Sunday, 12 October 2014

The importance of Andy Reid

Unbeaten Forest are second in the Championship table - any criticism should bear that in mind, however there has been a noticeable drop in creativity since the injury of Andy Reid, and this week we've discovered he might not play again this year. Losing their main creative force is a hammer blow for Forest and asks serious questions of their promotion credentials.

Some may take issue with my labelling of Reidy as the main creative force; he has scored no goals this season, and contributed only one assist. Other players have taken up the role of putting teams to the sword in the attacking third, but while the likes of Michael Antonio and  Britt Assombalonga are the cutting edge, when on the pitch Reid has been the creative hand wielding the blade.

Under Pearce, Forest have been playing a more direct style, hitting teams fast rather than hogging possession. This is a shrewd move, as direct, high energy football is a proven route to victory at this level.

Pearce's two deep-lying central midfielders have been important in this. When Forest are looking to advance, their job is provide an easy outlet for the defender in possession and play clever, accurate balls forward - that's the theory anyway.

The crux of the whole tactic has been whether one of the central midfielders, or ideally both, can drop deep and get on the ball often enough. This is paramount to Forest's direct style as it means the defenders don't have to play the ball forward, and also it creates space in the opposition half (see diagram, above-right, click to enlarge).

Opposition managers - from the Reading game onwards -  have recognised that the key to stopping Forest has been to prevent the central midfielders getting on the ball. In our recent 2-2 draw against Ipswich, Mick McCarthy left his defence a man short to achieve this, going 4 on 4 at the back and pushing his defensive midfielder forward to unsettle Lansbury and Tesche  (see diagram, below).

This clever move by McCarthy forced Forest to play more long balls out of their defence, playing to Ipswich's strengths rather than Forest's, because Lansbury and Tesche did not want the ball under pressure from Ipswich midfielders. Were it not for two excellent corners (credit where it's due - involving Tesche and Lansbury) The Reds would have suffered their first defeat of the season.

With Reid in the team McCarthy's gamble would probably have backfired, as the Irishman makes himself available for the ball irrespective of whether he's being marked, and is good enough to swashbuckle his way through problems. At some stage he would have broken through the pressing players and found someone in the space behind them.

Since his injury, the replacement players have struggled to provide the vital outlet, forcing the defenders to make the direct passes forward themselves. Forest's defenders have played 17.8% more long balls in the Championship games where Reid has not featured this season.

In my opinion, it is not lack of skill that is preventing the likes of Lansbury and Tesche providing this outlet - it is the confidence associated with that skill - the willingness to lose the ball while trying something positive.

Reid and Cohen are both players willing to take the responsibility of collecting the ball in the area in front of their defenders, while under pressure. This is nicely illustrated in their heat-maps (see an example, from the game against Sheffield Wednesday, right, courtesy of Squawka). The green and yellow areas show how often they are touching the ball in this area.

Contrast this with the heat-maps for the central midfield partnership during the Ipswich game (see left, again courtesy of Squawka). Lansbury and Tesche, although they got around the pitch well, did not try especially hard to get on the ball in the holding midfield zone; we can see they aren't involved here any more than any other area of the pitch.

This is because they are not prepared to be positive when under pressure in their own half. I am not advocating taking unnecessary risks in dangerous areas, but sometimes you need to play your way out of trouble rather than passing backwards and playing long -  the fact that Forest are not set up to take advantage of the long ball out of defence exacerbates this requirement.

Lansbury is much more effective further up the pitch, where he has the confidence to take risks with the ball. He is good at exploding into life after quiet periods, running at defenders and is a goal-threat when arriving late in the box. When employed in a more withdrawn role I feel he looks tentative, plays more cautiously in an effort not to lose the ball, and fails to make himself as available. In my opinion, Lansbury needs to be played further up the pitch, where he has more freedom to express himself.

Tesche appears even more uncomfortable with receiving the ball under pressure. He is a neat and tidy, typical defensive midfielder, has excellent positioning, and is difficult to get past, but of all Forest's midfielders he appears the least confident on the ball, and often he simply does not want possession (see left for an example, during the Fulham match).

Pearce has a massive decision to make on whether to dip into the loan market, and bring in a player who is capable of getting the midfield more involved in play. From the above discussion, I've made it sound like this loan is almost obligatory, however we do have other players who can step into these midfield positions.

David Vaughan is one of the best players in the league, and if fit would probably be an automatic choice - but it is increasingly apparent Forest cannot rely on his availability.

I have been increasingly impressed with Ben Osborn, and believe he is exactly the kind of player we need in Reid's absence. Not only does he have the energy and desire to want to be involved constantly - he is certainly a player who will  offer an outlet for defenders - but he is almost always positive with the ball.

In fact, Osborn is perhaps too positive; it may be too early for him to be stepping into Reid's shoes - especially considering the rocketing expectations of The City Ground crowd. He gave the ball away a few times in dangerous areas against Brighton (see right), but I was impressed at how he gave the ball away - striving to make things happen from that holding midfield area. Osborn was trying to replicate what Reid does.

But doing the job as good as Andy Reid is going to be unlikely at this level. I've heard people suggest Reidy has not been as influential this season; I couldn't disagree more. You only have to look at the dip in creativity since he left the field during the Derby game.

And although he only has the one assist, he has played a vital role in several goals this season, by collecting the ball from the defenders and playing that initial penetrative pass through the opposition midfield.

When on the pitch, Reid has been planting the seeds that have grown into goals; his injury has left a massive hole in the most important part of Forest's team; their current tactics are flawed if nobody can effectively take the ball off of the defenders. What Pearce does about this problem may define his first season in charge - it is certainly his first major decision.
 
Thanks for reading, thanks to www.whoscored.com and www.squawka.com for statistical and graphical help.