Sunday, 28 July 2013

Player under the microscope: Chris Cohen

“He’s got one hell of an engine”. “A real box-to-box midfielder.” “Energetic and hard working.” “Mr Versatile.” In football, such praise is often a double-edged sword – these are all fantastic attributes for the modern footballer to have, but once these labels stick, players real skills often get overlooked, and their versatility sometimes leads to them not carving out their own niche in a team. Chris Cohen has been another player to suffer from this.

Cohen has spent well over 200 hours in a Forest shirt, in a wide variety of positions – successive managers have always found room for him in their team somewhere, possibly because of the attributes mentioned above. There is more to his game, but effort and dedication are not to be ignored – every time Cohen pulls on the Garibaldi he put in a passionate 100% and has been deployed right across the midfield.

It is at left back, however, that he ended last season. This position has been a constant niggle for Forest as a succession of loanees and candidates for this position have come and gone. Cohen has filled in between players and has played more than anyone else here – 37 times in the last four seasons. While this is not his best position he has not let anybody down; statistics imply that having him playing this position has not been detrimental (see enlargeable chart, right).

The left back has possibly been the last piece of the jigsaw at times for Forest; the addition of real quality here in Nicky Shorey transformed the club’s fortunes to the extent that they were suddenly picking up an average of 2.56 points per game. Yet compared to all the other left backs, the inclusion of Cohen at left back has been favourable in that we haven’t leaked excessive goals, and have picked up a reasonable amount of points. Billy Davies in particular has only ousted Cohen in favour of top notch quality – he has proven an adequate plan B.

Cohen’s lack of experience in this position has shown at times. He can defend reasonably one-on-one, but when faced with more complex decision making he has traditionally been subject to making errors, and although he has improved with experience this still occurs. For example, although aware of problems caused by attackers running in behind him, he sometimes makes the wrong decision – commonly he’s too cautious and can end up marking empty space (see left – all diagrams on Forest Boffin can be enlarged by clicking).

In the past he has also made wrong decisions in being too advanced when Forest have lost the ball, leaving us vulnerable on the counter attack, but this has not been particularly evident in his most recent spell as a full-back. More evidence of Cohen’s improvement is suggested when analysing the manner of the goals Forest have conceded. Having a player out of position, in an especially vulnerable position for Forest (who leave a lot of space in front of their full-backs) could have proven calamitous, however the majority of goals conceded resulted from problems developing away from Cohen's area of the pitch (see right). Only 20% of goals came from Cohen's area, compared to over 66% from the other side. We must take into account that 4 of the goals attributed to the right hand side were corners, but even excluding them we still see twice the amount of problems leading to goals coming from this area. Thus, statistically we were stronger down our left during this period. Cohen has clearly improved his defending and will hopefully be trying to stake a claim for this position.

Having a midfielder playing as full-back has advantages when attacking. All full-backs should ideally have the ability to go on overlapping runs into space to provide another offensive option, particularly when counter-attacking. They need the technical ability to accept and move forward with the ball, and ideally do something with it – the craft of a midfielder, more used to handling the ball in close proximity to opposition players pays dividends here as they tend to be more robust with the ball under control.

However, this has proven even more advantageous for Forest when we make the distinction of attacking a team who has taken an entrenched defensive position – a tactic Forest often have to face. With Cohen playing at left back, he can sometimes effectively slot back into a midfield position – and be more comfortable doing so because he is a midfielder (see right).
When Cohen occupies this position (as shown above) he is more confident to go looking and probing for tighter space – having a full back willing and able to do this helps outnumber an entrenched defence, a great example of this, which Cohen was involved in, was our first goal at home against Wolves (see left).

Overall, whether in midfield or defence, Cohen has been almost ever present when available. Despite being out injured for most of 2011/12, he has the third most game-time at the club, behind only Lee Camp and Chris Gunter. During this period, no outfield player has picked up more league points while playing.*

His contribution is therefore beyond doubt, but has it been positive? As far as results are concerned, we pick up more points with Cohen in the team (he has been present for 73% of all points gained in the last four seasons – considering he has been injured for almost one full season during this period, this is impressive). Deeper analysis of these statistics tend to show this effect is generally due to Forest being more difficult to beat, as although there is a small increase in the percentage of victories, the effect is generally a reduction in defeats (see charts, left). Could this be due to the midfielder’s hard work, energy and resilience?

Offensively, with Cohen on the pitch, during the last four seasons we have scored on average 5.3 minutes quicker – in our experience, although an improvement, it is negligible when compared to other players. The real statistical difference made is a defensive one. Over the same period as above, we conceded on average every 88.2 minutes when Cohen has been on the pitch, compared to every 72 minutes without him. It therefore takes us just over 16 minutes longer statistically to concede a goal when Cohen is playing. Again, not surprising due to his grit and work-rate.
Chris Cohen is a real all round player – he doesn’t specialise in any one area, he can tackle & defend as well as drive forward. He has bundles of energy, and also the intelligence to play multiple roles – this is why there has always been a place for him when available. Not particularly spectacular (usually – remember his goal against Blackpool), he has a positive effect on our results, win ratio, goals scored and goals conceded – one of only 7 players to be able to say this of in the last four seasons (see left). Billy Davies has used him in wider positions in the past (on either flank at times), it is possible he will move him back into midfield after bringing in two permanent full-backs this summer. Whether this is the case, or Cohen makes the left back position his – a position he has improved in – one thing is certain; Chris Cohen will play an important role in the coming season.
Thanks for reading, and COYR!
*In games where the player has played for over 45 minutes.

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