Nottingham Forest: 1st Premier League campaign in over 20 years. Are they prepared?30.07.2022 23:46:19
- Nottingham Forest have made a number of new signings to prepare for life back in the Premier League.
- Manchester United duo Jesse Lingard and Dean Henderson have arrived on a free transfer and a loan deal respectively.
- Big-money buys Neco Williams and Taiwo Awoniyi and Huddersfield pair Lewis O’Brien and Harry Toffolo have also joined.
- Since last season, the likes of Brice Samba and Djed Spence have departed.
In recent years, it feels as if newly-promoted Premier League teams go one of two ways. There are clubs like the Fulham of 2018-19, splashing the cash on the likes of Jean Michaël Seri, André-Frank Zambo Anguissa only to go down with barely a whimper, and then the clubs like Brentford last season, who built on their existing team with several astute signings for an eventual comfortable (and Christian Eriksen-inspired) mid-table finish.
For Nottingham Forest, back in the top flight after over two decades away, they could mimic either. After going up through the play-offs, they’ve made a lot of signings. Some are high-profile, big-name buys, others less so. But will they pay off?
New signings were needed, of course. If the team were to start this Premier League season like they did the Championship last term, they’d be doomed and while the team has impressed hugely since the arrival of current boss Steve Cooper in September, this was still a Championship team playing in the Championship.
The biggest name to join was a free transfer. After over 20 years at the club, attacking midfielder Jesse Lingard left Manchester United this summer, and his future had been widely discussed. Many tipped him to rejoin West Ham, where he spent a successful loan spell in 2021, while he’d also been linked to Everton, but it was Forest who signed him last week.
The transfer has divided opinion, some fans questioning the reported wages he’s been offered at his new club, and others doubting his commitment to playing football. However, others have hailed the transfer, suggesting that Lingard could form part of a tantalising front three with new record signing Taiwo Awoniyi and homegrown star Brennan Johnson.
Nigeria international and former Liverpool prospect Awoniyi was signed after two seasons spent in the Bundesliga with Union Berlin, the former on loan from the Reds, and will have plenty to do to justify his reported £17 million price tag.
Another familiar name to join is Neco Williams, the 21-year-old full-back who came through the ranks at Liverpool and spent the second half of last season on loan against fellow newly-promoted side Fulham, with a deal said to be around £16 million including add-ons. Also added to the defence are 24-year-old left-back Omar Richards, signed from Bayern Munich, and French pair Giulian Biancone and Moussa Niakhaté, 22 and 26 respectively.
Wayne Hennessey joins from Burnley, presumably to be back-up goalkeeper, while Huddersfield duo Harry Toffolo and Lewis O’Brien have signed. Brandon Aguilera, a 19-year-old midfielder and Costa Rica international, is very much an unknown quantity on these shores, but is definitely one for the future after signing for Alajuelense and then joining Guanacasteca in the Costa Rican top flight on loan.
Meanwhile, the rise of Welsh international Johnson shows that glitzy new signings aren’t the be-all and end-all. Only turning 21 in May, he benefitted from a loan spell at Lincoln City in the 2020-21 season to star for Forest in the following season as they returned to the top flight. Linked with some of football’s biggest names, he recently signed a long-term contract and will be pivotal to the club’s hopes of staying in the Premier League, and potentially to Wales’ World Cup hopes too.
Centre-back Joe Worrall is still just 25, captaining the team regularly last season and earning a place in the Championship Team of the Season alongside 24-year-old midfielder Ryan Yates. The club’s Player of the Season Scott McKenna remains too. Almost all of Forest’s key players from last season have remained at the club.
Veteran striker Lewis Grabban has left, but he never fully convinced in the Premier League previously anyway, while defender Tobias Figueiredo has also departed after making 26 league appearances last term.
Goalkeeper Brice Samba has left for Lens, to be replaced by Man United’s Dean Henderson for the season, and loanees including Djed Spence and Keinan Davis went back to their parent clubs, the former returning to Middlesbrough only to be sold to Tottenham. But by and large, the crux of the team that won promotion has remained, and many will fancy their chances of keeping their places against Newcastle on the season’s opening day.
Fresh lineup and tactics?
As is natural, particularly when a team makes numerous new signings, fans and pundits have been discussing the potential line-ups and formations that Cooper could go with. It’s thought that Cooper may stick with a back three, more than likely with Worrall keeping his place from the promotion-winning team.
In midfield, O’Brien and Toffolo might fancy their chances of walking into the starting XI, while that front three of Lingard, Johnson and Awoniyi looks likely. No matter the lineup, it is expected that Cooper will stick largely with the tactics that have served him well so far, controlling possession and utilising wing-backs that charge up and down both flanks.
The former Swansea boss has assembled a team with a good balance of youth and experience, adding plenty of bodies but never really feeling as if the club are buying players purely for the sake of it. Any newly-promoted team will be among the favourites to go straight back down, particularly if they go up through the play-offs, but if a few of the new signings pay off, Nottingham Forest could well end up surprising a few people.
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