Watford will travel to Reading for the second round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday as they seek qualification for the next stage of the competition.
While the Hornets may be flying high in the Premier League after three straight wins — with the Royals failing to win in their opening five Championship matches — form goes out of the window in cup competitions and Javi Gracia could do worse than be wary of what the home side will offer.
Centre-back Liam Moore was one of the more sought-after players in the Championship during the summer window, attracting interest from Brighton & Hove Albion. The Englishman joined from Leicester City in 2016 and has been a stalwart in Reading’s first-team ever since.
With physical attributes all across the board — pace, height and strength — Moore is normally partnered with former Liverpool defender Tiago Ilori.
Liam Kelly is the orchestrator in midfield. An academy graduate at Reading, he usually plays as a holding midfielder but can be deployed further forward.
Standing at the below-average height of five feet and four inches, Kelly compensates for his lack of physical prowess with accurate passing and vision — the Irishman notched an impressive 93.3% passing accuracy in the recent home defeat to Bolton Wanderers.
While last season’s top scorer Modou Barrow will be unable to feature against Watford, current top scorer Jón Dadi Bödvarsson finds himself in a decent spot of form. The 26-year-old has scored three of the Royals’ four league goals this season and already looks set to improve on his tally of seven from last term.
Clement aiming to restore success at the Madejski
In the last 25 years, Reading have generally been a club towards the bottom of the top flight or near the top of the second tier. Their most recent Premier League stint was in 2012/13, when they finished 19th.
The Berkshire outfit came close to a return in 2016/17 when Jaap Stam guided the club to third, however, the Dutchman’s side were defeated in the playoff final by current Premier League side Huddersfield Town.
Reading endured a difficult 46 games of football in the Championship last season, as they failed to reach the heights of the year before and were condemned to a 20th-place finish, just above the relegation spots.
As such, Stam left the club by mutual consent in March and former Swansea City manager Paul Clement was brought in to steer the club to safety. Having achieved that objective, Clement now has loftier expectations for his Reading side.
In an interview following his appointment at the Royals, Clement said: “There’s a lot of ambition to take the club further forward. They were just penalty kicks away from the Premier League, and that’s where the club want to be and that is the ambition I have — to coach at that level again.”
Reading sit 23rd in the Championship, with two points from five games. Watford, meanwhile, are flying high in the top flight having secured full points from their first three games, most recently defeating Crystal Palace 2-1 at Vicarage Road.
The Hornets have not lost in five visits to the Madejski Stadium and prevailed in the last meeting between the two sides: a 4-1 win for Watford. The goals that day were scored by Almen Abdi, Matej Vydra, Troy Deeney and Fernando Forestieri, and the match took place just weeks before Watford earned promotion to the Premier League.
A draw has been the most likely outcome between the two sides, occurring on 10 out of 27 occasions. Reading edge the head-to-head record, winning nine encounters compared to Watford’s eight.
Last time out
In their most recent game, Reading earned a dramatic 1-1 draw at Aston Villa. The visitors conceded an early second-half goal and looked destined for defeat, however, they were awarded a stoppage-time penalty which was dispatched by Sam Baldock.
The Royals prevailed over Birmingham City in the first round of the Carabao Cup, with the goals coming from Yakou Méïté and John Swift in a comfortable 2-0 win.
Winger Barrow was taken off at half-time in the draw at Villa Park and is unlikely to play any role in this fixture. Reading will also be without David Edwards, Garath McCleary, Callum Harriott, Jordan Obita and Chris Gunter.
Predicted line-up: Walker; Yiadom, Ilori, Moore, Blackett; Aluko, Bacuna, Swift, Méïté; Baldock, McNulty.