Monday, 18 November 2013

Heroes & Villains: Goals conceded 12-16 & analysis

A continued look at how Forest are conceding their goals, which in turn is highlighting the main defensive problems Billy Davies is having to solve. This project is subjective, but also not set in stone; corrections, opinions & contribution are welcome.

12. Bournemouth (1-1) Marc Pugh

I think everyone in the ground half expected The Cherries to equalise, and from a tactical point of view it's a revealing goal, exposing a recurring problem for Forest. The Garibaldi were under significant pressure, due to not being able to keep possession up the pitch, but they are caught out because of the gap in front of their back four.

As the ball comes into this unguarded area, Kelvin Wilson comes out to deal with the problem. I've struggled to fault Forest's defence at all so far this season, and here, again, they are doing their job. Wilson advances to stop Bournemouth striker Tokelo Rantie being able to just turn and have a free shot on goal. This leaves a gap in the defensive line, which the remaining defenders have to deal with - they do this apparently automatically, a sign that they are very well organised. As a result of this, the defensive line is much shorter as the play comes closer to the Forest goal (see diagrams, right. All diagrams on Forest Boffin are enlargeable when clicked).

This shorter defensive line obviously cannot cover every dangerous position - so it is positioned in the most dangerous area, the area just in front of goal, but in this instance it leaves more space where the right back would normally be covering - but because Wilson is out of the defensive line, Jara has re-organised himself to become an emergency centre-back... there is no right back. Wilson's challenge results in the ball squirming into this area, where Pugh is waiting; he gleefully slots the ball under Karl Darlow and runs to join in with the corybantic Bournemouth celebrations.

I've been asked why the defence had to contract to fill the space Wilson left - why not just mark their men? It was 4 on 4 after all? The answer to this is that the main objective of the defenders is to protect the goal - if the goal is being threatened in the manner it was, by an aggressive runner surging dangerously towards it, you need more than 1 on 1 defending, there needs to be a contingency in case Rantie gets past Wilson. The main threat is the ball, if the defenders had merely each picked up a man, they may have been dragged off anywhere - then maybe another Bournemouth player could make a secondary run into this now empty space - there is simply not time to telepathically ensure every attacker is covered, so the defenders instead defend the most dangerous area - in front of Karl Darlow's goal. There just aren't enough of them in this instance.

This goal is caused by Forest's lack of midfield cover, forcing Wilson to come out of the defence and try to deal with the problem himself. This is Forest's biggest problem, I've a theory that I'll be able to link the vast majority of conceded goals back to this defect at the moment, and once sorted it will give Forest a footing to express themselves as they were before the departure of Adlene Guedioura.

Players out of position: The midfield!
Players beaten for skill: None.
Goalkeeping error: None.

13. Yeovil (0-1) Ed Upson

Ed Upson's deflected volley came out of the blue, preceding Forest's worst defeat of the season so far. Being hyper-critical, you could point out that it's a shot from the dangerous area in front of the penalty box, however there is a defender able to get in a block - unfortunately the ball spins off at a totally unintentional angle, ricocheting past Karl Darlow, who is wrong-footed.

The ball falls for Upson, who hits it first time, from an errant defensive header from CHris Cohen - defending a throw in. It's not the best header, but harsh to blame the goal on him. Just unlucky in my opinion.

Players out of position: None really.
Players beaten for skill: Cohen could have done better with his header, but harsh.
Goalkeeping error: None.

14. Yeovil (0-2) Ed Upson

Upson's second goal is more worrisome - again one of our opponents is able to exploit the space that frequently appears in front of our defence (see left). The ball falls to the Yeovil midfielder and he takes the invitation to run towards the Forest goal - unopposed - and gets a shot off at long range before any Forest defender can get close.

The problem here is one of position - Forest are simply not defending the area in front of their defence. Gonzalo Jara is playing in defensive midfield, you would suggest the responsibility is his - the Chilean is chasing the ball elsewhere. This problem has been a common theme, and prompts changes from Billy Davies in the next match, his patience finally running out.

Poor old Darlow once again has next to no chance.

Players out of position: Jara.
Players beaten for skill: None.
Goalkeeping error: None.

15. Yeovil (1-3) Byron Webster

A rare goal conceded from a corner, Webster is able to get away from his marker, flashing a header onto the inside of the Forest goalpost which is judged to have crossed the line. It's impossible to tell who was marking him, as there are two Yeovil players bunched with two Forest markers in the same space - I think it's possibly Henderson who loses him - but I can't be sure.

Forest don't let in too many from set pieces - this goal does not concern me.

Players out of position: None.
Players beaten for skill: Possibly Henderson - impossible to tell.
Goalkeeping error: None.

16. Blackpool (0-1) Scott Dobbie

Dobbie's goal should not have counted, because old-boy Nathan Tyson was stood offside, however three are a couple of mistakes in there by Forest - nothing major though. Blackpool were finally putting us under a little pressure - we were unable to keep possession out of our own third (anywhere on the pitch actually) so it was slightly akin to a defence v attack situation - The Seasiders really ought to have been able to get a goal at some stage. So the main defensive problem here is not the errors in defending, more Blackpool's cumulative ability to constantly put our defence under pressure, after Abdoun's red card.

The ball is played high into the area, and a Blackpool player is able to nod down to Tyson far too easily, who battles for the ball which squirms to Dobbie, who knocks it past Darlow (again not at fault). Eric Lichaj has the chance to clear during this mêlée, but misses his kick.

Players out of position: None.
Players beaten for skill: Cohen is marking the man who knocks it down. Lichaj could possibly do better.
Goalkeeping error: None.

We're around one third through the season, and the nature of the goals against Forest is, in my opinion, telling a story about the evolving weaknesses of the team. I personally break down the season into three loose but distinct tactical phases:

  • Diamond system with Guedioura (games 1-5)
  • Diamond system post Guedioura (games 6-13)
  • 4-2-3-1 system (games 14 & 15)
Unfortunately these three tactical phases are of dissimilar timeframes, but I believe they still help to paint a picture of what has been going wrong (not that I think all that much has been - but this is an exploration of why Forest concede goals).

Our most successful period defensively was the first phase - with Guedioura playing at the base of the diamond. I've spoken extensively about the tactical implications of losing him here and here, so I'll just summarise here how the goals we've been conceding backs this up. My contention that without Guedioura there has been too much space appearing in front of our defence, bears itself out here; undefended space in front of the defence accounted for no goals in phase 1, however they contribute to 6 out of the 12 goals during phase 2. I must point out this is a subjective issue, however I can back this up, and have done in the preceding Heroes & Villains posts.

In my opinion, this has been our biggest weakness, and it is also the reason that Billy Davies has dropped the diamond formation for our last two games. It is noteworthy that this space has not been appearing with any regularity in these two games - the two defensive midfielders - and indeed the rest of the team - have been defending this area jealously.

I have a test of whether the defence, and system, is doing it's job defensively - it is not a perfect test of whether the defence is working, more a personal test of whether I am happy with the defending, and it is as follows: have the opposition been able to score without beating a forest player for skill? - or to put it another way, were they able to score because Forest players allowed him an unacceptable amount of space, or because they weren't doing their job? I don't mind seeing a defender bamboozled by a great bit of skill - I just don't like to see our opponents jobs made easy.

And tellingly, during phase 1 (with Guedioura), none of the three goals were scored without a Forest player being beaten for skill - I was happy. Even the Wigan goals I was content with - the Wigan players swash-buckled their way through challenges and deserved their goals. However, during phase 2, 50% of our goals failed my test - and I was being generous (I let Forest off for the Middlesbrough goals because they were pushing forward to get a goal and were hit on the counter-attack).

Although yet unproven, I expect the number of goals that fails my test to drop again, if we continue to play two defensive midfielders, because I think this problem all stems from the lack of organisation, or understanding, in this area of the pitch. Our defensive problems are due mainly to the loss of Guedioura, in my opinion.

The amount of goals we're conceding through set-pieces has dropped - this is due, in my opinion, to our opponents being able to get through into scoring positions with out a Forest player being able to get close enough to foul them. At times, we have been powder-puff in front of our defence - they've been getting through this area too easily.

A side issue that we need to keep our eye on is that a couple of our goals (against Brighton and Blackpool) have been contributed to by Chris Cohen not asserting himself in the air, allowing his man to make easy knock-downs, leading to goals - but this is a small issue compared to the major one.

This article was always going to be critical by it's very nature - I'd like to reaffirm my trust in the Forest management at this point. Every team will concede goals - I'm not having a go, merely discussing them, because they're interesting and help paint a picture of what's happening on the pitch. I find it reassuring that Billy Davies has changed the system. I would personally prefer to see us make the diamond system work, but if it can't be done yet (it clearly took a lot of work over the summer for the players to form the necessary understanding), at least it shows Billy is addressing our most serious tactical problem.

Thanks for reading, well done if you're still awake, and COYR!
Feel free to get in touch if you disagree or want to discuss, here, on City Ground Faithful forum. You can read the two preceding articles which look in detail at our goals conceded here, and here.

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