Thursday, 25 July 2013

Player under the microscope: Andy Reid

I must immediately confess that Andy Reid is probably my second favourite Forest player that I’ve seen in person. Everybody loves a home-grown talent, but Reid’s affection for the club, passion, and his style give him a lot of credit with me personally, and added to that he's a real creative talent.

The player's return excited me more than the signing of any other player since I started supporting Forest over 20 years ago. As far as I was concerned, we had just signed what would be the best player in the league, and having missed the first game of the season I bought my ticket to the Notts County Carling Cup game, in part, specifically to watch Reidy. I couldn’t have been more disappointed.

I'm a big fan of defensive play, and Reid’s performance highlighted, in 30 foot square neon letters, that it is impossible to function as a team if the midfield aren’t bothered about defending. One innocuous league cup win sent me from enthusiasm and hope for the new season into fear and (ultimately correctly) low expectation. He wasn’t the only offender, but my expectations were high - far from the player I remembered, this Andy Reid was a liability when Forest didn't have the ball. Is Reidy a Forest legend, or an expensive luxury?

Reid’s job is to be Forest’s main creative catalyst– to make things happen in front of him by supplying others with easy chances; he does it as well as any player at this level. Although sometimes thought of as a wide man, his movement and decision making are not those of a winger (see diagram, right, which can be enlarged if clicked); unadorned with lightning pace, he uses his technique and brain instead, both of which are good enough to allow him to play more centrally – he does not need to run past people into space, he can create his own.

Even if he finds himself on the wing, Reid prefers to cut inside and bend in dangerous diagonal crosses – dangerous because they will often reach the danger zone while there is still space between the defence and goalkeeper (see left). He very rarely makes runs into the corners of the pitch to cut crosses back, which is what defenders are more used to midfielders trying to do, and his method is very successful, yielding many good crosses in every game.
By not running into this extra space himself, Reid (& Forest) are effectively making thing more complicated for their opponents. Forest often send up the full-backs to run into the empty space (see right) to drag attention away from the real threat – this is a deliberate tactic when Reid is present in the hope he will be able to put in a good cross. It is a clever ploy aimed at utilising Forest’s best crosser of the ball.
Reid is a true creative talent and when receiving the ball will get his head up and assess the situation faster than most at this level, either passing to advance Forest’s position or swashbuckling his way forward himself. He has the ability to beat a man at close quarters and is at his ultimate best when he’s just done so, as he then has time and space to decide what to do.

If he gets any time or space, any whatsoever, he is a very special player at this level. He simply has the vision and quick thinking to almost instantly spot the most dangerous passes, but he is not averse to shooting himself if it is the best option.
In the final third of the pitch, Reid will play the more high risk balls rather than the safer and patient passes that, for example, Raddy Majewski plays. This inevitably results in him giving the ball away on occasion, and he appeared to struggle towards the end of 2012/13 because of this. It is Reid’s job to create, not to pass the buck and retain possession in the final third – under Billy Davies when teams began defending deep against Forest in response to their success, and denying us space (for e.g. Barnsley, Blackpool and Burnley) it became more difficult for Reidy, but it must be pointed out that far from being ineffective during this period he personally made key contributions to 12 goals – 63.2% of all goals scored when he was on the pitch.

It is difficult to overstate Reid’s attacking importance – he has been involved in a disproportionate amount of Forest’s attacking success, heavily involved in 25 goals last season - which is 48.1% of all goals we scored with him on the pitch. With Reid, Forest scored on average every 66.2 minutes, but without him it took us 84.5 minutes – that is over 18 minutes longer we had to wait for a goal. This proves that, despite not really playing as well as he can, Reid had a significant effect on Forest’s goals scored column.
But just to hammer home the point, it is when we take a look at his overall stats since his return that the most startling facts emerge. With Reid on the pitch, Forest have scored on average every 65.1 minutes – not impressed? After all - with Raddy Majewski on the pitch we have scored slightly more regularly (every 63.3 minutes). However, remove Reid from the team and our goals dry up to one every 130.8 minutes, meaning it has taken Forest over an hour longer to score, on average, when Andy Reid has been absent! We at Forest Boffin see this as unassailable proof of just how important Reid has been to Nottingham Forest.
However there is another side to the coin. In the opinion of Forest Boffin, there has been a culture of defensive neglect over the past few seasons infecting the attackers. An excess of creative central midfielders can go some way to explaining this, but the refusal of certain players to work when Forest don’t have the ball, has been perhaps our biggest problem – Reidy has been part of this. As mentioned above, the Irishman was woeful defensively against Notts County (see illustration, left), which came as quite a shock.
Some have suggested Reid has been overweight, but this is perhaps unfair, and does not account for some of the non-defending he has been guilty of. On many occasions, even early in games, he has been one of the players choosing not to close down opposing wingers as they prepared to make crosses (see right).

To be fair he has improved – not only does he look fitter but his effort in the defensive phase of play is much better, however even when trying he still fails to build a relationship with his full back, often defending as a separate entity rather than as part of a team. The goal conceded against Derby at home is a good example of Reid not knowing what’s going on behind him because he’s not working with the full back (see below).
Whether the problem is that he does not know how to defend (unlikely), does not think it’s his job, is lazy (he is not), not fit enough, or the system leads to him being too far away to help defend, over the last few seasons Forest have been carrying passengers when our opponents have the ball, at times this has included Reid. The question is, in such a competitive league, can any team afford luxury players like Reid, or more extremely McGugan, who are fantastic when their team have the ball but don’t necessarily pull their weight defensively. Forest averaged 52% possession last season – that means if players have been ineffective when we didn’t have the ball, their presence was detrimental for 48% of the time – surely too long not to hurt us. Can we afford luxury players like Reid?
For balance I must point out again that he has improved defensively. Indeed statistically, since his return playing Reid made it less likely that Forest would concede (see left). This is probably because Forest see more of the ball with Reid in the team – last season for example, in the games Reid played we averaged 52% possession, whereas when he didn’t play our possession dropped to 47%. He indirectly benefits the team defensively, because our opponents don’t have the ball as much, and if they don’t have the ball they cannot score.
But as seen above, Reid is so beneficial to our attack that we ought to probably overlook his defensive shortcomings. A lot of it depends on the system, but a manager should make it a priority to find a balance between attack and defence while fitting in players like Reid, because for all the instances of him failing to close down opponents or otherwise neglect his defensive duties, we have averaged 1.4 points per game with him in the team – not fantastic, but without him this falls to only 1.04 points per game. Over a theoretical season this difference would be worth 17 points (and incidentally, we would be 34 goals worse off – see right). Since his arrival, Forest have done so very much worse when Reid hasn’t played, that I have to question whether we would have been relegated long ago without him.
Whatever system Billy chooses for Forest this season, there simply must be a regular place for Andy Reid. Forest through and through, he offers leadership and passion – he would be one of my favourite players if he was rubbish – but he’s not. For sheer talent and mental dexterity he is at a higher level, and it shows in the facts; we score far more goals with him in the side (see charts, left), and he is directly involved in a disproportionate amount of those goals. Forest simply perform much better with him in the side, and from watching him it is clear this is more than a statistical anomaly - he is clearly a very influential player. Andy Reid is by far our main creative force, this considerably outweighs his defensive limitations. Forest Boffin is looking forward to seeing how much he can create in 2013/14.
Thanks for reading, and COYR!

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