Can the Royals and Brian McDermott continue their good work?
Last Season: 1st (Championship)
In: Adrian Mariappa (£3.3m, Watford), Chris Gunter (£2.6m, Nottingham Forest), Nicky Shorey (free, West Bromwich Albion), Garath McCleary (free transfer, Nottingham Forest), Danny Guthrie (free transfe, Newcastle United), Pavel Pogrebnyak (free transfer, Fulham)
Out: 16 players have left the club. See here for a full list of departures
If they were an Olympian: Ben Ainslee. Been out of the limelight since last major triumph in 2008 but back at the top four years on. Easy on the eye and inoffensive, very middle class (sponsored by Waitrose!) but well liked by all.
Reading manager Brian McDermott has done a fantastic job at the Madjeski stadium since taking charge in January 2010. Promoted as caretaker manager after Brendan Rogers was sacked, McDermott started brilliantly, knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup in the third round at Anfield. After being confirmed as the clubs manager, McDermott led the club to the FA Cup quarter finals for the first time in nearly a century. The next season he took them to the brink of the Premier League, losing 4-2 to former boss Brendan Rogers' Swansea in the Play-off final. Whilst many teams often spiral downwards after such a near miss, McDermott rallied his troops and they romped to the Championship title, going on a superb run of 15 wins in 17 games.
Last May saw long term owner, chairman and benefactor Sir John Madjeski sell of 51% of the club to Thames Sport Investment, a group lead by Russian-born Anton Zingarevich however Madjeski remains at the club as Chairman.
Reading are one of the best run clubs in the country and the perfect riposte to those who argue that directors of football do not work in England. At Reading, Nicky Hammond has worked closely with McDermott to acquire players who offer a blend Premier League experience and youthful enthusiasm and hunger. Nicky Shorey, Danny Guthrie and Pavel Pogrebnyak are all experienced top level pro's whilst Adrian Mariappa, Chris Gunter and Garath McCleary are young and talented. This transfer policy is somewhat of an amalgamation of the recruitment policies of Norwich and QPR last season.
One of the main reasons for Reading's success last year in the Championship, which is a notoriously difficult league to get out of, was their versatility. Whilst ideally looking to keep the ball on the ground with players like Jobi McAnuff and Jimmy Kebe, if teams chose the physical route then Reading were happy to match them. With giant centre half Kaspars Gorkss at one end and Jason Roberts at the other, Reading were more than capable of dealing with those attempting to use less than noble means to defeat them.
The biggest problem you fear for Reading will be goals. They have plenty of players who can create and chip in now and then but their highest scorer in the league last year was Adam le Fondre with 12. Whilst spreading the goals around is fine, history tells us that promoted teams who can boast a 15 goal a season striker stand a much better chance of surviving, i.e. Grant Holt at Norwich last year.
McDermott and Reading will be hoping that Pavel Pogrebnyak is that man and there is no doubt that the Russian, who spent the second half of last season with Fulham, has all the attributes to succeed in the league. Whether the 28 year old can sustain his form over the season remains to be seen but on his day the "pog" is a real threat who can finish with both feet as well as being strong in the air.
Much depends on Jimmy Kebe, whose ability to ghost past opposition defenders made him one of the Championship's most entertaining players. Often linked with moves away from the Madjeski, Kebe has remained at the club and this season will be his chance to prove that his talents belong on the big stage. Again goals are the problem and for such a talented player, Kebe should really have scored more than the 3 goals he manged last term.
McDermott mostly used a 4-4-2 last season, however he may well ask Pogrebnyak to play up front on his own and use his strength to hold the ball up so that Reading can add an extra man in midfield.
This season will be much like the past few, with relegation going right down to the wire. Reading have proved in recent years that they can handle the pressure and with an excellent young manager and a supportive boardroom, I feel they may just have enough to survive.
Predicted Finish: 17th
Key Man: The club have a number of players who were critical in their remarkable promotion campaign and one key in their rise was that they were not reliant on any one individual. Goal scoring was spread well between forwards Adam le Fondre (12), Noel Hunt (8), Simon Church (7) and Jason Roberts (6). At the back goalkeeper Adam Federici and Latvian centre back Kaspars Gorkss were outstanding, whilst Ian Harte rolled back the clock with a number of outstanding performances and a few critical goals.
Underrated: Definitely not underrated by those who have seen Reading on a regular basis but perhaps unknown to others, 23 year old Jem Karacan is a seriously talented midfielder. Although not physically impressive, Karacan is tough, and proved last season in the Championship that he could look after himself. An excellent dribbler and passer, Karacan was invaluable to Reading last year until he suffered a broken ankle at the hands of Leeds United. Only recently returned to full training, the Royals will be hoping that the Turkish U21 international can return to the form he showed last year, which attracted the attention of a number of Premier League teams.
Watch out for: Adam le Fondre. Signed from Rotherham for £350,000 at the start of last season, le Fondre was in and out of the team for much of last term but he more than repaid his transfer fee come the end of the season when he scored crucial goals in wins against both Leeds and Southampton that all but sealed Reading's promotion. A lively striker, le Fondre is able to sniff out half chances and if he can carry on from where he left off last year, Reading will continue to consider that £350k money very well spent.
Comments? Views? Please add them below.