Nuno Espírito Santo’s Tactics for Nottingham Forest: How’s He Changing the Team for the Better?

February 29, 2024

by xfcedi

Nuno - Wolves manager

By Eduard Bănulescu

Nuno Espírito Santo is a controversial figure within some footballing circles. But the Portuguese’s tactics have made him a highly dependable, successful manager. Will all of this be enough to allow Nuno to rescue Nottingham Forest’s Premier League season?

Career Prior to Joining Nottingham Forest

Nuno Espírito Santo had a relatively successful career as a football player. During a career that lasted nearly two decades, he played for teams such as Vitoria Guimares, Porto, and Dynamo Moscow. He was a dependable goalkeeper.

Just as important as his personality and skill has been his association with football agent Jorge Mendes. Nuno was, in fact, his very first client. Mendes has, no doubt, helped him earn job opportunities for clubs such as Valencia, Porto, or Tottenham.

However, it was the manager’s time in charge of Wolverhampton Wanderers, then a newly promoted side, that solidified his reputation as a defensive-minded manager who can grind out results against some of the toughest opposition.

Football Philosophy

Nuno Espírito Santo’s football philosophy, as reflected in his tenure at Tottenham Hotspur, is characterized by a cautious and defensive approach to the game. He prefers structured formations, typically employing a 4-2-3-1 setup, focusing on maintaining a solid defensive line and controlling the midfield area. His tactics emphasize stability, possession, and a disciplined defensive structure, often at the expense of attacking play.

Nuno’s philosophy also involves a conservative style of football, where teams under his guidance tend to prioritize not conceding goals over scoring them. This approach has led to criticism, especially in teams that have historically been more attack-oriented, as it can lead to underutilization of forward players and a lack of goalscoring opportunities. Despite his defensive focus, his teams have struggled with maintaining clean sheets due to individual errors and ineffective pressing strategies.

Overall, Nuno’s football philosophy leans towards pragmatism and caution, with a significant emphasis on defensive solidity and midfield control, but often at the cost of attacking flair and effectiveness.

Nuno Espírito Santo fired by Tottenham

Formations and adaptability

Nuno Espírito Santo’s approach to formations and adaptability at Tottenham Hotspur showed a certain level of rigidity. He primarily favored a 4-2-3-1 formation, which is a structure he seemed to prefer due to its balance between defense and attack. However, the implementation of this formation under Nuno at Tottenham was criticized for being overly defensive and not making the best use of the team’s attacking talents.

The formation was intended to provide stability and control in the midfield, aiming to build up play methodically. However, this often resulted in slow and predictable attacks, making the team easy to defend against. The emphasis on maintaining shape and structure often led to a lack of creativity and dynamism in forward areas, which was a significant departure from the more fluid and attacking style seen under previous managers like Mauricio Pochettino.

In terms of adaptability, the article suggests that Nuno struggled to adjust his tactics effectively against different types of opponents. Instead of adapting his formation and style to exploit the weaknesses of opponents or to counter their strengths, he largely stuck to his preferred setup and strategic approach, even when it was clear that changes were needed. This lack of tactical flexibility contributed to poor results and ultimately led to his departure from the club.

Therefore, regarding formations and adaptability, Nuno Espírito Santo’s tenure at Tottenham highlighted a preference for a particular setup that prioritized defensive solidity over attacking threat, combined with a notable lack of tactical flexibility and adjustment during games.

What will Nottingham Forest look like in defense?

Nuno Espírito Santo has taken over for Steve Cooper as manager of Nottingham Forest. The club has an ambitious project that has helped them retain their place in the Premier League. However, during the 2023/24 season, it looked like Forest was coming to the end of a cycle. With relegation dangerously in sight, the club’s higher-ups opted for Nuno to guide them. 

Nuno Espírito Santo is known as a defensive-minded manager. It’s not an unfair reputation. Like West Ham’s David Moyes, Nuno prioritizes tactical discipline and a rigid team setup to ensure he gets results. 

His first games in charge reveal the fact that Forest will prioritize counterattacks down the wings, low-block defending, and a focus on physicality and winning aerial duels.

The 2-0 victory managed over West Ham United was a masterclass in Nuno Santo’s efficiency. Forest was happy to give up possession, to overrun the center of the pitch, and to engage in quick counterattacks.

Luckily for Nuno Espirito Santo, Nottingham Forest already has the defensive players required to pull this off. The central defensive partnership of Nikhate and Murillo is built on collective strength and patience. Defensive midfielder Ryan Yates has grown into being one of the best tacklers in the EPL and, likely, one of the most underrated pivots.

Besides, players like Scott McKenna, Willy Boly, and veteran Felipe bring experience to the table and offer squad depth.

What will Nottingham Forest look like in attack?

One thing that’s often worked in recent years for Forest is converting a few scoring opportunities into goals. This is another characteristic that gels excellently with Nuno Santo’s vision.

Nottingham tends to play with one forward. That player is usually a power, quick poacher capable of finishing off counterattacks. Chris Wood and former Union Berlin striker Taiwo Awoniyi are two of the best in the business at doing this. They are also quite underrated. Together, they have 14 goals in the EPL this season. Veteran Divock Origi has also joined the attacking department.

Neither Wood nor Awoniyi will do much unnecessary running. That’s why they need to speed down the flanks. Wing-backs Nuno Tavares and Neco Williams provide that as dynamic players capable of operating in lateral areas.

Forest has also managed to lure some notable players who are unfairly marginalized by their former top-name teams, such as Chelsea and Manchester United. Elanga and Callum Hudson-Odoi bring flair and a real desire to prove themselves to the role of wingers or inside forwards.

All of this looks already like a Nuno Santo team. There won’t be great tactical changes, most likely. The Portuguese will just work on drilling in the kind of discipline that he is known for. Forest will prioritize making the best out of set pieces. The team will attack down the middle and rely on the creativity of Morgan Gibbs-White. Forest will learn to frustrate opponents and get results from lightning-fast counter-attacks finished off by a classic number 9. 

What next for Nuno Espírito Santo and for Notthingham Forest?

Nuno Espírito Santo, on paper, looks like the kind of manager that can save Nottingham Forest from facing the drop. He’s done it before with Wolverhampton. His defense-first style may not have been a good fit for Tottenham, but although unexciting, he should fit here.

Should it fail, it would jeopardize the entire project built around this Forest team. Massive investments have been made, and the team has attracted some real talent. Relegation might mean a full reset, and it’s unclear if the team would have the power to rebuild.

Would Snato follow them to the Championship if this were to happen? That’s highly unlikely. There will be opportunities for big clubs looking to save themselves from trouble for a while yet. Nuno Espírito Santo is a manager that has specialized in one type of challenge.


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