Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Preview: Forest v Watford

In a stratospherically important game, Forest welcome Watford to The City Ground this Thursday night. Despite being unbeaten in 11 games and playing well generally, a so-far disappointing January transfer window has left some fans despondent, and even prompting others to attack owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi. A loss against a seemingly lowly Watford side could send the fans' morale into meltdown.

But if Forest fans think The Hornets will be a pushover they are sorely mistaken. our opponents may have only won 1 in their last 14 league games, but away from home they are particularly difficult to beat. Gianfranco Zola instilled a counter-attacking mentality into the team, which has been continued by new manager Giuseppe Sannino. Watford have not lost away in The Championship since October 1st.

This ability to counter-attack is indeed the main feature of Watford's play, and is largely down to their team being very good at using space left in the wake of their attacking opponents. They seem to thrive particularly on space left in front of a defence in central areas of the pitch, breaking with pace into this area.

Watford's recent performance away at Manchester City illustrated perfectly how effective they are when allowed space in their opponent's half. City were very positive, and possibly underestimated The Golden Boys at first, not protecting the defensive midfield area, and pushing forward their full-backs. Manuel Pellegrini blamed his players, as City ended the half 2-0 down, but he was at fault, tactically outmanoeuvred by Sannino. Watford constantly had players available to counter-attack, and more often than not outnumbered the Premiership team's defenders as they broke forward.

Sannino began the game away at Man City with what appeared to be an unusual 3-4-3, a system I didn't recognise from their other games. I think it likely they will use it against Forest , such was it's initial success, they will certainly play with three at the back, with their wing-backs operating almost as midfielders.

Most often Watford have played with three in midfield, but by pushing an extra man up front they ensured there were always possibilities when coming forward.

It is difficult to predict their starting line-up as they have players coming back from injury, such as the excellent Almen Abdi, and former Red Lewis McGugan - who is unlikely to be fit enough to play. I don't think I'll be too far off with the line-up and system illustrated here (see right. All diagrams and pictures on Forest Boffin can be enlarged when clicked).

Similarly, it is hard to guess Forest's line up. We know they will stick with their 4-2-3-1 system, and it may prove particularly useful against Watford, but the midfield triangle of Reid, Lansbury and Vaughan which has shown itself so effective, has been disrupted by the suspension of Henri Lansbury. Also, Forest have not, at the time of writing, signed up David Vaughan. The players Davies brings in alongside Andy Reid will be key to determining the outcome of this game. If Forest want to go for the throat, they may bring in Raddy Majewski as the attacking midfielder, dropping Reid back, however I would go with two defensive minded players against The Hornets, bringing Gonzalo Jara out of the defence and giving a rare start to Guy Moussi.

The key to stopping Watford will be denying them space in front of the back four. A large part of Forest's tactics over the past few months has been doing just this; they were guilty of leaving large gaps in this area earlier in the season but the move to a 4-2-3-1 system was specifically to plug this space. I believe, at east initially, Forest will have the better of things in this area - although The Hornets have players at ease on the ball, they ought to be stopped if they come down the middle. We are fortunate that Lewis McGugan will probably be missing, because there may be a lot of free-kicks in this area, but on the whole The Reds are capable, and well practised at shutting teams down in this area.

I think it important that Andy Reid play in the attacking-midfield role, as this player is likely to be out-numbered for much of the game. The only other options are Raddy Majewski and Jamie Paterson, but Majewski struggles with only one striker in front of him, and Paterson is perhaps too direct, we need a player here able to swashbuckle and fight for the ball, keeping possession until he can use it.

The player who could hurt Watford the most, certainly indirectly, could be Simon Cox. We know how the Irishman likes to drift off to the wing to establish possession for Forest, bringing others into play - this could be a good opportunity for this to work, especially if Forest can respond to Watford's counter attacks (see left).

I envisage Forest winning the ball back at times when The Hornets are buzzing forward - Cox will surely be looking to run into any space left be the Watford full-backs, and is particularly adept at making a nuisance of himself in this area, moving the ball on decisively.

The issue Watford will have, is which centre-back(s) follows him. If done in an organised manner this should be no problem, however the slightest hesitation will allow Cox to find enough space in wide positions to start pulling the strings and setting up dangerous situations. This will ask awkward questions of the 3 man defence, and unless they're telepathic space will appear at times, ready to be exploited. I don't think it will be as simple as man-marking Cox, because he's too clever.

Another problem Forest could cause is their direct running with the ball. I rate their three defenders quite highly, especially Gabriele Angella, but the rest of their team lacks bite, and are vulnerable to players like Mackie and Paterson who like to get past opponents and rive towards goal. For this reason I believe it essential that these two start for Forest.

But things will not be easy against Sannino's men, and he appears to be a tricky customer; this may well turn into another tit-for-tat tactical battle between Davies and his opponent, and while the Scot usually wins these hands down, I've a feeling the Italian could prove a tough test.

One thing Forest must not allow, and which Watford will be trying to manipulate into reality, is the situation where The Reds are chasing the game without paying heed to the space they leave when on the attack, because if this happens they will be punished.

But, if Forest consider themselves a team striving for automatic promotion, this is another home game they should be looking to win. Some gaps have began to appear in our squad, and as things stand they are weaker coming out of January than going in, as they have not signed either Jack Hobbs nor David Vaughan. It's possible one or both of these two will have signed by Thursday night, and we may even have another striker to look at, but as things stand Billy Davies has limited options for this game.

However, The Garibaldi have the system and players to win this one, and unless they go recklessly pushing forward, leaving space at the back, they should be able to avoid being stung and go on to make it 12 unbeaten.
Thanks for reading, thanks to the Watford fans who helped with my research at wfcforums.com and COYR! 

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