Nottingham Forest currently sits 5th in the EFL Championship table. They now have conceded 38 goals, the 4th fewest conceding goals team in the league. 23-year-old Joe Worrall has contributed a lot in preventing goals for Nottingham Forest and has just signed a two-year extension with the club.
Role in the team
In Nottingham Forest’s 4-2-3-1 tactics, Worrall is the right-footed left centre-back.
Forest employs short-plays when building out from the back. That’s when Worrall carries out his duty: he is the main player when building from the back. His main duty is to serve the ball to the players in an advanced position, especially the full-backs. He can also use diagonal long passes to create finishing or crossing opportunities.
In defending, due to the high press tactics that Forest employs, sometimes he needs to deal with the disorganised defending situation. However, he can use his positioning and anticipation to tackle these situations, preventing goals.
Under Forest’s 4-2-3-1 system, they will mostly employ a short-play approach when building out from the back. Thus, two central defenders are very crucial in this phase – that’s when Worrall and Tobias Figueiredo need to fulfil their duty as they are both ball-playing defenders.
However, Worrall would take a bit more responsibility in distributing from the back. He can use both his right foot and left foot to pass accurately, even under pressure. Compared to Tobias Figueiredo, Worrall has 34.71 passes per 90 with an accuracy of 86.12%, whereas Figueiredo has 29.19 passes per 90 with an accuracy of 82.55%.
What’s more, Worrall has made more forward passes. He has 14.89 forward passes with an accuracy of 75.32%, while Figueiredo has 12.65 forward passes with only 65.28%. It seems that Worrall is better in handling the ball. That’s why he, the right-footed defender, is assigned to the left centre-back position.
From the statistical analysis above, we can determine that Worrall has slightly more ball-playing duty in the back, with pretty good accuracy. Apart from the data, how does he contribute to the build-up? Let’s take a look at how he accomplishes his role, as we can see in the first example below.
This is an example of where he directly played short to his left-back. In Forest’s build-up, they will use full-backs to progress the play by using dribbling, hence why the pass to full-back option will normally be executed by the centre-backs. The example above manifested due to the fact that Worrall had time and space to pick the full-back, who was unmarked in an advanced position. Worrall used his left foot to take the first touch and quickly used his right foot to pass. This kind of action boosted the speed of play, and it will also prevent himself from pressure while being a right-footed left centre back.
We can notice here in the image above of the pass of Worrall that went straight to the left foot of the left-back, with the right quality. This allowed the left-back to progress the ball with just one touch, successfully progressing the play.
That’s an example of no pressure. When he is not pressed, he can always get the ball accurately to the proper foot of his teammate, using his right foot. But what about a situation when he is under pressure, could he still pick his teammate with an accurate pass? Let’s take a look at the below scenario:
Here, Cardiff City’s striker puts pressure on Worrall. There were a lot of players crowding in this area. However, Worrall was very composed. He was forced by the striker to use his left foot, but he still managed to not hit it long. He used his left foot, passing forward to the “link player”, and his pass was accurate as usual. It went straight to the link player’s right foot. Then the link player used a one-touch pass to find the weak sided centre-back, who was facing the opponent’s goal. Then the play was open again.
Apart from using the short pass to find the full-back and the “link player”, he can also hit it long diagonally or vertically. This can create a 1 v 1 up front or directly get the play into the finishing stage. Below is a diagonal pass example:
As you can see from above, Worrall had time and space to make a better decision. He saw that in the midfield line all teammates turned their back to the opponent’s goal. This would help progress the play. Then Worrall saw there was a potential 1 v 1 situation on the right flank, with space behind the defensive line. Hence why Worrall hit it long into that space, creating a 1 v 1 chance in the attacking third on the flank.
When midfielders are beaten, the defenders are the last to prevent goals. Worrall used his positioning when there is an emergency happening. When the opponents are facing the goal with only one line of defence, having the chance to shoot, Worrall would position himself in the right place. In his recoveries, 56.70% are from interception and other ways that are due to his positioning.
He used his position to seal off space, force the attackers to have a narrower shooting angle. What’s more, he will also position himself to block the shooting channel of the attackers. Let’s look at an example:
Forest was encountering a counterattack. The midfield line was bypassed and Worrall had to deal with the ball carrier. Instead of engaging the attacker, he opted to delay him. His body shape suggested the outside route the attacker could take, keeping an adequate distance. Worrall also positioned himself between the ball and the goal, occupying one shooting channel the attacker could take, while the goalkeeper would handle the rest of the shooting channels. When the attacker took a shot, Worrall stretched out his leg and blocked it.
What’s more, Worrall also positions himself to eliminate the potential danger. He occupies the potentially dangerous area relating to the goal and the ball, especially when he needs to fulfil the covering job. He can cover his teammate at the same time as choosing an excellent position to mark his matchup. Let’s dive into one of these examples:
Figueiredo stepped up to combat for the aerial duel. One of Millwall’s player then intended to use the space behind Figueiredo, and that’s when Worrall showed his value. He covered the space behind Figueierdo diagonally as well as marking Millwall’s player. Worrall chose a position, getting side-on where he could see the ball, the goal, and the man. He then got between his matchup and the goal. This would allow him to protect the goal if his match had the second ball, eliminating a potential dangerous opportunity.
Apart from positioning to deal with danger, he also has a fabulous defensive instinct to make a fast move to eliminate the dangerous situation. Instead of being anticipative to intercept like Virgil Van Dijk, he uses a more conservative approach. He will drop in advance to protect the space behind. This contributes a lot to the team since Forest uses a high press, and this kind of pre-drop will alleviate attacks that aim behind the defensive line. We will see an example that Worrall anticipated to first get on the ball to eliminate danger:
As we can see from this example, the attacking players had space to execute on the flank, and there was also space between the defensive line and the goalkeeper. Worrall recognised this situation so, in advance, he stepped back before the striker started to rush into the box. This anticipation helped protect the space and helped him be the first on the ball, just a few steps ahead of the attacker. However, these few steps are crucial when it comes to defending the space behind. Worrall wins a lot of these “few steps” in the box due to his early moves and anticipation.
In general, sometimes Worrall doesn’t mark his match up tight enough in the box when it comes to defending the space in front of him. Due to his conservative defending approach, he will try to drop and keep distance between himself and his matchup. He does this for protecting the space behind. However, when it comes to defending in the box, it’s necessary to get tight to your matchup, within arm’s reach. Worrall will instead still keep distance between himself and the matchup, just like in the picture below, where this scenario led to the goal for Millwall.
Worrall is not one of those aggressive defenders. With his conservative approach, he avoids mistakes and gives a very stable performance in defending. What’s more, his great passing also helps the team in progressing the ball up front as shown in this analysis. We will expect to see him perform in a bigger platform in the future, while he already has captured the attention of the likes of Arsenal and Everton.