The start of the 2016/17 season is just around the corner, with Reading FC kicking off at home against Preston North End on Saturday. The summer has been busy for the club, with Jaap Stam now at the helm and eight new players in the squad. The window is not shut just yet, however, so there could still be a few faces still on their way in (or even out) before the deadline.
Pre-season is only a tiny indicator of how a side may start the season, but Reading’s has been reasonable. Stam has used the fixtures largely as a way of seeing the calibre of the youngsters but in the process has recorded three victories and a draw against Premier League side AFC Bournemouth. Their 2-0 defeat to AFC Wimbledon will have acted as a reality check, however, with a fair few first team contenders featuring in that fixture.
At this early stage it is always difficult to predict how fixtures are going to go, especially when the team in question is Reading. This being said, here are a few individuals that I am looking forward to seeing this season and who could make a positive impact.
Of all the signings at the club this pre-season, Roy Beerens is the one that excites me the most. The Dutch winger joined Reading from Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin in July for an undisclosed fee and can play either on the left or right according to Stam.
The player also seems to be highly regarded, expecially by Joey van den Berg. When he first signed, van den Berg announced his surprise that Reading were the club who were able to capture him.
Based on early signs, Beerens definitely has the potential to become a fan favourite. Fans got their first look at the winger at the Open Day but he has since made his first appearance for the club against AFC Bournemouth. Demonstrating his tricks and technique with countless stepovers, the winger is arguably the most exciting prospect of the new signings. He also showed in training that he has the ability to put a decent cross into the box which is something that will be greatly appreciated if he can replicate it in games.
Obviously he has not been tested in the Championship and we are yet to see if he can hack it at this level. That being said, he is the type of player who could definitely make a difference for Reading this season.
When a club of Chelsea’s stature pick up a player, then you immediately know that they
have something special about them. In John Swift’s case, Chelsea’s loss is Reading’s gain. The England U21 international signed for the Royals in July and has already begun to impress the fans.
Unlike the other new arrivals to the club, Swift has had experience of life in the Championship having played on loan for Brentford last season. In twenty-seven appearances for the club, the midfielder scored seven goals- a tally that he will be looking to increase this season I’m sure.
According to Brian Tevreden (Technical Director at Reading FC), a lot of teams were after Swift right up until the last minute so that is an added boost for the club. Playing either on the wing or centrally, Swift could be a real asset and someone that Reading will be keen to keep fit for the duration of the season.
Everyone knows that Reading have been struggling in recent years in front of goal. Following his well taken goal against AFC Bournemouth and based on his all round attacking play, Swift is looking like perhaps he could be part of the solution to that problem.
Since signing for Reading in January from Manchester City, George Evans started only five games for the club last season. Following pre-season, however, he is working his way into contention for frequent starts in the Reading midfield.
At just 21 years of age, it is still early in his career but he is starting to demonstrate exactly why the club signed him. There are a multitude of options for Reading in central midfield but Evans in particular is beginning to show a quality that the Royals could make use of in the Championship.
Joey van den Berg
Joey van den Berg was Reading’s second arrival this season, joining back in June. Initially van den Berg was a player that I was somewhat concerned about due to his “bad boy image” but early opinions have somewhat changed.
The first glimpse I got of the Dutchman was again at the Open Day and that was when he first grabbed my attention. In the training drills, van den Berg lined up alongside Paul McShane at centre-back and impressed me. When he first signed, Stam described him as a “left-footed midfielder but he is also capable of playing in defence as a centre-back or a left-back, as well as anywhere in the midfield.” Reading into that, perhaps even the manager does not know where his main position is.
Based on what I have seen, however, van den Berg would be best utilised as a defensive midfielder. His performance at centre-back against Bournemouth was a concern and if used there in the Championship he could soon become a liability. Following the departure of Oliver Norwood, perhaps a defensive midfield position has just opened up for him.
He appears to be physically strong, composed and willing to run forward with the ball. Subsequently he could be someone that Reading could make use of in midfield. Again, we are yet to see what he is capable of at Championship level but he has a stature and presence that the club could benefit greatly from; That is assuming that he has the temperament to not get himself sent off frequently.
After only a few months at Reading, you could say that Deniss Rakels is already well on his way to cult status at the club (despite arguably not doing a lot to earn it). As previously mentioned, the Royals have been struggling in front of goal but perhaps this is the season for Rakels to really step up.
Rakels made a name for himself last season when he came on to score his first goal for the club late on in the 4-3 win against Charlton Athletic. The Latvian was not given much of a chance by Brian McDermott, so it will be interesting to see where he stands with Stam. So far this pre-season, Rakels has already found the net on a couple of occasions which is a promising indicator. Against AFC Bournemouth, however, he was a somewhat anonymous figure up front as the sole striker throughout the game.
In terms of attacking options over the duration of this season, Reading currently have Rakels, Yann Kermorgant, Dominic Samuel and new boy Joseph Mendes. With concerns over Samuel’s consistent ability to pick up injuries, Mendes being untested at Championship level as well as currently being injured, and Kermorgant being a bit hit and miss during his first season, this could be the season for Rakels to step up and prove his worth. Competition never hurt anybody, however, and with academy graduates consistently pushing for a spot in the first team, hopefully the incentive is there for the strikers to prove themselves this season.
Having seen the U21s play on a number of occasions over the last few years, Liam Kelly is someone that I was already aware of at the club. This season, however, it appears that the new coaching team has taken note too.
While Kelly may not be the tallest of players, he possesses a level of technical ability that is already impressing fans in pre-season. His free-kick against Boreham Wood demonstrated exactly what he is capable of. With Oliver Norwood leaving to join Brighton, perhaps he will soon become be the designated free-kick taker in the squad.
Kelly was sent on loan to Bath City last season so it will be interesting to see if Stam opts to keep him as part of the Reading setup this year. Last season I highlighted the likes of Dominic Samuel and Tariqe Fosu as some of the youngsters to look out for. Shortly after, they were both loaned out to clubs in the lower divisions where they seemed to impress. Kelly could be at risk of a similar fate this season but he is increasingly edging ever closer to first team action.
Anyone who signs for Reading from PSG despite offers from Premier League clubs such as Crystal Palace, Southampton and Middlesbrough deserves to make this list.
Yakou Meite became Reading’s seventh signing of the season and came as a bit of a surprise. The 20-year-old forward is capable of playing on either wing or as a striker according to Stam and as a result is an interesting addition to the squad.
Possessing “a great left foot, good technique, good physique and pace” while also being six foot tall, Meite could soon become a key player for Reading.
Other than the fact that he is currently untested at Championship level- like many of Reading’s new signings- the only hitch early on appears to be the language barrier. The immediate comparison in recent years could be made to Paolo Hurtado, who appears to continuously struggle to make an impression largely due to not knowing the language. Being French, however, Meite has the likes of Yann Kermorgant and Joseph Mendes to help him adapt to life in England which will hopefully work in the club’s favour.
It is still very early days, but if Meite can get his head down and learn the language then he could become a fan favourite at Reading in no time.