After an incredible 49 game campaign, Jaap Stam’s Reading side fell to a 4-3 penalty defeat to David Wagner’s Huddersfield Town in the Play-Off Final.
There is no denying that it’s been an outstanding first season for Jaap Stam’s Reading, but the Dutchman will have a huge job on his hands to pick up his players, dust them off, and get them ready for another tough 46 game campaign.
Expected to be loitering around the relegation zone, Stam carried out an incredible transition, seeing the Royals sustain a play-off spot throughout the season, where they overcame Fulham 2-1 on aggregate over two legs. It was a cagey affair at Wembley against the gegenpressing Huddersfield Town, but after 120 minutes of stalemate, Christopher Schindler broke Reading hearts and sent the Terriers to the promised land of the Premier League.
The approach to next season needs to be perfect if the Royals are to challenge again, but with new shareholders Dai Yongge and Dai Xiu Li offering Stam a ‘war chest’ of funds to invest, the groundworks are there for another promising season.
Here are a few things Stam will need to address this summer should The Royals wish to challenge for the promotion once more
Whilst it’s been a successful first season with Stam’s 4-3-3/3-5-2 possession based system, teams are beginning to figure the Royals out, and Wagner numbed any attacking threat offered by the Royals at Wembley last Monday.
By sitting Schindler and Hefele deep inside their own half, Huddersfield afforded Reading the ball and limited the threat offered on the counter by Yann Kermorgant and Lewis Grabban.
Stam needs to learn to be a bit more flexible and pragmatic with his possession system next season, and at least consider a plan B for away games – only Rotherham conceded more on the road than the Royals.
Of course, Stam won’t be starting from scratch – the squad have grown in confidence massively over the course of the season, with Tyler Blackett and Jordon Obita looking particularly impressive towards the back end of the season.
The Danny Williams Situation
American international Danny Williams firmly put himself in the shop window with 3 outstanding performances during the Play-Offs, and with his contract set to expire, Stam will be eager to table an offer to the former Hoffenheim midfielder.
Shutting out Aaron Mooy and Tom Cairney certainly isn’t an easy task, but Williams established an efficient partnership with unsung hero George Evans, grafting in the centre of the park to allow John Swift the freedom to push forward.
The play-offs highlighted his importance to this Reading side, and replacing one of the league’s best combative midfielders certainly won’t be an easy task.
Whether Williams chooses to stay on or seek greener pastures in the Premier League remains to be seen, but should he pick up a new deal, it certainly won’t be on the cheap.
The Attacking Department
35-year-old Target Man Yann Kermorgant has endured his best season ever in terms of goalscoring form, notching 19 goals in all competitions, but besides the Frenchman, goals have proven hard to come by.
Garath McCleary and John Swift both chipped in from midfield, but with Bournemouth loanee Lewis Grabban struggling to find his feet and a slow start to Jospeh Mendes’ Reading career, the pressure on Kermorgant to deliver is simply too high to sustain another promotion push.
Yakou Meite offers an alternative option with plenty of potential, but with Grabban unlikely to return and Mendes and Deniss Rakels yet to hit top form, new additions are crucial up top if Reading are to challenge seriously for automatic promotion next season.
The new owners have pledged to spend big in the summer, and with Brian Tevreden on board as Technical Director, you feel the Royals will once again invest carefully and to great avail, and if they can recruit anywhere near as successfully as last summer, they will be in a brilliant position come September.