Nottingham Forest manager Martin O’Neill changed the set-up of his side by utilising a midfield diamond against Preston.
The midfield trio was made up of Jack Colback, Ben Osborn and Ryan Yates. Colback sat in just in front of the back four, whilst Osborn and Yates played as orthodox central midfielders. It was a system that seemed to work well against Alex Neil’s side.
In this case, the Reds prevented the hosts from creating many chances, whilst still posing a threat themselves at the other end of the pitch. The midfield diamond seemed to provide the perfect balance to the side.
O’Neill’s tactical flexibility was questioned in the first few weeks of his managerial reign at the City Ground. However, he’s been spot on with his set-up in the last two games. If it wasn’t for poor decisions from officials, the Reds would’ve collected six points from two tough away games.
It was obvious that Preston were expecting the Reds to line-up differently. O’Neill has already slightly tweaked formation several times since taking over as manager. Neil was probably expecting the Reds to line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, as they have done for most games in recent weeks.
However, by utilising a midfield diamond in more of a 4-3-1-2 formation, it caught Preston by surprise. O’Neill stated in his post-match interview that this was all part of the plan.
He told the club’s official site: “They were expecting something else from us formation wise and I was pleased with the side. Following a big effort the other night, we came here and we should have won.”
It’s possible for O’Neill to mix it up in midfield every so often as he has so many options in that area of the pitch. However, for the Reds to produce two equally impressive performances, despite being set-up in a different way, goes to show the work being put in on the training ground.
The Reds were set-up in a 4-1-4-1 formation against West Brom last Tuesday. Ben Watson was the deep lying midfielder, with Colback and Yates given the freedom to move further forward. Osborn and Lolley operated as the two wide players.
In comparison, the Reds switched to more of a 4-3-1-2 formation at the weekend. Watson dropped out of the team and O’Neill opted to bring Daryl Murphy into the side for an extra presence upfront.
O’Neill has now changed formation numerous times in recent weeks depending on the opposition. This is something that wasn’t the case under Aitor Karanka. No matter who the Reds were up against, he stuck with his 4-2-3-1 set-up. This did cause issues, especially at the City Ground when teams set up defensively.
If the Reds continue to show they can perform in different formations, it gives O’Neill the ability to catch more teams off-guard. Central midfield is one area of the pitch where the Reds do have a host of different options so O’Neill may as well make the most of them.
The fact that the likes of Claudio Yacob and João Carvalho have barely featured under O’Neill as of yet just goes to show the depth of options in midfield. If O’Neill does decide to utilise a midfield diamond again, then it does create more of an opening for Carvalho.
Lolley was played at the tip of the diamond against Preston, supporting both Murphy and Grabban. This is the sort of position that Carvalho would thrive in. The Portuguese midfielder would be able to find pockets of space and create opportunities for his teammates. It’ll be interesting to see if O’Neill explores this option moving forward.
There’s no doubt that a number of supporters would love nothing more than for the 21-year-old midfielder to return to the starting line-up against Derby. However, if this did happen, it would then be difficult to find Lolley a place in the side.
Will Watson return for Derby?
Whether Watson returns to the starting line-up against the Rams is another decision for O’Neill to ponder. After playing a lot of games in a short period, the 33-year-old will have benefited from a break.
Speaking to the Nottingham Post about Watson’s absence, O’Neill said: “He was just rested. He has played a few games now, after not playing for some quite considerable time.
“He has taken the decision in the right spirit. I like him a lot. I like him as a person and I believe he has been a good influence around the club.”
There’s no doubt that the midfield diamond really helped stifle Preston’s attacking threat. Against Derby, O’Neill may be tempted to stick with a similar formation to prevent the likes of Mason Mount and Harry Wilson from finding too much space in midfield.
No matter what personnel and formation O’Neill decides to go with, the Reds have shown they have the flexibility to produce good performances, no matter how they are set-up.