May 18, 2024

 

Nottingham Forest;

 

Formed by Hammers supporters Jack Elderton and Callum Goodall to offer their fellow fans in-depth but accessible analysis of their team and its players, Analytics United will provide content for the Club’s official website, app, Official Programme and social media channels over the course of the 2023/24 season.

Here, Analytics United use performance analysis and data to examine how West Ham United can get the better of Steve Cooper’s Reds this afternoon…

 

After a couple of disappointing results against Everton and Brentford, West Ham will again face a side with some striking similarities in Steve Cooper’s Nottingham Forest.

 

Forest currently sit on 13 points, just one behind West Ham, and have started the season relatively well primarily playing a counter-attacking style that isn’t dissimilar to that which David Moyes employs in East London. They are the only Premier League side to have recorded a higher average PPDA (a less intense press) than West Ham this season (19.96) and are one of four sides to record a lower average possession figure (36.1% – the lowest in the division).

 

Cooper’s side prefer to sit off before engaging aggressively in the centre and looking for turnovers that can spark counter-attacks. Of course, this does mean that Forest concede space out wide but they are often able to double-up with the wingers on both sides of their standard 4-1-4-1 shape retreating to support the full-backs. Still, they’ve allowed 253 crosses this season so far, the second most in the division behind West Ham (257).

 

Moussa-Niakhaté-has-added-solidity-to-Forest’s-back-line

Resultantly, Forest’s central defenders have to be excellent at winning aerial duels and Moussa Niakhaté (pictured, above) is crucial here with the Senegalese recording a hugely impressive 77.78% aerial duel win rate so far this season. Willy Boly, who Niakhaté recently took over from, has also performed well in this respect with 57.41% of a whopping 5.71 aerial duels per 90 won. Alongside either of those two, young Brazilian defender Murillo has come in from Corinthians to add quality in build-up. Murillo has recorded 9.02 progressive passes per 90 since coming into the starting line-up, well above Boly’s 5.92 in second place, and has contributed to Forest’s ability to play through at a higher level when needed.

 

Cooper’s side also has a hugely talented front three combining creativity, speed, strength, and guile in abundance. And it is this unit that fully actualizes the direct counter-attacking style that can be so effective against the exposed defences of more possession-dominant sides. Frontman Taiwo Awoniyi’s goal-scoring, aerial ability, hold-up, and runs in behind have been crucial in maximising the qualities of his fellow forwards, while Manchester United Academy graduate Anthony Elanga has brought dynamism to replace the outgoing Brennan Johnson, and Morgan Gibbs-White has contributed his relentless creative instincts in support.

 

Steve Cooper and Morgan Gibbs-White

Moyes’ central defenders will have to be far more switched on than they were at Brentford last weekend if they wish to control Awoniyi and Elanga’s movement and limit Forest’s success on the break. Winning the duels with Awoniyi will be fundamentally important to securing a positive result as, much like Moyes’ side can suffer when Michail Antonio is quieted by opposition centre-backs, the Nigerian is vital to everything Forest achieve from direct attacks. The Hammers will also have to face yet more long throw-ins with Niakhaté coming forward from the back to get the ball into the box in hopes of creating chaos much like the Bees managed to last weekend.

 

Unsurprisingly, as with other pieces that have focused on breaking down well organised defensive sides this season, West Ham will once again have to be bold in build-up. Controlling the game without conceding dangerous turnovers is key but this cannot come at the cost of all risk. There must be some central progression introduced from whomever appears in midfield in order to pose a variance of threats in possession rather than an overreliance on wide build-up to circumnavigate the defensive block.

 

Anthony-Elanga-and-Taiwo-Awoniyi-are-two-of-the-Reds’-exciting-front-three

Whilst wide build-up can be a successful way of progressing to the final third, one of the challenging elements it can then introduce is facing a fully settled defensive shape once arriving in those positions – with space, understandably, extremely limited. The risk and reward balance is everything: Forest’s midfielders will be keen to produce those counters from central positions and Ibrahim Sangaré is already putting up impressive defensive numbers (3.26 tackles, 0.98 interceptions, and 2.28 blocks per 90) but the Hammers must be willing to attempt central combinations where possible. Players like Mohammed Kudus and Lucas Paquetá can come alive in these scenarios and bring creative ingenuity that can truly disorganise previously settled defences.

 

One positive that Moyes’ side can take into this one is that Forest have conceded six times this season from set-pieces and attacks that directly follow. Despite the aerial strength of the backline, Cooper’s side have often struggled to properly defend the second phase and that has led to goals that will feel hugely disappointing on reflection. Both of Arsenal’s goals in their 2-1 win over Cooper’s side back in August came after Forest failed to properly clear their lines from corners and this is something that West Ham could target with follow-up crosses as the Forest backline reorganises.

 

It will be an interesting game today with both sides boasting similar strengths and opting for similar approaches. Picking up three points would do a lot to ease concerns over this team’s ability to control and create with the ball without allowing too many opportunities from counters, long-throws, and crosses. And it would leave the team well situated, in terms of points and league position, heading into the busy period after the international break.

 

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Analytics United and do not necessarily reflect the views opinions of West Ham United.

 

Nottingham Forest

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