Appointed as the new head coach this morning, Nuno Espírito Santo arrives at Nottingham Forest with a managerial career spanning four countries. We take a look at his tactics and what the City Ground can expect
The king is dead, long live the king. Here we are again, with Nottingham Forest’s 373rd manager since Brian Clough — something like that anyway.
Steve Cooper leaves big shoes to fill but Nuno Espírito Santo has the opportunity to make an immediate impact with a home game against Bournemouth on Saturday. The former Wolverhampton Wanderers manager has several years’ Premier League experience and, while his short stint at Tottenham Hotspur was unsuccessful, previous jobs with Valencia and Porto prove he should be able to edge the club up the table over the coming weeks.
It’s likely to be more of the same as he finds his feet at the City Ground and becomes familiar with the squad. With a reputation for being defensive at Wolves, and hitting teams on the counter, he preferred three at the back, a low block and solidity in midfield. So far, so Forest. But with the likes of João Moutinho, Diogo Jota, Raul Jiminez and Adama Traore, their attacking ability was not in question.
Nuno explained his philosophy to Sky Sports in 2020: “When you attack you have to have width, when you defend you have to be compact. So this is the shape of the team when we are defending.
“We have to be compact, close to each other, knowing that the outside [space] is there but the moment it goes we are there to engage on our defensive process. But the main idea is to be compact when we defend and achieve maximum width when we attack.”
At Al-Ittihad in Saudi Arabia, he’s predominantly played with four at the back — largely in a 4-2-3-1 formation — but with fluidity to each player’s actual position. Nevertheless, his recent switch in tactical play still depends on counterattacking, with wide overloads, as his team sought to get into the opposition’s box as quickly as possible.
Given that Forest are already well stocked in defence and midfield, it would be no surprise if Nuno continued with three centrebacks, for the time being, and wingbacks pushing up to provide width. There are a few weeks to assess the squad ahead of the January transfer window, namely to decide which loan players might return to their parent clubs, who might leave and where we need to strengthen.
Willy Boly and Morgan Gibbs-White are already familiar with the new manager and are likely to feature prominently, with the former a regular in his Wolves side and the latter making his full debut at the age of 18 under the Portuguese coach. But with the African Cup of Nations kicking off on 13 January, Nuno will be without Boly for a number of weeks, as well as Serge Aurier, Ola Aina, Moussa Niakhate, Ibrahim Sangaré and Cheikhou Kouyate.
Following the Bournemouth match are tricky fixtures away to Newcastle Unted on Boxing Day and at home to Manchester United on 30 December, before the FA Cup game against Blackpool and the mid-season break which gives the new head coach time to work with the squad. We might have a better idea by the end of January how the rest of the season will look.