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Nottingham Forest Appoints Nuno Espírito Santo as their New Manager: 5 Things He Must Fix at The Club

Nuno Espírito Santo makes a comeback in the Premier League.

Following a string of unfavorable results, including one win in 13 matches and six losses in their last eight games, Nottingham Forest decided to part ways with Steve Cooper. The former Wolves and Tottenham manager has been chosen as his replacement.

K3HUBDWZDJOGBCSDSOC35ZCGW4 Nottingham Forest Appoints Nuno Espírito Santo as their New Manager: 5 Things He Must Fix at The Club
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football – Premier League – Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London, Britain – August 15, 2021 Tottenham Hotspur manager Nuno Espirito Santo celebrates after the match REUTERS/David Klein/File Photo

Nottingham Forest has been experiencing a downward slide in the Premier League standings for several months. Owner Evangelos Marinakis, contemplating alternative options for some time, has now taken the decisive step of replacing Cooper.

Nuno returns to the Premier League with the goal of rebuilding a reputation that suffered during his brief tenure at Spurs. This seems somewhat harsh considering the commendable work he accomplished in his four years at Wolves. The club he joins now has aspirations of climbing the Premier League hierarchy.

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However, the immediate priority is to halt the decline. While Forest is not currently among the top candidates for relegation, they are perilously close. As relegation concerns understandably begin to surface, here are five recommendations for Nuno on how to revitalize Forest’s season, shifting their focus from anxiously glancing over their shoulder to climbing up the table:

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Soccer Football – Premier League – Nottingham Forest v Southampton – The City Ground, Nottingham, Britain – May 8, 2023 Nottingham Forest’s Taiwo Awoniyi celebrates scoring their second goal with Morgan Gibbs-White and Brennan Johnson REUTERS/Carl Recine

Read More: Super League: Who Won and What Does It Mean for Clubs?

1. Optimize the Team Roster

A managerial change in late December would typically provide the new leader with the immediate opportunity to make January transfer window signings. While Nuno may have the option to capitalize on the owner’s inclination for ambitious spending, a more pressing priority should be to streamline the squad by offloading a few players.

Nottingham Forest’s extravagant spending has been noteworthy since their return to the Premier League. Last summer alone, they acquired 29 players, spending over £150 million—surpassing the expenditures of esteemed clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, or Paris Saint-Germain in the same window.

This extensive squad depth provided Cooper with genuine Premier League-quality options, but the inconsistency in team selection proved detrimental. The abundance of choices meant that after a poor result, Cooper felt compelled to make significant changes simply due to the multitude of available alternatives.

This surplus of options has hindered players from establishing consistent form. In the previous season, Forest utilized 33 different players, with 30 starting games—a figure that ranked second-highest among all Premier League teams. In the current season, they have already employed 28 players (the second-highest, trailing injury-plagued Newcastle), with 27 of them starting—a league-leading statistic.

Most Players Used at the Premier League 2023 24 Image Credits Opta Analyst Nottingham Forest Appoints Nuno Espírito Santo as their New Manager: 5 Things He Must Fix at The Club
Most Players Used at the Premier League 2023-24, Image Credits – Opta Analyst

While fans of teams like Manchester United might appreciate a deeper squad for increased flexibility during an injury crisis, Nottingham Forest’s challenges differ. Their issue isn’t primarily related to injuries but rather a bloated squad with many players struggling for match fitness. This surplus of players often results in individuals being unprepared and lacking sharpness when called upon. Despite making a considerable number of substitutions (75), only six teams have had fewer goal and assist contributions from their substitutes than Forest’s five this season.

The utilization of talents like Gonzalo Montiel, who scored the winning penalty in the World Cup final and the previous season’s Europa League final, as the fourth-choice right-back/right wing-back raises questions about squad management. Similarly, signing players like Chris Wood and Divock Origi becomes questionable if they aren’t given substantial opportunities, especially when key players like Taiwo Awoniyi are sidelined.

Nuno’s priority should be to streamline the squad, allowing for a more focused and effective roster. This would not only enhance team performance but also create room for potential January signings that align with his tactical preferences. Forest might find themselves active in the transfer window, addressing the squad dynamics to better suit Nuno’s vision.

2. Enhance Nottingham Forest’s Set-piece Performances

Set-pieces have consistently held significance for Nuno, with his Wolves side achieving double-digit set-piece goals in each of his three top-flight seasons as their manager. Enhancing Forest’s dead ball performance stands out as an evident area for improvement.

In the 2022-23 season, Forest managed to score 10 goals from set-pieces, with three of them being the highest in the Premier League from throw-ins. However, the current season tells a different story, as Forest, along with Crystal Palace and Burnley, has scored the fewest set-piece goals in the top flight, totaling just one. Set-piece goals constituted 34.2% of their total in the previous season, playing a crucial role in their narrow escape from relegation, achieved in the penultimate game of the season.

Nottingham Forests XG at Set pieces in Premier League 2023 24 Image Credits Opta Analyst Nottingham Forest Appoints Nuno Espírito Santo as their New Manager: 5 Things He Must Fix at The Club
Nottingham Forest’s XG at Set-pieces in Premier League 2023-24, Image Credits – Opta Analyst

Nottingham Forest boasts technical players like Morgan Gibbs-White, capable of delivering quality balls into the middle, and a formidable physical presence in the likes of Willy-Arnaud Boly, Moussa Niakhaté, and potentially Joe Worrall if reinstated by the new manager. The midfield includes Ibrahim Sangaré, along with attacking options like Awoniyi and Wood.

There’s already a positive aspect on the field to build upon: Forest ranks seventh in the Premier League for shots from set-pieces this season, with a total of 67, generating an expected goals (xG) value of 4.54. This indicates that they are creating ample chances, well beyond what is necessary to score more than their solitary set-piece goal—they just need to capitalize on these opportunities. Recognizing the need for improvement, the club recently appointed Simon Rusk, the England Under-19s manager, as their set-piece coach, signaling a commitment to enhancing this aspect of their game. Addressing finishing proficiency in set-piece situations could be a straightforward and impactful improvement for Nuno and the team.

3. Increase Gibbs-White’s Presence in Threatening Areas of the Field

The relationship between Nuno and Morgan Gibbs-White has been somewhat complex. While Nuno initially expressed admiration by granting Gibbs-White his Premier League debut for Wolves in 2018 and later saw success with the player contributing to a memorable win over Chelsea in his first start, finding a consistent role for Gibbs-White proved challenging.

Initially accommodated in a 3-4-1-2 formation, the emergence of Leander Dendoncker in central midfield prompted a shift to a three-man midfield in a 3-5-2 setup. Subsequently, the outstanding performance of Adama Traoré led to a return to a 3-4-3 formation, highlighting the difficulty of incorporating a playmaker within a three-at-the-back system.

Gibbs-White went on loan to Swansea and Sheffield United, and Nuno departed Wolves in 2021. Now, with a more seasoned Gibbs-White and a squad of lesser quality than he had at Wolves, the midfielder is likely to be a key figure in Nuno’s lineup.

Comparing Gibbs-White’s touch positions this season to the previous one reveals an overemphasis on the right wing, a position where he struggles to exert his influence. Prioritizing placing Forest’s primary attacking threat in more centrally dangerous positions could be a strategic move to maximize his impact.

Morgan Gibbs Whites Touches in Premier League 2023 24 Image Credits Opta Analyst Nottingham Forest Appoints Nuno Espírito Santo as their New Manager: 5 Things He Must Fix at The Club
Morgan Gibbs White’s Touches in Premier League 2023-24, Image Credits – Opta Analyst

In the current season, Morgan Gibbs-White has contributed to goals on only three occasions, averaging a goal or assist every 473 minutes. This is a notable decrease from last season, where he averaged a goal or assist every 229 minutes. His lone goal came from a penalty, and one of his two assists involved a header to Awoniyi deep within the Forest half at Old Trafford, a play that, while counted as an assist, arguably didn’t merit such recognition.

While Gibbs-White bears some responsibility for this downturn and must strive to enhance his individual output, Nuno also bears the responsibility of extracting the maximum potential from his key player. It’s crucial for Nuno to implement strategies and tactics that optimize Gibbs-White’s contributions and help him regain his form.

4. Explore the Possibility of Upgrading the Goalkeeping Position

Since their summer transfers from Arsenal and Benfica, Matt Turner and Odysseas Vlachodimos have been underwhelming in the Forest goal. Despite their experience in top European competitions, their performances have fallen short of expectations at the City Ground.

Notably, Turner’s recent mistake in the match against Tottenham adds to his tally of errors leading to opposition goals, making him second only to Wes Foderingham in this regard (three errors for Foderingham, two for Turner). Both Turner and Vlachodimos have also disappointed in their shot-stopping capabilities.

Matt Turner Goals Prevented in Premier League 2023 24 Image Credits Opta Analyst Nottingham Forest Appoints Nuno Espírito Santo as their New Manager: 5 Things He Must Fix at The Club
Matt Turner Goals Prevented in Premier League 2023-24, Image Credits – Opta Analyst

Analyzing Opta’s expected goals on target model, which considers the quality and position of shots on target faced by Premier League goalkeepers this season, reveals that both Turner and Vlachodimos rank among the bottom seven goalkeepers in the league. Turner has conceded 1.8 more goals than expected based on the shots on target he faced, while Vlachodimos has conceded 4.1 more goals than the model predicts.

Meanwhile, the goalkeepers in the remaining teams within the current bottom five all exhibit positive differentials. This indicates their ability to thwart goals that an average goalkeeper might not prevent, showcasing performances superior to both of Forest’s goalkeepers. A notable example is Luton’s Thomas Kaminski, who has a prevention rate of 4.5 goals, ranking as the third-highest in the Premier League.

Odysseas Vlachodimos Goals Prevented in Premier League 2023 24 Image Credits Opta Analyst Nottingham Forest Appoints Nuno Espírito Santo as their New Manager: 5 Things He Must Fix at The Club
Odysseas Vlachodimos Goals Prevented in Premier League 2023-24, Image Credits – Opta Analyst

These statistics could carry significant weight as the season concludes, prompting consideration for Nuno to explore an upgrade in the goalkeeping position.

5. Leverage the Counter-attack Efficiently

Cooper frequently altered tactics and personnel throughout Forest’s inaugural season back in the top flight, a strategy justified by securing survival in May. Notably, many of their standout moments, especially against formidable opponents like the 1-0 win over Arsenal, occurred when exploiting the counter-attack. Earlier in the season, Forest came close to securing results against Arsenal and Manchester United, and they clinched three points at Chelsea with their exhilarating counter-attacks.

However, their recent performances in breaking upfield haven’t been as effective as their potential. While Forest ranks second only to West Ham in goals scored on the break this season (four), they have encountered a dip in this aspect. After scoring two such goals in the initial three games, Forest has managed only two more in the subsequent 14 matches. During this period, they registered just five shots following a fast break, ranking fourth-lowest in the Premier League.

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Soccer Football – Premier League – Arsenal v Nottingham Forest – Emirates Stadium, London, Britain – August 12, 2023 Arsenal’s Kai Havertz in action with Nottingham Forest’s Serge Aurier and Willy Boly Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Considering Forest’s tendency to defend with an average possession of just 39.7%, there is ample opportunity for them to capitalize on the space left by opponents during transitions.

Despite having 833 transition opportunities this season—opportunities to attack against a transitioning defense—only 22.1% of those have reached the final third, marking the third-lowest proportion among all top-flight teams. Moreover, a mere 7.0% of these opportunities have resulted in a shot. While their attacking starting point tends to be deeper due to their preference for a low defensive block, Forest has demonstrated the ability to trouble teams like Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea.

While not the counter-attacking force they once were, Forest possesses players well-suited to deep defending and attacking at pace. Nuno has the tools at his disposal to enhance the team’s performance in this area, leveraging the inherent strengths of his players to make Forest a more potent force on the counter-attack.

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