Everton travel to Reading this weekend to take on Brian McDermott's 18th placed squad. We had a great chat with Dan, the editor of the SB Nation Reading blog The Tilehurst End about various things that have been plaguing the Royals this season. Read the Q&A we did for them by clicking here.
RBM - McDermott's first season managing a Premier League side has not been going all that well. What do you think is at the root of Reading's struggles this season?
TTE - Bad luck, bad refereeing and a questionable recruitment policy over the summer have all played a part in our slow start, but one that's still not been a disaster...yet. We were unlucky to be on the wrong end of a shocking offside decision at Chelsea, while only a Demba Ba handball denied us a win over Newcastle. Throw in some uncharacteristic howlers from goalkeeper Adam Federici and 99/100 we'd have had a win on the board by now.
The ridiculous stop-start schedule also hasn't helped and the fact we've only had 10 league games by mid November hasn't suited us at all.
RBM - Do you feel McDermott did enough in the transfer market during the offseason to build a squad with quality and depth to play at the Premier League level. Who were some of his signings?
TTE - Brian was perhaps guilty of overestimating the qualities of some of our Championship winning team and our midfield in particular has looked very exposed in the first 10 games. Danny Guthrie was our only notable central midfielder signed and he's fallen out in private and on twitter with the management, while he's now injured. Jem Karacan came into the season with a knock and then got crocked against Liverpool leaving us with only Mikele Leigertwood and Jay Tabb as recognised central midfielders. With the greatest of respects, while they both work exceptionally hard, neither are true Premier League quality midfielders and our ball retention has been shocking at times.
Elsewhere the buys seemed to make sense with promising young players like Chris Gunter, Garath McCleary and Adrian Mariappa all looking good long term buys while Nicky Shorey was a solid experienced option to replace the ageing Ian Harte.
Pavel Pogrebnyak was the only 'big' signing we made and while he's shown flashes of quality, such as his header against Chelsea, he's struggled to fit into our more direct style. Brian has largely gone back to the team that got us promoted which has made us look a little bit more solid, but hasn't made us look like a true Premier League side so far.
RBM - Speaking of the transfer market, Andrei Arshavin's name has been linked with the Royals recently. Do you think he would be able to help? Who else is being spoken about in relation to Reading for the January transfer window?
TTE - He'd certainly bring a bit of star quality to the side and is certainly a player that has technical ability far beyond anything we've got now, the only question would be has he got the stomach for a relegation fight? If he shows anything like his Euro 2008 or early Arsenal form then you could be looking at an impact similar to the one Tevez had at West Ham in 2007. If it fails then it's another Benito Carbone at Bradford scenario where the club are lumbered with high wages, and a player that disrupts the club and fractures the dressing room.
Elsewhere and we've heard a few murmurings about Charlie Austin but Reading rarely do their business in public and most names are just pure speculation.
RBM - How is the relationship between Sir John Madejski and Brian McDermott? Has McDermott been given enough support financially and otherwise? Is McDermott's position as manager under threat.
TTE - While Sir John is still Chairman, it's new Russian owner Anton Zingarevich that controls the club now. Everton fans might remember the name as his father Boris was on the verge of taking a stake in the Toffees a few years ago but ultimately it fell through.
Anton has come into the club and promised modest, sensible investment similar to what we saw under Sir John in his early years and so far that's what we've seen. It's hard to imagine players like Pogrebnyak coming in under the old owner so we've certainly had a boost if not the revolution some fans had probably hoped for. Still it's good to see the club being run in a sensible fashion and there's not too many concerns we'll be the next Pompey!
In terms of his relationship with Brian, it seems fairly chummy to date with the two both talking about meeting up for drinks on numerous occasions and praising a positive relationship. Brian has said he got every player he wanted this summer so if you believe that then all is well. The new owner also backed McDermott with a new long-term deal last spring so showed he was happy for Brian to be 'his man'.
RBM - Who have been some of the top performers for the Royals this season? Who have been the weaker links?
TTE - Ultimately Pogrebnyak and Guthrie haven't helped the team develop as much as we'd have liked and the mercurial Jimmy Kebe hasn't shone as much as we would have hoped either.
As mentioned the midfield is hard working but pretty ineffectual but credit to Jobi McAnuff for putting in some decent shifts out on the left while Noel Hunt and Nicky Shorey have both been good more often than not.
The star of the season has to be Alex McCarthy who could well have had himself an England callup had he not slammed his shoulder into the post in the dying seconds against QPR. The former U21 stopper is certainly a name to look out for.
RBM - Finally, how about a score prediction for Saturday? Will Reading come out guns ablaze, or choose to give up possession in the middle of the park? Who should Everton be watching out for?
TTE - Well given the aforementioned problems with the midfield we've got no option other than to go 4-4-2, unless McDermott goes a bit crazy and plays McAnuff in the middle in a 4-5-1. As mentioned our ball retention is fairly dire so long for a long of balls out wide and runs from the wingers or long hopeful punts for Noel Hunt to flick on.
We've never been a team to park the bus so we'll do our best to go for a win. After three 'must win' games against Fulham, QPR and Norwich, it might actually suit us to play a team where we're not expected to get a result.
Jason Roberts has looked threatening recently and a league goal can't be too far away, while Garath McCleary could well explode into life on the right wing. I'm hoping we upset the odds and nick a 2-1 win but could just as easily see a 3-1 win for Everton.