Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Im-press-ive Forest prove Pearce right.

Stuart Pearce faced his first major tactical headache of the season against an aggressive, skilful Bournemouth side this week, but Forest came away with the points in a display which confirmed not only the endurance of the players, but also the flexibility of their manager.

The Cherries were rampant in the first half, and were taking advantage of Forest's high-pressing game. We thought before a ball had been kicked this season that Pearce would prefer this style of pressing, and this has proven the case, but we (well, I to be more precise) did not reckon on his use of the 4-4-2 formation.

The 4-4-2 (especially away from home) is arguably best suited to a conditional pressing game, with the wider midfield bank of players staying deep and forming a barrier across the pitch, which the opposition needs to play through (see left. All diagrams on Forest Boffin are enlargeable when clicked).

When used in conjunction with a high-pressing game, as happened against Bournemouth, it is easy for the shape of the team to become elongated, which provides more room for the opponents to find space, especially in the area in front of the defence (see right - which is a simplified example, but roughly what was happening in this game).

The answer to this would be for the defence to push up as well, to fill this gap and press as a team - but if the midfielders go too far ahead there is too much space to fill safely, and in this case the Forest defenders would have needed to go right into the Bournemouth half - which would obviously be suicidal.

As we saw last season, The Cherries have a particularly high energy, pass-and-move, adventurous way of coming forward and they were cutting through the loose Forest midfield as it pressed forward, hitting The Reds on what appeared to be a constant counter-attack.

If using a 4-4-2, a more defensive approach - possibly utilising counter-attacks themselves - might have suited Forest better.

Bournemouth were finding space, both by passing into it, and most impressively, the likes of Adam Smith were running at the Forest defence, playing 1-2s and breaking through the porous formation. Bournemouth deserve a lot of credit, but Forest's tactical error in allowing so much space was making them look better than they are.

However, credit must also go to the Forest players who defended well despite the (in my opinion) disadvantage of their tactics. We saw even the more attacking midfielders rushing to get back, the defenders were getting stuck in, and Karl Darlow once again proved his worth with some excellent saves.

It is difficult to criticise Pearce too much - do we want to see Forest park the bus or go for it? After the break he continued his high-pressing style, but reverted to a more suitable formation, dropping Matty Fryatt back into midfield and using a 4-2-3-1 system.

This is more suited to a high-pressing game because there are four banks of players instead of three, allowing the team's shape to be longer without leaving as much space between the defensive lines; Forest immediately looked better.

Ironically it was when The Reds were less vulnerable to space appearing in front of the defence that they conceded a goal, a mix-up when defending a cross giving Callum Wilson an easy tap in.

But Forest continued to force the issue in the Bournemouth half, and did a better job of winning the ball in midfield, and maintaining possession. They were still being sucked deep by Eddie Howe's side, but whereas in the first half Bournemouth only had one line of midfielders to beat before launching an attack, in the second-half Cohen and Osborne were picking them off as they came through.

And to Pearce's credit, it was this very tactic of high-pressing which won Forest the game. They could have been forgiven for sitting back one they had an equaliser, but the holding midfielders continued to drift further and further up the pitch in an effort to squeeze Bournemouth. This could have resulted in Forest being hit on the break - but it was the Forest men who got the goal.

This was a game in which Forest, and manager Stuart Pearce, rode their luck. Bournemouth will feel aggrieved that their dominance for long periods yielded them nothing, but Forest went there for three points and used extremely aggressive tactics - they rolled the dice and for that reason, deserved their win.

The manager's insistence on trying to win the ball in the Bournemouth half led to Forest looking very shaky by allowing far too much room, especially away from home - but this gamble was ultimately responsible for a Garibaldi victory.

It will be interesting to see how Pearce reacts to the tactical implications of this game - particularly what was happening in the first half. He has David Vaughan and Henri Lansbury as options to add to the midfield, but I don't think Andy Reid or Chris Cohen did anything wrong - they put in a lot of effort defensively - the space was appearing due to the system, which begs the question of whether a 4-4-2 fits into Pearce's high-pressing philosophy.

Thanks for reading. What a good start to the season!


  1. always thoroughly enjoy your blog posts, my only complaint is that they aren't often enough!

    keep up the great work

  2. Cheers buddy!

    Very nice of you to say - I'd love to do more but they're not exactly ten minute jobs - my day job & Mrs are quite demanding of my time unfortunately. I was considering shorter articles but I do tend to prattle on a bit, so I'm not sure they would suit.

    Cheers for reading.

  3. Really insightful/educational - many thanks McBoffin.

  4. Cheers for reading and taking the time to say so, though I must point out that it's only my personal insight and this stuff shouldn't necessarily be taken as 'educational.' Thankfully Big Brother is back on tv and occupying Mrs Boffin, so I have more time to consider and blather on about this kind of thing than most!

  5. Extremely interesting - very much enjoy the read and insight you bring.