Over the course of 2019/20 season, Nottingham Forest didn’t gain a playoff seat in the EFL Championship. They finished the seventh at the table. The performance of the last few matches was quite poor for them and this eventually brought them out of the front six. Thus, in this season preview, we’ll try to recognise the problems they encountered last season. Then, we will see if they can find any solutions to fix this problem in this analysis.
In this tactical analysis, we will figure out the problems in Nottingham Forest’s tactics. We will also try to detail the problems in possession and out of possession. Then we will see if their summer transfer will help solve these problems in this scout report.
Problem – playing out from the back
In the last few matches of the 2019/20 season, Forest seemed to encounter problems when they played out from the back under pressure. They seemed to give up playing short easily and they were struggling in playing forward when pressed. There were several reasons that led to this problem. Firstly, Joe Worrall is a right-footed left centre-back. That means an inherent narrower passing angle than those left-footed left centre-backs, especially when the opponent forced Worrall to go outside and eliminate the space on Worrall’s right side. And his observation and opening the body for a larger passing angle is not good enough. This means he might not have enough ability to provide solutions for the team when the opponent set the trap. Thus, the variation of the ball-movement was already constrained in this step.
On top of this, the touches and controlling technique of Sammy Ameobi are not good enough. When he was deployed as the left-winger, dropping to the midfield area to support, he would easily lose possession if he was facing backwards with the body contact of the opponent. Thus, it was easy for the opponent to set a trap designed for the unit on the left and then gained possession. I’ll give one a comprehensive example of this to illustrate the whole problems Forest encountered in playing out.
In the above image, Worrall was on the ball and he was forced to go to his left. This was the first step of the opponent’s trap and Worrall was unable to break this first trap due to his late observation, and not opening his body for a larger passing angle earlier. Then he was forced to go to his left and pick the left-back Yuri Ribeiro.
As Ribeiro received the ball, he quickly picked Tiago Silva. Then the opponent continued to force Silva to go left and restrict the passing options to the centre and switching play. The only passing option available was Ameobi, and Silva was forced to pick him. This was the second trap as Ameobi would have problem when he dropped backwards with an opponent on his back.
As Silva picked Ameobi, this triggered a double-teaming of the opponent to challenge directly on the ball. Ameobi took a heavy touch without surprise in this scenario and the opponent successfully gained possession on Forest’s left flank.
Thus, the unit on the left might fall in the trap easily, as Worrall and Ameobi both had their own issues. Furthermore, Forest would also give up possession easily as their goalkeeper Brice Samba was not press-resistant. He would panic and hit it long when he was pressed. Also, the long ball approach was not effective, as the aerial duels success rate for front players was not very high. Even the 194cm Ameobi only had 44.12% in aerial duels success rate, while others are lower.
The lack of effectiveness in the first stage of the attacking might also come down to the pivot Ben Watson. This 35-year-old former English Premier League player was not effective in supporting his defensive mates. He was not mobile enough and his off-the-ball awareness was a bit poor. He would mistime his runs or even just do the ball-watching while these actions might hurt the dynamics of play, also killing the space for other players to receive.
In the above scenario, Watson was standing still and akimbo. He walked slowly to his right without scanning his surrounding in a closed body shape. This slow movement was meaningless in either getting himself in a useful position, or making space for his teammates. Instead, he killed the passing lane to Silva as his movement to his right also brought the opponent into the space. The right centre-back had no central forward passing option due to this.
The problem in playing out from the back seemed obvious and destructive to the ball progression. Without progressing the ball effectively into an advanced area, creating chances is interrupted and the quality for final passes would also be poor. In general, the whole in possession stage will suffer from this.
Problem- the involvement in defending of two wingers
While the problem in playing out from the back might affect the whole attacking stage, the problem for their defending is less destructive. As Forest utilised 4-2-3-1 the most, two wingers in the front were naturally matching up with the opponent’s full-backs. As full-backs overlapped or underlapped, wingers were required to track and mark them. This is to prevent the opponent from forming numeral superiority on the flank. Nevertheless, two wingers, Joe Lolley and Ameobi, were not active in tracking back every time the opponent’s full-backs went upfront. This might allow the opponent to create numeral advantage on the flank, with a 2v1 situation.
If this situation occurs, two pivots might shift across to prevent the numeral superiority of the opponent. With this lateral movement, forward passing lane and angle to the centre might appear. Then the opponent might easily break the line and bring the play into the final stages. Next I’ll show you an example of this:
In the above scenario, Ameobi was not marking tight his opposing player, who pushed to the Forest’s defensive line. As Ameobi did not track his matchup and the opponent winger dropped to the midfield, this put Forest’s left-back Ribeiro in hesitation. He was forced to decide on whether to track the opponent winger or stayed in the back. However, as Ribeiro was still making a decision, the opponent winger had the time and space to receive the ball. The opponent was successful in breaking the line and bringing the play into the final stage. Hence, the inactive involvement of the wingers might hurt the prevention for ball progression of the opponents.
Another instance of this is in above. The opponent’s left-back was overlapping. Forest’s pivots are too far to engage on the flank, and the winger was not rushing back to track the opponent’s left-back. The non-involvement of the right-winger eventually led to numeral inferiority on the right flank, and they succeeded in giving a final pass of high quality into the box.
Thus, the lack of participation of wingers in defending might directly or indirectly bring trouble to Forest defence. However, the solid centre-back duos could atone for these troubles using their positioning. Though Figueiredo and Worrall only had 4.24 and 3.61 defensive duels per 90, they could clear out the dangerous and protect the crucial zone utilising their positioning and covering for each other. That’s why Forest only conceded 50 goals over the course of 2019/20 season, ranking the fifth least in conceded goals.
Solution for the 2020/21 season from the recruitment
Forest have been quite active in the transfer market this summer. They have signed Tyler Blackett as the left centre-back, who is left-footed. This signing might be a solution for partly solving the playing from the back problem, as a left-footed might naturally have a larger passing angle than a right-footed when deployed as the left centre-back.
As you can see from the above image, Blackett was using his left to switch the play to the right in one-touch. This manifested a wider passing angle for a left-footed left-centre, as right-footed is hard to do so. This attribute of left-footed might add more solutions to the team when they play out from the back, like switching the play in only one-touch to exploit the space on the weak side.
Jack Colback also joined Forest this summer. Though he hasn’t been playing on the pitch for a whole year, he did play for Forest in 2018 and 2019. He is quite familiar with his teammates and he did play as a left-back for them in the past. But for now, his mobility and ball-playing ability is crucial for Forest, as he might replace Watson to be one of the pivots.
As you can see from above, his press-resistant level is good. He was able to release forward passes accurately even he was pressed by two opponents. His off-the-ball movement was also well-timed to support the defenders. This means the centre-back-pair will have an effective forward passing option. With these qualities, he might provide more patterns and solutions when Forest are building up from the back, like dropping to form a three-back line to make play or well-timed runs into space to support.
Also, former Arsenal player Luke Freeman joins Forest this summer. As a front player, his off-the-ball work rate could provide solidity for Forest’s defence.
With some fresh players in, some players are also out. Matty Cash has signed to Aston Villa and this leaves doubt to who will fill in this gap. Cash had managed to keep Carl Jenkinson on the bench and, as Cash leaves, he might have the chance to play as the starting eleven on the pitch.
It is necessary for Forest to solve the above problems in the new season. If they wish to compete in the Premier with teams like Chelsea and Manchester City, more recruitment is needed in the future.