I was watching with interest this week the Carabao Cup 2nd round ties and the contrasting fortunes of two teams I managed in the Premier League.
On Tuesday evening I was at the Madejski Stadium, home of Reading, as they won following extra time against Millwall and on the Wednesday evening I was at St.Marys as Southampton played hosts to an impressive looking Wolverhampton Wanderers side who progressed with a 2-0 victory.
The West Midlands outfit made several changes to the team that has started the League season so impressively under new Manager and former goalkeeper from Portugal, Nuno Espirito Santo. I was impressed by a side that is growing a strong identity and clearly has strength in depth in it's squad to handle a competitive challenge for promotion from the Championship to the Premier League this season. The side appears well drilled with a defensive shape that looks as if it will be hard to break through. On the evening a 1-5-4-1 defensive formation kept a clean sheet. They look physically strong, have players who are quick and have the height and organisation to defend set plays and also to be a threat at them. On the evening the opening goal was from a corner. You could see an organised, fit and hungry group of players, a supportive staff and a large following of supporters who probably can sense something positive is happening to their club since the exit from the Premier League in 2012 which was quickly followed by relegation to League 1 in 2013. A promotion back to the Championship the next season under Kenny Jackett, and new ownership in 2016. As is common place when new owners come into a club there is a change of Manager. The ex FC Porto Boss, Nuno Espritio Santo is now their 3rd Manager and on this early showing could be the man to bring them success.
Wolves will fancy their chances to progress in the competition as they have a home tie against Bristol Rovers in the 3rd round. However I'm sure Southampton, who were beaten finalists last season against Manchester United, will be bitterly disappointed in not progressing. A good cup run can help build momentum and bring a feel good factor around a club and city.
Southampton have a new Manager also this season in Mauricio Pellegrino and he and his team will be looking to learn the lessons from the game as they develop as a team and look to continue to progress in the Premier League.
I was watching with interest the Reading v Millwall game which kicked off at 8pm on Tuesday evening. It was the return of Jake Cooper to the Madejski Stadium, however this time the former Reading youngster was playing for Millwall. Jake had come through the Academy and played for me in the Championship, as had several Academy graduates I had given 1st team debuts too.
I always remember the late Academy Manager Eamonn Dolan saying to me when I joined Reading that he had great belief in Jake as a young man and is one you can trust. Eamonn as usual was spot on.
Jake was in the U18 side when I joined Reading as Manager. He was very tall, 6'5"and still growing. However you could see a young man that, like several of the team, hungry to be the best he could be. As a staff we were very impressed with his attitude. He was in the gym at 7.30 every morning doing his stretching exercises. His desire to work hard was unquestionable with a resilience to keep going through adversity. An example of pushing himself to his limit was when we did the Vo2Max running test on the treadmill at Solent University in pre-season.
Culture is very important if you want to be successful and who you surround yourself with has an affect on that culture. Jakes attitude was positively infectious as was the Captain of his youth team Aaron Kuhl. They both epitomised why so many of the young players had the positive attitude they had. Aaron Captained the U18 side to the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup and also Captained the U21 side that won the Premier League Cup.
I'm really pleased to see that Reading Manager Jaap Stam is prepared to keep a pathway from the Academy to the first team and give the youngsters that vital experience required.
Millwall played a traditional formation of 1-4-4-2 on the evening looking to be very hard to break down. Setting up with a deep defensive block of two banks of four as you can see above. Four defenders with evenly spaced distances between each other and in front of that four midfield players also with even distances between each other. This is designed to minimise space for the opposition to exploit, and be compact enough as a team so that a Millwall player can close down quickly. Add two forwards in front of them and an organised defensive shape is established.
Reading played a fluid game based around possession of the football that was successful for Jaap Stams team in finishing 3rd and reaching the play-off final last season. Reading had plenty of possession on the evening as they searched for a way to break down a resilient Millwall side that have been newly promoted this season to the Championship under the good Management of Neil Harris.
An interchangeable 1-4-3-3 formation started the game for the Royals. A long range shot from new signing from Aston Villa, Bacuna, broke the deadlock, however Millwall quickly equalised. The tie eventually going to 30 minutes extra time. This allowed for the first time the introduction of a 4th substitute which is new in the competition.
I was really pleased that Academy graduate Sam Smith who played centre forward and worked tiredlessly for the team with a constant desire to run in behind the Millwall defence, score his first goal at senior level and Readings third of the evening to send them through to the 3rd round to play Swansea City.
It was also lovely to see Sam Smith mention Eamonn Dolan in his after match interview and how much it meant to him scoring at the Eamonn Dolan Stand end, as Eamonn had brought him to the club. Well said Sam.
Could Wolverhampton Wanderers or Reading get their hands on this Carabao Trophy at the end of the competition ? You never Know !