Chapter 773: Strategies Against Manchester United
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
Tony Twain had personally confirmed his future at Nottingham Forest. He would not leave Nottingham, much to the relief of the Forest fans. But the media rumors that he might leave City Ground stadium did not immediately disappear. <The Times> had declared that Twain would leave City Ground stadium in four years’ time and seek a better job. At that time, his contract would have expired, and he would be free to leave. He did not have to bear a high penalty cost. It was believed that countless big clubs would compete for him when the time came.
Twain was not going to Manchester United, but Manchester United had not stopped looking for Ferguson’s successor. Because Manager Ferguson was determined to retire at the end of the season. This piece of news had not yet been officially announced. Most people would rather think that it was just a moment of confusion for the old manager and that he would find that he could not really leave football and Manchester United at the end of the season. Then he would recant his decision and decide to stay at Old Trafford. In this way, many people could breathe a sigh of relief—except for his archrivals.
Both Twain and Ferguson confirmed their futures, but the story between the two of them did not end there. It was just beginning.
After playing the last game of the Champions League group stage, both teams finished first in their respective groups. There would be a big game three days later—Nottingham Forest’s away game against Manchester United.
It was a match of the titans in that round of the league tournament and it would be a national broadcast of the live game. The game was in the spotlight due to the recent interesting sidelights of Ferguson’s successor. Coupled with a two-point gap between the two teams, a win or loss in the game would determine the two teams’ rankings in the league table, not to be missed.
After the game against the Celtic team, Twain resumed his campaign against Ferguson at a press conference. He declared that he had no interest in becoming someone else’s successor with the intention to provoke Ferguson.
Undeterred, Ferguson immediately shot back, “When he has been in this business for twenty years, his wish will come true.”
From the war of words between the two men, outsiders really could not tell that their personal relationship was more harmonious …
These two men were typical examples of “where we stand depends on where we sit.” They would speak and behave from their positions.
The managers could not always be the main characters in a confrontation between two teams. The players on both teams were also the targets of the myriad of people.
Cristiano Ronaldo had said numerous times that he wanted to leave, but he always ended up staying at Manchester United. He would be Ferguson’s sharpshooter against Nottingham Forest in this game. The reporters went to interview him and wanted to hear what he thought of the game. Ronaldo appeared to play it down and said, “It’s just a regular league game.”
Although he told the truth that the game held no special meaning, the media were so dissatisfied that they went to ask Rooney who was a little fiery than Ronaldo, “We will beat Nottingham Forest at home. I can’t imagine we will lose at our home ground.”
The young man, Rooney seemed proud and arrogant. “Who do you think is the biggest threat in the opposing team?” The reporter asked him. His answer was, “The entire team is not a threat.”
His comments angered the Forest players. Pepe was the first to step forward to express his displeasure with Rooney, “I hope he has a chance to play. I’ll show him what a threat is at that time.”
Eastwood said, “I’m glad their team feels this way, just like how everyone hopes their opponent to be an idiot.” He beat around the bush to scold Rooney as an idiot.
George Wood was not a man who wanted to incite a war of words with others. He preferred to shut the opponent up with a ferocious foul. When he was pestered by the reporters, he could only say, “You’ll find out during the game.”
Find out about what?
He did not say, but it was believed that the media assumed George Wood was going to teach those assholes who looked down on them, a lesson!
The managers’ war of words, the players’ war of words, and the war of words between the supporters on both sides breeding like flies were a special scene of professional football. All of these were laid out for the climax of the final game.
Three days flew by quickly. After Nottingham Forest returned from Rangers Football Club, they only spent one day in Nottingham before leaving for Manchester again. It was not a good thing for the team preparing to compete to run around so often. The team was unable to continue their systematic preparation training. Fortunately, because they finalized their advancement ahead of schedule, the Forest team had in fact prepared for the game against Manchester United since the last round of the league tournament. The team had made detailed arrangements during training to target several of Manchester United’s main attacking points. The way the team would operate its offensive was also carried out during training.
The only thing to worry about traveling to two away games within three days’ time was the team’s fitness.
Numerous pre-match expert fans had analyzed that Nottingham Forest would play the defensive counterattack tactic that they were best at in Old Trafford. After all, no team dared to play offense against Manchester United here. The outcome was they would be crushed without exception…
But this time Twain decided to do the very opposite again—he was going to play the game in a way that no one could anticipate.
“We will attack.” At the tactical preparation meeting the day before the game, Twain said bluntly, “I bet Ferguson won’t think we have the guts to do that, so I’m asking you all to fully press and attack. The moment the game starts, we gain the upper hand by a show of strength. The sooner we score, the better it will be for us.” He snapped his fingers.
“Boss, what if we don’t manage to score in the opening?” Eastwood raised the issue.
“Slow down the pace, stabilize the defense, and then continue to attack.”
Twain seemed determined to conquer The Theatre of Dreams with offensive play.
As they needed to attack, Şahin replaced Tiago to start in the game. Nottingham Forest’s formation had also changed from the parallel layout of 4-4-2 to the diamond shape 4- 4-2. The two wingers would be frequently involved in the attack. When the two sides were in a deadlock, the two full backs would remain in the backfield to participate in the defense, with few assists in the front. Meanwhile, George Wood would take on a defensive role in the game, and the offensive work was left to his teammates in the front field.
Even though he had stated that they were playing offense, Twain had not forgotten that defense was the foundation. So, it was almost impossible to see Twain’s team completely disregard the defense… Maybe in the last five minutes of the game, when his team was still one goal behind, then he would have done so.
Ferguson really did not think that Tony Twain would dared to play offense against Manchester United at Old Trafford. He felt that Twain was a pragmatist and that defensive counterattack was clearly the most appropriate if he wanted to fully protect his team at Old Trafford or even win.
Although the outside world did not like him always sticking to the main tactic of defensive counterattack and felt that he was cowardly and weak, Twain had never been shaken by outside criticism.
Ferguson felt he already knew Tony Twain very well, but this time he was wrong.
Before the game, Wood did the coin toss with the Manchester United captain, Gary Neville, which he lost. So, Manchester United won the right to pick its side, while Nottingham Forest got to kick off. In fact, getting to do the kick-off was a good thing for Twain’s Forest team because they were able to control the ball under their feet right from the start of the game.
Previously, there had been a misconception that Nottingham Forest never cared about ball possession rate which they backed it up with data to prove that Nottingham Forest’s ball possession rate was lower than that of their opponents ninety per cent of the games, regardless of the outcome.
But in fact, Twain just did not care about the kind of ineffective ball control that repeatedly passed the ball back and forth in his own backfield to boost the ball possession rate. He was focused on whether the opponent could finally form a threatening offensive ball control in their own half of the field. As long as they could finally score a goal, it was acceptable even if it took two passed from the start to finish. So, although his ball possession rate was always lower than his opponents, he could still win the game.
Looking at the games of the other teams, most people might have the thinking that when the football was not at the feet of the players, their supporters would start to worry about the opponent scoring. Because it was really dangerous thing to let the football be controlled by the other side.
But watching Nottingham Forest play, the Forest fans were already used to a game of the opponent controlling the ball and their team defending. In their eyes, once the football was at the feet of the opponent, the opposing fans should be worried instead. They would definitely come up and attack, which would leave their back with gaps. That would be the opportunity for Nottingham Forest.
But today’s game at Old Trafford would change the Forest fans’ perception.
The Nottingham Forest players kept the ball under their feet after the kick-off but were not in a hurry to launch a quick attack. Instead, they seemed to be casually passing the ball back and forth near the center circle. In the previous Nottingham Forest games, it was rare to see the backfield players pass the ball back and forth as Twain felt that it was pointless to pass the ball back and forth in the backfield. It could cause them to lose their chances as well as to wear out the team’s drive. Hence his game pace had always been fast.
Today, they were leisurely passing the ball back and forth at Old Trafford and passing the football further and further backwards. In the end, the football was passed by Woodgate to Akinfeev’s feet. The stands at Old Trafford began to ring out with boos against Nottingham Forest.
Berbatov rushed up to the penalty area, wanting to tackle the ball at Akinfeev’s foot and behind him, Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez pressed on in succession.
Akinfeev did not give Berbatov a chance to intercept the ball. He directly kicked a long pass to the front field when there was a distance of ten meters between the two men.
“A long pass! It’s very much in line with the Nottingham Forest style!” The commentator quipped.
The player that Twain deployed in the forward line was not tall center forward, Žigić and not Ibišević, but the former Manchester United veteran, van Nistelrooy, and his partner was Eastwood.
With Fernández injured in the previous game, Lennon played as the left back. Bentley was suspended due to an accumulation of yellow cards, so the right back was changed to Agbonlahor. Twain wanted to use the speed of these two men to strike hard at Manchester United’s flank defense. Van Nistelrooy still received the ball under Carrick’s watch and used his skills and experience to keep the ball firmly under his feet, waiting for his teammates to come forward and help. Carrick struggled behind him to tackle the ball. Unfortunately, his position was gone, and unless there was a foul, he would have been unable to intercept the ball.
Just when he was trying to get a foul, van Nistelrooy passed the ball out and the target was Şahin.
After Şahin received the ball, he did a cross pass toward the side. On this side near the technical areas of both sides, a gust of wind blew past and that was Agbonlahor!
Agbonlahor was quite fast and the Manchester United defender on this side was Evra, an equally fast player. The two players were evenly matched.
Agbonlahor had not received the ball, and Şahin’s straight pass was shoveled out of the sidelines by Evra, who dashed over.
A smile emerged on Ferguson’s face when he saw the scene off the field. This was the Nottingham Forest team he was familiar with. It looked like today’s Forest team would not be any different than usual.
The Forest team’s characteristic was that they used more straight passes. They liked those penetrating passes. Although the success rate was not very good, it could be fatal as long as they succeed once.
Instead of bringing on Scholes to deal with this kind of straight passes, Ferguson heavily laid down two midfielders, Hargreaves and Carrick who were highly capable of running and focusing on defense in the midfield. At the same time, the rear defensive line was required to pay attention to help with the defense and not give the Forest team a chance to play straight passes. In terms of offense, once the Forest team’s direct pass was intercepted, they should immediately fight back. Neither Carrick nor Hargreaves was really the kind of player who could pass and organize the attack, so Manchester United’s main attackers were Ronaldo and Rooney, who switched to playing in the midfield. They were responsible for dribbling the ball to the front and then passing it to Berbatov or Tevez.
Now it looked like they were doing a good job. Şahin’s straight pass was thus destroyed by the quick-witted Evra.
Nottingham Forest’s possession of the ball from the start of the game was ended by a long shot from the top of the penalty arc by Eastwood. The ball he shot deflected off the goal.
Some might think that Nottingham Forest attacked so aggressively because they obtained the right to kick off the game, so they might as well make use of it… But as a matter of fact, the Forest team soon show that that they were wrong.
After Manchester United’s shot was pounced on by Akinfeev, he did not kick a long ball, but threw a handball away to launch an attack. Wood passed the ball to Şahin, who once again sent a cross pass, but this time it was toward Lennon on the left.
Thirty-five-year-old Gary Neville did not pounce over to shovel the ball like Evra did. He knew he was absolutely at a disadvantage in terms of speed, but his experience could help him deal with Lennon. So, he chose to retreat slowly and not give Lennon any room to sprint.
The trick worked. Even though Lennon managed to receive the ball, he found that he could not break through the Manchester United captain’s defense directly. Nottingham Forest’s quick attack could not be launched, and the football could only be passed back for a slow grind.
Ferguson sat in the technical area and constantly chewed gum in his mouth. It was his signature pose. He would adopt this pose when he was certain. After watching Nottingham Forest’s performance in the opening five minutes, he grew more confident of winning the game.
It was no different from the old Nottingham Forest team. Five more minutes, if they could not score, that guy Tony Twain would definitely instruct the team to withdraw and then lie in wait to counterattack Manchester United.
Ferguson was not worried playing this way. Their training for the past week had been specially set up to counter the Forest team’s tactical features. Once the Forest team could not score in the first ten minutes and put the game on track, it would be time for Tony Twain’s luck to turn for the worse.
Fighting to score first once the game started, then shrinking the defense to lure out the opponent, and next relying on tenacious and solid defense and speed to strike the opponent’s counterattack.
Ferguson had already studied the Forest team’s tactics and competition habits quite thoroughly. He believed that Tony Twain could not escape his control.
Now Ferguson suddenly had some regrets about why he did not use the outcome of the game to make a bet with Tony Twain— if he won, the two men would sign an agreement to let Twain take over the manager’s position once he retired at the end of the season.