With a successful pre-season done a dusted, now all we can do is sit anxiously speculating about what Marinakis, Warburton, and his players will deliver for the campaign ahead. With it being a matter of days until the new season kicks off, Impact’s resident Forest fans Nick and Tom have pitched their preferred line-ups for the home tie against newly-promoted Millwall. Both make surprising omissions, discuss how the squad could be improved to fit their ideal set-up, and pick out the key men who they believe will make a big impression on Forest’s immediate future.
Nick: For me this is a no brainer, Jordan Smith has to start in goal. With Henderson still out injured, Stojkovic heading for the door and Evtimov still heavily inexperienced, Smith will surely start in goal come Friday evening. He is far from the finished product but his performances last season against Derby County and Ipswich Town show that Smith is an outstanding shot stopper and growing in confidence with every game he plays.
Tom: The goalkeeper is by far the easiest position to fill in Forest’s opening day lineup. With Stephen Henderson suffering an injury; Vladimir Stojkovic out in the wilderness, and Dimi Evtimov proving a less successful product of the academy, Jordan Smith faces little competition between the sticks. He is a top-drawer shot stopper for this league, and his heroics last season rightly earned him a lot of love after a campaign of depressing defensive displays. The youngster is not without his drawbacks, however, and it seems as though the contrast that Smith showed to the performances of Stojkovic has perhaps covered up some of issues that might arise in the coming season.
Mark Warburton is asking him to play with his feet a lot, and his distribution has invited much unnecessary pressure. The Girona friendly suggested that he’s still not improved a whole lot in this regard. That said, he is more than capable of seeing through a solid Championship season, and at 22, has time to further impress and cement his place in the team.
Nick: Tendayi Darikwa is relatively unknown to most Forest fans, but given his experience at Burnley and his positional diversity I feel he could be an ideal right back for this season. Darikwa played very well against his previous club in the last pre-season friendly, and due to his versatility he is able to play anywhere on the right-hand side of the pitch. He possesses the ability to get forward and attack but also is a trusted and renowned defender. This will provide flexibility to Warburton when determining Forest’s tactics.
MAKE IT TWO!! And it's Eric Lichaj taking a page out of @ssinovic's book with a body slide near the corner flag! ?
— Sporting Kansas City (@SportingKC) July 20, 2017
Tom: The right-back position is a little less clear-cut. Forest now have two good options there, in Eric Lichaj and Tendayi Darikwa. Lichaj will presumably be worn-out after his pre-season exploits with the US national team, so Darikwa is likely to have free-reign in that position before Lichaj gets back up to speed. After that point however, we’re in for an exciting bit of competition between two decent options, which should run throughout the season.
Nick: In terms of the centre-back partnership, I have to go with Joe Worrall and Jack Hobbs. Joe Worrall really stepped up last season when Philippe Montanier promoted him from the academy for the match against Reading in late October. Worrall has showed both composure, calmness and leadership in his first season with the senior squad. The young centre-back also won silverware this Summer, winning the Toulon Tournament with the England U21s. Warburton already said he wants to build a team with both youth and experience. Picking Worrall will only strengthen his side.
Jack Hobbs is my man to partner Joe Worrall at the back. If Hobbs can stay fit, we know he possesses bags of quality and would provide both experience and skill to the Forest rear-guard. He is a towering and physical defender who will be key in warding off any potential aerial threats from oppositions – and he also possesses the instinct to score a couple of goals at the other end of the pitch, when given the chance.
Tom: For me, this particular pairing is a fairly simple choice. It is purely based on the quality and consistency that Forest’s options have shown during their time at the club, and Joe Worrall and Michael Mancienne are the stand-out performers. There are no new signings to contend with, but that is not too much of a problem, since Mancienne is up there with the best in the league, whilst Worrall is an incredibly impressive and matured young academy product. Jack Hobbs, if he stays fit, will step in comfortably to the side should either of these two miss a match – along with Danny Fox, who has transformed his reputation since moving from the left to the centre.
Nick: Honestly, this is a position that Forest really do struggle with in terms of depth and quality. Mark Warburton released Dani Pinillos this summer yet has not added a sufficient replacement. I like Armand Traore but I do not think he is good enough to be the starting left-back, due to his repetitively inconsistent form. Therefore, I have gone with last season’s player of the year, Eric Lichaj. Lichaj is a right back by trade, but he is more than capable of playing on the left-hand side. He is a solid defender who is not afraid of getting forward and thus he is my choice for the left back slot due to Forest’s current lack of natural competitive left-backs.
Tom: Armand Traore will have little trouble keeping his place this season if Forest don’t sign an out-and-out left back; and the Senegalese carries on his efforts from the end of last season, of course. The surprising departure of Dani Pinillos and the lack of new signings in this position is perhaps not much of a cause for concern as first thought, however. Whilst I desperately hope it’s a rarity, Danny Fox could play there if needed – but a better set-up in Traore’s absence might be a wing-back system, where Ben Osborn could step in on the left-hand side.
Nick: In my trio of central midfielders I have to go with perhaps not the best three options at Forest’s disposal – but instead the three who would complement each other the best and act as the spine for the team. My opinion is that Mark Warburton should look at David Vaughan, Ben Osborn and Zach Clough.
David Vaughan is an experienced CDM and would provide the cover and maturity to allow Osborn and Clough to push on further up the pitch. Vaughan hardly ever puts in a mistimed tackle and is a rock when called into his defensive duties. He also possesses the ability to pick a pass to unlock a defence and has great vision; which is exactly what Warburton is looking for in his Forest side.
Many supporters called for Osborn to be used out wide last season and grew frustrated as the youngster was deployed in the centre of Forest’s sides last season. I for one was among them. However, due to the arrival of Barrie McKay I feel that we are better off playing him in a central role instead of him keeping out a quality wide midfielder such as Mckay from the team. Osborn boasts a great hunger for winning the ball back and pressing. This, with his ability to unleash a blinder and take on defenders is just a few reasons why I would have him playing in the centre this season.
Zach Clough is another gem in the Forest side and is wasted when used out wide. His ability to dribble and win the ball back is why I have picked him at centre midfield. The cover of Vaughan behind will allow Clough and Osborn to press and overload the opposition’s defence. Just look back to his delightful goal against Derby at the City Ground to see how Clough does this.
Tom: At the start of the transfer window, the position that Forest most desperately needed to recruit in was the centre of the park. That has been the case since Henri Lansbury left, in fact. Since his departure, Forest have lacked a dynamic centre-midfielder that is competent both in defending and going forward. Ben Osborn and Andreas Bouchalakis might tick these boxes, but along with Vaughan and Cohen – all would be better on the left of a midfield pairing. Despite speculation over Kevin McDonald, Jackson Irvine, and Gary Gardner, a signing has not been made in time for the Millwall game.
Thus, Forest will have to make do for the time being, and the best pairing here would be the very competent options of David Vaughan and Ben Osborn. Vaughan never ceases in his consistency in cutting up attacks and keeping possession, whilst Osborn offers this plus a lot more going forward – a trait that has seen him moved to the wings in recent seasons to compensate for lack of options there. Still the most consistent performer out there, he also showed that one day he must be allowed to move back to his natural place in the middle of the park.
Nick: I’ll never understand why Jamie Ward was loaned out to Burton Albion but in truth no one understood many of Philippe Montanier’s decisions. Ward is a huge asset to any team, given his pace, drive and ability to finish when given the chances. He is another player who hounds opposing players and never lacks in the crossing category. LM has to be Jamie Ward. He is also highly versatile; being able to play on the right if needed and thus giving Mark Warburton another tactical edge, if he picks him.
Tom: Even after a brief look at him in pre-season, I’m convinced Barrie McKay is going to be a standout performer. He essentially stole the win from Girona in the friendly, creating the chances that led to Vellios’ double. But the way he did this, skipping past players with ease, coupled with that sublime pass he made for Daryl Murphy’s goal against Burnley, makes me think this guy is a real coup, especially at just 500k. Warburton might find that his best position is a more central attacking midfield role, but for the opening day I think we’ll see him in his traditional role, hopefully making a big first impression in England.
Nick: I really did struggle to choose who should be played at RM. On the one hand, Mustapha Carayol was in fine form at the end of last season, but overall his first season on Trentside was underwhelming. I would give this spot to new signing to Barrie McKay, due to his explosiveness on the ball and movement off the ball. McKay also has a decent goal record whilst playing at Rangers and this is something I think Carayol lacks. McKay changed the game when he came on against Girona in the recent preseason friendly and is definitely one to watch.
Tom: Mustapha Carayol clearly had it in him even when it was all going wrong last season. For me, he had evident ability to beat a man, but was being deployed badly by Philippe Montanier. His confidence subsequently suffered and we didn’t get to see him set the attack alight until Warburton came in and put him back on track. If his injury is still hampering him, then Jamie Ward should start for the opening game. If he is available, though, Carayol represents an edge that all teams should look to have – an option to get past a defence and load the box with crosses without having to painstakingly pass around and break down the back line.
Nick: In a 4-5-1 formation, Forest will need a strong target man who is able to hold up play and have the ability to turn a defender to then drive at the heart of the opposition’s defence. I’d have to go with Ben Brereton up top due to his raw ability, desire and work rate. His performances for Nottingham Forest U23s last season showed the young man is a clinical finisher and this was only enhanced when he made his breakthrough to the first team at the end of last season. Brereton’s sheer size will also allow him to hold the ball up and bring into play both Ben Osborn and Zach Clough.
Tom: I’ve always preferred a lone striker, which probably puts me in the minority. For me though, it’s much better to have an extra man in a midfield that can create for one good striker. The wait continues before we see that all important centre-midfield man to come in though. If Forest could get a Lansbury or McDonald type again, then I would like to see them partner Osborn at CM – perhaps then with Vaughan or Clough. For now though, the best option is to deploy two frontmen.
Ben Brereton definitely warrants a place, being a phenomenal youngster. I would also like to see Apostolos Vellios given the nod, for the first game at least. He did well with limited starts and substitute appearances last season, and has of course been on fire in pre-season. Whilst I suspect the quality and all round game of Daryl Murphy will eventually see him claim the position, Vellios’ record and slight mistreatment should see him take the final place in the line-up.
Nick Kaba and Tom Monks