3 players or areas of the pitch that could thrive under Rob Edwards
It is almost impossible to draw direct comparisons between how Rob Edwards set his Forest Green team up in League 2 and how he may set up Luton Town for the second half of this season. However, from what Edwards has said during his press conferences, is that he isn’t going to alter too much from what we have been doing. What might he alter? Will this affect Luton Town for the remainder of the 22/23 season? Which positions and who might thrive under the new manager? I will discuss my thoughts below.
Rob Edwards primarily played a 3-4-1-2 during his time at Forest Green, he opted to use a 3-5-2 once in the league after a good performance against Brentford in the EFL Cup, which was followed by their first loss of the season to Port Vale, therefore encouraging Edwards to revert back to his preferred 3-4-1-2 for the rest of the season. In this system, the wing backs were encouraged to push as high as possible, win back possession and put in crosses as early as possible.
This was demonstrated by Nicky Cadden and Kane Wilson both thriving in this system, with Cadden (left wing back) scoring 6 goals with 11 assists and Wilson (right wing back) scoring 3 with 13 assists. Both were permanent fixtures in the team, with Cadden and Wilson playing 44 and 45 league games, respectively. During the 21/22 season Cadden attempted 536 crosses, completing 151 (27%), whereas Wilson attempted 227 crosses, completing 60 (26%). This was a highly effective system, whereby the two Forest Green centre forwards had plenty to fight for in the box. Translating this to our system, we have one of the best right wing backs in the league in James Bree, who is currently second in the league for expected assists (xE) behind Ilias Chair. Bree currently has an xE of 6.3 with only 2 assists so far. For chances created, Bree is again second behind Chair, with 52 total chances created, compared to Chairs’ 64. Considering the quality of Brees’ crosses, I am certain that Edwards will be encouraging him to ping them in as early as possible. Bree currently has completed 55 crosses (29%), extrapolating this to a full season Bree would finish on 110 crosses, someway behind Caddens’ 151 completed crosses. Whether Amari’i Bell or Alfie Doughty is preferred at left wing back remains to be seen, but this system only works if both wing backs press high. My opinion would be that Doughty may get the nod in this system, with Doughty edging Bell in key attributes for the attacking wing back role: Dribbles per 90 (1.05-0.64), xA per 90 (0.19-0.07), shots per 90 (0.84-0.10) and tackles per 90 (1.89-1.04).
So now we have wing backs swinging in early crosses, who’s going to benefit up front? The simple answer is, yes. In the League 2 title winning season, Jamille Matt and Mathew Stevens scored 19 and 23 goals, respectively, with Stevens winning the Golden Boot. There is an emphasis on tactical substitutions though with Matt starting all 46 games, but averaging 85 minutes per match, whereas top scorer Stevens, only started 37 games, averaging 73 minutes per match. They were often replaced by Josh March (30 mins/90) and Jake Young (22 mins/90), who also scored goals from the bench, with March notching 5 and Young nabbing 3. This highlights that although Elijah Adebayo and Carlton Morris are first choices, it's important for Cornick, Jerome and Mendes Gomes should he come back from his loan to impress off the bench.
Assessing how the forwards play is difficult, although it can be qualitatively assessed by observing how Matt and Stevens played together. In this highlight package, they get their heads onto the crosses, or get shots away and because they play so close to each other, they are there for each others rebounds, or to set their partner up. Matt was generous having assisted Stevens 9 times, although due to his tall frame, a lot of the crosses were directed at him. As both Adebayo and Morris are capable in the air, I would imagine they could dovetail and create chances for each other. The main way that they will flourish is if they stay as close to each other as possible during the attacking phase.
Last season we saw how good Allan Campbell was, he’s hard running, super pressing and has perhaps dropped off slightly this season being used in the 10 position behind the strikers. As has been shown with the 3-4-1-2 Forest Green system, Campbell could either play in the 10 or 8, or to directly compare to who was playing in that Forest Green side, the Jack Aitchison role (since moved to Barnsley) or the Ebou Adams role (since moved to Cardiff).
I would prefer to see Campbell slot into the 8 (Ebou Adams role), as one of the midfield dynamos, whereby interceptions and tackles are on the menu. He could perhaps slot in alongside Pelly preferably, or Lansbury to chase down whoever is on the ball, and create from deep. In that Forest Green side, Adams clocked up 82 tackles won and 73 interceptions, which makes me feel this is a role that would be best for Wee Al. Using him as a 10, as Nathan Jones did, was a waste of his ball winning talents. Providing Luke Berry is fit moving forward, he should be the first name on the team sheet for that number 10 position, as he is a master of finding space in the box.
To summarise, I believe that it’s hard to pin down exact players who will thrive under Rob Edwards, as it’s likely that we won’t change how we play with fast ball progression and pressing. However we may see slight changes to bring the best out of factions in the team, for instance earlier crossing from the wing backs, and the forwards playing closer to each other. I’m very excited for that first game!