Thursday, 18 April 2013

Preview: Forest v Barnsley

After two defeats in quick succession, Forest welcome relegation threatened Barnsley to the City ground in a humongous game for both clubs.

The Garibaldi unquestionably needed at least one win this week; taking the league table into account you could be forgiven for assuming Saturday's game was the easier of the two. However The Tykes will be no pushover: they are a different proposition than the team so easily outmanoeuvred by Forest earlier in the season, and after studying them, we at Forest Boffin believe they will be, if anything, more difficult to get a result against than Middlesbrough.

By now we all know what a strange and exciting league The Championship is. There are no easy games, and the worst team one month can transform into "invincibles" the next - who would have thought Ipswich and Peterborough would top the form guide as they do today? Barnsley under David Flitcroft are another anomaly in that they have an eerie ability to cause an upset.

To say they're merely able to cause an upset is understating the Barnsley conundrum. They upset the odds consistently, and since Flitcroft's arrival, they have avoided defeat every time they have played a promotion contender. They have a 71% win ratio against teams in the top 8.

Analysis of their results reflect the difference in their performance the further up the table their opponents are. They have lost half of their games against teams in the bottom half of the league (see pie charts, left), and won just a quarter. This changes abruptly as soon as they're up against so called 'better teams', indeed up until last Saturday they were unbeaten against teams in the top half of the table, picking up an average of 2.1 points per game. This isn't promotion form: it is Championship winning form.

Statistically, the more places in the table Flitcroft's Barnsley are behind a team, the more likely they are to do well (see clickable chart, right). The teams they have beaten have on average been over 13 places above them in the table - a statistic that only becomes meaningful when you look at the 5 teams that have beaten The Tykes - they have on average been less than two places above them.
It seems obvious that our opponents get better results against teams doing better in the league (see their list of results under Flitcroft, right, which also shows their opponent's league position at the time) - but why? It all comes down to defending. Barnsley are more cautious against the better teams, but we don't think this should account for the huge swing in results. Against teams in the top eight, Barnsley concede a paltry average of 0.57 goals per game (see chart, left) - against everyone from 9th down they suddenly concede almost 4 times as many goals! After watching Barnsley, we at Forest Boffin think this may be due to their approach to defending. Obviously there will be an element of The Tykes being more cautious against the big teams, however we believe a factor in better teams doing worse against Barnsley is the pressing game they employ when they don't have the ball, which is more suited to stifling the confident, passing play employed by the likes of Crystal Palace, Watford & Brighton. The Barnsley players, particularly their midfield, put in alot of effort, this has been catching the passing teams in possession.

Teams who are more direct, have less confidence on the ball or who just don't try to play as much possession football such as Charlton, Peterborough and Sheffield Wednesday tend to have more success against Barnsley because they're just banging it up the pitch instead of trying to keep the ball.

With this in mind, the key battle will possibly be how Forest cope with Barnsley's style of aggressive, pressing defending. Forest Boffin thinks this will rely on Adlene Guedioura and his ball skills with the Barnsley players snapping at his heels. Barnsley's 'ball-orientated', and traditionally British, defending style leads to them pressing the ball, particularly the midfielders. If a Forest player beats his man, another Barnsley player will close the gap to deny their opponent time or space. One thing Forest Boffin has observed in recent Barnsley matches, is that their ball-orientated defending tends to drag them out of position. The ball acts similar to  magnet, creating space where that player would otherwise be defending - this is especially obvious on their flanks. If Guedioura can beat a man or two, it will lead to others running out of position, creating space for Cohen and Jara to run into.
 Barnsley's defensive style is different to that of Blackpool, who Forest recently failed to break down (see diagram, above). The Tangerines employed, in a bastardised way, a continental style of defending where they focused on not allowing any space to appear (especially in the area in front of their penalty box) rather than pressing the ball. It allowed alot of time to play in crosses and balls from deep areas, but worked because the danger zones were full of orange shirts. However Barnsley will press the ball more vigorously, trying to stop the threat 'at source'. Forest will have less space further towards the half-way line, and will need to be a little quicker at moving the ball.

If Forest are on form, with skillful players such as Reid, Guedioura and Majewski in the team, this could leave Barnsley weak at the back - The Garibaldi can use their skill on the ball to evade these pressing midfielders. When this happens The Tykes make a fantastic effort to get back in position, but a decisive pass may find Forest's attackers in alot of space.

It will be interesting to watch how Forest cope with this different style of defending in comparison to the Blackpool game - if only this were not such an important game! We're about to discover just how good Adlene Guedioura is, as if the Algerian has success against the terrier-like opposition midfield then Forest should be fine. Alot will depend on Gueddy. He is the ideal kind of player you would want in this position - with all due respect, Simon Gillett might have struggled this game, his consolidatory passes would eventually have been picked off, and he would have been in danger of being caught in possession.

Can Forest find success where Cardiff, Crystal Palace, Leicester, Watford, Brighton & Middlesbrough could not (none could beat this new-style Barnsley side)? Flitcroft has made them into a difficult proposition for the top sides, and if we are one of the top sides in this league, as we all hope we are, then we should beware of Barnsley, because it seems they specialise in messing up promotion pushes.

Thanks for reading, and really, REALLY, COYR!


  1. Excellent stuff. It's interesting that you don't mention McGugan in the "skillful players" sentence; he obviously has what it takes to beat a marker, but does he make the right decisions often enough? I'd generally prefer Raddy for his ability to pick a pass; McGugan is perhaps more of a 10 than an out and out midfielder, imho. Any thoughts?

    Also, in light of Gueddy's quality at the base of the midfield, can you see a role for Gillett at Forest next season? Billy has been known to play 4-5-1 away in the past. Can Gillett's "water-carrying" ability be utilised in a central 3? It's apparent that he can be "bullied" by more robust players, but he has undoubted talent for keeping/moving the ball.

  2. McGugan is a mystery to me - but I think it was remiss of me not to mention him in those skillful players because he certainly does have what it takes to do hat needs to be done against Barnsley tomorrow - I didn't deliberately omit him, think I must have just gone on who I think will start the game. Lewis can be the best player in the team or the worst, thankfully he's done the business in the past few weeks & I meant no slight to him.

    Theres no way of knowing what players Billy will want next season - including Gillett. Your right he is good at what he does (I think he was under-appreciated), but he's no good for this system, but I think Billy has crafted this system around the players he has at his disposal an will play differently next season so who knows? I think Billy wants to play with wide men, the problem is we don't have any right now.

    Thanks for the comment pal, fingers crossed we need a win tomorrow!