Looking at the team sheet on Saturday afternoon against Barnsley, it really hit me just how good Reading’s strongest XI is.
Royals Rafael is one of the best goalkeepers in the Championship and the statistics prove that. Likewise, there are not many who can rival a fit Andy Yiadom at right-back and Omar Richards is continuing to go from strength to strength at left-back.
Liam Moore and Michael Morrison are an incredibly experienced centre-back pairing. Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent provide energy and drive in midfield.
The attacking trio of John Swift, Michael Olise and Ovie Ejaria are as skilful and creative as they come at this level. Lucas Joao’s early season form has proven the quality that he has.
But it is behind that starting XI that I start to worry.
The Championship is a notoriously gruelling division, and this season will be the most demanding ever as the fixture list has been condensed due to the delayed start.
Clubs will need strength in depth in order to maintain a challenge at the top of the table through the campaign.
The second string eleven that Reading fielded against Luton Town in the Carabao Cup put in a relatively underwhelming performance and highlighted the need for squad reinforcements.
It was great to see so many young players involved, but whether 17 and 18 year olds are ready to step up to the Championship when called upon is another matter. The squad contains just 16 outfield players over the age of 21, and five of those are strikers.
Full-back appears to be an area where reinforcements are needed most, especially given Yiadom’s patchy injury record. In midfield too, the only options beyond the starting XI come from the academy. Creatively, Sone Aluko is fine to bring off the bench to help see a game out, but he is hardly an inspiring substitution when you need a goal.
Meanwhile, Reading certainly have very talented striking options in the form of George Puscas and Yakou Meite, but Lucas Joao’s absence last season was incredibly noticeable in both results and performances.
It is true that a strong starting XI can win you the league – the first eleven names on Reading’s team sheet from the record breaking 2005-06 season practically roll of the tongue. But even that side was supplemented by talent off the bench.
35 of Stephen Hunt’s 38 Championship appearances that year came as a substitute, while traditional understudies John Oster and Shane Long both scored in the 5-0 win over Derby County that secured the title.
This all means that any transfer business the Royals do in the next couple of weeks could make or break the season. The signs are positive – Veljko Paunovic has admitted that his squad is “not complete” and that “we have to increase our depth”.
Rodrigo Riquelme looks to be an exciting addition to the squad’s attacking options, while Lewis Gibson bolsters the defence. Crewe Alexandra right-back Perry Ng would be a particularly good addition.
It’s been a perfect start, but the season’s hero might be a name we haven’t even heard of yet.