Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Preview: Forest v Leicester City

As the Captains of the West rode towards Mordor with what remained of their battered army, they knew they were approaching the critical point of their campaign, and also that the odds were heavily stacked against them. Perhaps this is how Billy Davies feels this week, leading his injury ravaged Forest side against the dark forces of Leicester and Burnley.

League-Champions-elect Leicester will probably play a 4-4-2 against Forest, pushing forward either full-back to support their two creative midfielders, winger Lloyd Dyer and Anthony Knockaert, who plays on the right but tends to drift inside. They have a solid core which protects the centre of the pitch effectively, and a plethora of dangerous forwards who between them provide a variety of threats for every occasion.

While scouting them for this preview, I have been extremely impressed with Jamie Vardy. He is not the most high-profile player on their team – perhaps that honour goes to Knockaert or Nugent – but in my opinion he’s the most dangerous. When on song he has superb technique and lightning pace, and an aggressive determination to get in an effort on goal. He also has a good work-ethic.

Forest must not play too high a line, as Leicester are more direct away from home (they average 48.9% of possession, compared to 56.5% at The King Power Stadium) – they will look to play balls betwixt our full-backs and central defenders for Vardy to run onto. We must also avoid any defenders becoming isolated against Vardy, who has the acceleration and skill to explode past them.

Home or away, Leicester conjure most of their attacks down either wing with the aim of crossing the ball; in their last match against Watford, they made an impressive 44 crosses. Similar to Forest, their full-backs are quite adventurous, and when on the attack they will cross the half-way line and join the midfield.
Commendably, Leicester seem to go for the throat rather than playing cautiously, but this leaves them vulnerable as Konchesky, and to a lesser extent de Laet, get caught out of position (see an example, left. All diagrams on Forest Boffin are enlargeable when clicked). In my opinion Billy Davies targeted this trait earlier in the season as a weakness. This will be a key area of the pitch again, and whenever The Blues have come unstuck this season, this is where their problems developed.
This may also be exacerbated by the attacking nature of Dyer and Knockaert – I’ve not seen much evidence of either having formed a defensive relationship with their full-back, so even when in line, there have been occasions where the defenders have been unable to prevent crosses (see an example, right).

The adventurousness of Leicester's full-backs could be influenced by the system Billy Davies plays, i.e. the number of strikers employed. We saw against Reading what sometimes happens when Forest play one up front – it can free up opposition full-backs to get forward more offensively, and press into our midfield when defending. An extra striker will automatically help pin back Konchesky and de Laet.
However, their absence when forward has, in my opinion, been Leicester's Achilles' Heel – if Billy opts to play two up front, making them more reluctant to press forward, he may actually make our opponent’s defence stronger in a game we need to win (see diagrams below). As funny as it sounds, one up front may, in this instance, be more adventurous than two!

Just as I suggested prior to the Watford game, this is another opportunity for Simon Cox to use his intelligence and drift into the space behind positive full-backs. We saw the havoc he caused almost immediately in that game when introduced at half time – he needs to start this game, up front on his own.
Also, if Cox is played up on his own, it will allow Billy to use two wingers to support him, exploiting
this space themselves when Cox doesn’t. If Forest play two up front, the midfield will probably be narrower, and these players will play in the more congested centre – where Leicester are strong. As mentioned above, in my opinion Knockaert and Dyer aren’t as defensively minded as they could be – another reason not to play a narrow midfield.

The Reds have massive injury problems which will be tempting Billy to bring back his diamond system (with two strikers, the one kind of player we have plenty of), but because of the above reasons I think he should proceed with a 4-2-3-1, withdrawing Andy Reid to a more defensive position. It is a shame, because with Vaughan and Lansbury in the side, this would be a much easier game. Forest could really do with Reid in the attacking midfield position, whatever system we play – it will be interesting to see how Billy juggles his midfielders as I can see this becoming a problem area.

A key battleground defensively, apart from stopping Jamie Vardy, will be how Hobbs or Lascelles handle David Nugent. The ex-England international had the better of things against Lascelles earlier in the season, particularly in the air and should have found himself on the score-sheet. Leicester crossed the ball 26 times in that game. They will probably play a few more through-balls this time – as Forest won't be defending as deep – but Nugent et al will still be a threat from crosses. He will also be a threat from the penalty spot – he alone has taken 10 so far this season, scoring 8.

The Garibaldi will have to get everything right, because Leicester are full of confidence – as befits a team on route to the title. And with that confidence and winning habit comes the rub of the green – they been fortunate in a lot of the games I’ve seen, particularly away from home against teams like Bournemouth, Leeds and Millwall, and have benefited from a lot of marginal refereeing decisions. Winning teams give birth to luck, and Leicester are earning theirs aplenty. I have the feeling if Forest are going to get anything out of this game, they will have to earn it conclusively, because things are falling nicely for City.

A key aspect of earning that result will be scoring first, because Nigel Pearson’s team have the highest win-ratio in The Championship when they draw first blood – a whopping 90%. This is down to their ability to protect a lead, their opponents have been able to equalise on average only 19.2% of the time, but away from home, where they are more cautious, this drops to 16.7%.

But Forest are one of the two Championship teams who are outstanding at forcing their way back into games (Burnley are the other - no other Championship team comes close at fighting back). We know they have superb character, and they equalise on average 69.2% of the time they fall behind. And should The Reds’ score first, they also know how to finish teams off, especially at home where they win 88.9% of the games in which they do so. Overall, this drops to 63.2% - Forest struggle more to hold onto a lead away, but at The City Ground they are lethal. The first goal may be crucial.
This week is likely to define the remainder of the season for Forest. Do well, and they will have proven that even without Cohen, Lichaj, Wilson, Lansbury and Vaughan (half of our first team) we are one of the best sides in The Championship, and will be in a strong position; do poorly and we will at best be playing catch-up until May – at worst fighting to cling onto a play-off position. Lose against both Leicester and Burnley, and we will be nine points behind second place, Derby and QPR will be pulling away, Reading, Brighton, Ipswich and Wigan will be hunting us down, and the fans confidence will be tested. This is a massive week for The Garibaldi, and considering our opposition and injury situation, it’s as difficult as possible.
But this is a winnable game for Forest, especially at The City Ground. Billy Davies has gotten one over on our rivals already this season, in a game where Forest rode their luck but defended well in an ideal away performance. This week is the acid test for Forest; their injury situation is what it is – there is no realistic prospect of replacing players like Vaughan and Lansbury adequately, it will merely be a case of muddling through with the players we have; this time next week we'll know where battered and bruised Forest stand. To continue the Lord of the Rings analogy with which I began, beating Leicester, and afterwards Burnley, is not quite as epic a task as casting The One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom - but the odds are against us, and our automatic promotion hopes are in the greatest of peril.
Thanks for reading, thanks to www.whoscored.com for statistical help (fantastic site), and COYR!


  1. Good article, but I really I hope that we don't play Halford at right back - Dyer will crucify him and, more than likely, we will lose as a result! We have a quality right back in Jara and that is where he should be playing.

    Hopefully Moussi will be fit enough to replace Jara in midfield, but if he isn't then I'd either play Halford there or give a surprise start to Greening! The latter is more than capable of playing the defensive midfielder role, although lack of match sharpness may be an issue and doubt he'd last the full ninety.

    Injuries may well cost us promotion this year; we have been extremely unlucky. Leicester and Burnley, in particular, are riding high on the back of very few injuries to their small squads. I hope this evens itself out over the remaining games as would be interesting to see how they'd cope with key players being out for the rest of the season!

    See you all there tomorrow.....COYR. :o)

  2. I agree. If Moussi`s back I`d prefer Jara in the right back position. Not sure on Greening - not against the top Championship team as his first full start. I think we have to go with 4-4-2 but perhaps not the diamond formation to get the width. Not quite sure I understand the timing of Fawaz`s press conference today..will add extra pressure given some of the comments but perhaps that what is needed to get the best out of the players. We still have a strong team we just need to play to those strengths. Pato and Reid are in great form and we should hopefully have Hobb`s back to firm up defense.

  3. Cheers for the comments Scran & Andy.

    To be honest I'd not considered what Dyer would do to Halford; this article was in danger of becoming too long and I tried to keep it readable, but perhaps this is an oversight on my part as I think you're right; Halford will have problems. I wish I could have looked at him coming up against similar players.

    I was going on the basis that Moussi is injured for this game. At time of writing this was the best information I had, and with that being the case I was struggling for who could play defensive midfield - Jara was it. I didn't consider Greening because he's not played for ages - could he make a shock return?

    But I agree totally, I'd want Jara at right back.

    This is the first time I've been able to get back to a computer so I've not seen/read about Fawaz's press conference to be honest, you've intrigued me as to what he said.

    Thanks for reading guys and enjoy the game tonight if you're going. FB.

  4. It was pretty much what most Forest fans,I suspect, would like to have heard. FFP is covered, new CEO to start in June, great relationship with Billy, inspired by the fans recent responses and backing for Billy in the loan market after losing key players. What was also said was hope for automatics and winning 11 or the next 16. High targets with the current injury crisis. I`m all for aiming high but just wondered if it places extra burden on the players but that is something we pay Billy to deal with I guess. Some excellent PR by Fawaz who also aired on caution in regards spending if we reach the EPL - very shrewd. Can`t make the game tonight due to working silly hours last night. Hopefully wake to a great result Thursday ! Enjoy reading your blogs and have followed them for some time now ( ac_vodka on twitter )

    1. Sounds like just a media tidy-up & PR, at least it shows he knows the importance of getting the fans onside.

      I'm not sure whether I'd swap places with you; ya might be better off in bed! Will let you know! Thanks for the kind words pal have a good kip.

  5. Great analysis FB. I suspect Billy will go 4-4-2 due to the decimation of our midfield. This would be a shame as with Jara & Reid holding the centre & dictating play would get the best out of Mackie, Paterson & Majewski. Raddy in particular will benefit from a system that allows him to use the ball dangerously in the final 3rd. If anyone can play quality balls in behind Leicester's full backs, it's Raddy. Also, both Raddy & Reid struggle in a traditional 4-4-2.

    1. More often than not I get the wrong team to be fair - for example I thought it was nailed on, considering how they play, that Cox would start v Watford... Halford starts lol. So I don't know what Billy will do tonight, but... I don't know if he's played a trad-4-4-2 yet since he's been back.

      I've been talking to some Leicester fans, they're very confident, and I can also kind of see it, of Drinkwater & James controlling the midfield. Obviously Reid doesn't have to be scared of either of them, but other than him we might be struggling in this area. You know how much I admire Raddy, but we need to use him correctly, he can't get isolated or he won't have anywhere to slip the ball and he'll get hunted down. He certainly would be good at playing those diagonal balls where it will hurt Leicester, but will he get chance?

      Have a good night Tim and cheers for the comment, thought provoking as usual.