The Frenchman lost his job after failing to pick up a single point in the club’s first four games of the 20/21 season, being replaced by Chris Hughton. Zack Palmer answers the question of whether it was a shrewd move or premature decision.
At the end of last season, following Forest’s final day capitulation, I wrote an article offering a verdict on the season as a whole; concluding that Lamouchi’s side was lucky to avoid implosion until the tail-end of the season. Measured next to what they were expected to achieve (worked out through the “expected goals” for and against metrics, amongst other things), Forest were massively overachieving based on their attacking output.
Lamouchi lucked his way to seventh last season, and his luck ran out
While their defensive performances were (mostly) solid, their attacking patterns of play (or lack thereof) led to the creation of low-probability chances that were converted, unsustainably, by an in-form Lewis Grabban. I predicted that Forest’s fortune would not continue and, if Grabban’s form dropped even slightly, they would be lucky to finish in the top half this season let alone anywhere near the playoffs. With the small sample size of four games, this prediction has come to pass.
This is not a self-congratulation: numbers don’t lie. Lamouchi lucked his way to seventh last season, and his luck ran out. At the close of his tenure, Lamouchi’s Forest were sat rock bottom, alongside one of the worst teams ever to have graced the English second division: Wycombe. This is unacceptable for a squad of Forest’s quality. The notoriously prolific Grabban didn’t score in four games, and The Reds didn’t win.
That’s not to say that Lamouchi’s short tenure this season was all doom and gloom. He did recognise, and try to fix, his team’s limp attacking quality. His new-look Forest put up an xG of 5.91 (converting only once, a further indictment of Grabban’s form in front of goal), indicating better productivity in attacking scenarios. Unlike last season when they often converted low probability chances, this season Forest have been missing high probability chances.
Attacking improvements had the adverse effect of destabilising a relatively strong defensive system that Lamouchi had established in his previous year in charge
While this is obviously not ideal, it is a scenario that is far more likely to generate long term success than their performances last season which, while generating goals, were predominately predicated on luck. I know which system I’d back for the long term. If you consistently generate ~1.5xG per game, you will eventually start scoring two goals a game if the conversion rate is good. Form is temporary, but high quality chances leading to good opportunities to score, is permanent.
These are the positives, so what’s the flip side? These attacking improvements had the adverse effect of destabilising a relatively strong defensive system that Lamouchi had established in his previous year in charge. For all his attacking faults, he is an extremely competent defensive coach, drilling his teams to perfect the low block. His newfound desire to play more expansive football left his team vulnerable to the long ball over the top. Against QPR in the first game of the season, Forest were caught by a long ball over the top countless times. One example saw Forest lose the ball in an attacking phase, get exploited in transition by a really simple long pass, and ultimately resulted in in the concession of the second goal against QPR.
As a coach that has always favoured defending in a low block and attacking through counter-attacks, Lamouchi has never needed to understand defensive transitions. Unfortunately, this is painfully clear in the four games he helmed this season. Whenever Forest lost the ball in the attacking third (in any game this season under Lamouchi, but especially against Cardiff when they were ripped apart on the counter and would have conceded twice save for ineffectual finishing from Cardiff’s attackers ), their defence failed to drop into any semblance of a defensive structure and they were punished for it time and time again.
Not only did Lamouchi fail to understand that through changing his attacking system he would have to establish an effective way to transition to a defensive phase, he also failed to implement a press that would provide a defensive system to compliment the new attacking system
It wasn’t just poor transitions that put Forest in trouble, it was also their lack of an identifiable pressing system. Not only did Lamouchi fail to understand that through changing his attacking system he would have to establish an effective way to transition to a defensive phase, he also failed to implement a press that would provide a defensive system to compliment the new attacking system. Lamouchi’s team started trying to attack on the front foot, and such a style requires you to defend on the front foot too.
Pressing was not consistently implemented in Forest’s first four games this season, and it undermined any success their much improved attacking output could have produced. Returning to the opening game of the season, QPR found themselves with an unforgivable amount of time on the ball in their defensive third. This allowed them to pick out a devastating long ball forward, which led to a penalty. Surprise surprise, this was converted. The combination of no high pressure on the ball, and space in behind the Forest back four, is criminal and reflective of attacking and defensive systems that are at odds with each other.
Overall, Lamouchi deserves credit for the attempted reform of his style. The Frenchman turned a compact and unproductive side into a team putting up the sixth best xG in the league, while taking the fourth most shots per game. Should he have kept his job? Probably not. It’s always sad to see a competent coach removed from their position but, truth be told, Lamouchi was not the right man for the job.
Lamouchi compromised his fundamental ideals in response to an unsustainable tirade of good fortune last season
While the team’s new-look attacking output was promising, their defensive system was antithetical, and the statistics support this. Lamouchi’s four games in charge saw seven goals conceded from an “expected goals against” of 7.26 (essentially showing that their goals conceded was a fair reflection of their defensive fragility). Giving Lamouchi the benefit of the “expected” figures, you would expect The Reds to be somewhere around eleventh in the table. A significant improvement on rock-bottom, but still too far off where the club needs to be.
Forest have the players required to play the expansive style they were teasing. They didn’t have the right coach. Lamouchi compromised his fundamental ideals in response to an unsustainable tirade of good fortune last season. However admirable or “correct” this may have been on paper, there is no coming back from what is essentially an acceptance that his philosophy has failed. Whether or not Chris Hughton is the right coach to continue Forest’s reformation is a completely different question, but the question posed at the top of this article has been answered, and it’s a resounding no.
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