Nottingham Forest must be one of the league’s most in-form sides by this point. The Reds have been a revelation since the start of November, dragging themselves from the foot of the table to the security of mid-table. The same can’t be said for AFC Bournemouth, who have freefallen down the table over recent weeks, losing four consecutive league fixtures without finding the back of the net.
Earlier this season, when the two sides last met, Bournemouth where enjoying something of a new manager bounce – as they went on a six game unbeaten streak, including a 3-2 win at The City Ground. Gary O’Neil’s side has struggled for consistency since however, losing eight of their nine league fixtures since their streak came to an end.
In his first job in management, O’Neil is certainly struggling to keep his head above water as he continues to look out of depth on the South Coast. The 39-year-old has failed to give his side much identity and is still clueless as to who his starting-XI is, constantly chopping and changing formations and personnel. With Bournemouth lingering one-point above the bottom-three, O’Neil needs to find results otherwise he could soon be out the door at the Vitality stadium.
The decision to part with Scott Parker was obviously the wrong one, and now the Cherries are rueing their mistakes. Looking at the trajectory of Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth will be kicking themselves seeing what could happen when the manager has the full support of the board and the fans. Forest have gone from strength, to strength under Cooper who has guided them to 13th after an impressive run of form. After eight games, Cooper looked down and out in Nottingham, but following the news of his extended contract the Welshman has turned his form around and stormed up the Premier League losing just three league fixtures since putting pen to paper. Another three-points on Saturday could see Forest within five points of the top 10, just 17-days after Forest moved out of the bottom three.
WHEN & WHERE?
Where: The Vitality, Bournemouth.
When: Saturday 21st January, 2023.
Time: 15:00 BST.
Referee: Andy Madley.
Assistants: Harry Lennard, Nick Hopton.
Fourth official: Robert Jones.
VAR: Paul Tierney.
Assistant VAR: Mark Scholes.
Things on the pitch have improved drastically for Nottingham Forest, but off the pitch? Off the pitch they just keep on getting worse. Forest now have nine key first-team players out injured, with Manchester United loanee Dean Henderson side-lined for at least four-weeks. With Henderson out of action, Cooper will be looking towards Wayne Hennessey for some security between the sticks, but all eyes will be on the transfer market as the Reds search for an immediate replacement for the England international.
It goes from bad to worse for Forest as Taiwo Awoniyi’s absence has been extended, with fears the Nigerian could miss the next couple of months with an injury. Forest’s fluid front three has recovered well from Awoniyi’s injury, with new signing Gustavo Scarpa slotting perfectly alongside Brennan Johnson and Morgan Gibbs-White in a flexible front three.
With the danger of falling into the bottom-three this weekend, Bournemouth aren’t helped by their growing injury list. Dominic Solanke, Lewis Cook and Marcus Tavernier are all doubts with this weekend, with the former sidelined for a couple of weeks with a knee injury. O’Neil will likely stick with his 4-4-2 formation, moving Phillip Billing into a more advanced role to partner Keiffer Moore in Solanke’s absence.
Looking back at recent results, it’s hard to see where the points are going to come from for Bournemouth. They’ve had an incredibly tough run of games, where they’ve seemingly given up in each of them. It took some excellent defending from Ivan Toney to prevent them from finding the back of the net against Brentford, but other than that they’ve struggled to create anything going forward.
Dealing with frequent injuries and poor runs of form, O’Neil has frequently switched between a front two of Solanke and Moore, and Billing and Moore, lacking any real consistency in the attacking department. Bournemouth are often at their best with Solanke and Moore in the front two, with Billing and Tavernier in midfield to create chances for them – with Solanke and Tavernier both potentially out of Saturday’s encounter it could be difficult for the Cherries to get forward.
Billing, however, is still a fantastic playmaker and could make the difference on Saturday afternoon. In their last win against Everton he took advantage of a switched-off Everton defence to keep an attack alive which eventually ended in Moore finding the back of the net. Forest are a side that can be caught lacking concentration, we’ve seen it with the quick-fire goals they concede, but also with the poor chances they give away. Against Chelsea a lapse in concentration allowed Raheem Sterling to score, and they switched off for two excellent Leicester chances – which fortunately weren’t converted. This looks like an area Bournemouth need to exploit, using the likes of Jaidon Anthony and Billing to get dangerous balls into the area where Keiffer Moore can capitalise on any high balls or defensive mistakes.
There is a stark contrast between the Forest side we saw in the reverse fixture, and the one we will see this weekend. The Reds have found the team spirit and mentality that propelled them up the Championship last season, and it’s what’s helping them fly up the Premier League this time around. It’s taken time to adjust to each other but the new signings have embedded in well and now all play on the same wavelength.
Cooper’s side will look to play out from the back at speed, quickly moving the ball forward to a creative outlet like Morgan Gibbs-White. The pace at which Forest can counter at is devastating for opposing defenders and it’s where a lot of their chances come from. Both goals against Leicester came from Gibbs-White playing through Johnson who ran straight through the Leicester backline. Bournemouth tend to be slow at the back, they don’t react quickly to loose balls and they struggle at stopping players from getting in-behind. Because of this O’Neil could move to a three at the back for added protection against a Forest counter, but I suspect he will continue to persevere with his 4-2-2.
Bournemouth – Phillip Billing
Bournemouth need goals. It’s been over two months since they last got on the score sheet in the Premier League and they will need to soon if they want any chance of staying up. With Solanke out, the pressure will be on Moore to find the back of the net – which he is more then capable of doing – but he needs the support of those around him. Billing is that player. He can often create something out of nothing, with a great eye for a pass and the ability to get the ball forward. Playing in a front two, he will be able to create chances for Moore and hopefully take advantage of Forest should they switch off. Failing that, Billing is a goal threat himself. His four goals this season is joint with Moore for the most in the Bournemouth squad, including one stunning strike against Forest in October.
Nottingham Forest – Brennan Johnson
He’s taken his time to adjust, but Brennan Johnson has finally arrived in the Premier League. The Welsh international has been excellent since returning from Qatar, bagging a brace against Blackburn in the cup, an assist against Southampton and another two goals against Leicester last weekend. He is thriving in this fluid Forest attack, and with his connection with Morgan Gibbs-White improving every week it’s hard to write either of them off from having a good game. Bournemouth defences will play exactly to Johnson’s strengths, and with the Cherries likely to play on the front foot for three points, his pace on the counter could be too much to handle.
Bournemouth lineup vs Nottingham Forest: Neto, Zemura Sensi, Mepham, Smith, Anthony, Lerma, Cook, Christie, Billing, Moore.
Nottingham Forest lineup vs Bournemouth: Hennessey, Lodi, McKenna, Worrall, Aurier, Mangala, Danilo, Yates, Scarpa, Gibbs-White, Johnson.