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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

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By ESPN Staff

Second season syndrome awaits

As West Ham will testify, the first season in the top flight is easy, provided you have a solid base of players to choose from. It's the second season that gets you.

Steve Coppell will be all too aware of the Hammers' plight last year and will want to avoid a similar fate in 2007/08 as his overachieving Reading side look forward to the new season.

It is surely too much to ask for Reading to continue their meteoric rise up the Premier League table. Finishing last season in 8th place, just missing out on Europe in the process, would have been beyond the wildest dreams of the Reading faithful - but can they do it again?

The short answer is that it seems doubtful.

Not only because of the 'second season syndrome' that so often affects promoted teams, but also because they have lost one of their prize assets, Steve Sidwell, to Chelsea on a free transfer.

It was an open secret throughout last season that Sidwell would be looking for a new club once his contract expired in the summer and despite Coppell's (and Newcastle's) best efforts, a reported £50,000-a-week deal at the former Champions was too good to refuse.

A key member of the Royals squad, Sidwell will be missed and Coppell has yet to dip into the transfer market to replace him.

In fact, Reading's only signing of the close season so far has been Frenchman Kalifa Cisse. The versatile defender/midfielder impressed in the Portuguese Liga with Boavista, but will not provide the goal threat or creativity that was Sidwell's trademark.

Much will be expected of Reading's heroes from last season, Nicky Shorey, skipper Graeme Murty, Ivar Ingimarsson and Kevin Doyle.

While Shorey's future is not completely clear, amid interest from West Ham and Newcastle, Reading's most in-form player will be hoping to add to his England caps wherever he ends up. The club can ill afford to lose another of their 2006/07 stalwarts and will do everything in their power to keep the left-back.

Kevin Doyle is another player who has attracted the eye of many a Premier League manager with his displays last season. Showing an excellent finishing touch, the Irishman netted 13 times last season and picked up a nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.

Alongside England U21 starlet Leroy Lita and emerging youngster Shane Long, Doyle would do well to re-create the form that saw him set the league alight last term, although he certainly has the potential to do so again.

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Defensively, little will change. Coppell seems to be of the belief that you don't need to change a winning formula and in Ibrahima Sonko and Ivar Ingimarsson, Reading have one of the toughest centre-back partnerships in the league. Sonko spent the second half of the season out with a cruciate ligament injury and will be keen to show the fans that he is back to his best; while Ingimarsson, a fans' favourite at the club, had an exceptional season.

American goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann did as well, although he missed out on the Copa America tournament in June due to a broken hand. The giant stopper will continue to be a massively important figure at the club, while deputies Adam Federici and Graham Stack will get little opportunity to impress.

Indeed, where Reading may fall down is in the depth of their squad. A few injuries to key players and the likes of John Halls, Brynjar Gunnarsson and Dave Kitson may not be able to carry the team.

Getting the most out of his best players for a second successive season will certainly prove to be manager Steve Coppell's biggest task, as well as recruiting some new faces before the transfer window closes.

Maintaining an attacking style and a 'no fear' attitude have been hallmarks of Coppell's reign, so it would be a great surprise if there was not more of the same this season.

With an impressive pre-season campaign, which included a 1-0 win over French Champions Lyon and a 6-1 hammering of Brentford, the Royals look on good form going into the new season.

While they were not able to secure a place in the Peace Cup finals, the side have continued to gel well as a unit, and are not expected to play a vastly different game from the team we saw last campaign.

Linked with moves for Monaco's giant Czech striker Jan Koller, Emerse Fae from Nantes and West Ham's Hayden Mullins, if there is any area that needs strengthening it will be in midfield. Sidwell's absence leaves a hole that James Harper and Steven Hunt would struggle to fill on their own, while Coppell is also rumoured to be interested in taking one of Arsenal duo Justin Hoyte or Johan Djourou on loan.

One of the most popular teams for neutrals, thanks in part to their attacking instinct and tenacity, Reading look every inch a Premier League team. Relegation should not be a concern for them in 2007/08, although the ever cautious Coppell will still breathe a sigh of relief when they pass the 40 point mark.

While they may find it tough to re-create their amazing successes from last year, Reading should see the season as an excellent chance to cement their top flight status, as long as they can avoid the second season syndrome, the sky's the limit for Coppell and company.


  • Any comments? Email Jon Carter