Talking Tactics | Reading v Swansea City
Football stats experts WhoScored identify defender Mike van der Hoorn as a key man in Swansea City's final Championship fixture against Reading at the Madejski Stadium tonight (7.30pm).
And so it all comes down to this.
With one game to play, Swansea are the only remaining side who can dislodge one of Cardiff or Nottingham Forest in the top six.
Still three points off the play-offs ahead of the final round of fixtures, the Swans need to win comfortably at Reading and hope one of Cardiff or Forest slip up against Hull or Stoke.
The 1-0 win over Bristol City ensured the play-off race goes to the wire and Swansea, fortunately, face a very hospitable opponent in Reading this evening.
The Royals have been performing well enough under Mark Bowen, but safe from relegation and with nothing to play for, they may take their foot off the gas tonight.
Indeed, Bowen has overseen a run of just one win in Reading's last 10 home league matches, that coming against relegation-threatened Barnsley back in February, while Swansea have an exceptional record against the Royals. Indeed, the Swans are unbeaten in their last 15 meetings with Reading, including a 4-1 win in this match last season.
It was a game Mike van der Hoorn netted in and the Dutchman is set to make his third league start in quick succession following his return from injury in tonight's trip to Reading. A spell on the sidelines has restricted the 27-year-old to just 26 league starts this season, though his season should have been over when he was forced off in the 1-0 win over Charlton back in January only for the Coronavirus pandemic to delay the campaign.
His return to fitness has been the perfect boost for Steve Cooper and his side with van der Hoorn boasting the necessary experience to marshal the backline. A WhoScored.com rating of 6.79 is respectable and with Swansea boasting one of the youngest defences in the division, van der Hoorn's availability has aided the likes of Ben Cabango and Marc Guehi in Cooper's three-man defence.
And with a 46.2 per cent win ratio when he starts, that an increase on the 26.3 per cent when he does not, van der Hoorn's return to the first-team fold has proven to be a huge boost. Now he and Swansea will be hoping his defensive resolve can help keep a Reading side that struggles on home turf at bay as they look to put the Royals to the sword.
Only Sheffield Wednesday (18) and Middlesbrough (20) have scored fewer home goals than Reading (25) in the Championship this season, while only Hull (24) have earned fewer home points (25), and having scored just four goals in their last six league outings at the Madejski Stadium, two of which came in the aforementioned 2-0 victory over Barnsley, van der Hoorn can be confident of ensuring the Reading attack is unable to enjoy a prolific 90 minutes to round off the campaign.
That's not to say Swansea will have an easy ride at Reading tonight. Top scorer Yakou Meite will look to sign off the season on a high note, with his 13 goals contributing towards his statistically-calculated WhoScored.com strength of 'finishing'. The Ivorian recently bagged four in a 5-0 win at Luton, but of his 13 league goals, only five have come at home. Meite has scored just one Championship goal at the Madejski Stadium this calendar year, that coming against Barnsley and a record of five goals in 22 home league outings isn't the best.
That said, Swansea need to be wary of the goal threat he carries. With a defender of van der Hoorn's ilk controlling the backline, though, Swansea have the means to shut Meite and Reading out as they seek to capitalise from any possible slip from those above them in the table in the final push for a playoff spot.