Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to use the combination of data analysis with tactical analysis to see the best-suited signings for Nottingham Forest to target. In this recruitment analysis, we are starting the series with a much-needed left-back. Before we get into it we will need to understand the context of Forest’s playstyle and what is required for this particular position under Sabri Lamouchi.
What Nottingham Forest require
Nottingham Forest this season have based their style on being compact and deep when defending then exploding out quickly when they regain possession. Statically speaking, Forest are recovering the ball 51% of the time in their defensive third which is the highest in the league in this area and they rank third for the highest counter-attacking goals scored in the Championship this season with six.
Their playing-style requires their full-backs to tuck in and stay narrow but when they transition into attack both of the full-backs stay high and wide to stretch the play. They are allowed this freedom of going forward due to their wingers tucking in which allows more space on the wing for them to run into.
In the images above, we can see both Matthew Cash and Yuri Ribeiro are narrow and tight to their centre-backs. Once Forest recover possession of the ball in their defensive third, which they have done on average 20% this season (joint-highest in the league), they are quick to open up and exploit the opponents in behind with a counter-attack straight away where the opposition have committed men forward.
This is also backed up in the image below – the dark blue represents where Forest recover the ball more often than other teams.
Initial data check
My collection of data will use players from the age of 17-26 as there is extensive research suggesting a player peaks at the age of 27. By using this age range it allows us to find a player coming towards their peak who could be a cheaper alternative for Forest, instead of overpaying for someone in the peak of their career. The data will also only solely look into Championship players so the data is fairly analysed and the players are all assessed equally. Finally, the data will look at positional requirements which suit Forest’s playstyle to find the most appropriate player.
We highlighted earlier Forest’s style for their full-backs, so two of the key attributes I selected for the data to produce is dribbles per 90 and crosses per 90. Dribbles will be important for the players as Forest are quick on breaks and this is how they like to attack through their full-backs. Crosses are also significant as they show their positioning is wide as crosses predominantly come from the flanks and this is something which they rank 6th highest in the Championship this season with an average of 16.04 crosses per 90.
In the image above, there are three candidates which topped the statistics and we will be looking into further to replace Ribeiro at Forest. These players are Jordan Obita (26) who averaged the highest crosses with 4.88 out of my options, however, he is tallying the lowest for dribbles with 3.03 per 90 out of the other players I have selected. The next player is Hayden Coulson (21), who is averaging the highest dribbles per 90 with 7.06 per 90 out of the three players but the lowest crosses with 3.73 per 90. Then concluding with Alfie Doughty (20) who is the youngest out of the three, he is averaging 4.42 crosses per 90 and 5.64 dribbles per 90 which puts him the highest when averaging the two categories together out of the whole of the left-backs, not just the three players selected.
I will now use footage to tactically analyse these players so we can gain some context on their play-styles as data can only tell us so much information.
Starting with Obita. He is the oldest out of three players selected (26), and is currently at Reading. We have to note that he had a big injury back in 2017/18 season which kept him out for 645 days. He also recently picked up an ankle injury earlier this year. However, when fit, he has been an attacking threat going forward for The Royals. Firstly, Obita’s positioning is normally high and wide for Reading, this helps him open up the opposition full-backs positioning if they have committed forward.
We can see Obita offering an attacking option in the image below as he has committed forward into the space ahead of him. This is the system Forest also use and Obita would be accustomed to keeping width instead of floating inside.
However, this results in Obita being caught out of position in the transition from attacking to defending due to his high positioning. In the image below, the opponents regain the ball and Obita is left far behind his marker. His centre-back has to help cover for him and this leaves space for the opposition in-behind where he should be positioned.
This isn’t ideal for Nottingham Forest as they require their full-backs to be back behind the ball with the rest of the defence and Obita is rarely back as he is in advanced positions when attacking so he is often caught out.
In Reading’s transition from defence into attack, Obita has the ability to start a quick counter-attack when he is starting from a deep position. He doesn’t do this by carrying the ball as he is only making 2.02 progressive runs per 90 and 3.03 dribbles per 90.
Instead, Obita opts for the long ball to his teammates which clears the opponents’ press. He is averaging 4.88 long passes per 90, this is showing his intent to go long and capitalise on the opponents committing forward through pressing.
This is a strength for Obita and it would suit Forest as they want to be direct with their transitions from defence to attack as they only rank 17th for progressive passes with 64.15 per 90. In the image above, Obita lofts a long ball down the line which plays through his teammate who finishes it after a couple of touches.
Obita possess some of the qualities for Forest and he could fit in well, however, he has been very injury prone and it could be a risk on one of the older options when they could go for someone younger and more promising.
Moving onto the next option that came out in the data test, Coulson. In the data analysis, he tallied the highest amount of dribbles amongst all the left-backs with 7.06 per 90. This is a massive strength of Coulson’s, even at a young age of 21, he has the confidence to drive at his opponents carrying the ball.
This is something which Forest require in their full-backs as they want to start early attacks by running into the space. In the image below, Coulson has the pace to latch onto a through ball and take on two opposition players before winning his team a penalty after a successful dribble.
However, if Coulson doesn’t have the ball he will keep his width and emerge into the free space left by the opponents.
In the image below, he bursts forward and gets in behind the opposition full-backs by his determination to run into a dangerous area – the ball gets played across and he gets a clear cut chance in front of goal.
Coulson won’t go forward unless it is appropriate to do so. He will retain his position with the defence until the time is right to go. In the image below, this is demonstrated as he has noticed the space at the far post, due to all the players getting attracted to the ball.
He makes a long run from deep and receives the cross as it goes over everyone’s head. Coulson goes for a hard first-time volley attempt and with more experience, he will know to take a touch and be composed in these areas but this is the right intention as he attacked at the right time.
As stated above, Coulson is reserved with his positioning and he will often stay back unless he knows it is worth committing forward. This benefits his team as he won’t get caught out of position as he maintains a solid line with his teammates, this is exactly what Forest need as they want to stay compact and in shape then look to explode out on the counter.
In the image below, we can see Coulson keeps a flat backline, even with an opponent in space out wide he maintains his discipline by staying tight to his centre-back.
Although there are many strengths to his game, Coulson’s physical stature is a weakness for the left-back. When Coulson is positioned in the back-four he gets outmuscled even at the height of 5’9, his physique is small and the attackers easily capitalise on.
In the image below, the opponent takes control of the situation and scores freely despite Coulson marking him.
Coulson is a promising left-back who is coming through the ranks at Middlesbrough. He has the attributes which Forest require and at the age of 21, he could be a long term option who can fit straight into the side and develop into a star player. He has also featured seven times in central-midfield and three games at attacking midfield.
This gives Coulson great versatility and we have seen players adopt new roles as Cash started on the wing then moved into the right-back position. If Forest did opt into signing Coulson, he could be used in numerous positions if required, which gives them a strong overall squad but they need a solid out and out left-back who will command this position as they are lacking that.
Onto the last option who is the youngest out of the three options at 20-years-old. Doughty is a mix of the other two players we have analysed as he possesses the highest average for a combination of dribbles and crosses per 90.
In the data, the Charlton left-back also topped the charts when compared against everyone else in these two categories that I determined best suited for Forest. Nevertheless, it isn’t just the data that he is doing the best in, as he looks to be the top choice from the footage as well.
Doughty’s positioning is also high and wide just like the other two but unlike Obita, he carries the ball forward when he receives it as he is making 2.61 more dribbles per 90 than him. And while this is 1.42 dribbles fewer than Coulson, he utilises his chances more through his dribbles as he is taking 4.42 crosses per 90 compared to Coulson’s 3.73 crosses per 90.
In the image above, Doughty has kept a wide position which allows him to stay free and receive the ball off his centre-back to start an attack where the opponents are weak. He picks it up and drives towards the opponent’s box unmarked, then sets up his teammate with a goal after going past an opposition player in the area with silky feet.
However, if the opponent comes out to close the space then Doughty has the ability to take on his man and exploit the vacated space in behind.
This time in the image above, he gets closed down but notices the space behind and he knocks the ball one way and runs the other side of him. He then brilliantly shrugs of the opponent and gets an assist from a low driven cross into the box.
Off the ball, Doughty will stay reserved when the opposite flank is in possession, however, if there is an opportunity for him to break behind the opponent’s lines, he will take full advantage.
In the image above, there is clear space in behind the oppositions backline and the right-back has stepped too high. Doughty realises this and charges forward, his teammate swings a ball across the box and he is on the end to tap it in.
As we stated above, Doughty is reserved, which is a benefit for Forest as he is willing to get back early and set up in a defensive shape as quick as possible. We can see in the image above, Doughty is back early to defend, also Charlton’s right-back is far out of position so he adjusts himself to fit this situation. Overall, Doughty fits perfectly for Forest and he has all the qualities to thrive in their system as we have shown above.
Forest are in need of a left-back but it is crucial to buy a readymade player who can fit straight into their system as they are in a play-off spot and the Premier League with Liverpool and co. may be round the corner next season. But even if we disregard that, they can still sign someone to help bolster their chances in the 2020/21 campaign.
Even though Doughty is the youngest option after the data check and player analysis, he has come out as the smartest option for them to sign. His capabilities meet all the requirements that I set out at the start as we have revealed above. We will continue Forest’s recruitment analysis in the next article.