When : Saturday 7th August 2021, 3pm
Where : Bet365 Stadium, Stanley Matthews Way, Stoke On Trent, ST4 4EG
Capacity : 30,089
Another season is upon us and for the first game (or at least the first minutes of the first game) we can all dream that Reading will get through the whole league season unbeaten and without conceding a goal (though knowing Reading’s luck, if they ever managed it, it would be by the way of 46 0-0 draws and they’d get relegated)!
Reading would appear to currently have a sound first XI (so long as Laurent isn’t sold off without being replaced). Trouble is that it is just a sound first XI as there is no depth beneath it and already it’s stretched to breaking point with Mr Meite being crocked for what will be most of the season at best. His loss basically means Reading rely totally on whatever frame of mind Joao is in and if he isn’t powering on all cylinders (like the last 3 months of last season) or is injured (not exactly unknown) then the age old problem of predictability and limited effect in attack will remain. Yes there’s still Puscas but a) the club may well sell/loan him before the end of the window and b) VP does not change the style of play to get the best out of him.
After that the issue is whether the club has a left back that’s up to the job. Bristow is young and might be an answer but it’s still too early to know. That leaves Yiadom (or even McIntyre) being played out of position so it has to be a priority to bring an experienced player in who can fill the role, help mentor Bristow as his understudy and allow Yiadom and McIntyre to be involved where they should be involved.
Lastly the other cause for concern to watch is whether Jon Swift can manage to maintain fitness and steer clear of injury as last season (and some of the season before) was more than frustrating for both player and club.
As to the game, well this is hardly an ideal opener for a league season. This fixture has quite possibly consistently been the most tedious waste of time in the league programme for the last 3 seasons with no goals scored by anyone at all in any shirt and, certainly from Reading’s point of view, barely any shots on target in that time. The last goal scored in this league fixture arrived 277 minutes ago courtesy of Adrian Mariappa while Stoke haven’t managed a goal for 279 minutes.
Stoke, like Reading, aren’t exactly flushed with depth in their squad at the moment, especially up front, with Tyrese Campbell injured, Benik Afobe loaned to Millwall and Sam Vokes having signed for Wycombe Wanderers in the summer. However Stoke are reportedly close to signing Sam Surridge from Bournemouth to provide some cover in attack (as well as being linked with alleged Reading targets Mo Besic and Yannick Bolasie). Tom Ince is still on the books but appears to be largely out of the picture at the club as it appears he’ll be sold or loaned out again this window. Joe Allen is back business though and has taken up the reins of club captain ahead of the likes of Danny Batth and James Chester.
Though a few Stoke fans seem to see their full backs as the weak points in the team, the manager (and former Reading loanee) Michael O’Neill has been preferring a wing back style with 3 at the back for much of preseason. In addition he apparently wants to get the team to capitalise on as many set pieces as possible especially given the lethalness at dead ball situations of Mario Vrancic and Nick Powell (so I can guess what Reading will spend much of the afternoon doing then)!
In addition to Campbell’s injury, Stoke’s Harry Souttar has had a very hectic summer with Australia at the Olympics so maybe feeling the number of games recently as well as the travel therefore may not be quite as fresh as the others but then he’ll possibly be the most match fit! Reading won’t have Yakou for nearly the whole season as mentioned earlier but, currently, touchwood, everyone else should be fit with Andy Rinomhota’s ankle problem expected to have completely cleared up by Saturday (famous last words of course).
Of course the window is still open (and will be until 11pm on Tuesday 31 August) so it is quite possible that both clubs will have changes and additions in personnel before Saturday arrives. Reading have Kadeem Harris currently on trial and have been cleared by the FL to make additional signings which VP recognises as a clear priority (esp. a left back and a striker) given the lack of depth and options in the current squad. How many, what experience and what value will be allowed for any signings is unknown so the expectation (like it is for the entire season) is likely to “limited” or, at best, quietly hopeful.
Possible starting XIs at this point in time;
Bursik, Wilmot, Chester, Batth, Fox, Smith, Allen, Vrancic, Powell, Brown, Fletcher
Rafael, Yiadom, Moore, Morrison, McIntyre, Tetek, Ejaria, Swift, Laurent, Rinomhota, Joao
26 Dec 20 > Reading 2-1 Luton Town
12 Feb 20 > Reading 1-2 West Bromwich Albion
11 Dec 19 > Barnsley 1-1 Reading
21 Sep 19 > Reading 1-2 Blackburn Rovers
10 Aug 19 > Hull City 1-0 Reading
The 25 previous visits to Stoke in the league have brought Reading 6 wins and 7 draws so probably not too bad for northern trek in the scheme of things. The biggest win there was 4-0 around 20 or so years ago while the heaviest defeat was by 5-0. However the last 3 games there have been rather less than entertaining, but we’d probably all settle for more of the same in a game that can be one of the more awkward in the calendar.
Incidentally Reading have opened their season once before at City when a late Adrian Williams header cancelled out an early Ray Wallace opener for the Potters and gave the club a point back in August 1995.
How to follow the game
- Get a ticket and travel (make the most of it while you can)
- Listen to Radio 5 Live and/or a myriad of other radio stations for score flashes
- Ring/text a mate for updates
- Use an iFollow subscription
- BBC Radio Berkshire (FM : 104.4, 104.1 or 95.4 depending where you are in the area)