NOTTINGHAM FOREST and Fulham may face one another again later this month and EFL pundit Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) has his say on what could be a play-off dress rehearsal.
Nottingham Forest vs Fulham | Tuesday 7th July 2020, 17:00 | Sky Sports
If we have learnt one thing about Nottingham Forest this season, it’s that they love their opponents having the ball: 17 of their 18 league victories have come with less than 50% possession.
If we have learnt one thing about Fulham, it’s that they love having the ball: the Whites have completed 544 passes per game this season on average, the most in the division.
We know what the basic game plan of both teams will be – the question is who will execute theirs the best.
Trentsiders missed the top two boat
The Reds could have kept themselves in automatic promotion contention on Saturday, had they held onto victory over rivals Derby.
Sabri Lamouchi got his game plan spot on; he instructed striker Lewis Grabban as well as midfielders Ryan Yates and Samba Sow to alternate on the responsibility of closing down Wayne Rooney, depending on who is nearest.
That strategy worked a treat and because they stifled their opponents’ main conductor, they could defend comfortably for almost the duration.
Unfortunately, a combination of Joe Worrall giving away a silly foul outside the box in the 96th minute and Brice Samba flapping at the subsequent delivery meant Lamouchi’s troops had to settle for a point at the home of their foes.
Forest’s performance in the East Midlands derby arguably merited three points, although generally they have looked a touch dry since the restart.
The 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday highlighted a reliance on the individual quality of Joe Lolley, Lamouchi highlighted certain imperfections with the performance level in the 3-1 win over Huddersfield – and Bristol City could dictate terms for significant portions of the following game.
Although the Reds beat City 1-0 and denied them too many clear goalscoring opportunities, it’s possible that the same performance level might not yield the same results when they face better quality opposition.
Still, Forest are set to begin and end a season with the same manager in place and a record a top six finish – they last accomplished both feats in 2010-11 – so this is very much a year of huge progress.
Fulham finding a formula
Back-to-back defeats against Brentford and Leeds just after the restart mean Fulham are likely out of the reckoning for automatic promotion, even if they have responded with successive victories against QPR and Birmingham.
The good news for Scott Parker is that he has solved the long-standing holding midfield issue, with Harrison Reed producing some impressive performances at the base.
Previously, Harry Arter did not quite have the passing range for the role and Kevin McDonald lacks mobility, but Reed possesses both those qualities in abundance.
Going forward, meanwhile, the long-term perception of Fulham being over-reliant on Aleksandar Mitrovic – suspended for Tuesday’s game – is being challenged by their form without him.
As much as Mitrovic can dominate a penalty area with his aggression, aerial prowess and ruthless finishing, the former Newcastle man can look languid and almost disinterested for long periods – and so to gain the benefits of such a powerful goalscoring machine, one must accept to some extent his flaws.
Whereas his compatriot, Slavisa Jokanovic, liked the front-man to always stay in the box for crosses in the second half of the 2017-18 promotion season, Scott Parker appears to ideally want his central forward to drop in, link the play and press with energy.
Those kinds of tasks, Bobby Reid does very well, as we saw in January’s 1-0 win over Middlesbrough – powerful speedster Aboubakar Kamara had a good game up top in November’s 2-1 win against QPR too.
Although Mitrovic is Fulham’s top goalscorer by 15 – his tally of 23 is 42% of the Whites’ league goals – it could be argued that ironically, the team’s more fluent, dynamic, attacking performances have come without him.
This is backed up by the fact Fulham have taken 13 points from the five league games in which Mitrovic has been absent.
The tactics board
Given that Fulham will operate without a standard focal point, they may need the extra width provided by left-back Joe Bryan, who is likely to come into his natural position for the right-footed Denis Odoi.
Josh Onomah, who scored the 95th minute winner against Birmingham, will hope to replace Arter to bring fresh energy to the midfield and make the kind of runs off the ball that will create space for playmaker Tom Cairney.
Nullifying Cairney and Reed will be key for the Reds, who will hope to combat the latter with the same methods they used on Saturday against Rooney.
This time, the job could be more difficult because, although Reed is not a globally established technician, he is still a very accomplished one and being far more mobile, he can elude challengers with comparative freedom.
If Reed can break an initial press triggered by Yates or Sow, we can expect the field to open up for him to bring Reid and Cairney into play, from which point Fulham may have the energy and quality to pull Forest out of their shape – at least more so than other teams have done so far.
The betting angle
At a crucial time, Fulham are starting to establish a formula that will allow them to attack the play-offs with confidence and they might be able to showcase it at the City Ground.
If the Whites were facing a lower-placed side, we would back them to win outright but Forest have earnt some respect for their work this term.
For that reason, we’re siding with the Whites via the Double Chance (1/2 Bet365) option, which pays out if Scott Parker’s side avoid defeat.
Nottingham Forest v Fulham – Fulham Double Chance (1/2 Bet365)