January cometh! What with all the; Christmas ads, yearly review shows, new toys, a Doctor Who special and the bitingly cold weather, you wouldn't really have guessed would you? 2013 and more importantly for us Royals fans, the transfer window is hours away now and if you've been living under a rock you'd have even seen the official RFC website mention so too. That in itself says something, right?
Now that player trading time is nearing, speculation is mounting on whom Reading fans can expect to see joining the club. But putting newspaper-talk aside, just where exactly in the team do Reading really need and will likely acquire the new faces?
With the waiting press asking about potential transfer action, Brian McDermott has been fairly pragmatic. According to him there is a budget and he wants two or three players with Premier League experience to come in from it. He did stress however, that such purchases are not cheap and ultimately the budget will dictate who we sign. So expect signings but certainly don't expect to see Mario Balotelli or David Beckham wearing the hoops anytime soon. On the subject of players like Mr. Balotelli and closer to home, recent off-pitch events with Danny Guthrie have surely proven that seemingly tempestuous players don't always make the best signings. One can only imagine that such experiences have prompted the vetting of potential signings by Nicky Hammond & McDermott to be somewhat more enhanced now.
As if to compound things further with issues on recruitment. RFC's Premiership plight could be the first stumbling block in tempting players to a residence at the Madejski. Wages have been the omnipresent feature in defining who becomes, goes and stays a Royal in the past. So it seems unsurprising to hear rumours that wages have been the source of recent disturbances within the squad, amongst other things.
Has anyone even mentioned yet, that currently most Premier League managers will be looking at how best to utilise their squads, as some will be losing players to the Africa Cup of Nations in a week or two?
But it's not all doom and gloom. Hopefully the board are sincere in their desire to remain a top tier club and have learnt from the mistakes in signing players that lacked the immediate capability over long-term potential last time around. Which surely means we can go into this transfer window with some optimism?
For instance, since last season finished eight Premier League clubs have experienced a change in manager. As in life, change doesn't suit everyone, which may mean managers and players alike will seek transfers. Also the teams who dropped out the Premier League last season (Blackburn, Bolton and Wolves) have not only changed their managers but aren't setting the Championship ablaze either. Surely the top players of these clubs will fancy another crack at the top-flight? Well experienced Premier League players, currently at Championship clubs and seeking a move, could also be more rife than usual this window, as nearly half the second tier's clubs changed their managers since last season as well! Most of which have been in the Premier League since we were first promoted there too!
So which positions in the RFC squad could do with a fresh face or two?
The season so far has further opened the debate as to whether Adam Federici is first choice stopper? In truth, Reading's whole defensive unit has suffered this season. Both in form and the confidence that comes from regularly playing alongside the same personnel. Without doubt though, both Federici and Alex McCarthy have not only kept score-lines respectable, but they've also played a major part in acquiring the few points we've managed to chalk. So no additions needed here. Just get everyone fit and a consistent defence line-up established. The good form of old will hopefully reappear.
Already both the Left and Right full-back positions saw additions to the ranks in the summer with each having contrasting results. Chris Gunter's arrival hasn't completely shifted Shaun Cummings from right-back and arguably the verdict on who is best is still in session. But either way, this position remains a vast avenue of weakness exploited by oppositions as many conceded goals are coming via this area. Therefore bring in a more experienced, tough-marking right-back. Reading desperately need a repeat of the affect Andy Griffin's arrival had three seasons ago. This won't completely resolve all issues at the back, as some would say it's just another weak spot in our already much maligned defence. In contrast to Gunter, the returning Nicky Shorey is once again our heavily relied upon left-back and set-piece deliverer. Highlighted by initially poor performances from Ian Harte, making his contract renewal look a bad move. But Harte has looked more at ease in his recent return to the side, yet future doubts may still lurk. Maybe a thought for later, but the squad's full-backs, namely Harte and Joseph Mills need an honest assessment of their futures. Especially as Mills has featured less for Burnley since Sean Dyche took charge.
Considering this has been one of, if not the strongest area under the eyes of McDermott, it pains me to say that this position is now in complete disarray! As a result the defence is already just four goals away from conceding the full total it did in the Championship last season! That's without including the eleven goals conceded in this season's League Cup! That stat alone probably does enough to indicate how much of a mess things are. Add to that, any centre-back pairing fielded so far, is yet to play five straight league games together. Clearly Reading's paramount concern is to bring in an at least one experienced and competent player here? If not to just help stem the flow of goals conceded, but put some order into the defensive line! Much like the Griffin affect, Reading need to find another Zurab Khizanishvili. Especially when you consider that new signing Adrian Mariappa has the most top-flight experience, with just half a season at this level with former club Watford. RFC can count themselves extremely lucky too, that Sean Morrison has made the successful leap from playing League One straight to Premier League. But a unanimous feeling is that Kaspars Gorkss appears either out of form or his depth this season. Also the club must resolve the issue of reported contract wrangling with Alex Pearce. Either to retain last season's best player, as voted by fans or to just restore team harmony. If it's decided that he won't remain a Royal, then surely just for numbers a replacement is sought? But above all again, McDermott must find and continue to play his best line-up. Otherwise each goal will bring Reading closer to the silver bullet that puts them straight back into the Championship.
The Central-midfield is perhaps another article in itself and maybe just as troubling as their defensive counterparts. In short, it needs a complete re-think; tactically, in its formation and its personnel etc. The last topic of which, saw recent addition Danny Guthrie "sent to Coventry" over issues surrounding his apparent lack of selection and use. As paradoxical as it may sound, it's not obvious how Reading's central-midfield is expected to play. A notable feature (from many) is that they are constantly bypassed by their teammates hoofing the ball over them. Considering he's often a reserve player, it says a lot that Jay Tabb has been the star midfielder. Tabb has habitually given "110%" performances, but this is heightened by his regular partner Mikele Leigertwood, now being deemed in the same predicament this season, as Gorkss. Such performances haven't prompted McDermott to play Brynjar Gunnarsson, sparking questions over why he is still at the club? Can RFC afford to carry deadwood? Fans longed for Jem Karacan to return from injury. But Karacan and Tabb are nearly the same player and Tabb's lack of affect on the greater play, despite his superb efforts, does make you wonder if Karacan will have much impact on play going forward? In Summary; Guthrie must be given another chance to change things. But if other players are to shine again, you do wonder if a more rounded and experienced player would aid that transition? If Reading play five in the middle with assumingly a lone striker, a player who can share the burden of goal scoring would also be useful.
Unlike Sir Paul McCartney's, Reading's wings have always been one of their strongest assets and it's pleasing that from all the negativity, this fact probably remains so. But there is some criticism. In the past both Jimmy Kebe and Captain Jobi McAnuff's patchy form sparked annoyance. However at the current level it's become a hindrance with some even calling for McAnuff to be stripped of the Captaincy in order to field a more consistent performer. In response both Hal Robson-Kanu and new signing Garath McCleary appear to be those options, with both looking a regular goal threat and Robson-Kanu, currently the top scorer outside the club's contingent of strikers! There's also the highly praised option of Jordan Obita, yet to make a Reading debut. McDermott must be candid here and only field those who are in-form. By that I mean, it may be best to retread the ground when both Ivar Ingimarsson and Matt Mills were at the club? However, Kebe may have painted a target on himself from his recent outburst to the press. Either from the club's hierarchy or potential suitors believing he's unhappy. It probably goes without mention, but if any winger is sold, they should be replaced.
Firstly Reading score goals and given performances it doesn't look the worst area right now. I feel that new signing Pavel Pogrebnyak is yet to see the style and service he best suits but regardless, he is the club's top scorer. It's incredible that given he was a League Two player 18-months ago; Adam Le Fondre is also leading the way, plus despite never being a consistent scorer, Noel Hunt doesn't look too out of his depth either. But it is concerning that given enough appearances and the most experienced to top-flight football, Jason Roberts hasn't scored a league goal yet! You can't really claim that Reading have anyone in this area that isn't doing enough and in truth the strikers have done more than their fair share of trying to cover other areas of the pitch. One would hope that if everything behind the strikers can be improved, then they can focus on scoring goals and a lethal combination will develop. But if Reading fail to do this, they may need to find another Jamie Cureton or Shane Long. A player with speed who can break whilst Reading defend or a player who needs little chance to score and can make their own luck. But as of yet, no striker has shown the ability to cope upfront alone.
So there it is. Sort out the defence and midfield and hopefully the rest will come good. History has shown that Reading have only needed a couple of players to come in during the transfer window like how; Griffin and Khizanishvili, Leigertwood or Roberts did, to improve their performances and fortunes.
Granted on this occasion Reading are in a worse position, thus the cure may need to be more severe. But with the prize being so detrimental to Anton Zingarevich's plan for the club, surely we can expect to see a vast improvement in how this plan is enacted?
Many have discussed how some names linked with a move to Berkshire are Russian? I say fear not. With Anton at the helm it's not surprising that maybe the Russian market is now more open to Reading. Plus is this not the same as seen previously with how the club tried to exploit their links with young Irish players, following the successes of Kevin Doyle and Long?
Having characters like Harry Redknapp back in the league could work to Reading's favour too. Not that Reading need more QPR players (I'd rather less!) but with manager's of Redknapp's "sort" dealing their way through seasons, changes to squads may well open doors for players wanting a move.
We can only hope though eh? Along with anything that happens, we need hope.
Let the January sales begin!