EFL 2020/21:Blackburn v Nottingham Forest- tactical analysis tactics

Sabri Lamouchi was the first manager to be sacked this season. He was swiftly replaced by Chris Hughton at Nottingham Forest. Hughton arrives with a proven track record of gaining promotion from the Championship. On top of that, he inherits a squad that many believe should be pushing for the play-off positions as a minimum. His first game in charge was away at Blackburn. The Lancashire side, managed by Tony Mowbray, have enjoyed the opposite type of start to their opponent, having picked up 7 points from their first 4 games. However, as is always the case, a new manager comes and provides that new manager bounce. Forest defended well throughout the game, and with the luck of a deflection, came away with all 3 points. It was their first victory in 8 games, and could be the start propels their season.

The tactical analysis will consider the tactics used by both sides in their attempts to win the game. The analysis will consider key tactics in the game. It will use analysis to show where Blackburn failed, as well as look at what Forest did well to get their first points of the season. Firstly, the tactical analysis will look at the line-ups of both sides.

Line-ups

EFL 2020/21:Blackburn v Nottingham Forest- tactical analysis tactics
EFL 2020/21:Blackburn v Nottingham Forest- tactical analysis tactics

Firstly, the tactical analysis will consider the line-up of Blackburn. As we can see from the image, Blackburn started in a 4231. The midfield three are very defensive-minded, and will often remain compact. This is to make it difficult for the opposition to play through, forcing them out-wide. As a result, the full-backs will often push forward and provide width, as they have been given some freedom due to the midfield three. Ben Brereton and Tyrhys Dolan play as inverted forwards. They will look to make runs inwards, both with and without the ball, and support Adam Armstrong.

The image shows Nottingham Forest playing in a 442. However, Luke Freeman often dropped into the 10 role, whilst pushing closer to Lewis Grabban to provide support. Hughton brought Ryan Yates back into midfield alongside Jack Colback. The two midfielders are very combative, providing protection to the back four. Similarly to Blackburn, the wingers for Forest would come inwards to join the play, especially Joe Lolley. This allowed for the full-backs to push forward and join the attacks.

Freeman joining the press

One thing that was obvious to notice for Forest was the higher, two-man press. Under Lamouchi, Grabban would engage in a semi-high press, which was relatively easier to by-pass. This left open passing lanes into midfield, and Forest struggled against good ball-playing sides. However, a noticeable change in Hughton’s first game was Freeman during Grabban in pressing the opposition full-backs.

EFL 2020/21:Blackburn v Nottingham Forest- tactical analysis tactics

As the image above shows, Freeman is just as high and engaging in pressing the Blackburn centre-backs. This was a key element in Forest managing to control the game and limit Blackburn attacks. The high press closed down passing lanes for the centre-backs. This made it difficult for Blackburn to play into midfield, and as a result, get the ball into their attacking plays. therefore, it forced the centre-backs to play long, which suited Forest. Scott McKenna and Tobias Figueiredo would have had no problem winning the ball in the air against Armstrong. From this position, Forest were able to win the ball back and start their own counters. Colback and Yates stayed close to the centre-backs, winning any second ball and getting Forest forward. These tactics of forcing Blackburn to play long, and winning the second ball, was a deliberate set-up by Forest.

Therefore, the tactical analysis has shown that the switch made by Hughton was key in helping Forest win the game. They were able to win the midfield battle by pouncing on second balls, quickly turning the ball over to their dangerous attacking players. The tactics employed made it difficult for Blackburn to play out and worked in Forests favour.

Playing quicker, forward

A key feature of Forests’ game that allowed them to progress in attack was getting the ball forward quickly. This was a strong difference from their previous games under Lamouchi, where they would dawdle with the ball along the back-line before playing a long aimless ball forward. In this game, Forest were able to quickly regain the ball and play forward into the attackers, who were then able to isolate the defenders and create goal scoring opportunities. The tactical analysis will consider how Forest did this effectively.

Firstly, nearly 25% of Forests passes were ‘long balls’, whilst their average passes without losing possession was three. In comparison, Blackburn averaged around 15% of their passes as long balls, and an average of five passes without losing the ball. This shows that Forest were able to get the ball up the pitch quicker, and with accuracy. This was key in the game as it meant that during transitional phases, they could catch Blackburn out at the back as they would have committed bodies forward, with Forest happy to sit back and defend. This allowed the Forest attackers, who stayed relatively high, to isolate the Blackburn and create goal-scoring opportunities.

EFL 2020/21:Blackburn v Nottingham Forest- tactical analysis tactics

As well as that, as the image above shows, the position of Freeman was key to this style of play working effectively. Grabban holds the ball extremely well, but is often isolated and crowed out by the team he can lay the ball off. However, Freeman stayed close and linked up well with Grabban, ensuring Forest kept the ball high up the pitch. It also meant they could sustain attacks and bring Lolley and Sammy Ameobi into the game, making them more dangerous. Its perhaps no surprised, therefore, that they took 16 shots on goal. Therefore, the analysis has shown that through excellent positional play in transition and using the tactic of playing forward quickly, Forest were able to be a serious threat on the counter.

Failure to create overloads

An area of the pitch where Blackburn failed to exploit was creating overloads, especially down their left-hand side. As the Forest average position shows, Lolley stayed very central, often leaving Cyrus Christie on his own. This created the perfect opportunity for Amari’i Bell to push forward and join Brereton, creating a 2v1 and getting in behind Forest out wide. However, it was not an opportunity that Blackburn exploited and as a result, were not able to benefit from it. The tactical analysis will consider the reasons why this avenue was not considered as a way to break Forest down.

EFL 2020/21:Blackburn v Nottingham Forest- tactical analysis tactics

As the analysis has previously mentioned, Blackburn’s wingers play very centrally, almost as inside forwards. This creates the space for the full-back to push forward and pin back the opposition winger. However, Lolley held his position higher up the pitch, effectively leaving Bell in a 1v1 with Christie. Christie was able to dominate him and nullify the attack down the left-hand side. As well as that, Lolley was able to exploit the space on the counter left by Bell. Furthermore, Brereton was crowded and unable to influence the game centrally, as Colback and Yates closed down any gaps in the middle of the midfield. Therefore, Blackburn potentially should have kept the wingers wide. This would have either created an overload in their favour or forced Lolley back to defend, removing some threat Forest had in attack.

Therefore, the analysis has shown that Blackburn missed an opportunity by not attempting to create the overloads. The tactics by Mowbray usually work effectively. However, Forest were brave and kept Lolley up the pitch to exploit the counter, and had faith in Christie to win his personal battle with Bell. A change in tactics by Mowbray, keeping Brereton outside, might have seen them be more dangerous on the attack.

Conclusion

The tactical analysis has shown the tactics that were key in deciding this game. Forest were able to press better than they previously had, which forced Blackburn to play long and into Forest’s hands. They were combative in midfield, with Yates putting in a man of the match performance on his return to the side.

The analysis has shown that Forest were equally effective with the ball as they were without the ball. They quickly got the ball into forward areas and were able to exploit the Blackburn defenders. This helped them sustain attacks and be dangerous on the attack. Blackburn, however, had an opportunity to exploit Forest out wide. Failure by Mowbray to notice this might have been a key factor in deciding the game, as it made it easy for Forest to stop any attack as they play into the congested area. 

Hughton will be happy to have got a win in his first game, and Forests first points. However, the games come thick and fast in the EFL Championship. If they are to mount another challenge for promotion to the Premier League, they need this win to become the catalyst for their season. Blackburn looking stronger than previous seasons, and themselves will be hoping to play in the Premier League once again.