Forest still need to reinforce defence as Tottenham exploit lack of pace | Premier League

The Nottingham Forest Premier League jigsaw puzzle is arriving piece by piece via mail order each week. There are still a few days left of sitting at the transfer window hoping the postman will turn up with the missing components after their shortcomings were laid bare by Tottenham.

The record signing Morgan Gibbs-White has completed the set in the final third, looking constantly dangerous on his home debut. He is the livewire to get the crowd on their feet and within five minutes he was dazzling Tottenham defenders with tricks and speed. It is no wonder Steve Cooper never wanted to give up on signing him, regardless of price. Home form will be key for Forest’s survival chances, so having a talent who whips up the crowd is an added bonus.

Going forward they are free‑flowing, with Gibbs-White, Brennan Johnson and Jesse Lingard capable of intimidating defences, especially the more they play together and understand one another. The trio know they will need to be more ruthless, however, after drawing a blank here.

Forest are a team, despite all the box-office signings, built on work ethic. They will not give an opponent an easy ride. They press hard and consistently and, when they do need to retreat, they do so as a unit, with no man allowed to shirk responsibility.

The opening-day defeat against Newcastle made Forest realise how difficult the Premier League was going to be. They could not cope with Allan Saint-Maximin, the type of player they will come up against most weeks, nor did they possess the experience to understand what is required over a 38-game season. What followed was a week of acquiring 135 caps belonging to Remo Freuler, Cheikhou Kouyaté and Emmanuel Dennis.

The captain, Joe Worrall, struggled against Saint-Maximin, playing on the right side of three centre-backs, a position in which he proved himself in the Championship. On Sunday Worrall was greeted by the sight of Son Heung-min, arguably the best player in the league for exploiting space between wing-back and centre-back. He was booked in the 58th minute for crudely taking down Son on the edge of the centre circle to end a counterattack prematurely. It was a sensible decision from Worrall but showed what he lacks at this level; he is not the quickest and is likely to be moved inside from where he can marshal the backline.

Worrall is a Premier League-standard defender who can read danger superbly and is rarely beaten when a cross comes into the box because he knows where the ball is heading. But he will need to adapt to make the most of his attributes and avoid being exposed.

Morgan Gibbs-White looked dangerous on his home debut. Photograph: Rui Vieira/AP

Antonio Conte recognised Forest’s lack of pace at the back and set up to hit them quickly – and repeatedly – on the break. He was happy for promoted Forest to dominate possession, in the knowledge Spurs have the weaponry to expose the weakness. It was the perfect gameplan, Harry Kane’s goals coming at the end of getting the ball up the pitch in direct fashion and Forest not being able to cope.

Losing the pacy centre-back Moussa Niakhaté, one of the plethora of signings, to injury in their win against West Ham was unfortunate but Premier League forwards are not a sympathetic bunch. They can spot a weakness in even the best-drilled defences. All three Forest centre-backs were cautioned here, an indication of their struggle against Spurs.

In full flight Conte’s front three are hard to stop. Two invested observers watched from the sidelines as the Forest defence was cut open at speed by Son and Dejan Kulusevski, with Kane often dropping deep to collect the ball, pulling a defender out of position and picking the right pass, depending on which marauding teammate was in the better position.

One of the two was the new signing Renan Lodi, who will have spent 90 minutes in the stands wondering what he can provide. Closer to the pitch Japhet Tanganga was on the Spurs bench scrutinising the Forest defence because he is the club’s No 1 target to sign before the transfer window closes. He is, as Sunday’s match showed, everything the club need: the centre-back has the pace and quality to improve Forest. The transfer window is a marathon not a sprint and the final few hours could be the most telling in Nottingham.

When Forest needed an equaliser the game became stretched and even more openings were available for Spurs. Forest tired from operating at a high tempo for more than an hour and more bookings were handed out as they lost their discipline. Having more possession does not offer a divine right to win a match and Forest will need to learn from experience that the Premier League is ruthless.

Despite all the incomings, there is difficult work to be done. But Forest know that.

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