Opposition Profile: Nottingham Forest
A comprehensive view of Nottingham Forest's situation so you can be in the know.
(I do not claim any of the images as my own: all image sources are named and images are hyperlinked to the website that they were found. All research and sources used can be found at the end of the article)
This Boxing Day Middlesbrough will be picking a fight with Nottingham Forest. The Midlands side turned around a rocky start with a 9 match unbeaten run. Their most recent defeat, a 4-0 drumming by Fulham, was just a punctuation mark in an impressive run of form that has seen the side rack up 33 points since 18th September. Nottingham Forest is clearly a difficult team to spar with this festive period. However, Middlesbrough will have to be at their best to deliver their own knockout blow at the Riverside.
For their part, Middlesbrough is looking to do the double over Forest after convincingly beating them 2-0 last time out. This defeat will be particularly sensitive in the memory of Nottingham Forest as it was the last of a run of failures before their current impressive run of form. If Middlesbrough manages to get one over their opposition, then it may cause a reversion to their previous problematic record.
Nottingham Forest has coasted through this positive form into an excellent vantage point in the race for the top 6. Their recent form means that they continue to put pressure on the most vulnerable sides in the playoff spots. However, as things stand, Nottingham Forest, like Middlesbrough, remain outside the targeted top 6. So they must rely on the failure of others to succeed.
Evangelos Marinakis will be relatively content with the clubs progress this season. Still, he will be keeping a close eye on developments hoping that the side can push on and make a charge for promotion in the second half of the season.
Owner: Evangelos Marinakis
The Greek magnate is one of the wealthiest owners in the Championship allowing him to can back his side financially within the limits of FFP. Meanwhile, his philanthropic endeavours have seen him work closely with UNICEF to cut infant mortality rates. However, Evangelos Marinakis’s custody over the club has not been without controversy. He is facing charges of match-fixing and drug trafficking within his home nation.
The Nottingham Forest owner initially made his fortune in the shipping industry as Capital Maritime & Trading Corp owner before successfully diversifying his income streams by investing and buying several media companies, including the most popular online news service in Greece. These acquisitions furthered his financial strength before he took to football by taking a majority share of Greek football giants Olympiakos.
Olympiakos have continued to follow their successful path winning 8 Super Greek titles and participating in Europes biggest collective club competitions Europa League and the Champions League. His involvement in Greek football goes deeper than his ownership of one of its biggest clubs, though with him also chairing as President of the Greek Super League and Vice-President of the Hellenic Football Federation.
Naturally, due to his extensive involvement in Greek football, when he acquired Nottingham Forest in 2017, Evangelos Marinakis had more football knowledge than the majority of his competitor owners. An advantage that he tried to make the most of during his tenure over one of the oldest and most prestigious clubs in England.
Since he arrived in English football, Marinakis has overseen a steady improvement in the clubs' standing as the club moved from 17th in 2017-2018 to 7th in 2019-2020. Unfortunately, it appeared as though this incremental improvement had collapsed last season as the club scraped a 17th placed finish. However, considering the sides current form, it seems that last season was just a blip on the sides continual development. The playoffs and a potential promotion now appear to be the next step in the clubs' development.
Evangelos Marinakis’s positive influence on Nottingham Forest mirrors his philanthropic endeavours as he works closely with UNICEF to cut infant mortality rates across the world. He also runs some programs to assist refugees who arrive in Greece. In addition, he supports the commemoration of the Pontus Genocide of 1913, showing a keen interest in national history.
However, Marinakis’s tenure of Nottingham Forest hasn’t been wholly positive as the Greek millionaire has faced several accusations and legal cases. Some of these have implications for the integrity of the Championship. In contrast, others have implications that go far and beyond our beloved sport.
The most recent controversy that made it to the Criminal Court of Appeal accused Evangelos Marinakis of match-fixing in Greece. The shipowner businessman was a considerable 28 individual lineup of those charged with manipulating the sport. However, after 6 years of investigation and the persistent claims of innocence from the Nottingham Forest owner, all individuals were acquitted of these accusations. Suppose the case had gone the other way. In that case, it may have opened up a can of worms regarding the integrity of competition in the Championship during Evangelos Marinakis’s tenure. So this ultimate decision prevents questioning of the EFL’s most prestigious league.
However, these controversies are belittled compared to his other controversy, which attempted to place him in the centre of a drug trafficking ring. Evangelos Marinakis’s ship was found to have stowed away a considerable quantity of heroin. Marinakis was dragged into the investigation due to some questionable transactions. The Nottingham Forest owner would continue to protest his innocence and he would be acquitted of these accusations.
Since the last of the dramatic accusations against Evangelos Marinakis, the Greek millionaire has had a relatively tepid year allowing him to focus on business and sport rather than the existential threats purporting to potentially illegal behaviour.
Manager: Steve Cooper
The figure that is considered the catalyst for their upturn in form this season, hiring Steve Cooper, has to be regarded as a clever piece of business. The former Swansea manager has overseen a drastic change in the clubs' fortunes since his arrival after Middlesbrough’s solid 2-0 victory earlier in the season. This conversion comes as little surprise for any Championship fans who have kept an eye on the inexperienced manager. During his time in South Wales, Cooper's work was nothing short of impressive. He has continued to display his competency as a coach following his move. Under his coaching, Nottingham Forest has become a serious challenger for the playoffs and promotion.
Cooper took over the head coach position from Chris Hughton. The experienced Championship manager had managed to keep the side in the division the previous season. Still, it represented a considerable step back from their last steady incremental improvements before his appointment. Hughton is primarily regarded as a conservative manager. His appointment at Nottingham Forest was a marriage of convenience rather than a formula for long-term success. He continued in his role during beginning of the season, wherein Forest would struggle to put points on the board. By his sacking on the 16th September 2021, Nottingham Forest was propping the table up with just one point in seven league fixtures.
This poor early form was a cause for concern within the clubs' hierarchy, and so they looked to find an appropriate replacement. The club would settle on Steve Cooper paying Swansea £1.2m to release him from his contract despite leaving his role in the summer.
Cooper is an astute signing for Forest. The former FA coach has shown that he can get aside to perform beyond the sum of their parts in leading Swansea to numerous high Championship finishes and a very recent playoff final. Furthermore, at Swansea, Cooper built a cohesive side around a few integral players which is similar to the squad he has inherited at Nottingham Forest. Finally, Cooper’s best attribute comes in developing young players from individuals with high potential on the cusp of the first team to important consistent players that gain interest across the English leagues. This ability is crucial at Nottingham Forest as the squad is composed mainly of younger players.
This change in management also hushes in a drastic shift in philosophy at Nottingham Forest as Cooper is stringent with his dynamic possession-based football ideology. His form of football is better suited to the club's playing personnel. Which has been integral to the almost abrupt turnaround in form that has turned them from potential relegation favourites to promotion hopefuls.
Steve Cooper deserves considerable praise for Nottingham Forests change in fortunes this season. Under his guiding hand, Nottingham Forest is now looking like a side deserving of a top 6 place.
Tactics: Cooper’s Evolution not Revolution
Most managers fit on a spectrum of adaptability from those that remain stubbornly connected to their fundamental beliefs and methods of deploying those ideas throughout their career. In contrast, others are more adaptive willing to change the side's tactics depending from game to game depending on the opposition and what the situation demands. Steve Cooper aligns closer to the former than the latter. His refusal to give up his preferred system cost Swansea the vital points that prevented them from securing automatic promotion. However, this challenge to his ideals did adjust his stance to become more fluid tactically. He brings this development into his new job at Nottingham Forest, albeit on the exact perimeters that he developed in South Wales.
The 42-year-old coaches his sides to play a passing game. He believes that by maintaining possession and moving the opposition around with intelligent play, his side can fashion the opportunities needed to win matches without sacrificing the sides defensive structure. This can make for an entertaining watch, but occasionally it can produce a dull disinteresting stalemate with consistent possession and very little else.
The 4-2-3-1, which was most synonymous with Cooper's tenure at Swansea, returns to Cooper’s tactical toolkit at Nottingham Forest. However, he frequently opts to use his favoured formation since his arrival in the midlands.
However, he also grew increasingly familiar with the 3-4-3 during the latter stages of his time at Swansea. As a result, it has also made a re-appearance in some games this season. This shows that Cooper has some flexibility in setting up his defensive line as he switches between a back three and four at different points in his short Forest career.
Through the similarities in these formations, the crux of Cooper’s tactical outline is best described. Although he is encouraged by a tactically astute and intelligent defensive line that can compete with the opposition's attackers in a foot race, he finds particular value in intelligent runs and creativity in the attacking third. t is the midfield base that he considers integral to his side's success. Cooper consistently picks a double pivot in the centre of midfield. This midfield pairing is typically found on two archetypal players, a ball-winning midfielder and a deep-lying playmaker.
The ball-winning midfielder is expected to take on the bulk of the midfield’s defensive duties. This includes but is not limited to breaking up play, screening the defensive line and providing a foil for the deep-lying playmaker's occasional mistakes. Jack Colback typically plays this role in Cooper’s Nottingham Forest side. Meanwhile, the deep-lying playmaker is expected to dictate play. These players will typically top the pass per game statistics as they are expected to dictate the tempo and thread the ball into the more dangerous individuals in the team. His duties include but are not limited to: picking up the ball from the defence, speeding up or slowing down play (depending on what is best for the team's current predicament) and playing the ball at considerable distances. Ryan Yates typically plays this role in Cooper’s Nottingham Forest side.
In attack, Cooper has typically focused on creativity over goalscoring when recruiting individuals believing that such players can create better opportunities. At that point, the goalscoring ability of the forwards is less critical. However, in Nottingham Forest, Cooper has adopted a competent consistent goalscorer in Lewis Grabban. He has not been shy in making the most of his abilities. The 33-year-old has been a critical individual for Cooper, and he has returned this faith in him with a goal every two matches.
Cooper’s side will play through the thirds. Still, his fullbacks are given free rein to carry the ball forward when the space opens up; speeding up the process and adding a different dynamic to Nottingham Forest’s build-up play.
Nottingham Forest has developed an exciting style of football under Cooper. Suppose he is given a license to continue at the club. In that case, it could become a positive component of their identity. However, Middlesbrough will see this as an opportunity to exercise Chris Wilder’s high press to great success in the short term.
One To Watch: Joe Worrall
The 24-year-old piqued interest after returning from a loan spell at Dagenham & Redbridge. He became a first-team feature for Nottingham Forest at 19 years old. He takes on the form of a traditional English centre back, at 6ft 2. But his ability on the ball, which he developed as a temporary fullback, means he is trusted in possession. Defensively, Worrall is an opponent who's a solid reading of the game, an excellent ability to intervene and an aerial presence make up for his limited pace, occasional lapses in concentration and inconsistency in performances.
Worrall’s impressive performances at Dagenham & Redbridge and his following displays in training earned him an extended opportunity in the Nottingham Forest side. His performances at Nottingham Forest between 2016 and 2018 piqued the interest of Rangers. They took the centre back on loan for the 2018/2019 season, where he made 32 appearances and scored 1 goal. His exposure to a similar physical Scottish league convinced Nottingham Forest to extensively put him in the side. Worrall will now go into the upcoming match against Middlesbrough, having made 100 appearances for his childhood club.
Worrall is an integral component of Cooper’s passing-based playing style. As a result, the Welshman consistently chooses him regardless of whether he opts for a back three or four. However, his confidence in possession may make him a possible target for Middlesbrough’s press.
Hot Prospect: Brennan Johnson
Brennan Johnson is regarded as one of the best young prospects in the Championship. At 20 years old, the Welsh attacker has reached a stage when getting consistent playing time is integral to his development, and that game time has been found at his home town club. He has made 23 appearances this season, providing 10 direct goal contributions across these fixtures. Meanwhile, his performances for Nottingham Forest has led to his first, of likely many, International caps for Wales.
While Johnson prefers to play as a right-winger, his collection of attributes means he is well suited to a plethora of attacking positions meaning that he is a versatile option. This means that he is likely to pop up on both flanks, in the No. 10 role, and occasionally as a mobile striker for Cooper.
Johnson appears to fit into a typical winger or inserted winger pattern on the surface. He has a close control and dribbling style that means that the ball is stuck to his foot. He encourages the opponent to attempt to tackle him in order to catch them with a piece of trickery, or he draws them into a foul; and his delivery into the box has asked questions of the best defences in the league. However, his abilities go beyond these typical, on the ball expectations. His movement, frequently finding space between the lines and in unexpected places, means that he is arguably more of a danger when he isn’t directly involved in build-up play. Meanwhile, his developing tactical intelligence, which is likely to be further expanded under Cooper, has been key to his versatility for Forest.
He isn’t a perfect player, though. His defensive contributions are limited in capability and extent, posing more stress on the fullback or wingback he is expected to support. He lacks consistency, and he can sometimes be swallowed up by games, with them wholly passing him by. Finally, despite an impressive return of 5 goals this season from primarily wide areas, he struggles to be clinical, with several good opportunities passing him by this season.
These issues may be points for improvement, but he remains an exhilarating and exciting prospect. However, he will be a severe danger against Middlesbrough.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 2-1 Nottingham Forest
Steve Cooper’s well-drilled side will be a severe challenge for Middlesbrough, but their style of play should fit Middlesbrough’s pressing game like a well-sized glove. This game will be a clash between two in-form sides, with Forest being anterior in this instance, but, ultimately, Middlesbrough could pull off a shock result along the lines of Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson.