Reading have won just once so far this season and are unlikely to add to that total when they are visited by Premier League leaders Man Utd at the Madejski Stadium on Saturday (5.30pm GMT, live on ESPN).
The Royals were promoted to the Premier League as champions but have struggled to adapt to the demands of the top flight and are currently 19th in the table with nine points from their 13 matches to date.
Brian McDermott’s men have scored a fair number of goals (16) but are letting them in on a far too regular basis, conceding 23 – the joint-fourth worst record in the division. They had the best defensive record in the Championship last season, but have not been able to transfer that to the Premier League.
Reading have been involved in six matches with four or more goals this season without emerging victorious from any of them. Trying to take on and beat Premier League teams by scoring one more than them is rarely a wise tactic for a promoted club and Reading are learning that the hard way.
They have scored the first goal in five of their 13 matches to date and generally give excellent accounts of themselves in the first half of matches, leading at half time against Chelsea, Fulham, Swansea and Wigan. However, they only picked up two points from those four matches, hinting at an issue that becomes all too clear when you analyse the goals they have conceded this season.
78% of the goals Reading have conceded have come in the second half of matches, suggesting they often fade after strong first half performances. Of those 18 goals, 12 were conceded during the final 20 minutes of play, leading to eight points dropped from winning or drawing positions.
An additional eight points would see the club in mid-table and McDermott must urgently find a way to stop his side tiring and becoming sloppy in the last quarter of matches if Reading are to avoid losing touch with those above them.
The Royals play one of the most direct forms of football in the league and Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will be relatively confident in his team’s ability to deal with their offensive threat coming off the back of a 1-0 victory at home to West Ham, another long ball team, on Wednesday.
Ferguson paired Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans in the centre of defence for that match and they generally dealt very competently with West Ham’s aerial threat, the only problems for the United defence coming from a couple of set-pieces.
In the post-match press conference, Ferguson spoke of the importance of putting together a run of clean sheets if United are to keep their winning form going through December and the busy Christmas period. With most of his defensive options now returning to fitness he will certainly hope to shore up a defence that has been exposed at times this season.
Ferguson has no such problems at the other end of the pitch, Man Utd scoring a league high 33 goals to date, six more than any other side. Those goals have yielded the exact same number of points, propelling United to 11 victories from 14 matches and seeing them a point clear of local rivals City at the top of the table.
Robin Van Persie ended his three-match barren run with the winner against West Ham. He, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez will all be confident of adding to their totals if given the opportunity to start against a porous Reading defence.
In the absence through injury of wingers Antonio Valencia and Nani, Ferguson again opted for a diamond midfield in the victory over West Ham and it is likely he will again employ that formation in this match.
The energy of Anderson and Tom Cleverley either side of the diamond allowed Michael Carrick to shine in his role at its base, intercepting well and launching attacks with precise passes forward, including the assist for Van Persie’s goal.
Rooney, too, is starting to adapt to the demands of his attacking midfield position. His goal output may have dramatically lowered, but with Van Persie taking on that mantle, Rooney has turned creator, laying on six assists in his ten appearances thus far, two more than he managed in the entirety of last season.
Reading v Man Utd Betting Tips Advice
We expect Reading to follow the pattern set in many of their matches this season by starting strong before fading in the second half and conceding goals that see them come away empty handed. United have a potent attack and we simply cannot imagine them being constricted by a leaky Reading defence.