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