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Talking Tactics

How Gibbs-White has become Forest's talisman

Adrian Clarke 17 Mar 2023

Adrian Clarke highlights the midfielder's importance in the battle against relegation

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 28.

Morgan Gibbs-White (Nott'm Forest)

Gibbs-White has established himself as a Premier League difference-maker for Nottingham Forest in 2022/23.

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The 23-year-old struggled to become a regular at Wolverhampton Wanderers, making only 12 starts in just over four top-flight seasons there.

A successful loan move to Championship side Sheffield United last season elevated his status, and ever since joining Forest for a club-record fee, the midfielder has looked at home in the Premier League.

Working with Steve Cooper again, his former England Under-17s head coach, Gibbs-White is now fulfilling his enormous potential as a No 10, or as a "false nine".

In the possible absence through injury of leading scorer Brennan Johnson against Newcastle United on Friday night, Gibbs-White will be the man Forest look to.

Heroic home form

All five assists and both of Gibbs-White’s Premier League goals have come at home.

While he will be disappointed not to have contributed more on the road, he has been consistently excellent at the City Ground.

Cooper gives Gibbs-White the licence to roam wherever he wishes inside the opposition half, and the central midfielder will sometimes drift wide to create overloads.

Gibbs-White and Johnson have linked up particularly well down the right side, as we saw for the equaliser in the 1-1 draw at home to Manchester City. After the pair exchanged quick passes, Gibbs-White played a low cross from which Chris Wood scored.

Gibbs-White's assist v Man City

Gibbs-White is at his best between the lines though, which means Newcastle’s midfield must keep a close eye on him.

Despite Forest’s struggles at various points in the season, Gibbs-White has continued to show his vision and passing ability.

Attempting 14 through-balls so far, he is among the best in the league in that department.

Most through-balls 2022/23
Player Through-balls
Kevin De Bruyne 21
Martin Odegaard 19
Bruno Fernandes 17
Morgan Gibbs-White 14
Ilkay Gundogan 14

Forest like to play on the counter-attack and, when he has willing runners to aim for, Gibbs-White will try to pierce the opposition defence.

A fine example of this is when he released Johnson in behind to score from a perfectly weighted pass in a 2-0 home win against Leicester City.

Gibbs-White through-balls

Gibbs-White also differentiates himself from most No 10s with his desire to flick the ball on with one touch for team-mates to chase.

This skill is usually reserved for tall centre-forwards who use their head, but Gibbs-White likes to play on the half-turn and will regularly help the ball on with his feet.

Remarkably, he is second only to Ivan Toney for flick-ons this season.

Most flicks-ons 2022/23
Player Flick-ons
Ivan Toney 90
Morgan Gibbs-White 49
Aleksandar Mitrovic 42
Kieffer Moore 41
Che Adams 36

There is no question that Gibbs-White and Johnson have been the standout performers for Forest.

But from a creative capacity, it is Gibbs-White who stands alone as their talisman.

Always willing to receive a pass, he shows guile and invention, bringing others into play whenever the team get on the front foot.

He ranks first for Forest for all of the following stats.

Gibbs-White stats 2022/23
  Total Closest team-mate
Chances created 45 Johnson 22
Chances created in open play 35 Johnson 22
Completed dribbles 32 Johnson 29
Passes played into box 157 Williams 85
Succ. passes in final third 217 Freuler 126

When you see how far ahead he is of anyone else for chances created at Forest, balls fed into the box and passes made in the final third, his importance becomes abundantly clear.

Next: How Arsenal spread the success

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