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Talking Tactics

Promoted clubs: Forest counters can cause problems

Adrian Clarke 23 Jun 2022
Nottingham Forest

Adrian Clarke looks at how Steve Cooper's side can outpace opponents on their return

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical elements and players of the three clubs joining the Premier League in 2022/23.

Nottingham Forest

Forest return after a 23-year exile from the Premier League with their defining feature being their ability to punish opponents with fast transitions and counter-attacks.

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There is a great sense of momentum and unity at the City Ground, built around the amazing transformation since head coach Steve Cooper took charge last September.

Cooper is acclaimed by the Forest faithful, having galvanised a struggling team languishing in the relegation zone and steered them to promotion through the Championship playoffs. 

The Reds averaged two points per match over his 38 fixtures during the regular season, and would theoretically have finished as champions on 92 points had he been there from the start.

Main formation

Cooper settled Forest into a 3-4-1-2 formation during an outstanding second half of the campaign, but it is a relatively little-used shape in the Premier League.

In last season’s competition, no team employed that system as their primary formation.

It was used on just 15 occasions, with Thomas Tuchel the man to choose it the most - seven times with Chelsea.

Cooper's formations in 2021/22
Formation Times used
3-4-1-2 24
4-2-3-1 7
3-4-3 5
3-4-2-1 4
3-5-2 1

Cooper is a fan of this shape, using it 25 times when he was Swansea City’s head coach in 2020/21.

It has also happened to be a formation that has suited his key players at Forest. 

A back three of Joe Worrall, Steve Cook and Scott McKenna is not blessed with great pace but it has given Forest safety in numbers and the unit have gelled together.

Djed Spence, on loan from Middlesbrough, was ideal as a right wing-back last term, while Philip Zinckernagel - loaned from Watford - was at his best in a free No 10 role.

It will be interesting to see who will play these roles in the Premier League. 

New role for Johnson

Cooper has also been keen to start his most dangerous attacker, Brennan Johnson, in a striker’s role where he can run in behind the last man.

Having previously operated as a winger, and unaccustomed to playing up front, the Welshman has worked best alongside a natural centre-forward.

Johnson goal v Sheff Utd

It would be a surprise to see Forest deviate away from 3-4-1-2 in the early stages of 2022/23, but much will depend on who they recruit this summer.

If they are unable to keep hold of loanees James Garner and Keinan Davis as well as Spence and Zinckernagel, Cooper is likely to target players of a similar style to maintain this shape.

Top attacking Championship teams 21/22
Team Direct attacks Fast breaks Shots from fast breaks
NFO 97 33 28
COV 97 30 25
BLB - 29 28
PNE 79 - -

Forest are extremely dangerous when they turn defence into attack.

The moment they recover possession, Cooper's players make early vertical passes to release the speedy Johnson into spaces down the sides.

Davis, on loan from Aston Villa, and January signing Sam Surridge were also hugely mobile last season, happy to make regular runs into the channels.

Regaining possession

Forest are not a pressing side as such, but they have been efficient when there is an opportunity to regain the ball inside the opposition half.

While only three Championship clubs made fewer high turnovers last season, when they did create a transition they often turned it into a goalscoring opportunity.

Forest ranked fifth for the most shots from high turnovers in 2021/22.

Shot-ending turnovers in Championship
Team High turnovers Total turnovers
COV 71 351
FUL 66 349
BOU 59 359
WBA 58 381
NFO 55 253

Last season, Forest showed how competitive they can be against top sides, knocking Arsenal and Leicester City out of the FA Cup before losing narrowly to Liverpool in the quarter-finals.

Off the ball, they defended as a team with great organisation, keeping a disciplined shape.

Conceding just 26 goals from open play in last season’s Championship, the second-lowest figure, Forest will be confident they can be difficult to break down this season.

From there, you can expect to see plenty of excitement when Forest spring those trademark counters.

Also in this series

Part 1: Fulham back with exciting attack
Part 2: Wilson to deliver for Fulham again
Part 3: Bournemouth can disrupt the league
Part 4: Kelly and Billing key figures for Bournemouth
Part 6: Johnson and Yates offer pace and craft

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