Monday, July 30, 2007

Premiership Preview--11. Reading

11. Reading finished 8th last season to the delight of manager Steve Coppell, who had insisted all year long that he didn't want his team to play in the UEFA Cup this season, preferring to put all of the team's focus and energy on the domestic level. I understand Coppell's idea, but at the same time, I think he made a huge mistake in not going for a UEFA Cup spot. Let's be honest, Reading overachieved last season. They've got some good young players, but finishing above more talented teams like Newcastle, Aston Villa, Blackburn, and Portsmouth was a major coup for them. Coppell should have seized the opportunity to play in Europe when it was there for the taking, because Reading won't get back to the top 8 this season.

Reading was one of the least active Premiership teams in the transfer market this summer. The only player brought in by Steve Coppell was 23-year old French defender/midfielder Kalifa Cissé from Boavista. Cissé probably won't play too much in the back for Reading as their back four seems entrenched (Murty, Ingimarsson, Sonko, and Shorey), but should be able to earn considerable playing time in the midfield. Losing Steve Sidwell, arguably the club's best player last season, is a huge blow, but one that was self-inflicted as Sidwell wanted to play for a team that played in Europe, and now he'll do just that with Chelsea. Greg Halford, a 22-year old, 6'5" player who can play nearly every position on the field, left for Sunderland after only playing in 3 games for Reading last season. He's a former England U-20 player who definitely would've played a bigger role for Reading in the future, but he went out in search of more playing time and will probably get it under Roy Keane at Sunderland.

We'll be able to see what kind of team Reading is by looking at their results in their first four games this season. In a 13-day stretch, Reading will go to Manchester United, host Chelsea and Everton, and make a trip to Bolton. They won't be able to hide in those games, and getting off to a good start in the Premiership is essential for any team with European ambitions (though Coppell may not have any). Every game from September into December is very winnable, with the toughest of those being a road game at Portsmouth and a home date with Arsenal. I can't see Reading getting many points out of their 7 combined games in January and February as they'll play at Aston Villa, Chelsea, and Everton, and host Portsmouth, Manchester United, Bolton, and Aston Villa. The run-in to the end of the season isn't exceptionally difficult, but 3 of the last 4 games are away, including a trip to the Emirates Stadium to play Arsenal.

Bottom Line: The honeymoon is over for Steve Coppell and Reading, as they won't get back to a top 8 finish this season. Reading played over their heads last season and they'll fall back to Earth, though not as dramatically as Wigan did last year after their 10th place finish in 2005-2006. The club was too quiet during the transfer window, especially with the improvements that Aston Villa, Portsmouth, and to a lesser degree Blackburn, made. 11th place would be a decent finish for Reading; I can't see them falling much lower than that but they don't have the firepower to compete with the teams in the top half of the Premiership.

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