Nottingham Forest is a club steeped in history. Back-to-back European Cups put them ahead of all London clubs in that regard. However, the last 20 years have seen Forest fall as far as the third division of English football. For the first time in almost a decade, a serious promotion from the EFL Championship charge is coming from Nottingham. Many are starting to believe that this may be their year. Much of this goes down to the tactics introduced by French manager Sabri Lamouchi. Told he had to make the play-offs to be offered an extension, he seems to have exceeded all expectations. Forest fans are eager for him to be tied down longer than his current deal. If they reach the Premier League, that seems a matter of when rather than if.
This scout report will use tactical analysis to show how Nottingham Forest has enjoyed success so far. It will consider Forest’s defensive positioning and how they are happy to concede possession. This analysis will highlight the effectiveness of their counterattack as well as any limitations that come from playing the way they do.
Forest usually line-up in a rigid 4-2-3-1. Tiago Silva will occasionally drop deeper to help with deep progressive build-ups. Joe Lolley on the right-hand side will drift inside creating space for Matty Cash to bomb forward. Sammy Ameobi will do the same on the left-hand side, supported by Yuri Riberio. Ben Watson, described as the ‘brains’ of his team by manager Lamouchi will sit deeper. He will break lines with intelligent pressing and stopping counter-attacks. Forest like to play sit deeper and concede territory and possession, looking to rely on their defensive solidity and aiming to play on the counterattack, exploiting space left by the opposition.
A lot of Forest’s success this season has been built on having a strong defence. They are happy to concede possession in most games, averaging 47.8% so far this season. That’s the lowest out of all the other top six teams, and the only one out of the six with an average less than 50%. This facilitates their counter-attacking play, soaking up pressure before breaking forward. It also allows them to be defensively solid, boasting the fourth-best defence in the league. They maintain this solidity in defence in a variety of ways. During the progressive opposition build-up, Forest remain in their rigid 4-2-3-1 shape.
This defensive shape provides stability as it makes it very difficult for the opposition to play centrally through Forest. Watson and Sow effectively cover the midfield area and can break up play effectively, with 2.5 and 3.8 tackles per game respectively. This pushes the opposition into wide areas. Once again, Forests shape allows them to be well covered, making it difficult for an overload in that area. Forest wingers will play directly against opposing full-backs and visa versa. As a result, they are never left 2v1 in wide areas of the pitch. Opposing sides therefore often find it very difficult to break Forest down, and they can control the game out of possession.
Soaking up pressure
Forest can navigate through moments of pressure, remaining solid and compact when under the cosh. During moments of pressure, Forest will have everyone except the striker, usually Lewis Grabban, behind the ball. The back four will become narrow, making it difficult to play through balls in between any gaps. Ben Watson and the accompanying playing the double pivot will protect the back four, blocking any passing lanes. As a result, the wingers drop back and cover the space vacated by the tucked in full-backs. By playing very compact, they can make the area congested and difficult to play through, meaning the opposition usually go backwards, as was the result of this move from Cardiff.
During turnovers, where Forest push men forward, it may be an area where they can be exploited. Lolley and Ameobi often tuck inside to get closer to Grabban, while Riberio and Cash especially will push forward to maintain width in attacks. This creates gaps that can be punished by the opposing teams. Forest mitigate this threat with Ben Watson. The Forest skipper very rarely ventures past the halfway line and will provide protection should there be a transition. Watson’s positioning in front of the centre backs allows him to stop any balls into the forwards’ feet, averaging 1.7 interceptions per 90. As seen in the image below, Watson positions himself so that the quick ball into the striker is not possible, meaning the only option is out wide. The recovery pace of Cash and Riberio means that they often match the opposing winger stride for stride and can get back into the defensive shape. The screenshot below is just one of many examples of how Forest are able to nullify the threat of transition.
Forest are extremely effective on the counter-attack. They like to concede possession and territory and look to take advantage of space on the counter. This style relies heavily on Grabban. Their shape often means Grabban is isolated up top, and without his hold up and link-up play, they would not be able to implement their style of play as well as they do.
As the images above shows, Grabban receives the ball under pressure. He can effectively hold the ball and play the pass to Silva in space, before pushing forward and finishing the move off. This is a hallmark of Forest on the counter, and they rely heavily on Grabban to play the lone striker role for this to succeed. The images below show another example of the forward isolated but using his hold up and link up play to create a goal v Swansea.
Forest are so effective on the counter because of Grabban. As highlighted earlier in the analysis, they often have periods of the game with ten men behind the ball. This makes a traditional counter with bodies streaming forward along with the play difficult. Their success in transition relies on Grabban bringing others into play.
Forests system has worked well so far, and the club is in an excellent position to try and make the playoffs. However, like all systems, they have flaws and Forest struggle in certain games. Forest are one of the lowest scorers in the top half, with only 48 goals. Their counterattack system is excellent in games where they can concede possession. However, they often struggle to break down teams who give them possession. It’s, therefore, no wonder that eight out of their nine league defeats have come in games where they have had more possession. A potential reason for this is their rigidity in defence often translates also in attack. When progressing the ball from deep, their forward players do not provide the movement necessary to play against deep blocks. All their attacking players like the ball to feet, even Grabban is a back to play striker. Forest would benefit in games where they expect to dominant possession by playing a forward who is willing to stretch play by making dangerous runs in behind. This would expand the pitch and give the likes of Lolley and Silva more space to operate in. It would also mean the opposing defence would be facing their goal more often, rather than the play being in front of them the whole time.
In conclusion, this scout report showed Forest are serious contenders for the playoffs this season. They have an excellent record against the other top-six sides as it suits the way they want to play. Their defensive shape and positioning mean they are extremely difficult to breakthrough. They are more than happy to keep nine outfield players behind the ball. This allows them to soak up moments of pressure and entice the opposition, almost as if they are setting a trap. They then spring forward in attack through Grabban. This is a style that would serve them well should they make the Premier League, being a newly promoted side.
With the race for promotion as tight as always in the championship, where they may struggle is even making the play-offs. Of their remaining 9 fixtures, 5 are against bottom-half sides. They can expect to have most of the possession in these games. They need to find a way to be as effective going forward with the ball as they are without the ball. Otherwise, they may risk missing out on the playoffs altogether.