Nottingham Forest and Luton Town were two teams on two different trajectories in the EFL Championship. Forest was unbeaten in their last four games, winning three of them. Forest had scored six goals in the last four games and conceded only three. Sabri Lamouchi’s team was looking toward promotion to the Premier League and looked at this game as a chance to take another step towards that goal.
Luton Town, on the other hand, were on a terrible run of form. Graeme Jones’ men were firmly in the relegation zone, and they were in real danger of dropping out of the Championship. Their recent form also made for dismal reading. Luton was without a win in their last seven games, and they had lost six of them. Luton had managed only five goals in their last seven league games, perhaps exposing a struggle to score goals. This tactical analysis will examine the choices of both managers and which was more successful.
Nottingham Forest made three changes from their last league game against Reading and lined up in a 4-2-3-1. Samba Sow and Ben Watson played as the double pivot in midfield. Joe Lolley and Albert Adomah played wide with Tiago Silva as the central attacking midfielder. Lewis Grabban, Forest’s current top scorer, played up top as the lone striker.
Luton Town started the game with a 4-1-4-1 formation. Glen Rea played as the defensive midfielder, sitting just in front of the back four. Kazenga LuaLua and Harry Cornick were the wide players in midfield four, behind James Collins who operated as a lone striker. Luton looked to establish a shape that was hard to play through.
Luton Town’s defensive choices
In the first part of this analysis, we examine the defensive setup of Luton Town. Luton sat in a 4-1-4-1 when out of possession. This was no different from the formation with which they started the game. The aim was to make it tough to play through them, and as such force Forest to move wide to fashion chances. This was moderately successful as Nottingham Forest only created eight attacks from the middle of the pitch. A combined 47 attacks came from Nottingham Forest’s flanks, with a combined xG score of 1.12.
In the image above, we can see Luton Town’s defensive shape. The two banks of four players are positioned to deny Nottingham Forest easy access to their penalty area. This shape would force Forest to constantly shift the ball from side to side in search of an opening. Another benefit of such a shape is that it ensures that the game is played in front of Luton and not behind them.
Luton Town also looked to press the ball ferociously. Whenever the ball was between the midfield four and the back four, Rea would instigate a press and attempt to force the ball carrier into a wide position. This was done to prevent Forest from having possession of the ball in front of the Luton penalty box.
Here we can see Glen Rea moving in to press the Forest player. This pressure forces the Forest player away from the penalty area and toward the touchline, where he poses less danger to their goal.
Also, anywhere from two to four players would assist in the press. This was intended to make Nottingham Forest players uncomfortable in possession, especially in the middle of the pitch. The player closest to the man in possession would begin the press and three players would move in support of the press, creating a box around the player in possession. With this, the player is isolated from any possible relief and he is forced to escape the press on his own.
In the image above, we can see five Luton players aggressively pressuring the two Forest players. Using the touchline as an extra man, they can effectively box the players in, cutting them off from supporting players and recover possession. This was somewhat effective as they had 78 recoveries in the match.
One side effect of this was that they gave away a large number of fouls. Luton Town committed 19 fouls in the match. This number shows that now and again, the Luton players were a bit overeager in their pressing, and this led to the concession of sometimes needless free-kicks. An example of this is the free-kick that led to the penalty in the 90th minute.
Nottingham Forest’s possession dominance
Nottingham Forest, in contrast with their last three league games, enjoyed more than 50% possession in the game. The final count was 61% in favour of Nottingham Forest. This also bucked another trend that had been running against them. Nottingham Forest had never won in any of the eight league games in which they had more than 50% possession.
This command of possession allowed them to create attack after attack. They had 22 shots at goal, compared to Luton’s six. The xG figures also tell a similar story of dominance. Nottingham Forest had an xG score of 2.73, while Luton managed a measly 0.50. This shows that Nottingham Forest, as a by-product of their possession, were able to create far more high-value chances compared to their opponents.
As can be seen from this chart, Nottingham Forest was completely dominant in terms of chance creation. They were also relentless, not letting up all the way to the final whistle. Luton Town, on the other hand, had a minor spike early in the first half and things plateaued from then on, with very little activity from then until the end of the match.
Joe Lolley’s influence
Joe Lolley was a constant thorn in Luton’s side and rightfully finished the game with two goals. His runs from the right side were constantly problematic for Luton to try to handle. He had 57 touches, the second most among Nottingham Forest’s attackers. He also had eight touches in the opposition penalty area, more than any other player. Lolley made two key passes, second only to Tiago Silva among Forest attackers. He attempted 12 dribbles, more than any other player, and completed 11 of them. He won 13 of the 15 offensive duels he was involved in. Lolley was perhaps Forest’s most important player in the game and the statistics back that up.
We can see from Lolley’s heatmap that he was most busy on the right flank. It was from this flank that he was able to do the most damage to the Luton backline with his runs and his isolation of the opposing full-back on cross-field switches of play.
Using the switch
Nottingham Forest, at times, sought to quickly switch the ball from one flank to the other. This was usually from the left flank to the right flank. These tactics allowed Lolley to then be in considerable space and faced one-on-one with the Luton left-back, Daniel Potts. Lolley, with his pace and trickery, would then attempt to beat his man and either drive into the box and shoot or cross the ball in search of a teammate.
In this image, we can see Joe Lolley one-on-one with the opposing full-back. There is no other player in the immediate vicinity and Lolley can use his pace to beat his man and fire at goal. In the instance shown, the move led to a goal. This highlights the effectiveness of the tactic.
This was the case for both of Lolley’s goals. The ball was played long over the Luton midfield and Lolley was free in space with the ball. He then drove towards the Luton box and fired at goal.
Here we can see a switch of play in progress. When the ball reaches Lolley, he is in a sizeable area of space and can then run directly at the exposed Luton penalty area. This was an effective means of pulling the Luton defense out of its shape.
Nottingham Forest played like a team looking for promotion and were fully deserving of the 3-1 win. They dominated the match from the very start and, despite going behind, completely outplayed Luton Town. The performances of the team would have pleased Lamouchi, especially Joe Lolley and Tiago Silva.
Luton Town, on the other hand, is now winless in 8 games and look like sure-fire relegation candidates. Graeme Jones will have questions to answer in the wake of his team’s inability to threaten Nottingham Forest.