Nottingham Forest: What can be expected from their long-awaited Premier League return? – scout report
After changing 20 managers in 22 seasons, Nottingham Forest finally achieved consistency with the mid-season arrival of Steve Cooper. The new manager transformed the team into EFL Championship title contenders and got them promoted to the Premier League for the first time since the 1998/99 campaign.
Cooper’s defensive tactics in the play-off against Huddersfield Town were decisive for their future. The manager took advantage of the opposition’s own goal and minimised the risk-taking by instructing his team to focus on their actions off the ball, which eventually resulted in their promotion.
The club seems aware of the challenge of re-joining the top-tier, and have invested in a few new additions in an effort to strengthen the squad and make them more competitive. One of the most talked about transfers is Jesse Lingard’s move from Manchester United, who can share his PL experience with his new teammates and support the team in attack. The Tricky Trees have spent nearly €100M on new players, providing depth in multiple positions.
After an eventful pre-season, Nottingham’s first meeting as a Premier League team is against Newcastle United, who focused mostly on improving their defence in the current transfer window and will be hoping to start the season on a positive note as well.
What do the new additions bring to the team?
As mentioned, Nottingham brought in multiple players who can fit the Premier League tempo and have some experience in the highest level of English football. The team secured the goalkeeper position with Dean Henderson who joined on loan from United, which will improve their defensive performance and is expected to be useful in possession as well.
The team focused mainly on improving their defensive line by signing a few players who can contribute to their back-three successfully but also fulfil a full-back/wing-back role. Moussa Niakhate is expected to start on the left of the defence where he will be able to support the team through his aerial abilities. His height is not his only advantage. He had achieved a high success rate in his ground duels last season with Mainz as well and is also experienced in recovering the ball. His eye for a good forward pass will be beneficial for the team as well.
His position is still under question as he and Scott McKenna could be quite interchangeable and it is yet to be decided who would play in the centre of the back-three.
Nottingham Forest have also signed Giulian Biancone who is expected to play on the right of the defence. He might be contributing to the build-up rather often due to his experience as a full-back where he would move forward and help with crossing as well.
The arrival of Neco Williams from Liverpool could boost their performance in the wide areas as he is expected to play as a right wing-back should the manager stick to his favoured 3-4-1-2 formation. He will be beneficial in ball progression due to his dribbling skills and passing abilities.
The fight for the starting spot in the left wing-back position will be between Omar Richards, who has joined from Bayern Munich and Harry Toffolo who was one of Huddersfield’s best performers last season. Richards can be key for pass combinations on the left because of his high pass frequency, but Toffolo is the player who could contribute more in the final third.
The team needed to sign a central midfielder who can play the ball out and release pressure. For that purpose, they signed Orel Mangala and Lewis O’Brien from Stuttgart and Huddersfield respectively. One of them is expected to partner Ryan Yates, who was equally important defensively and in attack for the Reds last season.
The team worked on improving their attacking line-up as well. Lingard’s presence in the attacking midfield could bring more options to the team and he could support the forwards through his key passing, but could also find his own way to the goal with his dribbling abilities.
The Garibaldi also brought the likes of the forward Taiwo Awoniyi, who might be the reason for a slight formation tweak for the team. The former Union Berlin player is the most efficient as a target man, which might force the manager to switch from a two-man to a three-man frontline if he wants to use him to his full potential. If the manager insists on sticking to a duo upfront, it is expected that Brennan Johnson will be his partner in crime.
What could be expected from them?
In possession, the team usually circulate the ball at the back, which is expected to be their approach in the new season as well. They have already demonstrated this strategy in a few of their pre-season games and it seems that they will try to involve the goalkeeper as much as they can, especially when they are pressed high.
The team will continue to attack mainly through the flanks, where the defenders spread out to the wing-backs, although they might try to balance out in the new season and use their new signings to attack through the central areas. While Nottingham Forest progress the ball through the wide areas, they didn’t rely on high cross-frequency in the last term, which might change with the presence of Toffolo and Williams on the flanks.
Centrally, the team will split the midfielders’ responsibilities to defence and attack, with one of them being assigned a supportive role to the back-three, while the other will have more freedom to roam from box to box and support ball progression.
Cooper has always wanted his teams to dominate the ball and while he tries to employ this at Forest, they often fail in maintaining their structure which doesn’t bring the wanted results in terms of pass frequency and possession percentile. Part of the reason for their inability to be as dominant as they’d like is their rather low pass completion rate, which results in them losing the ball frequently.
The team need to improve their performance under pressure as they often get stuck against pressing teams and find it difficult to do their usual positional interchanges. It is expected that they will continue to rely on those, though.
With the presence of Lingard, the reliability on the No. 10 might increase even more, as he will be expected to exploit spaces and support the attacking actions by creating overloads and spaces for his teammates but also by providing a direct threat to the goal. With the new additions of Awoniyi and Johnson, they will have more flexibility in the attack which they need to use smartly.
Lingard and Williams are also expected to contribute well to the team’s counterattacking. One of the team’s biggest threats last season was their actions on a counterattack. They averaged three counters per 90 and are most likely going to stick to that strategy in the Premier League as well. Both players’ pace might be beneficial for the team in such situations as they would help in bringing the ball to the advanced areas, which might increase the percentile of counterattacks that ended with shots (45.7%).
Defensively, the team usually drop in a 5-3-2 with the support of the wing-backs on the flanks, although they try to overload the central areas and force the opposition out wide. That would be quite risky with the new additions out wide as they are more efficient in their actions in possession. Nottingham Forest also rely on their aerial presence a lot and will try to transfer that dominance in the Premier League too.
As our analysis shows, Forest have made sure to improve their squad in order to increase their chances of remaining in the PL. The arrival of a few players that have experience in the league is going to be beneficial for the team as long as Cooper manages to integrate them and avoid letting the individualities take a toll on the team’s performance.