Goalkeeper always seems to be a position in doubt at Forest; I can’t think of a sustained number one that we’ve had over the past decade. From Karl Darlow through to Keylor Navas and everyone in between, a nailed-on number one has never been hammered in. But the one that got away seems to be Brice Samba. Whilst being somewhat unpredictable, in the big moments, the French stopper was at the top of his game. He thrived on pressure and the spotlight. With the rigmarole around that position since he left the club, keeping him 12 months ago should have been a necessity in my opinion. Forest thought they’d found their man in Dean Henderson but following injury concerns and price differences, the arrival of Arsenal’s Matt Turner solves the immediate problem. Henderson would be my preference as he brings confidence and Premier League experience between the sticks, but Turner is the number one for now.
That’s the easy bit done, next for the formation. A back five just wasn’t working early on last season so a four came in, but a nailed-on formation and style was never achieved last term. This year, I’d like to see the Reds choose a formation and stick to it through thick and thin.
A four is the way I’d go, although based on pre-season Steve Cooper is favouring a five, beginning at right-back where the race is pretty even. Serge Aurier was the favoured one throughout, a player with flair but sometimes lacking defensive work-rate. That’s why I’d slightly edge the battle Neco Williams’ way, who ended his season looking like the complete full-back before his injury. Certainly not a bad headache for Cooper though.
Into the middle and on the right, I don’t think you can look past Felipe if fit. Joe Worrall looked inspired in the latter stages of last season but has looked shaky in pre-season, and Willy Boly has looked solid in between his injury woes. But the Brazilian defender came in and instantly made the Reds look competitive at the back. He made players around him look better and on the ball he’s our best.
Alongside him it’s Scott McKenna v Moussa Niakhaté. I’m a huge fan of McKenna. I think he offers a no-nonsense style of focused and timely defending and it’s no coincidence that in our promotion winning season, the Scot won player of the season. Injury is something that spoiled both his and Niakhaté’s campaign but when he was on the pitch, you knew the Senegalese was there. His long throws, his pace and swagger shone through making it a close call between the pair. I’d edge it to Niakhate, however with names such as 23-year-old Croatian Josip Sutalo floating around, I certainly wouldn’t say no to defensive reinforcements.
On to left-back and roles reversed from last season, with both Renan Lodi and Harry Toffolo (seemingly) off the squad list, replaced hopefully by a fully fit Omar Richards. He was brought in with promise before somewhat disappearing, so it will be interesting to finally see the former Bayern full-back get some minutes. Undoubtedly, he will need support, as it would be unfair to expect Richards – who has never played in the Premier League – to be a mainstay at left back. He has support from the experienced Ola Aina, the Nigerian impressing early on but one of seven current players who will be away at AFCON in January, so another left-back is seemingly in order.
In midfield, the formation depends on who plays in front of the back four. Often, we got overrun in midfield last season and it’s somewhere where you need a bit of everything in this league. Ryan Yates, Danilo and Orel Mangala are the three that I would be choosing between and the first two would get the nod for me. Yates’s passion, presence and power is all you’d want in a holding midfielder and the footballer Danilo is slowly turning into is so exciting given his age. Mangala would be unlucky to miss out but certainly not out of the picture, a very good back-up and option off the bench.
Having two holding midfielders allows Morgan Gibbs-White to make that number 10 position his own. You’ve seen what he can do both with Forest and with England’s Under-21s, and that boy will just keep getting better. Last season he often had to play on the wing which took away from his creativity. If he were given the licence to roam in midfield, I think we’d see the best of him – Premier League defences be warned.
Brennan Johnson speaks for himself. He’s been the man Forest have been fighting to keep as he works back from injury, but if fit he’s definitely in the line-up. While not the complete player just yet, his trickery and pace will always cause defenders havoc and with the addition of Anthony Elanga, let’s hope he now has a partner in crime. At 21, Elanga already has 39 PL appearances, and his pace is electrifying. The only concern is that there was no urge to keep him by fans and management of Manchester United, but let’s hope that he can thrive being given the faith shown by Cooper and co.
Striker. A position Taiwo Awoniyi has written his name on based on last season’s form. He made Forest look threatening and his 10 goals in the league were crucial to the Reds’ eventual survival. If fit, he plays.
The concern is with the depth. In the starting XI, Forest are probably only a ‘keeper and maybe defender away from being set. However, options off the bench are looking sparse. And with the defensive options currently being Boly, McKenna and Worrall, a back three might have to do until strength returns/comes in. Attacking options also look few and far between, especially if Forest are forced to sell Johnson. They’ll certainly need another winger if not two, and with neither Chris Wood nor Hwang Ui-Jo looking serious threats, a striker will be needed also.
But the new season comes around with overwhelming positivity that Forest are still in the Premier League and get to go to places like the Emirates, Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and the Etihad. Our first four away games by the way, daunting much?