3-4-2-1 system and why Carvalho is so key.

Well, this feels weird. Not only have Forest finally won a match away, but it is the first time all season that we have won at home and then followed it up on the road. We had our fair share of luck against QPR with the penalty save and stifling pressure late on, but it has been a completely different Forest to the one that we have seen throughout most of April, coinciding with a drastic yet logical change in system.

3-4-2-1 system- the pros and cons

It is impossible for a team to move seamlessly into a back three, especially when the back four has been a staple all season. It takes time and work on the training ground for the left and right centre-backs and their respective wing-backs to develop a bond and understanding of position, or the gap between the two is exploited easily. It happened countless times at Loftus Road on Saturday, with QPR getting in behind with simple through balls while Osborn was the wrong side of his man. We scrambled our way out of it in the end, but the threat was constant.

In attack, though, the transformation is stark. With Osborn and Byram always offering an option out wide, our ball-retention has been much better – something O’Neill said he wanted to work on. The 4-1-4-1, a formation Pep Guardiola favoured at Bayern, with the midfield diamond keeping possession between them, was too narrow and tight for Forest and a lack of quality in midfield meant that keeping the ball in that area was just not possible. The 3-4-2-1 is more expansive, and our full backs and centre-halfs: Wague, Robinson and Milosevic, are all comfortable on the ball.

The system also gives freedom to our two most dangerous players- Lolley and Carvalho. With those two liberated, we are more penetrative and unpredictable, creating more chances for the striker, whether it be Ansarifard, Grabban or, god forbid, Murphy. This was epitomised in Ansarifard’s winner on Saturday, which involved some beautiful link up play on the edge of the box before an assured finish from the Iranian. However, as with everything in life, the system has it’s downfalls. A common 4-3-3 always counters a 3-4-2-1, with bombarding full-backs and wingers creating overloads on the flanks while the 4-3-3 also has an extra man in middle of the park. Two key areas on the pitch where the 3-4-2-1 can be overran.

Carvalho steps up

Carvalho vs Middllesbrough was perhaps the greatest individual performance in the past four or five years on Trentside. Forest’s record-breaking signing has been sidelined since O’Neill came in, but returned to the side with the Midas touch. He looked every penny of that 13 millions pounds- we saw travela passes; unstoppable twists, mesmerising turns, arrogant flicks and illegal nutmegs. In fact, when he left two baffled Middlesbrough players in his wake with a nutmeg and drop of the shoulder, there were legitimate groans of joy reverberating around Main Stand. It was jaw-dropping. Yet, inevitably, the eulogising didn’t last long- it was soon followed by the uproar. Why in the name of God has this man not been starting ? And then we were back to where we were at the start of the match- fingers pointed at O’Neill, the fantastic result an irrelevance. Although you can’t defend O’Neill here ( he has been making an awful error leaving Carvalho out, simple), it’s na├»ve to perceive his omission from the starting XI as the sole reason for Forest’s turgid run of 4 losses on the bounce. The rest of the team have been so dreadful that it’s highly unlikely that had he been playing, we would still be in contention for a play-off spot. And let’s not forget- Carvalho hasn’t been putting these performances in all season. He often cut a lethargic figure under Karanka, and was not by any means consistent. Indeed, there were flashes of real quality- but he never really dictated a game like he did against Middlesbrough. Rested and regathered, and with another bright performance under his belt at Loftus Road, it is safe to say he has got his mojo back. It is essential Forest hold on to him in the summer. After a year of adjustment to the English game, the young Portuguese wizard will be chomping at the bit for the dawn of the 2019-2020 season, doubtless a significant one in the path of his career.

Player ratings: April

Costel Pantilimon- 5/10: Distribution is hopeless and just can’t get down quick enough. Saved a penalty though at QPR.

Yohan Benalouane- 4/10: Starting to see the rash, hot-headed side of the Tunisian now. Sent off against Sheffield United in an erratic month.

Molla Wague- 7/10: Comfortable with the ball at his feet, brilliant in the air and very quick. The perfect modern day centre-back. Forest need this man on a permanent deal.

Ben Osborn- 7/10: Settled in very well to the wing-back role. If he’s going to sneak into the side anywhere, it’s here. Got good stamina, pace, and a decent football brain. Valuable asset to the squad.

Alex Milosevic- 8/10

Jack Robinson-6/10

Saidy Janko- 6/10

Sam Byram- 8/10: Nice to see Byram return from a terrible injury. Definitely our most accomplished right-back. Need to sign him on a permanent deal.

Jack Colback- 5/10: A disappointing end to a very positive loan spell with the Reds. Was suspended for the last 3 games of the season with too many yellow cards.

Ryan Yates- 5/10: A limited footballer. Picks up the pieces well and is a physical presence, but needs quality beside him.

Pele- 7/10: Possesses an abundance of quality and skill on the ball, but just needs to adjust to the pace of the Championship. Gets caught dawdling far too often.

Lolley- 8/10

Cash- 6/10

Grabban- 5/10: Seems to be fading a bit, looking very leggy and not sharp enough.

Murphy- 5/10

Carvalho- 9/10

Appiah- 7/10: Great to see academy products being given chances. Had a few bright touches but just needs to get on the ball a bit more.

Short-termists rear their ugly heads towards O’Neill.

I know, I know. Telling a Forest fan to be more patient is like asking a blind man to try harder to see, or nagging at Messi to improve his dribbling. Insensitive, arrogant and barely possible. The Reds faithful will forever be renowned for its unstinting support, the visceral connection to the club even through the dark days of Platt and Fawaz, and even after twenty long, fatiguing years outside England’s elite tier, the fans stand up to be counted. However, I think it’s fair to say this season has, despite being on course for a highest league finish in 5 years, been one of the most dispiriting of them all. True, it’s had it’s peaks: reclaiming the Brian Clough trophy, doing the double over Middlesbrough; some mesmerising displays and goals from our record signing Joao Carvalho and Joe Lolley; a memorable New Years Day victory over Leeds and an enthralling 5-5 draw with Aston Villa.

But, regardless, the underlying feeling on Trentside is one of disappointment. Promises have been broken, loved ones have left and club legends have been vilified. The latter absolutely despicable, and our fanbase should be embarrassed. On myriad occasions I have been scrolling through twitter only to see “F*** Off O’Neill” or “Dinosaur out” from idiots that choose to call themselves Forest fans. Martin O’Neill has won two European Cups with this club and is an integral figure in the clubs history. It is vile, disrespectful, and some of the criticism undermining his managerial prowess is downright untrue. The man is a serial winner, succeeding at pretty much everywhere he has been as manager. Two League Cups at Leicester; three-time SPFL champion with Celtic; guided Villa to three 6th place finishes on the trot and and even lead ROI to the Euro 2016 round of 16. Substance over style and diligence in his players have been the overarching factors, but that’s not say to say it has been Allardyce-esque long-ball stuff and if you listen to his recent interviews, he is determined to implement a positive footballing philosophy into this Forest side. What we’ve seen for the last 3 months is him doing all he can to try and get the necessary results – which, admittedly, he failed to do so. Yet, and some don’t realise this, he was not in a situation whereby he could walk into a dressing room somewhat bereft from Karanka’s departure, outline this attacking, proactive, front-foot football on a squad that was built around a reactive system.

That’s not to say he hasn’t made mistakes at Forest. Ostracising Carvalho, banking on goals and performances from Murphy and mistaking Yates for a No.10. But, and this is an enticing prospect for any Forest fan, with time and acceptance from fans, we just might see a little less of old Daryl as O’Neill wipes his glasses and begins to fathom his incompetence. We find ourselves back at the buzzword of patience. Hard to ask for more of it from fans, yet entirely necessary if O’Neill really is going to really get to grips with this squad and fulfil his project here at the City Ground.

Why San Siro is the most magical stadium on the planet

Your hungry eyes are first greeted by the protruding, maroon, metal slabs, positioned at each corner of San Siro like wings on some interstellar orb. Star-struck, and gaining closer to the place you’ve been dreaming of for the past month, you’re instantly drawn to the iconic coiled columns, engines, poised to shoot off into a distant galaxy. And as the undulating roof, the tunnelling facade and the razor teeth of the upper-tier come flooding into view you really are half-expecting some green, one-eyed, eight-handed creatures to stumble across the car park. But don’t let the futuristic looks fool you. The stadium hasn’t been fully renovated for 30 years. And this is where the magic lies. San Siro manages to marry old and new, authenticity and freshness. It is, for FTT, having also visited the Camp Nou (it’s only other feasible rival), the greatest stadium on the planet.

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to visit Milan, have a tour of the San Siro and also watch an Inter Milan game there. If anyone knows anything about the San Siro, it is that it is one of the few stadiums in Europe shared by two clubs- two giants, at that. How they manage it, is somewhat fascinating. AC Milan and Inter Milan have long shared a fierce, bitter local rivalry, dating back to the years of Giuseppe Meazza- arguably the greatest Italian footballer of all time who made the controversial switch from Inter to Milan (and whom the stadium is formally named after). The contrasting philosophies between the two sides is most starkly portrayed in, well, quite an unlikely place: the changing rooms. Milan’s holds 23 leather-decked thrones, reminding each individual their privilege and importance of playing for the club, valuing the talent and power of an individual very highly. When you think of Milan, you think of Rijkarrd, Van Basten, Baresi, Maldini, Gullet, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Cafu. Inter, though, opt for the simple bench, emitting teamwork, squad chemistry and bonding.

And the Nerazurri were doubtless the more successful club in the start of the 19th century, winning 3 Serie A’s and 1 Coppa Italia in the 1930’s but over time the honours have evened themselves out, with both clubs now tied on 30 domestic trophies, and a few memorable spells of pure dominance. For Milan it was their back-to-back European cup wins in the late 80’s under the legendary Arrigo Sacchi, while Inter fans will never forget winning four league titles on the trot between 2006 and 2010, polished off with an emphatic treble under Mourinho in the final year.

It seems ludicrous that these two heavyweights don’t hold a stadium of their own, which they used to, in fact. Inter used to play their home matches at a ground called Arena Civica while Milan were at the San Siro. In 1935, though, Milan sold the stadium to the city council, who felt it necessary to bolster the size of the ground and improve the facilities as football became a real fashion, and was beginning to globalise. Inter played their first game in the San Siro in 1945, and although the stadium has gone under multiple renovations, they still share it to this day. Indeed, there is much hassle.

Inter ultras at the San Siro.

Decorations are completely changed weekly, fixture lists have to be meticulously planned (one team home, the other away), and then you have to go about satisfyng both sets of ‘ultras’ (groups of hardcore, Italian fans), which is by no means a simple task. Yet, after 30 years of practice, the transition is seamless and, for me anyway, San Siro is somewhat otherworldly in the way that such a gigantic monument can morph into it’s polar opposite so frequently.

You sometimes forget how different football can be just 800 miles away. I was dismayed by the smoking permitted at matches, taken aback by the noise and passion of the ultras (which makes the Lower Bridgford End at the City Ground look like a family stand), and having played against an Italian side and also having watched two youth Inter matches (one of which being a feisty Milan derby), noticing the pre-match clapping for the parents who have brought them there was admirable to say the least. The visit to Milan reminded FTT of the sheer beauty of football, the way it brings all corners of life together, the contrasting cultures, the diversity- a game where everyone can find their place. Oh, and by the way, Pepperoni pizza is really not what you think it is in Italy.

Yes, Pepperoni pizza is red peppers on pizza.