Championship side Reading will be hoping to continue their impressive form at the weekend against a struggling Barnsley side.
The Royals have turned their season around since the previous international break, going unbeaten in five of their last six league games and winning 13 points from a possible 18 during this run.
This is a far cry from their early-season form, when they lost four of their opening five matches of 2021/22 and looked in real trouble with their transfer embargo limited the amount of business they were able to conduct during the campaign.
Have Reading FC had a higher or lower average attendance compared to these 23 sides this season?
But the signings they were able to bring in have done an exceptional job thus far, with Tom Dele-Bashiru, Junior Hoilett and Alen Halilovic already getting on the scoresheet for the Royals, Danny Drinkwater showing his Premier League class, Baba Rahman proving to be a solid option at left-back and Scott Dann helping his teammates keep a vital clean sheet against Cardiff City last time out.
The Berkshire outfit are still contending with injury issues though, with Lucas Joao, Michael Morrison and Yakou Meite just three of several players who are expected to be out for the foreseeable future.
Manager Veljko Paunovic has done well to work with the limited tools he’s had in recent games though – but he will have to manage the expectations of a home win at the Select Car Leasing Stadium this Saturday with their opponents horribly out of form.
Ahead of Saturday afternoon’s clash, we have selected two things the Serbian will need to weigh up.
What happens to the midfield if Scott Dann comes in?
Scott Dann is yet to start a game for Reading after working his way up to full fitness, taking a few weeks to get up to speed before making his debut against Derby County.
He appeared as a substitute again against Cardiff City in the Royals’ last match – and was solid in defence to ensure they kept a clean sheet and took three points away from the Welsh capital.
With this and another international break to build up his fitness further, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the central defender appear from the start against Barnsley, with Liam Moore doing extremely well to recover quickly from his injury against Peterborough United.
Providing he’s fit, the Jamaican is almost certain to start, which would push Josh Laurent out of the defence. He has done more than enough to start again though after filling in well at centre-back, but who makes way for him?
This problem may already be solved, with Junior Hoilett and Alen Halilovic doubts for this weekend’s game, Tom Dele-Bashiru potentially returning to the right and Danny Drinkwater remaining in midfield with Laurent alongside him.
Andy Rinomhota may also be on his way back, but he’s likely to be on the bench whilst the likes of Dele-Bashiru, Drinkwater and Laurent are available.
Puscas or Clarke?
George Puscas looked extremely unhappy when he came off the pitch against Cardiff City in the last match, but he failed to make any sort of impact on the game and it was pretty much symbolic of his 2021/22 season in general.
Failing to get on the scoresheet this term as the club’s only senior striker at this moment in time, he has come in for a heavy dose of criticism and there have even been calls for 18-year-old Jahmari Clarke to start ahead of him.
The teenager is yet to make his first start in the Championship – but did score a hat-trick in the Premier League Cup against Norwich City earlier in the week and has already appeared in the senior second-tier due to the club’s lack of attacking options.
In fairness, youth football is a different kettle of fish to the Championship but if Junior Hoilett is indeed out with an injury, Veljko Paunovic faces having to choose between Puscas and Clarke as the lone striker.
A change in the system could be made to make John Swift a false nine, so it will certainly be interesting to see what Paunovic goes with, especially with Puscas seemingly lacking in confidence.
Would dropping the 25-year-old again prove to be even more detrimental to his mindset?