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What can we learn from Jaap Stam’s first game in charge at Reading?

Jaap Stam has been quick to dampen the expectations of the Reading faithful as we head into the 2016/17 Championship season by strongly hinting that he thinks that promotion is beyond the Berkshire outfit this season. This does seem to be a wise thing to do, as in the last two seasons Reading have ended up finishing way short of promotion and the club is once again in a stage of transition.

It wasn’t the ideal run in to the first game of the season for Reading as they lost Oliver Norwood to Brighton which shook up the plans that Reading boss Jaap Stam had for the weekend. However, the former Manchester United man could not have asked for a better start to his campaign as Reading manager.

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You can’t argue with three points and a clean sheet and the Royals looked good value for the result – particularly in the first half. It was a day in which tribute was paid to Eamonn Dolan, and it was fitting that yet another one of his academy products, Tennai Watson, made his first team debut on the same day that the Eamonn Dolan stand was officially opened.

One point that will really stand out for the Reading fans is that all of the new signings who featured looked comfortable and each had their own role within Jaap Stam’s new system. Reading retained possession very well, as you would expect against a Preston team who pressed the Reading defenders very little, but the willingness of the midfield three of Danny Williams, George Evans, and John Swift to drop deep for the ball and allow others to run was very good viewing. This meant that while Jaap Stam’s men were recycling the ball back to Ali Al-Habsi quite often – they were constantly pulling players around and this allowed them to dictate the tempo of the game and wait until a good opportunity to play a forward pass came about.

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However, this may seem like an obvious point – but this Reading side still isn’t the finished product. Stam has mentioned that he would like to get a couple more players through the door before the end of the transfer window. The Reading fans have been pining for a striker who is ruthless in front of goal and will take chances to score in a clinical fashion.

Latvian international Deniss Rakels looked a bit isolated playing in the centre of front three and missed a golden chance to kill the game. This isn’t to say that Rakels played badly, he worked hard but in a league as tight as the Championship – the chance that fell to him has to hit the net. However, the understanding between the players at this early stage of the season is very encouraging and it will surely only improve as the season goes on.

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While it is certainly too early to be getting ahead of ourselves as to predicting where teams are going to finish; Reading looked a step above Preston on the day and that was no doubt largely to do with how Reading set up and their approach to attacking play which led to multiple occasions where they split open the opposition. The players weren’t scared to hold onto the ball and were patient in possession and this is exactly the philosophy that Jaap Stam and his team have been trying to get the players understanding throughout pre-season.

Preston weren’t at their best and Reading will most likely face much sterner tests than that this season with some top sides in the Championship, but if Reading can repeat the performance that they put on display in the first 45 minutes throughout the season it could be a surprisingly enjoyable campaign for Jaap Stam and his men.

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