Nottingham attack fast with high intensity in their usual 1-3-4-1-2 formation and have made huge progress in this area since Steve Cooper took control of the team. When they are not in possession of the ball they line up 1-5-2-3, although they are generally very flexible changing shape once they regain the initiative. Especially in the opponent’s offensive third we often see them in a 1-3-4-3 formation.
Their defensive structure works well with their counter-attacking ability and fast, progressive style of play. Cooper has implemented a solid defensive structure both in the offensive third, when the 1-5-2-3 block allows them to press high with five players and allows them to maintain a narrow, compact formation behind the ball when they are forced to position themselves deeper with five players blocking the center.
When opponents want to counter this structure and play the ball deeper creating overloads in the center of the pitch and stretching the game, Forest convert their block to a 1-5-3-2 to match their rivals in numbers.
Cooper’s team attack at every opportunity using both space in the wide sectors and in the centre of the pitch depending on where they recover the ball. The positions the wing-backs (Spence, Colback) occupy are crucial as they must provide the team with width. Their positions not only stretch the opponent’s formation but also create more space in the center. In this passage of play Cooper don’t yet care about the overloads that are created moments later by Forest’s aggressive pressing against the opponent’s defensive line.
If they recover the ball deep in the vicinity of their own penalty area, they use the support of the wing-backs in the wide sectors, where they are then outnumbered. The movement of the players and the fast passes exchange in the wide areas causes the opponents a lot of problems at this stage of the development of the situation. However, when they fail to bring the ball from the flanks into the offensive third with a fast counterattack, they use the centre of the pitch with the intention to quickly rotate the central midfielders with the wing-backs in order to disrupt the opponent’s pressing in the second line of pressure and reopen the space on the flanks.
In the last phase of action around the rivals’ penalty area, they often adopt a 1-3-2-5 shape pressing the central defenders hard and high in the center and leaving the players on the flanks more freedom. A common pattern of play then is to overload the center o playing the ball quickly to the wing again while rotating strikers and midfielders in the penalty area. This creates some free space in the front and, although it doesn’t last very long, the Forest players are used to directing quick low passes into this zone.