Talking Tactics | Nottingham Forest v Swansea City
Swansea come up against Steve Cooper's Nottingham Forest this weekend as they seek to extend their unbeaten run. Ahead of this one, WhoScored.com preview the encounter, looking at what to expect from Forest, the key battle and a key stat.
What to expect from Nottingham Forest
Swansea supporters will know full well what to expect from Nottingham Forest when they travel to the City Ground. Managed by former Swans boss Steve Cooper, Forest have been superb since he took over the reins in September.
Indeed, had the season started when Cooper took charge, Forest would be top of the Championship, one point clear of current league leaders Fulham.
Former Forest boss Chris Hughton routinely used a four-man backline during his final weeks at the City Ground helm, something that Cooper tinkered with following his appointment. As he did so regularly at Swansea, Cooper has implemented a three-man defence, most recently favouring a 3-4-1-2 setup, a system that, over the course of the season, has worked to good effect.
In the 18 matches Forest have used a 3-4-1-2, they have won 11 times and lost just three. It's a setup that helped seal a 1-0 win at Fulham on Tuesday night which saw Forest secure a play-off finish. Few at the club could have seen that coming to fruition after the opening eight games of the campaign saw them bottom of the division with just four points to their name.
Still in with a chance of finishing in the automatic promotion spots, Cooper deserves huge credit for the work he has done on the back of his appointment, but there will be no love lost when Forest welcome Swansea to the City Ground.
A strike duo of Brennan Johnson and Keinan Davis has proved crucial in their promotion push with the pair striking up quite the partnership.
Between them they have scored 20 of Forest's 67 league goals, with Davis (7.27) their best rated player and Johnson (7.03) ranking sixth on the WhoScored.com leaderboard.
The former's driving ability in possession has been key to pegging defences back with Davis (2.7) ranking first for dribbles per game of all Forest players, though a hamstring injury has ruled him out for the remainder of the season.
Johnson, meanwhile, has registered more assists (10) than any other Forest player and is one of three players to register double figures for both goals and assists in the Championship this season.
The Welshman (1.3) ranks third for key passes per game for Forest and it's little wonder that he has been attracting Premier League interest. With Philip Zinckernagel in support, Forest have an attacking trio able to hurt opponents on a whim, in part due to the solid midfield foundation of Ryan Yates and Joe Garner.
The young pair have forged quite the understanding in the middle of the park and, since Cooper took over, have taken their respective games to another level. Under Cooper, Forest have the best defensive record in the division having conceded just 25 league goals in 35 matches. Yates (1.9) and Garner (1.8) rank third and fourth, respectively, for tackles per game of all Forest players, while the latter (1.5) ranks third for interceptions per game, so little gets past the pair through the middle.
Using a three-man defence means the wing-backs need to get forward to support the offensive and the defensive work of Yates and Garner, and Djed Spence is able to stretch opponents down the right. One of Forest's statistically calculated WhoScored.com styles of play is 'attacking down the right' and for good reason with 41% of their attacks coming down the right flank, that ranking third highest of all teams in the Championship.
Spence has certainly proven himself a key attacking outlet during his loan spell from Middlesbrough. Four assists from 36 outings doesn't make for great reading, but it's not for want of trying with the 21-year-old (1) ranking fourth for key passes per game for Forest. He doesn't need a second invitation to get forward either, with Spence (2) currently second for dribbles per game.
In addition, Cooper isn't short of centre-back options to abide by the demands of playing in a three-man backline. Scott McKenna and Joe Worrall have been regular features at the back, while Steve Cook has been vital at the back following his January arrival from Bournemouth with Tobias Figueiredo an option if required. Cook is likely to continue in the middle of the back three following a clean-sheet against Fulham, Forest's 16th under Cooper; only Sheffield United (17) have more in that period.
Being good going forward and solid defensively was a benchmark of Cooper's Swansea side last season, something that has been the case for Forest under the watchful eye of the 42-year-old. This'll be a tough game for Swansea and they know they will need to be at their best to dent their former employee's automatic promotion push on Saturday.
Hannes Wolf has been a hit following his January arrival from Borussia Monchengladbach with a WhoScored.com rating of 6.84 the fourth-best of all Swansea players.
Having had a direct hand in five goals since his arrival, it's clear that Wolf has quickly adjusted to his new surroundings. What's crucial, is that four of those have come on the road; only Joel Piroe (6) and Michael Obafemi (5) have been directly involved in more away goals for the Swans in 2022.
Should Wolf be used in the left wing-back role for the trip to Forest, it will set up a tasty battle between the Austrian and Djed Spence.
Wolf certainly needs to be at his best to keep the Forest star at bay, but no Swansea player is making more tackles per game than the January arrival (2.1), so he will hope to keep Spence quiet, and given his attacking output for Martin's side, particularly on the road, the Swans man also has the means to give the Forest man something to think about on the defensive front..
For the second time across their last three games, Swansea saw a three-goal lead wiped out in midweek.
But another draw, this time with Bournemouth, saw the Swans extend their unbeaten run to nine games, that currently the longest streak of its kind in the Championship.
Forest have won their last three, so this record will be put to the test this weekend in what promises to be an exciting encounter at the City Ground.