Before the opening whistle blew, Nottingham Forest sat in 5th position of the English Football League Championship while Bristol City sat in 6th. The two teams have met on 93 occasions, with most recent years competing in tight matchups with only a single goal separating the sides since 2015. During this tactical analysis, we’ll break down Bristol City’s tactics and how they tried to exploit wide areas behind the Nottingham Forest full-backs.
Bristol City lined up in a 3-5-2 formation, while Nottingham Forest played in a 4-1-4-1 with only one change to the starting lineup from the last two fixtures which resulted in wins over Derby County & Luton Town.
The opening 15 minutes saw Forest settle into the game a little quicker than City as they looked to pass the ball at speed and control the opening stages of the game. In particular, as there was limited pressure on the ball from the City forwards, Tobias Figueiredo & Joe Worrall were able to control the game by switching the ball and opening up space for Forest to play. After City had finally found their feet in the game, they were able to take back control as the home side and showed some tactical flexibility in their wide rotations. As Ryan Yates was sent to the stands in the 56th minute of play, City were able to further their dominance in possession of the ball yet created few chances to score.
As Forest were reduced to 10 men in the game, City not only were able to stay on the ball for longer, but their ability to recover the ball also increased significantly. As can be somewhat expected with fewer players on the field, Forest struggled to get support around the ball which resulted in turning the ball over to City in less than five passes each time they had regained the ball.
Unlocking movements in wide areas
With 84% of attacks from the right-hand side, it’s clear to see in this analysis that City planned to attack Jack Robinson in the left-back role. Robinson came back into the starting 11 for Forest having not started in the previous two fixtures. The tactics employed by city were clear: unbalance Forest through combinations and wide rotations then exploit spaces behind the full-backs. Although there were some excellent moments of unbalancing Forest, City seemed unable to get the ball into the key areas they had planned for and create scoring chances from it.
As can be seen in the above two images, City used several of these ‘unlocking’ movements to draw opposition players inside in order to free up space in wide areas. This occurred on both sides of the pitch and what was interesting to analyse was that the personnel didn’t seem to be completely structured. As City were organized in a 3-5-2 formation, support to create these wide rotations could come from multiple positions. Nagy, playing as a defensive midfielder offered support and rotations. Likewise, support and wide rotations were also offered from Nathan Baker or Bailey Wright who played as part of the City back three.
Baker (left indicator) comes back into the game, having not received the ball from Rowe after his initial penetrating run. Rowe’s movement to move in off the line drags Matthew Cash slightly inside which frees up space for Baker to get on the ball again.
The game also saw support ahead of the ball in wide areas coming from attacking midfielders (Callum O’Dowda & Josh Brownhill), or either of the two forwards (Andreas Weimann & Famara Diedhiou). Although City didn’t generate many opportunities to exploit in behind the Forest full-backs, the below images illustrate some excellent support from players operating in the half-spaces and looking to run in behind the opposition full-backs.
O’Dowda offers support with a threatening run in behind the Forest backline.
Quick switches of play helped stretch the Forest team as Weimann runs in behind to exploit behind Robinson.
The use of different rotations and supporting runs in-behind the Forest backline certainly posed a problem for Robinson: track the run or pressure the ball. Either way, the overload that was created made it a difficult day for the 26-year-old. Unfortunately for Robinson, his afternoon wasn’t going to be any easier when City introduced Niclas Eliasson into the game.
Isolating and attacking 1v1
Although Bristol City had worked hard in the game to work through a variety of player rotations and looking to create overloads in wide areas, it simply wasn’t creating the number of goal-scoring opportunities they were looking for. On the 65 minute mark, Lee Johnson made a tactical switch in personnel and shape with Niclas Eliasson replacing O’Dowda and the team employing a 4-4-2 formation.
Eliasson’s direct playing style created a different challenge for Robinson: one in which he struggled to cope with. City proceeded to feed Eliasson the ball again and again, as his pace led to growing pressure on the Forest goal and began pulling players into positions they didn’t want to be in.
Pereira’s initial reaction (middle indicator) was to support the attack: after seeing how dangerous Eliasson was, his behaviour changed as he allowed maximum space for the winger to exploit Robinson alone.
Eliasson again shows pace and confidence to take on Robinson in a 1v1 scenario.
The wide rotations and plan to exploit wide areas behind the full-backs was a tactic that seemed logical and to be executed well in moments for Bristol City. However, with little end product, the tactical decision by Lee Johnson to bring Niclas Eliasson into the game had a positive impact on the game. Changing tactics to isolate Eliasson against the full-back allowed City to exploit the deeper wide areas and create more dangerous changes in the final third. I’m sure the City coaching staff will have left the game thinking a few more minutes and they’d have taken all three points. As a Forest supporter, a point will have been viewed as a good result having played the last 30 minutes with 10 men.
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