The transfer dilemma facing Reading FC manager Veljko Paunovic as the preseason draws closer
The start of the preseason looms for Reading as they prepare for the new Championship season.
Veljko Paunovic’s side return to train at Bearwood on Monday, June 28 as they embark on a six-week program ahead of the 2021/22 campaign.
The manager is facing an exhausted squad, however, after a few big-name departures earlier in the summer.
Omar Richards, Sone Aluko and Sam Baldock were among the top players released while their contracts were pending, while the three players on loan – Alfa Semedo, Tomas Esteves and Lewis Gibson – all returned to their home clubs .
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Paunovic only has 18 senior players left on his squad – as it stands – with a preseason in just over a week.
While 18 might sound like a healthy number, it’s actually 14 or 15 regular first-team players, supplemented by a few fringe players.
Moreover, there is a striking imbalance in the squad, with, for example, only four senior defenders from which the Serb can choose.
Paunovic will bring in some of the club’s U23 stars to take part in training, at least initially, to flesh out the numbers and give them a chance to prove they can bring him down to first-team level.
It’s no secret, however, signings need to be made to improve the quality of the squad and ensure competition for places.
In the goal there are three goalkeepers fighting for the No. 1 position. Rafael and Luke Southwood were the first and second pick respectively last season and are heading into the preseason in the same position.
Teenage academy product Jokull Andresson, who spent part of last season on loan in League Two, is also back and will want to claim a place in the senior squad.
Defense is currently the most worrying position for Paunovic, with just four senior players under contract with the club for next season.
Uncertainty remains over Tom McIntyre, whose existing deal expires at the end of June. The center-back is in talks with the club over a new contract but has yet to put pen to paper.
This means Reading has a right-back (Andy Yiadom), three center-backs (Liam Moore, Michael Morrison and Tom Holmes) and no left-backs as it stands.
With a lack of options in the youth system, the priority for Reading in the summer transfer market should be dealing with full-back positions.
There are seven senior midfielders on the Royals’ books – Andy Rinomhota, Josh Laurent, Michael Olise, Ovie Ejaria, John Swift, Felipe Araruna and Dejan Tetek.
Olise’s future remains on the table, however, after the teenager has had a superb campaign in 2020/21 and has been linked with a number of Premier League clubs.
The 19-year-old has only one year left on his contract so Reading could consider taking advantage of the forward, who has been tipped to go far in the game.
Swift, who came close to joining Sheffield United last summer, is expected to generate interest again in the coming months, despite having been injured for most of last season any deal will be far from straightforward.
Araruna, meanwhile, has only appeared four games in 2020/21 due to injury, so while he should be fresh for the preseason, he will need playing time under his belt the most. early as possible.
The Tetek Academy product has been used sparingly last year and while much appreciated by Paunovic, it would be a surprise to see it overused this coming year – especially if Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent stay at the club.
With the departures of Baldock and Sam Smith, only four senior forwards remain in Reading.
One is Marc McNulty, and given he’s been on loan from the Royals four times since joining in 2018, it’s clear he’s at the bottom of the pecking order.
That leaves Paunovic with only three realistic options up front – Lucas Joao, George Puscas and Yakou Meite.
Joao remains the first choice in attack even if he will want to make sure he starts the season strong after a bad end to the campaign.
Meite’s ability to play across the front line remains an extremely important asset for the team and the fact that he scored 12 goals in 25 appearances last season shows he is a dangerous goal threat.
If he stays fit this year, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be able to reach 20 goals.
The jury is still out on Puscas who suffered an injury in 2020/21, although when he was on the pitch he rarely impressed.
The Romanian has only scored four goals in 22 appearances, so a lot of work is needed to get him to shoot all cylinders again.
Paunovic has six weeks to prepare his squad for the Championship campaign which begins the weekend of August 7/8.
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He has yet to sign any new signings and there has only been one player sale – teenage striker Thierry Nevers to West Ham United.
As in previous windows, money is extremely tight and all income will be primarily loans or free agents.
Any deal for new players will be scrutinized by the English Football League (EFL) to prevent the club from falling under the Profit and Sustainability guidelines.
Reading’s Under-23 team are due to report to Bearwood on Tuesday June 22, while the club’s Under-18s have been asked to return on Friday July 2.
Rafael, Luke Southwood, Jokull Andresson
Liam Moore, Michael Morrison, Andy Yiadom, Tom Holmes
Andy Rinomhota, Josh Laurent, Michael Olise, Ovie Ejaria, John Swift, Felipe Araruna, Dejan Tetek
Yakou Meite, Lucas Joao, George Puscas, Marc McNulty
Some of the U23s that could be used to increase the numbers
Coniah Boyce Clarke, Ethan Bristow, Imari Samuels, Jeriel Dorsett, Nelson Abbey, Nahum Melvin-Lambert, Mamadi Camara