Slaven Bilic’s debut in competitive matches as West Bromwich Albion’s head coach closed the first Saturday in the new Championship season.
The Baggies conquered the City Ground, but to be honest, Nottingham Forest’s goalkeeper, Arijanet Muric, helped them a lot. Nottingham Forest showed some pretty good things during the match, but lack of luck and their goalkeeper’s mistakes cost them.
This tactical analysis will show some interesting details of Bilic’s and Lamouchi’s tactics for the season’s opening match. The following analysis will also show some mistakes and bad decisions that we could see during the match.
Nottingham Forest’s head coach, Sabri Lamouchi, decided to change his recognizable the 4-2-3-1 formation, so he started this match with the 4-1-4-1 formation, with Ben Watson who was the most important figure, as the only expressed central midfielder. He played as a ”connective tissue’’ between the defensive and offensive line. Ben was also the most important player for Nottingham’s short pass build-up play, because of his ability to carry out the ball very calmly.
Slaven Bilic used the 4-2-3-1 formation in offensive phase during the whole match, with an idea to exploit Filip Krovinovic’s amazing talent to move between the lines and create the space for himself and other players. We could also see an 18-year-old West Brom’s academy product, Nathan Ferguson, who made his debut for West Bromwich Albion in an amazing way, he was awarded as a man of the match.
Ben Watson’s importance
Sabri Lamouchi’s 4-1-4-1 formation depended on Ben Watson who was the only defensively-oriented player in Forest’s central midfield. Sometimes, it seemed like Forest couldn’t organize a simple attack without his participation.
There were a few situations when Arijanet Muric had the ball with an idea to start a short pass build-up, but that was only possible when Watson came deep to collect the ball and to start the action. In the picture below, you can see that type of situation.
Both central defenders (Michael Dawson and Joe Worrall) were pressed very well; therefore, Muric had only two options:
- To wait for Ben Watson to come deeper in his own third (between Zohore and Krovinovic) and to distribute him the ball, which he actually did, or
- To send a long pass forward in an attempt to find someone in the final third of WBA’s part of the pitch.
There were also a few situations when Nottingham Forest wanted to use short pass build-up without the goalkeeper’s participation in it, with higher positioned centre-back tandem. In those moments, Ben Watson played as an original Deep-lying playmaker. He used to be positioned behind the central defenders, who were staying more wider with the purpose to make larger space for Watson to pass the ball forward, or with the purpose to make wider space for other teammates to come deeper and collect the ball. That’s one of the ways to ruin the opponent’s pressing.
Watson was also important for Forest’s flank build-up play, so he often went wider with the purpose to be an extra pass option. Considering very offensive characteristics of Jack Robinson and Matty Cash (Forest’s goalscorer in the match) who constantly went higher to attack, Ben Watson had to cover the space which they left behind and reduce the space between the central defender and the fullback.
Watson’s role was also very important for Forest’s defensive functionality. There were a few situations when Edwards and Gibbs (WBA’s left winger and left-back) cut inside and won a lot of the space through the middle only because of Watson’s displacing. To be honest, sometimes WBA got the plan on how to drag Watson wider and to move him from his primary position. In each of these situations, the player who cut inside could be very dangerous in the final third.
Defensive and Offensive shapes
Slaven Bilic recognized that his offensive 4-2-3-1 formation couldn’t stop Forest’s very attacking and fluid 4-1-4-1 formation with 5 (or very often 7 players, if you count offensively-oriented fullbacks who constantly join attacks) players in the final third, so he decided to use different formation in the defensive shape – WBA was setting their defensive block (mid-block) in the 4-4-1-1 formation, with Krovinovic who was moving a lot.
He was pressing when the ball was in Forest’s defensive line, but when the ball went to the midfield zone, he went deeper to help in the ball-wining. Romaine Sawyers, WBA’s summer window’s signing, was positioned deeper than Jake Livermore, who was moving a lot with an idea to cover as much as more possible space.
On the other side, Nottingham Forest desperately wanted to use their the 4-1-4-1 shape in every possible moment, so it’s been used in both offensive and defensive shapes.
Depending on fatigue, body condition, and part of the match, their attacking players (including four attacking midfielders and the striker) were changing the shape and intensity of the pressing, so there was an example of their pressing and high positioning at the start of the second half.
On the other hand, there was an example of their pressing in 60th minute, when they already got tired.
In the picture above you can see that only Lewis Grabban pressured higher, but you can also see Semedo’s positioning in this type of low-intensity pressing. Whenever Nottingham Forest played high pressure, Semedo stayed deeper in the midfield zone to cover the space which attackers left behind, and guard opponent’s possible pass through the middle.
Romaine Sawyers – the player who works for his midfield partner
Slaven Bilic found a way to exploit Jake Livermore’s offensive quality, strength, physical advantages and good positioning bringing in just one player – Romaine Sawyers.
Except for his defending qualities, in the offensive phase of the game, he is a player who provides freedom for his midfield partner, only when he is used as a Deep-lying playmaker with enough space to distribute the ball forward.
In the Saturday’s match, whenever he came in front of the defensive line to collect the ball, Jake Livermore went between the lines and moved higher, almost in Krovinovic’s movement zone. In the picture below you can see an example of that situation.
On the other hand, whenever Livermore came deeper to get the ball from the central defenders, Sawyers moved, but wider, not forward.
Man-to-man marking isn’t useful in every moment
Man-to-man type of defending has some limits, if some player exceeds the limit, the team could be in the problem.
Matty Cash’s goal is a result of Kieran Gibbs’s bad reaction and his big mistake. Namely, Former Arsenal fullback was following every Albert Adomah’s move with a goal to stop him or close him the space to attack, but once, Adomah used it and decided to go very wide and drag Gibbs into that zone of the pitch knowing that Gibbs would follow him. That was a signal for Cash to use the large space through the middle and attack it. In the picture below you can see how Adomah made a huge space for Cash’s movement.
West Bromwich Albion won this match mostly because of their good organization and experience. Lamouchi’s risk with the 4-1-4-1 formation didn’t pay off in the Saturday’s match, but to be honest, they were unlucky, although they definitely outplayed Bilic’s WBA. The potential of Nottingham’s squad was on a very high level, so they should be confident about continuing the season.
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