Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Geting offensive: The Raddy Factor

Forest’s first two home games have seen two victories; a comfortable but patchy 1-0 against Huddersfield, and a superb and dominant 3-0 dismantling of fellow promotion contenders Bolton. I had a theory that the return of Kelvin Wilson would transform Forest, giving us stability from the base upwards – but my eye was caught by another, a player dramatically influential further up the pitch, one who made the difference between hesitance and decisiveness; Raddy Majewski.

Both games were very interesting tactically, the Huddersfield game in particular turning into a battle of wills between the two managers. Billy Davies tweaked his diamond formation slightly, playing a system I afterwards dubbed The Washing Machine (because, I tell myself, of the fluidity of the movement, and how it looked when scrawled on my notes, but I was possibly influenced by the state of my clothes after walking home in the post-match torrential rain). Huddersfield played a variant on the 4-4-2, with their second striker playing slightly withdrawn (see diagram, below. All graphics on Forest Boffin are enlargeable when clicked).

Forest took the game to Huddersfield, attempting to play the ball on the floor through a narrow midfield, any width was provided by the full-backs. Forest’s front 6 were given freedom to rove in search of space to receive the ball, but our opponents were superbly organised, denying Reid, Lansbury and Guedioura in particular any space in their half whatsoever. Forest cranked up the pressure by pushing forward Cohen and Lichaj, in an attempt to stretch Huddersfield out and create room. We saw a lot of long sidewards passes as Forest switched play to the only available space, but The Terriers quickly adjusted in a disciplined defensive effort.

To Forest’s credit, they were determined, treating this as a must win game – almost to a point of impatience as the first half ticked away. It was refreshing to see a team throw caution to the wind so early, trying everything. The three men up front shuffled endlessly and the midfield drifted further and further away from their starting positions in search of the ball – Andy Reid spent a lot of time retreating into an almost defensive position to pick up the ball unharassed. At one stage Lansbury was playing up front, reminding me of when Forest are chasing a game in the last few minutes- only this was in the first half!

Forest resorted to playing direct balls, unable to retain the ball in our impressive opponent’s half of the pitch. This tactic proved only slightly more fruitful, creating a couple of half-chances, but without a target man on the pitch it was playing into Mark Robins’ hands and he must have been pleased at half time.

Indeed, for all of Forest’s endeavour, it was Huddersfield creating the best chances, as they held us at arms length and found space on the counter attack – this looked set to continue into the second half as James Vaughan forced a good save from Karl Darlow.

Even after our goal - created by left-back Chris Cohen’s exceptional run, Forest struggled to break down Huddersfield. Although it was a comfortable win, The Reds were unconvincing going forward.
The difference in our second home game against Bolton was that Forest won the midfield battle. Huddersfield were able to close down our creative players before they could do anything with the ball; Bolton, even with an extra man in midfield, and much better players, never got close.

Forest were able to retain possession in Bolton’s half and used the ball more efficiently, thanks largely due to the inclusion of Raddy Majewski. Reverting to last season’s successful diamond formation, Forest were clinical and confident on the ball, unafraid to play in close proximity to the Bolton players. It was good to see the calm figure of Wilson shrugging off challenges again, prepared and able to play his way out of trouble rather than hoofing the ball up front.

But it was Majewski who proved so disastrous for Dougie Freedman’s men. He lurked and roamed in the opponent’s half, effective at this because of his efficiency on the ball. His technical ability means he needs less space – he is able to receive in advanced positions and pass accurately before the tackle arrives. The longer Forest retain possession their opponent’s half, the more red shirts can move up into dangerous positions – this is Majewski’s main benefit to the team. Against Huddersfield, Forest had to play longer, direct balls up to the forwards for them to flick down, or struggle to control and hold up. With Raddy playing in “the hole“, they could pass that bit shorter in the knowledge he would be able to control, move and retain possession more efficiently (see diagram).
 
Majewski was so effective at keeping the ball against Bolton that at times he was acting as a magnet for their players, drawing them close as they tried to either mark or get the ball off of him. This automatically created space for other players. At one stage he had a gaggle of players chasing him around the pitch - the five defenders eventually managing to get the ball off of him (see right).


But as effective as he was at helping Forest keep the ball, it was his use of it that was most damaging. Raddy is perhaps most celebrated for being able to spot a pass, this creativity was evident almost immediately against Bolton. Accompanied with his efficiency – his ability to work quickly with the ball – this vision is exceptionally dangerous for this level of football, illustrated perfectly in our first goal (see left), as he threaded a pass through the defence for Jamie Mackie. Bolton defender Zat Knight had strayed out of position for a second – too long as Raddy found the ball and almost instantly made an instinctive pass. 1-0.

Forest seem much more able to play these through-balls on the ground with Majewski in the team, this has been demonstrated already this season; against Huddersfield Forest were playing balls mostly to the strikers for them to hold up, but against Blackburn and Bolton they were making more runs goal-side of the defenders (see right), often it was Raddy smuggling the ball through for them to race onto.
 
I have long been impressed with Majewski, and aware of his statistical effect on the team, but since Billy’s return he has shone particularly brightly, because the team complements his style of play so well. Whether it is the case of Davies building his team around him (I would speculate, from listening to Billy talk about Raddy, and the way in which he was pushed forward into the media spotlight last season by the club, that the little Pole is indeed rated that highly by Davies), or he’s just using his players cleverly, the conditions have been ideal for him to flourish. The role of the strikers has been helping – they have been used not as goalscorers but more to occupy and pin down the opposition defence – this leaves space in which Majewski can operate. It also helps having a player like Guedioura playing in defensive midfield, robust enough to keep the ball and ping the passes for him to get onto.

This ability to retain the ball in this area was missing against Huddersfield and decisive against Bolton. It would be going too far to say this improvement was solely down to Majewski; Greg Halford did a fantastic battling job up front, wrestling with and getting the better of David Wheater he played a major role in our ball retention. Jamie Mackie was tidy and tenacious, using the ball well. The introduction of Kelvin Wilson was also favourable in that there were no more hopeful punts up the pitch – Forest were better at keeping the ball in their own half, and so automatically were able to pick and choose their passes going forward, making it easier for the attackers.

However Majewski was the key link in the chain, and although not his most spectacular game in the garibaldi, for me this was perhaps his best ever performance, it was also one of Forests best for many years, totally outplaying one of the better teams in the league with hundreds of games worth of Premier League experience.

As Majewski matures he will grow even more influential; once identified as a threat he was targeted by Bolton for some rough treatment. In the past this might have put him off his game, but perhaps stronger physically, he stood up to this challenge well. His one touch football, the instant moving along of the ball and the quick thinking, was instrumental in Forest’s offensive possession. It is a long time since I’ve been so impressed by a player’s performance.

Thanks for reading, and COYR!
 

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