It’s not been a bad season for Nottingham Forest so far as they currently sit 5th in the table. Players like Matty Cash and Joe Lolley contribute a lot to the team, but we should not forget about Lewis Grabban, who scored 17 goals for Forest this season and once played in the Premier League before.
Role and responsibility in the team
Under Forest’s tactics, they use the wide players quite often. Having players like Lolley, Sammy Ameobi, former Benfica player Yuri Ribeiro, and Cash, the flanks are the focal points in the attacking. Therefore, Forest has a profusion of flank-attacking tactics to get the play going. In penetrating the midfield and creating chances stage, there will be a lot of crosses coming from the flank. In fact, Forest has on average 16.04 crosses per 90, ranking the 5th in the league. What’s more, the wingers will also dribble to cut inside to create chances – they have 28.35 dribbles per 90.
Thus, in the flank-oriented attacking play, Grabban serves as an auxiliary role. He is not a target man who plays hold-up play. He mainly runs behind the last shoulder of the opponent’s defensive line, stretching the play and creating space for his teammates, and he also runs to provide a penetrating passing option behind the opponent’s defensive line. These two things are done almost at the same time. Now I will illustrate his attributes in the next section.
Off the ball movement as an auxiliary role
As mentioned above, he is not the focal point of the whole attack – he serves as an auxiliary role in the attacking. So what exactly is his role? We will take a look at the analysis of his auxiliary role.
With two skilful wingers with great dribbling skill, Forest assigns the responsibility of creating chances and creating finishing chances for the flank players. That means two wingers, mostly Lolley and Ameobi, will take on a lot of responsibilities in finishing. They will try to cut inside and finish. That’s where Grabban takes on his responsibility: he will try to create space by stretching the play, leaving a more horizontal channel for the dribblers to cut in and a more vertical channel as a shooting channel. What’s more, his run-in-behind also enables him to serve as a potential direct finishing option, while fulfilling the responsibility we’ve mentioned above. Now let’s take a look at an example of how he accomplishes his responsibilities.
As you can see from above, Ameobi was about to pick the teammate in the middle. As soon as he released the pass, Grabban started to run in advance to pre-create space. He ran in behind diagonally to drag one of the opponent’s defender into a deeper position. What’s more, this run also widened the gap in front of the goal. This was a well-timed run since as soon as the teammate in the middle received the ball, he would have more space and time to decide and execute. Let’s continue to see what happened next.
Now the teammate in the middle receives the ball. Since before Grabban dragged the opponent to the deeper position, the opponent’s defender now had to run in more distance to press the ball carrier. Also, Grabban created a bigger gap in front of the goal, so the ball carrier now had a wider shooting channel to choose. Then he cut inside a little bit and shot, utilising the gap and space created by Grabban, leading to a goal.
This is just one example of Grabban creating space for his teammate to finish. Apart from just creating space for his teammate to finish when off the ball, he also makes well-timed runs to be a potential direct finishing option. He will run behind the opponent’s defensive line and seek the direct opportunity to finish. When he runs behind the opponent’s defensive line, the opponents will also be stretched by his run and the distance between the lines will be larger. Thus, he does two things in just one run, and now let’s take a look at an example.
This is a classic scenario in Forest attacking. Lolley, who was left-footed, possessed the ball in the right flank. He then started to cut inside. As soon as he beat the first man on the flank, he now had time to look up and had the vision of the pitch. That’s when Grabban made his move. Grabban saw that there was a gap to explore, so he rushed to the space behind the defender, acting as a through pass option. What’s more, his run also drew the defender to go with him, creating more space between the lines for Lolley. Then Lolley cut inside as shown in the below image.
You can see that he created space between the lines, wherein the 4-2-3-1 system the attacking midfielder could explore. He also created more onside space for the cutting-in player to explore. And now we could see from the picture, there were space and options for the cutting-in Lolley. Now all Lolley had to do was to pick his teammates or utilise the space Grabban created to finish himself. Lolley picks Grabban who ran behind the defensive line just as the above image indicated.
Off the ball movement as the finishing role
Though he’s done a lot in creating space for his teammate, he is still a striker. A striker is who positions the nearest to the opponent’s goal in the line-up – he has the positional responsibility in scoring goals. Grabban is no exception. Even though he is not the focal point in the last stage of the attacking, he still carries the responsibility of finishing in a goal-scoring position. To fulfil his role, he mainly adopts two approaches to put himself in a potential scoring position. The first is his two runs approach, which means his first run is a decoy for creating space. His second run will get him into space his first run creates, which gives him time and space for the finishing execution. Now let’s take a look at an example.
In the above scenario, Lolley was on the ball, facing just one line of defence. Grabban was on the same side in front of him. Thus, Grabban first ran diagonally inside to create an outside route for Lolley to dribble. And this run also intended to stretch the opponent into a deep area that the onside space and the space for a cut back would later be huge.
Thus this was the first run of Grabban. The opponent was then stretched near the box and that’s when Grabban had his second run. He delayed and slowed down a bit, leaving the opponent’s defensive rushing. Grabban ran in a reverse diagonal route, exactly the opposite as the first run. After the 2 runs, he had plenty of space and time for his one-touch finishing execution, just as the image below shows.
This is his first common used move in the finishing stage. He manages to get himself in a very comfortable finishing situation due to this kind of action. His second approach is the run towards the weak side central defender’s blindside approach. Since in Forest’s tactics, they also use the full-backs for crosses, this kind of approach will also help him to run towards the space of the far post. The weak-side centre-back will find it hard to deal with this kind of situation since he has to keep an eye on the ball, the man, and also the goal while he is running back. This is quite like a Liverpool-style crossing approach, which makes the cross more threatening and effective.
In the above scenario, a cross was about to be delivered. Grabban first positioned himself on the blind side of the weak side’s centre back. There was space between the defenders and the goalkeeper. Grabban took his first run a bit towards the ball side, then he took the second run in behind the weak side defender’s blindside, as seen in the below image.
The cross was aimed at the space behind the weak side defender. The defender had no chance to recover back as he had to turn and boost while keeping an eye of the ball, the man, and the goal. Grabban then took the chance and made a one-touch attempt on target.
With 17 goals in the league, he now is the 3rd leading scorer in the league. But how about his actual finishing ability? Does he have good efficiency in finishing, or is he just a chance-waster? We will look at some data to explore this further.
Among the best scorers in the league, we will compare his data with the other 10 leading scorers in the league. First, let’s take a look at his shots: he has 72 shots in this season, an average number among the best scorers. However, the total shots are not going to prove anything. We then look at some more informative data – shots per 90. His shots per 90 are only 1.95, which is the fewest among the 10 best scorers in the league. This means that Grabban is not a frequent shooter, who has a lot of opportunities to finish. This is reasonable since the finishing responsibility is allocated more to wing players, which fits what I mentioned above.
His efficiency in finishing is quite good. As you can see from the scatter diagram, he ranks the 3rd in shot-goal ratio and the 5th in the shot on target rate among all these best scorers.
So we can conclude from the data that he is quite an effective striker. But in the real game scenario, what is he like in terms of finishing? In general, he finishes with quick execution, just as the two one-touch finishing examples had shown above. He uses two runs to create space for himself and he uses it well- that’s why he is so efficient in finishing. What’s more, he also possesses a great sense in front of goal. He knows when to do what in the box, with his quite creative approach. Let’s check out one of his creative goals.
The ball was about to fall on the goal area. Grabban anticipated and got in the position where the ball was about to land on. When the ball was falling, he used the outside surface of his foot. He spun the ball backwards and the ball bounced in a trick trajectory into the goal.
Though he had a good efficiency in finishing, he has an obvious weakness: his aerial duel ability is quite poor. Let’s take a look at his stats in aerial duel comparing to the other best goal-scorers.
As you can see from the scatter diagram, he is almost the poorest in terms of the aerial duel. He only has 2.52 aerial duels per 90 with the success rate of only 24.73%. It’s like an obvious drawback that his matchup and opponent will surely beat him. The reason for this is that he is not strong enough in his physique. With 183cm in height, he is just 78kg in weight. In this weight and his strength, he cannot hold up the defender. He always gets pushed away by the opponent in the aerial duel, since his strength is not enough to combat against those defenders, just as the image below shows.
In this scenario, Grabban was chasing the high ball with his matchup. He already anticipated where the ball was going to land and got there first. However, due to his poor strength and physique, the defender used his arm to push Grabban and Grabban just drifted away. The defender was then the first to access the ball.
Lewis Grabban is quite effective in the finishing stage and he does contribute a lot as an auxiliary role. Though he is not the focal point in the attacking, he still managed to score 17 goals for Forest. We can expect him to score more goals when the games are back.