Nottingham Forest were looking to jump back into the play-off places when they travelled to Kenilworth Road to take on Luton Town in the 2019/20 EFL Championship fixture. Luton Town were looking to bounce back from two back to back defeats against Birmingham and Fulham and move away from the relegation zone. Forest had also suffered two defeats to Hull and Wigan. Forest needed to pick up the victory in order to keep their promotion hopes alive. Scoring was clearly Forest’s main problem as they had only scored 17 before the match, defensively however they were much more solid only conceding 12 which was in the top three defences of the championship. Luton, however, had scored 21 and conceded 25. This highlighted a key defensive problem Luton had. Overall it looked to be an interesting encounter between the two sides.
Ultimately Forest ran out 2-1 winners in a tight match between the two teams. The win moved Forest back into the playoffs, which highlights their ambition for the rest of the season. The win will give them confidence after two disappointing defeats. Luton, on the other hand, are ever closer to the relegation zone and yet another defeat will worry them. Moving forward they will need to be able to pick up points and maintain a distance from those below them. This tactical analysis will attempt the tactics used by both teams. This analysis will also attempt to look at how both teams can improve going forward.
In terms of the Lineups, Luton lined up in their traditional 4-4-2 diamond. James Shea started in goal, with the back four made up of James Bree, Matthew Pearson, Sonny Bradley and Dan Potts. Keeping out the Forest front line would be a challenge. Martin Cranie started in the defensive midfield role, he would attempt to have an influence from a deeper position in the centre of the pitch. Ryan Tunnicliffe and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu were the two more advanced central midfielders, who were looking to provide attacking support whilst maintaining defensive discipline. Isaiah Brown was operated in the central attacking midfield position. His creativity would be key to Luton attempting to break down the Forest defence. James Collins and Harry Cornick were the two central strikers who were looking to occupy the central defenders and bring the other attacking players into the game.
As for Forest, they lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Brice Samba started between the sticks. Matty Cash and Yuri Ribeiro were the two full-backs. They looked to provide attacking support. Tobias Figueiredo and Joe Worrall were the two centre-backs looking to provide defensive solidity. Ben Watson was the holding midfielder; his influence would be key in Forest’s attacking play. Tiago Silva and Ryan Yates were the more advanced central midfielders, looking to get forward at any chance to provide support for the forward players. Joe Lolley and Sammy Ameobi were the two wide players looking to put crosses and key passes into the main forward Lewis Grabban.
Luton’s build-up play
An interesting development that was seen in the game was the way in which Luton built out from the back. This is something that has been common in their game throughout the season. Often, due to them playing with a diamond, it means that the defensive midfielder will drop in between the centre-halves in order to maintain more possession of the ball. Furthermore, this allowed Luton to play their usual game. When operating in the 4-4-2 diamond it means the natural width comes from the full-backs, this means extra cover is needed in the centre of the pitch. Luton do this with the defensive midfielder, on this day Cranie was used in this role. This therefore allowed transitions of play to be used in different ways. Having essentially a back three when in possession of the football it meant that the forward players would be able to find different spaces and create different attacking situations. Having this in operation also allows width in the wider areas. As mentioned earlier this usually comes from the full-backs, due to the nature of the 4-4-2 diamond. The picture below is an example of Luton in possession of the football. Whilst in possession and with the back three in motion the full-backs are able to push up the pitch and create attacking opportunities down the flanks.
This tactical approach has been used by Graeme Jones throughout his time at Luton. Having an extra body when building out from the back is essentially a philosophy which has been installed in the Luton squad. Possession is a key facet in the game that Luton try to play and by having an extra body when with the ball at their possession means opportunities to score are much more likely. In terms of this game, Forest like to press when not in possession of the ball and having an extra body back means they are able to beat the press and make forward attacking movements to try and break down the opposition.
Forest’s Defensive Shape
Due to Luton having the majority of possession, it meant Forest used a low block in order to prevent them finding pockets in attacking areas. The main way they did this was through the midfield line. As mentioned in the Lineup section, Forest lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, which meant they had a defensive midfielder with four others just in front. This, therefore, meant that when not in possession of the ball they were able to prevent Luton from making any progress going forward. This was a clear tactical setup from Sabri Lamouchi in order to prevent Luton from having any joy in central areas. The likes of Birmingham had done this when they lined up against Luton which may have been an incentive from Forest to use this sort of systematic approach. Below we can see an example of this low block in action. Forest have all players back and are looking to hit Luton with the counter-attack. This was a clear tactic used in order to counter Luton’s system.
This was a trend that was seen throughout the game. Forest maintained this defensive shape impressively throughout the match to stop Luton creating chances. Furthermore, despite this potentially be seen as a boring tactic it was extremely effective. Below is another example of this. We can see the 4-1-4-1 formation clearly being used, and it allowed the counter-attack usage to be used to much greater effect.
Another interesting development was the role of the Forest full-backs. They would constantly be making runs in behind the defensive line and often this would involve an overlap. This was to resolve the issue of Luton’s full-backs pushing higher up the pitch due to their tactical setup. This tactical usage by Forest worked to clear effect as Forest were able to create multiple chances down the flanks. In the image below we can see Matty Cash making a gut-busting run inside the Luton backline. This leads to him cutting the ball back and Ameobi being able to slot the ball home. This goal, therefore, came from the full-backs being able to push higher up the pitch when Forest had possession.
This was used in both the first and second half. Cash and Ribeiro were both bombing forward constantly. This was a great way to stretch the Luton defensive line. Possession of the football was key for Luton’s playing style. Therefore, whenever Forest could get the full-backs forward to create attacking opportunities. Both Cash and Ribeiro are excellent at getting forward. This, therefore, suits the Forest playing style of using them as wing-backs and pushing them forward when possible. Watson would often fill in to make a back three in order to allow this to happen. This, therefore, shows the effectiveness of the tactical usage.
Luton’s front three
The final development of the match was the front three of Luton. Brow operated as the number ten just behind Collins and Cornick. As a front three, they operated exceptionally well in occupying the Luton defensive backline. Since Forest operated with a defensive midfielder, who was Watson on the day, it was important to have someone to occupy him and prevent him from playing his usual game. The two strikers were also excellent at occupying the two centre-halves and causing problems for them when attacking. Brown would effectively act as a false nine for the other two forwards This meant that Brown would drop deep to make space for the other two to run into. Furthermore, this was effective as it caused confusion for the Forest defenders as to who to pick up. Moreover, with the style of play Luton use with the quick possession in attacking areas, it means that chance creation was much more common with the front three. Below is a clear example of the front three in action. Brown, Collins and Cornick were exceptionally good at causing problems for the opposite back four.
This front three were also exceptional off the ball. Pressing was important for Luton in terms of winning the ball back in higher areas of the pitch. This triangle of players constantly pressing the opposition was key to this pressing philosophy. Below is an example of this pressing. As a front three, they pressed as a unit in order to be able to win the ball back. This is a credit to the tactical setup put in place for this to be effective. Going forward these three could be effective against teams that play possession-based football.
To conclude, Forest were able to just edge out in this particular game. Luton played well and can consider themselves unlucky not to have picked something up from this game. Forest overall showed their quality with two good counter-attacking goals. Moving forward, Forest will be pleased with the win and will hope to kick on and maintain a play-off place come the end of the season. Luton meanwhile, played exceptionally good football and showed good signs of a team capable of staying up this year. To their credit, they could have very easily changed their game plan to be more defensive, however, they stuck to what they know in terms of the possession-based game. This tactical analysis has shown how both teams attempted to win the game.
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