Could Lewis O’Brien be the perfect midfield partner for Ryan Yates?

Francis Moore
By Francis Moore
9 Min Read

On Sunday, it was announced that Nottingham Forest had agreed on a deal with Huddersfield Town over the signing of Lewis O’Brien. The 23-year-old was one of the best midfielders in the Championship last season and will be a welcomed addition to Steve Cooper’s side. Here’s what to expect from the Terriers midfielder.

At just 23-years-old, Lewis O’Brien has established himself as one of the better midfielders in the Championship. The midfielder first broke into the Huddersfield starting-11 following their relegation from the Premier League and hasn’t looked back since. Often starting on the left-hand side of a midfield two, O’Brien was utilised more in an attacking sense, with Jonathon Hogg occupying a defensive role.

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There are quite a few similar aspects between Huddersfield and Nottingham Forest, which could allow the midfielder to make a seamless transition to the Premier League. Both line up with two central midfielders, one who is progressive and another who is deployed with a more defensive responsibility, and both sides like to transition down the pitch quickly, catching the opposition off-guard to create goal-scoring opportunities.

One of the best aspects of O’Brien’s game is his work rate around the pitch and his athleticism in possession. Watching any Huddersfield Town game last season, you’ll see how involved O’Brien is – he was the main cog in Carlos Corberan’s team, often dropping back to support, driving the ball downfield, or drifting out wide as another attacking outlet.

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In the Play-off Final – where Huddersfield lost to Nottingham Forest – Lewis O’Brien put in one of the best performances on the pitch. The midfielder incorrectly had a penalty ruled out and was seemingly everywhere for the Terriers. If the score was reversed, he would likely have been named Man of the Match.

Last season, O’Brien was unfortunate to miss out on a place in the Championship Team of the Season, with Phillip Billing and Ryan Yates making an appearance instead. The Huddersfield man could prove to be the ideal partner for Ryan Yates in the Nottingham Forest midfield. Both have the ability to win the ball back and like to join the attack, but O’Brien is far more attack-minded, whilst Yates excels defensively.

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As mentioned before, O’Brien is a fantastic, progressive midfielder, who loves to get the ball downfield. Ryan Yates on the other hand is far more reserved. Yates does like to get forward, but his defensive work is where he really shines, which will give him license to O’Brien to showcase his progressive talents without the fear of abandoning the backline. Last season, Yates was averaging more interceptions and more clearances per 90 than the Huddersfield man, whereas O’Brien offered far more going forward, averaging more forward dribbles and key passes – meaning the two could make the perfect midfield pairing.

He’s not the most physical player, with a rather small frame, which means he could struggle to adapt to the physicality of the Premier League – but I don’t see this mattering all too much. He will likely be playing alongside Ryan Yates, who offers a far more physical and aerial presence. He’s also shown that despite lacking in physicality, he is still able to challenge and win possession, completing four tackles every game – according to data from WhoScored.

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What’s noticeable about Lewis O’Brien is that he has a very similar style of play to James Garner – both are capable of winning back possession and have a keen eye for moving the ball forward as quickly as possible – whether that be through progressing forward with the ball, or passing the ball further down the pitch. As it seems more unlikely that Forest won’t be able to bring Garner back  O’Brien would be a fantastic acquisition to start in the Forest midfield.

Having previously been linked with a move to Leeds United, O’Brien has been ready for a move to the English top flight for some time now, and it always looked like last season would have been his final one in the Championship – be it at Huddersfield or elsewhere. Forest are sniffing around other midfield targets, but if this one gets completed you’ll expect O’Brien to instantly come into the starting line-up. At just 23, he has all the attributes to become a fantastic Premier League midfielder.

Authors Verdict:

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I don’t know how many times I can keep saying it – Forest are getting everything right this summer! So far, every addition has filled me with confidence, and all improve on the squad from last season – Lewis O’Brien is no different. The midfielder has been one of the best in the Championship for a while now, and after just avoiding relegation a year ago, I was surprised to see him remain at Huddersfield last campaign.

He’s going to bring a lot of energy into this Forest midfield and it’s exciting to see how he fits into Steve Cooper’s side. He won’t play high up the pitch, but his ability and desire to progress the ball forward could see the Reds create far more attacking opportunities, allowing Brennan Johnson and  – new signing – Taiwo Awoniyi to break at pace.

With his similarities to Garner, I expect O’Brien to be the perfect partner for Ryan Yates in midfield – with both having the ability to chip in defensively whilst also possessing the desire to get forward. Yates’ defensive profile does also give O’Brien the freedom to move around the pitch, whether that’s helping out at the back or further upfield joining the attack.

I think it’s a shame Forest haven’t got a deal done for Garner (they still might), but on the whole, I think this is another fantastic addition. At less then £10m, Forest have acquired one of the best players from the Championship and someone who is ready for the step-up to the Premier League.

It looks like Forest now have their midfield pairing nailed on for next season – that is if they opt for a midfield two instead of a three – but like most, I think more still needs to be added. However, the signing of Lewis O’Brien is a step in the right direction as Forest aims to build a competitive Premier League side. With two weeks to go until the season kicks-off, the team is shaping up nicely.


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