LIVERPOOL vs READING
Saturday 20th October 2012 15:00
Saturday's game brings with it many intriguing parallels and contrasts, most notably with Liverpool's current manager a former manager of the Royals, but also in relation to their league showings to date, where officiating, defensive lapses, and late drama have perhaps undermined encouraging patterns of play. We spoke to Dan Wimbush, editor of Reading site http://www.thetilehurstend.com/
to get his thoughts ahead of the game.
So Dan, your team faces a trip to Anfield on Saturday, with, dare I say it, your tails up after two good recent away results in the cup and the league. How has the start of the season been for you so far?Dan
Has the season actually started yet?
Given the stop-start nature of the Premier League it's not really felt like a proper season yet. This time last year we'd played 13 Championship games, this year just 6 Premier League matches.
After a last minute penalty earned us a point on the opening day against Stoke we put in a great performance at Chelsea, only to be undone by a blatantly offside Torres goal.
A combination of an August rain out, the Super Cup and Internationals then meant we had nearly four weeks until our next game where Tottenham utterly took us apart at the Madejski. After another limp loss at West Brom we've finally started turning the corner, denied a win over Newcastle thanks to a Demba Ba handball before blowing a 2-0 lead at Swansea and leaving with a point. Two league cup wins have also been a positive.
It's safe to say that few Royals are delighted with our start but considering the opposition we've faced it's not been a disaster either. RAWK
Some from this end would suggest a parallel with Liverpool's start in that respect. Performances have encouraged, while results have let us down, be it down to poor finishing, questionable refereeing, or downright defensive stupidity. You currently sit 3 points adrift of the Reds on 3 points - would you have taken that when you started the season, given the fixtures you've faced? Are there aspects of your play that aren't reflected in that points return so far? Dan
Yes and No. I think we'd have liked to get at least one win on the board, with Stoke and Swansea both games we would have given ourselves a chance of picking up all three points from. As yourselves have found out, the Hawthorns won't be an easy place to go this year, I don't think we expected anything from Spurs or Chelsea so happy to write those ones off, but getting a point at home to Newcastle was pleasing. In saying all that we deserved all three against Pardew's side and Chelsea will feel very lucky to have come away with all three points at Stamford Bridge.
Brian McDermott was perhaps guilty to trying to change too much too soon this season and it's the return to last year's style and personnel that have helped turn our form around. That's not to say the likes of Danny Guthrie and Chris Gunter are bad players, it's just Reading have played at such a high tempo for the last couple of years it can be hard to just step in and adapt straight away. RAWK
Which leads nicely to my next question, thank you Dan. It's been clear from previous encounters with McDermott's side that you favour that approach to the game, with energy from your forward players and always looking to play at that kind of high tempo. Being familiar with Noel Hunt's game North of the border for example, you could see how signings of that kind fitted McDermott's view of how the game should be played. Is there a typical 'style' to Reading's game, stretching back to the days of Steve Coppell, for example? Would you say you have a clear footballing identity as a club? Dan
I think it's a style that started with Alan Pardew and has continued ever since. We've always been a team that relies on a lot of hard work, pressuring and pressing at every opportunity and then breaking at speed down the wings or with a direct ball up to a striker. Some have labelled us long ball and I can see where that comes from but there's a lot more to our game then sending up long balls to Hunt and Pogrebnyak. Jobi McAnuff and Jimmy Kebe are two key players in the attacking unit and give either of them space and they can hurt you as Liverpool fans might well remember a spectacular run from McAnuff at Anfield a few years ago.
In terms of personnel we've always tried to sign players with the 'right DNA' ie players that are hungry and with a point to prove. With the odd exception, we've largely been happy to put faith in younger players or those that haven't quite hit the heights elsewhere. You look at teams such as QPR who cast off key cogs in their championship winning side within weeks of promotion and it's pleasing to see that Brian's prepared to give the players that got us here a chance. The one worry from some is that his loyalty might have stopped us adding more proven top level quality but so far it's seemingly worked out just about OK.RAWK
You sent a shiver down my spine there - I remember McAnuff's run well. In fact, it happened at a time when many of us on this site had become exasperated with a lack of incision and ambition out wide. McAnuff put our equivalents to shame.
It maybe highlights the importance of the system, doesn't it? The fact that, in your minds, there's such a thing as a player with the 'right DNA' for Reading FC presumes quite a well-formed idea of how you should play your football, which of course you underline perfectly. It maybe hints at a root cause of the difficulties the current Liverpool manager faced when he took the helm of your club a few seasons ago. Does it? Was Brendan's less direct approach to your build-up a problem for your fans? Or was it simply down to results, personalities, or a combination of the two? Dan
Ahhh Brendan, I've covered his problems at Reading in an article I wrote just over a year ago
. However in a nutshell Brendan was on a bit of a hiding to nothing having to take over a squad that was being dismantled after a golden era under Steve Coppell. Much like he's had to do at Liverpool, Brendan not only had to move on the high earners who no longer had the hunger or quality to get us back up, but also took it upon himself to try and change the style of the football club. It's not that there's anything wrong with tippy tappy football but when you're playing a radically different style to one that brought success over the best part of a decade you better well hope it gets results and in Brendan's case, those results just didn't come.
We won just once at home in four months under Rodgers and while there were signs that perhaps we were turning the corner, the fact is we we perilously close to the drop zone and you can understand why Sir John Madejski pulled the trigger before the new year. It wasn't just the results, we just looked gutless, a timid group of mostly younger players who looked lost as soon as they'd passed their way into the opposition half.
His personality was also off putting to many of our fans. It was nice that he had grand ambitions but constant talk of his 'philosophies' and relationships with Jose Mourinho never sat well with many who had greatly appreciated Coppell's reserved and down to earth style. He then fell out with his big signing Matt Mills and with talk of him losing the dressing room there was only one way things were going to go.
I've long held the belief that perhaps we sacked Brendan too soon and could have turned it around but you cannot argue with the magnificent work that Brian McDermott has done and I wouldn't change that for anything. Brian immediately got us back to playing a style we were more familiar with and his no nonsense, back to basics approach on and off the field helped restore confidence amongst the players and fans. Within 18 months we were at Wembley and two years later crowned Champions, a fantastic achievement for a club without big crowds or parachute payments.
Brendan's subsequent success at Swansea shows he can help tweak a team to good results but he's still got a lot to prove before he can be considered a top manager. Personally I think it's a bad appointment for Liverpool but if expectations are kept very low for the next two years and patience is shown, it might well pay off in the long-term. RAWK
You certainly wouldn't get much argument against Brian McDermott's work from here Dan - he seems both a good man, and a very capable manager. I guess the three fundamental differences in his favour at LFC are that a. the brand of football wasn't that far removed from what he's trying to do, save for some of the more structural elements of his system, b. the youth system had been set up to supply the kind of players his system needs (something that's clearly borne fruit so far and is maybe our biggest positive this season to date), and c. the senior players have bought in to his approach big time. It's maybe fair to say his personality isn't everyone's cup of tea, but the crowd are chanting his name. You don't get the impression that was ever close to happening at Reading. Is that fair? Was there resentment at the 'big book of tactics' from the off? He had an infamous press conference outburst near the end of his tenure there, didn't he? Dan
Fans were initially supportive of Brendan, he'd played and coached for us for a number of years and he'd made a promising start to managerial life at Watford. The problem wasn't so much what he was saying, but the fact was that the results weren't there to back up his 'big book of tactics' or his media spiel. Again when an understated and quiet manager wins the league with 106 points and his replacement talks and talks and talks and you find yourself near the bottom, it's hard to fully support the change!
The press conference outburst came on local radio when he was chatting to long time Reading commentator Tim Dellor. Dellor had suggested that the previous week's 4-2 home defeat to Crystal Palace had been better than that day's 1-1 draw with Scunthorpe and Rodgers just flipped. He seemed outraged at the mere suggestion and claimed that if you held Dellor's belief than you weren't a supporter of the football club. It was a staggering outburst from a man clearly under pressure and while publicly the argument was said to have nothing to do with the decision to sack Brendan, I can't believe it wasn't in the minds of the boardroom members and he was sacked very soon afterwards.
I think you're right in that his conditions at Liverpool are a lot more favorable and he comes in at a time when league expectations are low, your youth system seems to be coming into its own but I do worry that if results don't turn around by the season's end, it could be an early exit. His big problem here was that he refused to adapt until it was too late when if he'd realised his failings sooner he might well have survived longer to build a team suitable to play his style. RAWK
I think that underlines the big worry I have Dan, namely that the Liverpool's owners must back their man and ride out any blips this season brings in terms of results. Fans get jumpy more than ever these days, and seem to find it easy to forget those little incidents that made results fall one way or t'other. Suddenly everything can seem disastrous if Newcastle blag an equaliser via a handball, or if your centre half gifts the ball to Carlos Tevez with only the keeper to beat.
My gut feeling says it won't take that long to resolve the little structural issues we're facing though. We just need to tighten a few bolts here and there, and when January comes, we need genuine goalscoring output to be added to the mix. That said, the bolts haven't yet been demonstrably tightened, and we have weanesses... and annoyingly, we can look vulnerable in the channels inside and behind our full backs (what with you having a little pace and directness on the break).
How do you think the game will go for you? Are there any players we should be worrying about? Dan
The last international break did us no good and we looked rusty but with few of our regulars away with their countries this time it might have done us a few favours, particularly with quite a few Liverpool players being away. If we play as we did against Newcastle we've every chance of nicking at least a point but if we give you too much respect than the likes of Suarez will cause havoc in the same way that Spurs so mercilessly ripped us to shreds a few weeks ago.
Jimmy Kebe is probably the player most likely to create something from nothing, with Jobi McAnuff also dangerous as we've discussed. Beyond that and Pavel Pogrebnyak has genuine top level quality, while the industry of players like Noel Hunt and Jason Roberts can always cause headaches.
For most of the past two weeks I've thought we'll probably slip to a narrow defeat but as the game grows closer I'm beginning to think we might just spring a surprise and get something from the game. Both teams will be desperate for a win but Brian has always been able to dig a result out when it matters the most and we'd all be delighted with a point or three to really kick the 'new' season off well.RAWK
Is McDermott likely to keep it open and try to take the game to Liverpool, or will he 'park the bus'? Dan
We've never been a team to park the bus, though we've never been a team that goes gung-ho either!
I imagine he'll stick with a 4-4-2 and try to play our normal game. It's a tactic that won plenty of key games away last season and considering our last flirtation with 4-5-1 ended in heavy defeat, I don't think we'll see it employed on Saturday.RAWK
Is there anyone you covet in the Liverpool squad at the minute? Anyone you fear ahead of the game?
He's not popular but as Norwich found out, on his day Suarez is a top, top player. The qualities of players like Gerrard are well known but some of your tricky younger players like Sterling and Suso could also get some joy out of our defence.
The Liverpool first XI still remains a team capable of beating anyone in the top half I just hope things don't click on Saturday!RAWK
Well, best of luck and thanks very much for your time. And best of luck for the future with your site, because it's excellent!