Friday, 31 January 2014

Same old rubbish Forest! Forest 4 Watford 2

Forest went 12 games unbeaten on Thursday night, fighting their way through adversity to beat a tricky Watford side 4-2. Despite their league position, this was never going to be an easy game - indeed The Hornets were 7 league games unbeaten away from home - but Billy Davies once again proved his tactical ability as Forest came away with the points.

Watford set themselves up with three at the back, detailing their other players to hunt down the ball. When lesser teams do this, they tend to leave gaps in their formation through a lack of understanding and organisation; this did not happen and they managed to maintain their 3-4-2-1 system nicely - at least for the first hour.

They had every opportunity to press the ball, because Forest continued, surprisingly considering the change of personnel in midfield, with their entertaining style of passing and possession football. Gonzalo Jara and Guy Moussi occupied the important holding midfield area, and attempted to do the same job as Reid and Vaughan.

Our defensive midfield were clearly much less confident on the ball - but to be fair they embraced this style of football and were actually spraying the ball around nicely for the first half-hour, along with the defenders. I was particularly impressed with Guy Moussi's willingness to accept the ball, but more on him shortly.

The problem was that Forest could not maintain possession in the Watford half. The four Watford defensive midfielders were working very hard to prevent space appearing and supported the three defenders admirably, and The Reds' attacking midfielders subsequently struggled to get on the ball. Davies appeared to have instructed Reid to spend a lot of time on the wing - possibly to get crosses in - but Paterson and Abdoun were not physical enough to keep the ball when in the central area.

Davies also opted to play Greg Halford in attack; this was a clear indication of where he thought The Garibaldi would find their success - in the air. While this turned out to be correct, Halford struggled to keep the ball, proving an easy a target for the three Watford defenders.

With Forest finding it tough to keep the ball in Watford's half, not only did they struggle to make an early breakthrough, but things were becoming more and more nervy at the back, as Watford tried to force Forest into playing more direct football (see diagram, right. All images on Forest Boffin are enlargeable when clicked). This is where Forest missed the likes of Vaughan and Lansbury, because although Moussi and Jara did not panic and stuck to the game-plan, it's not playing to their strengths - something Watford clearly understood, and they exploited it well.

I simply must talk about the crowd's reaction during the first half. They were quiet from the off - perhaps not surprisingly for such a cool night, but there seemed to be a sense of waiting for Forest to make a mistake. Apart from a ten minute spell in the first half, The Reds were well in control of the game - yes they were struggling to break Watford down, but the crowd became frustrated very early - you wouldn't think we had gone 11 unbeaten.

But my main issue is the abuse directed at certain members of the Forest team. Dan Harding has always been an unpopular member of the Forest squad, and was hesitant for the first Watford goal, but every time he plays he has to ignore disgraceful abuse from the fans. It's important for Forest's wing-backs to make positive runs and join in with the passing - but woe betide Harding if he gives it away!

When Guy Moussi was selected I thought Billy Davies would have to change Forest's style of play - for a ball-player he is not. I was wrong however, and to my surprise Moussi was not just joining in with the patient approach, but instrumental to it by constantly making himself available for the ball. He always looks on the brink of collapse when in possession, but is better than he gets credit for.

Moussi was subjected to verbal abuse, there were exaggerated groans when he was perceived to make an error, he was wrongly blamed for both of our goals, and - probably the thing I hate most because of the impact it must have on the players confidence - subject to ironic cheers when he completed a pass. I am all for fans having opinions about players, but I find it bizarre that some choose to inflict this negativity on them during the game, at a time when it could make them even worse.

Luckily we have a gem in Moussi - not in his ability perhaps, but certainly in his will to battle through this adversity, and to his credit he was still hungry for the ball and making himself available, putting himself in the firing line despite the knowledge that he had lost a vocal proportion of the crowd. It was an exceptionally brave, if not technical, performance.

And just to hammer the point home, The Moose didn't even have an especially poor a game. I've read somewhere that he gave the ball away "constantly" - he was in fact dispossessed only once, and had a higher passing accuracy than Andy Reid. WhoScored.com have him down as statistically the third most effective player on the pitch (please look at his stats, see here).

There's an argument that Forest were unlucky to find themselves 2-0 down just after half time, but from a Watford perspective you'd have to say they did exactly what was needed - up until the first Cox goal it was a perfect away performance - they had restricted The Garibaldi's options coming forward, and buried their chances when they appeared.

 But then Davies got involved - as we're used to seeing. The Scot is exceptional at tweaking things to correct tactical problems, and his error in playing Greg Halford was corrected at half time, with Simon Cox coming on. As suggested in my preview, Cox helped Forest hold onto the ball in wide positions, giving them a foothold in the game and immediately Forest had The Golden Boys on the rack.

My theory on why Davies started with Halford rather than Cox is simple; it's possible Billy had spotted a weakness in Watford's game, and thought we'd have success with crosses and headers - this certainly turned out to be the case, and Halford has the knack of scoring this kind of goal, but was not clever enough to evade the Watford defence in the build up.

It is interesting that all three of Davies' substitutes scored - I don't want to make too much of that, except it shows the options he left himself with on the bench - they are all different kinds of forward player, and they all brought something different to the table.

The main thing that hurt Watford though was Forest being able to keep the ball in their half of the pitch. This allowed Andy Reid to get on the ball and start pulling the strings. The Reds' second goal is a particular example of the magic which Reid is capable of producing - his inch-perfect cross was spun from the outside of his boot and was the kind of thing you don't see often at this level.

By this time Forest were rampant, and even Moussi was back in the fans favour. As Davies said afterwards, he did actually have an excellent second half, and must be given a lot of credit for dealing with the animosity directed towards him. We've seen players crumble when barracked at Forest, their confidence shot, but Moussi never hid at any stage. I know my rating of 10 (see left) is wildly excessive, but in the circumstances, as a gesture against his detractors, he's welcome to my first ever 10/10. It's closer than some of the rubbish people were shouting at him from the stands.

I didn't mean for this match report to turn into a swipe at the boo-boys (yes, there were even a few people booing at half time - 11 games into an unbeaten run); everybody at The City Ground was entitled to an opinion - but there is a time and way of expressing those opinions that doesn't have to intrude onto the pitch. There were times during the last 15 minutes of the first half when the players were clearly apprehensive of losing the ball, picking up on the crowd's unrest - it is no coincidence that this coincided with Watford's best spell of play.

I'll probably get stick myself for telling people they shouldn't shout horrible things at spoilt footballers, that they're paid enough to take it and so on - but that's not my concern. My concern is that it's counterproductive, it drains confidence and makes it less likely Forest will play confident, attractive, winning football.

Sometimes, reading message-boards, Twitter and listening to what people are shouting in the stands, you'd think Forest were struggling. I particularly liked it when someone behind me shouted "same old ******* rubbish Forest!" We were 11 games unbeaten! We need to have more confidence in general. I'm just hearing that Forest have signed David Vaughan for the rest of the season, and it's rumoured Hobbs is in Nottingham... and we're 12 games unbeaten. So yes - let's have some of the same old rubbish against Yeovil on Sunday Forest!
 
Thanks for reading, thanks to www.whoscored.com for statistical help, and COYR!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Preview: Forest v Watford

In a stratospherically important game, Forest welcome Watford to The City Ground this Thursday night. Despite being unbeaten in 11 games and playing well generally, a so-far disappointing January transfer window has left some fans despondent, and even prompting others to attack owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi. A loss against a seemingly lowly Watford side could send the fans' morale into meltdown.

But if Forest fans think The Hornets will be a pushover they are sorely mistaken. our opponents may have only won 1 in their last 14 league games, but away from home they are particularly difficult to beat. Gianfranco Zola instilled a counter-attacking mentality into the team, which has been continued by new manager Giuseppe Sannino. Watford have not lost away in The Championship since October 1st.

This ability to counter-attack is indeed the main feature of Watford's play, and is largely down to their team being very good at using space left in the wake of their attacking opponents. They seem to thrive particularly on space left in front of a defence in central areas of the pitch, breaking with pace into this area.

Watford's recent performance away at Manchester City illustrated perfectly how effective they are when allowed space in their opponent's half. City were very positive, and possibly underestimated The Golden Boys at first, not protecting the defensive midfield area, and pushing forward their full-backs. Manuel Pellegrini blamed his players, as City ended the half 2-0 down, but he was at fault, tactically outmanoeuvred by Sannino. Watford constantly had players available to counter-attack, and more often than not outnumbered the Premiership team's defenders as they broke forward.

Sannino began the game away at Man City with what appeared to be an unusual 3-4-3, a system I didn't recognise from their other games. I think it likely they will use it against Forest , such was it's initial success, they will certainly play with three at the back, with their wing-backs operating almost as midfielders.

Most often Watford have played with three in midfield, but by pushing an extra man up front they ensured there were always possibilities when coming forward.

It is difficult to predict their starting line-up as they have players coming back from injury, such as the excellent Almen Abdi, and former Red Lewis McGugan - who is unlikely to be fit enough to play. I don't think I'll be too far off with the line-up and system illustrated here (see right. All diagrams and pictures on Forest Boffin can be enlarged when clicked).

Similarly, it is hard to guess Forest's line up. We know they will stick with their 4-2-3-1 system, and it may prove particularly useful against Watford, but the midfield triangle of Reid, Lansbury and Vaughan which has shown itself so effective, has been disrupted by the suspension of Henri Lansbury. Also, Forest have not, at the time of writing, signed up David Vaughan. The players Davies brings in alongside Andy Reid will be key to determining the outcome of this game. If Forest want to go for the throat, they may bring in Raddy Majewski as the attacking midfielder, dropping Reid back, however I would go with two defensive minded players against The Hornets, bringing Gonzalo Jara out of the defence and giving a rare start to Guy Moussi.

The key to stopping Watford will be denying them space in front of the back four. A large part of Forest's tactics over the past few months has been doing just this; they were guilty of leaving large gaps in this area earlier in the season but the move to a 4-2-3-1 system was specifically to plug this space. I believe, at east initially, Forest will have the better of things in this area - although The Hornets have players at ease on the ball, they ought to be stopped if they come down the middle. We are fortunate that Lewis McGugan will probably be missing, because there may be a lot of free-kicks in this area, but on the whole The Reds are capable, and well practised at shutting teams down in this area.

I think it important that Andy Reid play in the attacking-midfield role, as this player is likely to be out-numbered for much of the game. The only other options are Raddy Majewski and Jamie Paterson, but Majewski struggles with only one striker in front of him, and Paterson is perhaps too direct, we need a player here able to swashbuckle and fight for the ball, keeping possession until he can use it.

The player who could hurt Watford the most, certainly indirectly, could be Simon Cox. We know how the Irishman likes to drift off to the wing to establish possession for Forest, bringing others into play - this could be a good opportunity for this to work, especially if Forest can respond to Watford's counter attacks (see left).

I envisage Forest winning the ball back at times when The Hornets are buzzing forward - Cox will surely be looking to run into any space left be the Watford full-backs, and is particularly adept at making a nuisance of himself in this area, moving the ball on decisively.

The issue Watford will have, is which centre-back(s) follows him. If done in an organised manner this should be no problem, however the slightest hesitation will allow Cox to find enough space in wide positions to start pulling the strings and setting up dangerous situations. This will ask awkward questions of the 3 man defence, and unless they're telepathic space will appear at times, ready to be exploited. I don't think it will be as simple as man-marking Cox, because he's too clever.

Another problem Forest could cause is their direct running with the ball. I rate their three defenders quite highly, especially Gabriele Angella, but the rest of their team lacks bite, and are vulnerable to players like Mackie and Paterson who like to get past opponents and rive towards goal. For this reason I believe it essential that these two start for Forest.

But things will not be easy against Sannino's men, and he appears to be a tricky customer; this may well turn into another tit-for-tat tactical battle between Davies and his opponent, and while the Scot usually wins these hands down, I've a feeling the Italian could prove a tough test.


One thing Forest must not allow, and which Watford will be trying to manipulate into reality, is the situation where The Reds are chasing the game without paying heed to the space they leave when on the attack, because if this happens they will be punished.

But, if Forest consider themselves a team striving for automatic promotion, this is another home game they should be looking to win. Some gaps have began to appear in our squad, and as things stand they are weaker coming out of January than going in, as they have not signed either Jack Hobbs nor David Vaughan. It's possible one or both of these two will have signed by Thursday night, and we may even have another striker to look at, but as things stand Billy Davies has limited options for this game.

However, The Garibaldi have the system and players to win this one, and unless they go recklessly pushing forward, leaving space at the back, they should be able to avoid being stung and go on to make it 12 unbeaten.
 
Thanks for reading, thanks to the Watford fans who helped with my research at wfcforums.com and COYR! 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Forest 4 Blackburn 1

Forest continued their good form on Saturday, stretching their unbeaten run to 10 games with an enjoyable  4-1 victory over Blackburn. The game developed into a tactical duel between Billy Davies and Gary Bowyer, but in the end The Reds' advantage in personnel - both on and off the pitch - was clear.

Davies continues to tweak his system in an effort to get the best out of a squad with one or two holes - however this was a game in which Forest's strength in depth was apparent, as Billy named an arguably second-choice back 4 (see left. All diagrams on Forest Boffin are enlargeable when clicked) - all of which I'm sure Blackburn would love to employ. The slight tactical alteration came in the middle of the pitch, where our midfield wrecking crew of Vaughan, Reid and Lansbury, were given more freedom to swap and roam as they felt necessary.

Blackburn lined up in a 4-5-1 formation, which was functional rather than creative. Their striker was tasked to close down Forest's defenders when in possession, ahead of two hard working defensive lines of players.

When in the mood Rovers know how to stifle - and that was clearly their game-plan against Forest. Once ahead, they are the best Championship team at defending a lead; they have done so successfully on 81.8% of the occasions they have gone ahead so far - no other team can rival this. The goals they have conceded have come mainly when chasing games.

But our opponents do not come up against a midfield as good as Forest's very often, and Reid et al were soon getting the upper hand. As Forest committed men forward, Rovers were sitting back, defending diligently but there was a lot of space appearing between their striker and midfield. The intelligent Forest midfield picked up on this, and either Reid or Vaughan were constantly dropping back into this area to pick up the ball (see right), and were doing a lot of damage by building the attack from this secure footing.

Bowyer recognised this problem and narrowed his midfield to deny Forest space. This was an example of priority defending; Forest were causing so many problems that Blackburn just looked after the most important area - the centre of the pitch, leaving space on the flanks.

Forest responded by pushing their full-backs up even more than usual to exploit the new area of empty space. With an extra target in space - mostly Gonzalo Jara - the Forest midfielders coped well with the more congested centre, and were able to push Blackburn further and further back, and because of their ability to spot and execute the passing quickly, were able to pass their way around the side of the Blackburn defence, who were competing gamely, but in survival mode during the first half.

But Forest were on top and always likely to get a breakthrough - it came from a soft penalty, poorly executed. They deserved a bit of luck though, such was their dominance. Gary Bowyer has said this cost his side the game - a strange comment when you consider the final score, but with the above statistics in consideration you see just how important the first goal is against Blackburn. Forest would still probably have scored though.

Blackburn were slightly more attacking when a goal down, but The Reds continued to have the better of things, scoring another, more deserved, penalty as Jamie Paterson was chopped down after some nice play from Cox and Reid.

Then came the Blackburn goal, and it highlighted the only real area of concern at the moment; Forest's defending of set plays. Many of their recently conceded goals have been from crosses from free-kicks and corners (Rovers added the long throw to Forest's list of woes) they have struggled to defend these.

On this occasion Forest were able to repel the first ball, but because they rarely leave anybody up front, the ball came straight back at them, eventually fired in by ex-Leicester man Marshall. I don't understand the logic in having every player in the box when defending a corner, because even if you're successful in heading the ball away, the ball will almost certainly fall to an opposition player, giving them another chance. This is what happened for the Blackburn goal.

In the second half we saw more tactical tinkering by both managers. Blackburn were instructed to get closer to the Forest midfield trio, and their hard work began to pay off. They were more attacking, and not as narrow - pushing their wide midfielders up in an attempt to keep the Forest full-backs in their own half.

Thanks to these changes, and extra effort from their players, Rovers asked some serious questions of Forest, and looked like getting back in the game, but Billy Davies kept faith in his players. The game had developed into a man-for-man contest (see right), and when Forest had the ball, it became a 'no-contest' as Reid, Vaughan and Lansbury began to once again take control. I was watching the Forest bench, and they were ready to make a sub - I think they wanted to bring off Vaughan as soon as possible, but knew a third Forest goal was almost inevitable, so left it.

When the third went in, Vaughan and Mackie were replaced by Moussi and Derbyshire. This has the effect of closing up the Forest midfield. The full backs were also told to venture forward more sparingly. Blackburn never gave up, but you can see why they concede when on the attack, leaving quite a lot of space by the end.

This was a dominant display by a Forest side playing very well at present. There are still problems to iron out - despite their superiority in personnel both on and off the pitch, it could have gone wrong at 2-1, as Blackburn managed to use their only area of superiority by repeatedly bombarding the Forest defence in the air through free-kicks, corners and long-throws. Karl Darlow deserves a lot of credit for keeping Forest in front.

Paterson and Mackie also did superbly. They were constantly running at the Rovers defence causing a lot of problems. Paterson is a particularly direct threat - he fearlessly asks questions that are difficult for defenders to answer.

But the main positive is that midfield trio of Vaughan, Reid and Lansbury. They are far too good for this level of football, and the three of them appear to have developed an understanding. It's this understanding and flexibility that Billy Davies likes to encourage ahead of all else in his midfield, he has them changing position and covering each other's duties almost telepathically.

The fans, manager and chairman have all been talking about bringing in a striker, but this game has highlighted the most important signing - David Vaughan. Forest simply must sign him, and get him as fit as they have Andy Reid. This midfield triangle will swallow up a lot of our opponents points, but it won't be a mystery what occurred. They will pass their way into The Premier League.

Thanks for reading, comments are welcome below, and here, on City Ground Faithful forum. COYR!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Player under the microscope: Jamaal Lascelles

Rather infuriatingly, some people have everything. Youth, money, a job they love, looks (I’m told), a pet goat, a fancy and exotic name – you might think all that were enough but no; now Arsenal want to sign them. That’s right, I’m talking about Jamaal Lascelles. But is he any good?

Perhaps the most hyped academy graduate for a decade, it feels like the 20 year old has been on the horizon a long time. Finally given the chance to make the garibaldi shirt his own after injuries to Kelvin Wilson and Danny Collins, Lascelles performance against Yeovil was a rare sparkle during an uncomfortable 3-1 defeat, as he performed well.

The youngster has perhaps been a victim of his club’s circumstances – the highly rated defender has been capped by England at all youth levels and could have expected regular first team action before now. However, Forest seem to be constantly fighting for promotion or against relegation – blooding young players has been risky.

Lascelles has passed the test with flying colours. If anything The Reds have defended better with Lascelles in the side, conceding fewer goals on average (see his stats, above. All graphics on Forest Boffin can be enlarged if clicked). There are tactical issues at work here coinciding with his inclusion, but the young defender has not let us down.

Lascelles understanding of the game is impressive. Against Yeovil, I believe Gary Johnson specifically targeted the rookie as The Glovers changed the way their strikers play for this game, repeatedly attempting to drag him out of position in a clever ploy often involving Joel Grant – Lascelles did well, stubbornly holding his defensive position (see right for an example).

For me, this is the most impressive facet of Lascelles’ game – his positional awareness and reading of the game, his decision making and concentration. This one-on-one duelling when the attackers have the ball, for such a young player, is excellent. He appears to know when to allow his man to turn, and when to go tight, and has the athleticism to track strikers wriggling their way forward.

A good example of this was the frightening moment when Niko Kranjcar broke loose on the edge of Forest’s penalty area (see left). As I watched from The Trent End, I was mesmerised as the Croat tried to hypnotise Lascelles with his quick feet. This rare glimpse of the beautiful game in second division football was particularly worrying from the Forest point of view – but watch the replay and you will see Lascelles doing a great job of making the inevitable shot more difficult – he did not panic, instead standing his ground as if he’d faced this kind of threat many times.

This kind of defending is what I like to see – the diligent tracking of an opponent with the ball, without diving in, without getting his shorts dirty, is a sign of a good player. Added to this savvy defending is Lascelles’ physical attributes, which leave him well placed to become an excellent central defender – height, pace and athleticism. I don’t think he’s the powerhouse others have suggested, but at 20 he’ll only get stronger.

Lascelles ability in the air is still developing. Despite not being as strong as some of his adversaries, he has generally won his battles with target men – at least when defending the long ball. Using his height, and defensive vision to an advantage, he invariably gets his head onto the majority of direct play.

Any problems have arisen when defending crosses; he has fought some interesting duels with mixed results. For the first half of our game at Leicester, he often found himself up against David Nugent, and the experienced Fox was winning the aerial battle; it has been widely regarded that Billy Davies pulled Lascelles off at half time because he was on a booking, but the Forest defender does not appear to be a hot-head – I would not be surprised if an element of this change was to bring on someone more suited to battle Nugent in the air. Greg Halford handled the job better.

Another interesting clash was Lascelles vs. £60,000 per week ‘danger-man’ Nikola Zigic. At 6 foot 7, the Serb would test any defender’s ability in the air, and in my opinion he is the ideal striker for a young player to learn against, because he is, considering his mammoth wage, so utterly, desperately, useless. Initially the Birmingham striker was getting the better of their aerial struggle, often managing to get goal side of Lascelles – luckily it did not matter. As the game progressed this began to change and by the end the defender was coming out on top.

However, not all players have been so ineffective, and there have been several occasions where Lascelles has been beaten by canny, strong players when defending crosses – often other defenders. This is where Forest have been conceding their goals recently, and although it would be an exaggeration to say Lascelles inclusion has been the deciding factor, the amount of headed goals conceded has risen sharply with him in the side (see chart, right).

This information must, however, be considered in a tactical context. Lascelles’ inclusion has coincided almost perfectly with a change of system, as Billy Davies employed a two-man defensive midfield system – making it more difficult for threats to come through the centre of the pitch; this will have made it more likely to concede from crosses, although perhaps not enough to account for the entire difference.

Conversely, this change of tactics has offered more protection to the back four, as it is a more defensive system – therefore Lascelles’ stats above, although impressive, should be treated with some caution. He has not been faced with opponents rampaging at will through the middle of the pitch as his predecessors did, the defence’s job has been easier since Davies switched formation.

This is not to take away anything from Lascelles – he has done just about everything asked. As well as the above points, it must be noted that he’s a diligent man-marker, very rarely losing his assigned striker, and his communication also appears to be above the level you would expect from a 20 year old rookie.

It is no surprise that other clubs are looking at this player enviously, but it would be a shame to see Lascelles go to a Premiership side at the moment. Lascelles is not ready for Premiership football yet – and would certainly not get in an Arsenal side fighting for the title. He would sit in their reserves, playing the odd cup game while missing out on a years’ development. It’s possible we would even pass him on the way up, gaining promotion while he is loaned out to a team like Ipswich or Watford, and then eventually sold to a similar team, finally able to pick up his career, richer financially but not in talent, nor experience. He would become another Connor Wickham – a Chris Gunter. Scott Sinclair; Dale Jennings – a few names off the top of my head, they have all suffered due to their big moves.

This country produces some exceptional talent – too much of it ends up languishing in Premiership reserve sides instead of gaining the competitive experience needed to develop. Lascelles; Darlow – Will Hughes; Tom Ince; Matt Phillips – for the sake of football in the UK we need young players like these playing games.

And Forest fans will be desperate to keep hold of their home-grown talent, but a word of warning; with the uncertainty of Financial Fair Play, the club has some difficult decisions to make. With Forest only allowed to lose £8 million this season, the sale of this player could be the difference between compliance or non-compliance. The consequences of failing this test would likely be, should Forest fail to get promotion, a transfer embargo beginning in January 2015.

A quick-straw poll on fans forums shows just how highly regarded Lascelles is. When asked who they judge should be Forest’s first choice centre-backs, they were of divided opinion (see left), but interestingly over half thought he should be one of the two – when you consider his competition this is a fine testament.

In my opinion Kelvin Wilson is the best defender at the club, and Jack Hobbs is still ahead of Lascelles by a significant distance, but for how long? If the youngster is banging on the door for a first team place now, in a year he’ll be knocking it off its hinges. He appears to have all the attributes to develop into a top class defender - I'm nit-picking when criticising his heading of a ball, for a 20 year old he does this very well, and I see it turning into one of his best assets. We will hear "headed away by Lascelles" a lot over the next few years.

It will be interesting to watch his development this season should he stay at The City Ground. Alongside Karl Darlow, he could become one of the best players in the country and is clearly heading for The Premier League – hopefully they will both get there with Forest.

Thanks for reading, thanks to members of City Ground Faithful, LTLF & Vital Forest forums for their help, opinions are welcome (both in the comments section and here), and COYR!
 
* all stats are from league games only. Nikola Zigic's wages information taken from national press reports, and is the more conservative of the two figures I found!

Friday, 10 January 2014

Stat attack: The players

As we enter into the January transfer window, I thought it might be a good time to review the players' vital statistics to see what they tell us about the team's performance.

Forest have had a mixed season defensively due to tactical issues, but overall the defence has done well; none more so than Karl Darlow. The Forest 'keeper is relatively young and inexperienced - for a promotion-hunting side it was risky to go with Darlow this season, however he has not let us down, and the stats prove, if nothing else, that playing so young a player in this key position has not damaged our goals conceded column - of all the league's goalies, Darlow has let in the fifth least average amount of goals so far. Obviously, since he's played every minute of Forest's season, this primarily reflects the whole team's defending, but he is the biggest brick in the wall, and if he crumbles the whole structure collapses. He has not.



Billy Davies has not been able to name as settled a back four as he would have liked, with injuries to key players handing opportunities to others. Jack Hobbs has been the only ever-present outfield player (it is thus useful to compare his teammates stats with his). Danny Collins has the best defensive statistics - this represents a spell of games where he came into the side and Forest were very solid, winning 3 and drawing 2. Collins has not been the most loved player at The City Ground, but he played very well when called upon and proved he's still a good player at this level - although it must be noted that his stats look so good partly because of the short spell he enjoyed in the team.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the players' defensive stats is the performance of the team with another rookie in central defence; Jamaal Lascelles. Similar to Darlow, there was the potential for disaster in playing the academy product in a team where every mistake is an important one - it's easy to blood youngsters when you're aiming for mid-table, but if they aren't up to scratch it will cost the team goals a promotion-hunting side cannot afford. Lascelles has not weakened The Reds' defence at all, in fact they have conceded goals slower with him in the team, roughly once every 100 minutes on average (see the defensive stats, above, which can be enlarged when clicked).

Also interesting is the fact that performance has barely been effected by the loss of Chris Cohen, as far as results are concerned. Cohen's forward runs were fantastic to watch, and improved Forest's goal-threat (The Garibaldi scored, on average, 13 minutes faster with Cohen on the pitch in the first half of the season), but it left us more vulnerable, which is reflected in the stats.

Andy Reid and Henri Lansbury have been the two bastions of Forest's midfield, and you can see why by studying their statistics; not only are they heavily involved in the goals scored, but the team generally gets better results with them in the side (see stats, right). Reid in particular has been causing our opponents a lot of damage, personally involved in 19 goals so far, which is an impressive 61% of the goals scored when he's been on the pitch. It's fantastic that the Irishman has been so creative, but it does highlight how reliant Forest are on their best player. As further proof of this, the two games Reid missed were the home disappointments against Blackpool and Burnley; Forest struggled to score on both occasions.

We can see that Forest have been at their most creative with Nathan Chalobah and Raddy Majewski on the pitch, both of whom improved our goal threat significantly. This puzzled me with Chalobah, as he is a defensive player, however on further examination we see that the time he has spent on the pitch has been much more open - Forest not only score more, they also let in more - in fact they concede, on average, almost an hour faster with the Chelsea loanee on the pitch (a goal every 62.3 minutes), when compared to when he's not played (a goal every 119.2 minutes).

Majewski's presence in the side has also weakened the team defensively - which is unusual for him. I don't consider either of these players to be poor defensively - these stats probably represent the imbalance of the side at times this season. Unlike Chalobah, Majewski's attacking threat has generally made up for this imbalance though - indeed the amount of goals Forest score with him on the pitch is particularly high; he has been the 8th most beneficial midfielder to his team's goal-threat in The Championship - all the more impressive considering the comparatively low amount of goals Forest have been scoring. (see stats, left. The right hand figure is the team's overall average amount of minutes between goals scored - the bigger the gap between the two figures, the bigger the effect that player has had on his teams goal-threat, statistically).

Perhaps the most topical statistic has been the amount of goals being scored by the strikers, with many fans, and indeed Billy Davies himself, bemoaning the side's lack of clinical finishing. I've written extensively on this subject (here), but at a time where Forest are looking to bring in a striker to tackle this issue, it might be useful to have a look at exactly where Forest's hit-men stand.

With only 12 goals between them, it's easy to see why questions have been asked of the strikers - anybody watching the games will have seen some of the chances that have gone begging; whether it's composure, skill or luck, that little bit more effectiveness in front of goal would have seen Forest challenging for automatic promotion.

It is useful to compare the strikers' rate of scoring goals with their rivals around the division (see left). We see that, perhaps surprisingly, Henderson in particular has a good goalscoring record this season, when you take into account the amount of time he's been on the pitch; he has been the 11th most lethal striker in The Championship so far. This doesn't really count for much, except to highlight that he (and also Simon Cox) is not the goal-shy player that some people make out. Compared to the other 62 strikers who have played enough minutes to be considered, they are both in the top third.

Whether this is enough is open to debate; note Charlie Austin has a worse 'minutes between goals' than Henderson - yet nobody accuses him of a lack of killer instinct.

But Forest could clearly do with a boost in firepower, and have been linked with many players - I have highlighted those players from The Championship in green. Interestingly, possible transfer target Connor Wickham has scored the most regularly on average of any striker, scoring a goal every 122 minutes that he is on the pitch - and for a struggling Sheffield Wednesday side too. It is interesting to see his team-mate Matty Fryatt featuring so highly - he is perhaps not the most sexy transfer target possible, but he's done the job when called upon for The Owls.

Of course, these are all just statistics, and a team's system and style of play will influence all of the above, however the results so far this season are there for all to see, and I believe they betray many of the issues surrounding Forest - the youngsters pulling their weight in defence, the effectiveness of Reid and Lansbury, and the decent but not fantastic goal-scoring ability of our strikers. I don't think any player at Forest has had a particularly bad season so far - let's hope the stats look even better in May.

Thanks for reading, thanks to www.bbc.co.uk and www.espnfc.com for statistical reassurance, feel free to comment here, or at City Ground Faithful forum, here, and COYR!

*note: all statistics are from games in The N-Power Championship only - Forest Boffin has cup games off! Some statistics, particularly the assists and key contributions, appear subjective (in fact nobody seems to agree on assists in particular) - however I'm confident those which appear in this article are the most accurate. If you find any glaring errors please let me know.