Brentford and Nottingham Forest were two teams that had ambitions of qualifying from the EFL Championship. Both teams also had similar form coming into this match. Thomas Frank’s boys had won two and drawn one of their last four league games. This kind of form boded well for their promotion ambitions. Sabri Lamouchi, for his part, had guided his team to a four-game unbeaten run consisting of two wins and two draws. Automatic promotion looked like an achievable goal for Nottingham Forest.
This tactical analysis will examine various aspects of the match and try to determine whose tactics were more successful.
Brentford started the game in a 4-3-3 with Christian Nørgaard playing as the single pivot in defensive midfield. Rico Henry and Henrik Dalsgaard played as the full-backs. Said Benrahma played on the left wing with Bryan Mbeumo on the opposite wing. Joint-top league scorer Ollie Watkins played as the sole forward.
Nottingham Forest set up in a 4-2-3-1, with Samba Sow and Ben Watson playing as a double-pivot in the centre of midfield. Matty Cash and Yuri Ribeiro played as full-backs, and Tobias Figueroa played centre-back with Joe Worrall. Joe Lolley played as the central attacking midfielder, with Tiago Silva and Sammy Ameobi on either side of him. Lewis Grabban, who had scored 16 league goals, led the line as the lone striker.
Examining the defence
In the first part of this analysis, we try to look at the defensive choices of both teams in the game. Brentford was set in a 4-4-2 whenever they were out of possession, despite the fact that they started the game in a 4-3-3. Mbeumo dropped into midfield to create a line of four across the pitch. Benrahma and Watkins then played as strikers, although Benrahma was deeper than Watkins. This provided an out-ball for the Brentford midfield as a means of relieving pressure.
Here we can clearly see Brentford’s two banks of four players. This was supposed to make them harder to play through as it prevents the man on the ball from making any significant progress through the centre of the pitch. This tactic was somewhat effective as Nottingham Forest lost whatever interest they might have had in playing through the centre. Instead, they opted to bypass the block by using the flanks.
Nottingham Forest, on their part, had multiple phases of defensive play. The first phase consisted of their front four creating a block in Brentford’s half. Brentford was then forced to play the ball wide to advance into Forest’s half.
Here we can see Forest’s front four positioned in a triangle shape to prevent Brentford from moving the ball centrally into Forest territory. The triangle shape begins with Grabban, who tries to put pressure on the ball carrier to force him wide. The positioning of Silva, Lolley, and Ameobi close to the halfway line shows an intent to block any kind of central pass. This effectively shuts out the middle as a viable route.
Once the ball is in the wide spaces, and very close to the touchline, Forest would then press the ball very aggressively in an attempt to win the ball back quickly. This was the second phase of play.
In this image, a Brentford player is in possession of the ball on their right side. This then allows Forest to spring a pressing trap that involves the three players closest to the man in possession. By doing this, Forest attempt to suffocate the man in possession and force him to relinquish the ball.
If the Brentford player is able to escape the press, then the third phase is triggered. In this phase, Nottingham Forest set-up in a 5-4-1 to restrict the space in and around their penalty box. Sow would drop into the defensive line, and Lolley, Silva, and Ameobi came into central midfield to assist Watson. They would crowd the box, preventing Brentford to play their way into a dangerous position.
In the image above, we can clearly see Nottingham Forest’s defensive shape. In addition to this, when the ball is moved into the wide spaces by Brentford, the Forest players immediately fall into the box to defend anything that might be put in the box.
Despite having almost 70% possession, and having 13 shots at goal, Brentford somehow connived to lose this match. This was mostly due to Brentford’s sloppiness in the final third of the pitch. While they might have built up the move well in the midfield, once the ball transitioned into the attacking third, poor choices would lead to miss chances. The statistics highlight this ineffectiveness. Of Brentford’s 13 shots, six were off target, highlighting the sloppiness of their attacking play. Of course, this could also be attributed to Nottingham Forest’s defensive setup, but given the near-total statistical dominance that Brentford enjoyed in the match, they would be reasonably expected to manage more than three shots on target in the whole match.
Overall, quality in the final third was severely lacking in this match, from both sides. Brentford and Nottingham Forest had a combined 21 shots at goal in the match. Of that number, only five shots total were on target. Both teams managed to create just two big chances through the whole game, missing both.
Exploiting the wings
Of all the tactics deployed by Nottingham Forest, an obvious one was their decision to focus heavily on their right flank. A large majority of their attacks came from their right side. Forest players would play long passes into that area, and one of Ameobi or Cash would be on hand to receive the ball and attempt to drive it into a dangerous area. Cash was particularly useful in implementing this tactic, as he played as more of a wing-back than a traditional full-back. He was constantly high up the pitch, safe in the knowledge that he had cover in the form of Samba Sow.
In other instances, the ball would be on the left side of the pitch. Forest would then try to quickly work it over to the right flank where they would have a man in space waiting, usually Ameobi. This switch allowed Forest to try to move Brentford out of their rigid defensive shape.
Ameobi’s use in this game was also interesting. He was deployed on the right wing but he was used as a wide target man, using his strength to hold the ball up. This allowed play to develop down the right side because with his strength he could bring others into play by opening up space for them to run into, or simply by keeping possession until a supporting player, usually Cash, could join in the attack.
In the image above, we can see Ameobi in possession of the ball on the right flank. This draws three Brentford players toward him and opens up space for Sow to run into and receive the ball. This highlights the effectiveness of Ameobi as a big man who can create space for his teammates on the flanks.
Neither Brentford nor Nottingham Forest played convincingly in this match. Despite this, Nottingham Forest did enough to come away with all three points. Nottingham Forest’s ability to deny Brentford clear-cut chances would have pleased Lamouchi. Thomas Frank will, however, be wondering how his team could not manage to gain at least a point from the game given their dominance.