna is at his best when given licence to dictate play in the opposing half, Kelly closes down aggressively while Rinomhota likes to push on, so it remains to be seen whether two of them will have the discipline to start performing well in a double-pivot.

4. Keep the strikers happy

Reading possess five strikers and all of them will want to play regularly. Powerful front-man Yakou Meite has been the star goalscorer with six goals in 19 appearances, the industrious Jon Dadi Bodvarsson was among the stand-out performers last season; the nippy Marc McNulty broke records at Coventry, the selfless Sam Baldock has been part of promotion pushes with Brighton while Danny Loader has gained rave reviews in the Under-23s.

Given that there is only space for one starting striker in Gomes’ system and at most two on the bench, Reading will have two strikers who are too good to be left outside the match-day squad. We could see Loader sent out on a developmental loan spell in January with one of the other four strikers leaving to free up space in the wage bill as well as maintain some dressing room harmony.

Although Meite has been mightily impressive for Reading, he only averages 0.1 right-footed shots per 90 minutes, due to a heavily reliance on headed (1.5) and left-footed (1.7) efforts – it remains to be seen whether Reading will play to his strengths. One option would be to use Sam Baldock as the main striker – or Jon Dadi Bodvarsson depending on the importance of aerial prowess - and task them with running the channels to vacate space for midfielders to break into the box.

McNulty, who is at his best in a two-striker system, might become surplus to requirements in January. However, if Gomes were to reduce the prominence of Meite’s role in this Reading squad, it would take some canny man management to keep him content.

5. Introduce the youth (next season)

One of the criticisms of Paul Clement, rightly or otherwise, was that he under-used academy graduates, despite the Under-23s side being very successful.

After a reasonable opening night against Derby, Omar Richards was left out of the squad until his long-term injury in late September, Loader didn’t get his breakthrough until late November while the likes of McIntyre, Ben House and Jack Nolan did not have a look in. In fairness to Clement though, he did blood Rinomhota and Meite without either being proven in the senior game and both have been among the better performers.

Showing some faith in the kids will not only help Gomes for political reasons, it will also mean there are more players in the first team squad with a high sell-on value; a big fee for one of the youngsters would mean the club has more money to re-invest. Reading have always prided themselves on being a club that pays attention to it’s academy and that is a philosophy that Gomes may need to embrace.

6. Improve the recruitment

Since Reading reached the play-offs in 2016-17, they have made 19 additions to the squad, of which arguably only Bodvarsson, Bacuna, speedster Modou Barrow and marauding full-back Andy Yiadom have proved relatively successful; Saeid Ezatolahi might come into that category once he returns to fitness.

Still, a 21% hit rate is a very poor return for Ron Gourlay, who was appointed CEO in 2017 and has been replaced last month by the more popular Nigel Howe. While Gourlay was reportedly at times a slightly domineering figure within the club, we can expect Howe might be more inclined to co-operate with the manager.

Gomes is likely to have a lot of links within Portugal, which could be useful. While the country is culturally suited to producing top talent, it does not have the financial muscle to retain it and thus shopping there – as Wolves did last season - could prove a shrewd business decision.

Reading might not be able attract a star name like Ruben Neves, there are rumours that Gomes will be offered a competitive budget.

7. Get the best out of Yiadom

Andy Yiadom could be an asset. Having impressed in the lower leagues with Barnet with his driving forward runs from right-back, he has shown great adaptability to perform well in the Championship.

Not only did he grace the step up of two divisions to become Barnsley’s best player in 2016-17, he did so in an unfamiliar left-back position, which suggests there is an intelligence to his game. Since returning to right-back at the Madejski, Yiadom has been one of Reading’s better players: he completes on average 1.4 successful dribbles per game, with Alan Hutton being the only right-back managing more.

It should be kept in mind, too, that the 27-year-old is playing in a side that can be forced onto the back-foot for long periods of their games, with a cross for the front-man often being the only viable option for a full-back. In a team that plays more on the front foot and with more options in possession, Yiadom could be even more of a threat.

8. Engage the natives

A combination of uninspiring football and suggestions of a recent veering away from a community-centred strategy has seen some fans become disillusioned with the club and some have stopped going.

Gomes has an important job in terms of improving the standard of the football, which is vital to not only maintaining the club’s second-tier status but also building confidence for 2019-20. He has an important job in terms of embracing the club whilst showing the kind of charisma and passion for the game that will get locals back on side.

At a club that has been on a downward trajectory for 16 months, a massive re-building job lies ahead.

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