Guedioura's riposte - a thunderbolt that almost vaporised the Leeds net - was the catalyst for one of the most memorable victories in recent memory, a 7-3 victory at Elland Road. Under Steve Cotterill Guedioura proved nothing short of a revelation. One of several loanees used to patch up Forest’s makeshift side, he helped avert what would have been a disastrously timed nose dive into League One (you would argue that any such relegation could be described as disastrous, however for ownerless Forest, staying up was essential).
With Guy Moussi enforcing in midfield, Guedioura was given a freedom to rampage forward using his excellent passing range to make a decisive difference (see left). Between the Moose and himself, Forest had the muscle and energy required to win the ball, which was then smuggled to attacking outlets such as Andy Reid or Gareth McCleary.
It was no coincidence that McCleary at this time began to realise the potential he had lurking under the surface. Guedioura had a carefree confidence and flair which seemed to infect the rest of the midfield, he also had the technical ability to hold onto the ball long enough to pick out men in space. Guedioura’s performances were amongst the most impressive witnessed at The City Ground at this level.
Under Sean O’Driscoll Pep’s role changed subtly, as he had a slightly disappointing start to the season. Intentionally or not, the Irishman narrowed the midfield and tried to replicate the style of passing, consolidatory football he found relative success with in his Doncaster days (see right). Guedioura was initially moved into a less central role in Forest’s narrow midriff, and many surmised this slight change of position was to blame for Guedioura’s quiet start, but we would now argue he was not suited to O’Driscoll’s possession football. It’s not that Guedioura isn’t capable of keeping the ball, but he is at his best playing decisive, risky passes and beating his man with quick feet. Playing a brand of football which by it’s very nature limits the risks you are taking with the ball, which instead promotes short intricate passing, is not playing to Guedioura’s strengths – this diminished his impact.
Upon the arrival of Billy Davies Guedioura was immediately withdrawn to the defensive midfield position. Teams had been pressuring Simon Gillett on the ball and Davies astutely recognised Guedioura would be better able to keep it under pressure. The Algerian is a typical swashbuckling midfielder who relishes battle at close quarters, he is also capable of using the ball much more decisively than Gillett and found immediate success spraying the ball forward where Forest’s strikers were making themselves available in increasingly wide positions, supported by Raddy Majewski. The Classy Bull, as Guedioura was known in France, proved so successful in this role that opposition teams were forced to sit back more to deny space to those runners looking for his passes (see diagram, left).
Guedioura was effective in this withdrawn role because of his technical ability and energy, essential because of Forest’s narrow midfield. With fewer outlets in the less congested wide positions, whichever midfielder was closest to the defence would need to be good with the ball, else Forest would have to resort to hopeful punts up-field.
This position negated the most striking aspect of Guedioura’s game: his eye for goal. Forest fans are used to seeing him have a crack from distance, and he can also make dangerous late runs into the box, yet under Davies these have been less prevalent – in fact he did not score in any of Billy’s games despite playing for over 1200 minutes.
Another reason why this position is not ideal for Guedioura is his tendency to hunt down the ball, abandoning his own defensive position. This was best highlighted in our final game against Leicester but began as soon as Davies implemented his tactical changes. When a team attack Forest down either flank, Guedioura tends to close down the ball, but this leaves The Reds vulnerable in the centre (see diagram, right), which is a much more dangerous area of the pitch to leave space. Forest have struggled defending their flanks for years largely because of the poor off-ball relationships between wide midfielders and full-backs – playing a holding midfielder like Guedioura who is not tactically experienced adds to this problem. An organising defensive midfielder in the mould of Paul McKenna wouldn’t allow himself to be dragged away from his real responsibilities so easily. We shouldn’t be too harsh on Pep in this regard since he’s only trying to cover for weaknesses in other areas, yet his lack of experience in this position is easily exploited. Guedioura is touted as a defensive midfielder, however Forest Boffin would contend that he is more of a ball-playing, energetic box-to-box midfielder rather than a tactically astute, hard tackling interceptor who breaks up play.
If we were extrapolating and comparing the figures over a theoretical season, Forest with Guedioura would collect 65.78 points over 46 games – in this year’s Championship that would be good enough for 8th (where we finished). However, remove the Algerian from the team and Forest would collect only 52.9 points, which would leave us theoretically relegated in 22nd position. This is only in theory obviously; however as an exercise it highlights the fact that when he has played, we have tended to do better..
Billy Davies has a lot of decisions to make this summer, chief of them will be the shape of his midfield – what role if any will he have Guedioura play? Hopefully The Classy Bull will play an important part because there are few finer sights at this level than the Algerian swivelling on the ball to play a long, lateral pass to someone in space, or him rampaging towards the opposition penalty area. His progress last season has been hampered by his versatility – a settled role which suits him will surely see a return to his best, which is why Forest Boffin predicts big things for Guedioura in the season to come.
Thanks for reading, and COYR!