Nottingham Forest travel to Old Trafford to face Manchester United on the third matchday of the Premier League. The two teams have had surprisingly contrasting starts to the season.
Nottingham Forest have surpassed expectation, going toe-to-toe with Arsenal in a valiant 1-2 defeat. They followed it up with a convincing victory by the same score-line against Sheffield United.
On the other hand, United look one loss away from full-blown panic mode already. They were let off by Wolves in a 1-0 win but their performance merited a loss, and a convincing one at that. Tottenham then confirmed all suspicions about United’s below-par performances by winning 2-0 against Erik ten Hag’s men.
Here’s the match preview and what can be expected from this game –
WHEN & WHERE?
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester.
When: Saturday, 26th August 2023.
Time: 3 PM BST
Referee: Stuart Attwell.
Assistants: Constantine Hatzidakis & Harry Leonard.
Fourth official: Michael Salisbury.
VAR: Robert Jones.
Assistant VAR: Stuart Burt.
Manchester United received a blow recently when it was announced that Mason Mount has sustained an injury which will keep him out till the international break, causing him to miss this game and the next against Arsenal.
Regardless of his performances so far, Mount is clearly a player who is completely trusted by Erik ten Hag so his absence will be felt keenly.
There have been murmurs around Rasmus Hojlund potentially making the bench for this game but it’s unlikely. Hojlund figures to be an important part of the United squad in the immediate future and long term as well. Risking his health by rushing him back is hardly the ideal thing to do.
Besides these two, long-term absentees in Tom Heaton, Kobbie Mainoo, Tyrell Malacia, and Amad remain.
For Nottingham Forest, there are no new injury concerns. A September return is mooted for Omar Richards, Felipe, and Wayne Hennessey while Harry Toffolo made the bench against Sheffield United on his injury return and another appearance off the bench can be expected here.
This game will be won on the wings. Steve Cooper’s side plays with three defenders at the back, and their wing-backs, generally Aurier and Williams, are expected to bomb up and down the flanks endlessly. Brennan Johnson and Morgan Gibbs-White support them ably by tracking back at every opportunity.
This affords them the flexibility to outnumber the opposition midfield when Aurier and Williams come forward, Mangala and Danilo sit in the middle, and Johnson and Gibbs-White create overloads.
On paper, that is a tactical nightmare for United. In the two games so far, their wingers have been the weak point in attack. There’s joy to be had if Antony and Alejandro Garnacho can find space behind the wing-backs but they will need to wake up from their current stupor.
They will need to be at their absolute best otherwise Marcus Rashford as the striker, facing three centre-back on his own up top, is a recipe for disaster.
United will confident that they can handle the attacking threat of Forest, as they cover both pace and strength in their current back four, but scoring goals has been an issue and barring their attackers waking up from their patch of bad form, will continue to be, especially against a match-up as tactically bad as Nottingham Forest are.
Attackers at United need to get back in form, but the midfield which looks empty every time the opponent transitions is a big worry as well. Part of the reason why that is happening is because Mason Mount and Bruno Fernandes are getting used to a new setup where they are the “free 8s” in a 4-3-3.
However, a big reason for the shaky setup is also the bad form of Casemiro. At his best, he is a one-man defensive wall who can also contribute with the occasional progressive pass while being a threat from set pieces.
Right now, he looks off the pace. Be it lunging into ill-advised tackles, leaving his team a man short in defence, or missing interceptions, his bread and butter, United need the A+ version of the Brazilian back ASAP to make this midfield work.
As said earlier, Forest will overload their midfield so calmness in possession, defensive nous, and positional discipline will be crucial to counter it. If Casemiro finds form, United boss this game, if not, another upset could be on the cards.
Can a goalkeeper be the “key player” of a team? Ask David de Gea during United’s 2017-8 season. Matt Turner is likely to be the key player for Forest only against United, due to an interesting transfer wrinkly which will cause his performance in this one to be under the microscope.
Forest wanted United’s Dean Henderson, but a deal could not be agreed. Arsenal’s Turner was the backup option and he is the firm first-choice between the posts now at Forest.
He has been as good as advertised. Cooper’s men don’t really build the ball from the back so his contributions there are minimal. However, his kicking to Taiwo Awoniyi will be crucial, especially if they want him to make Lisandro Martinez uncomfortable.
In defence, shot-stopping is the bread and butter of any goalkeeper and Turner will back himself to stand tall, especially because United attack seem to have lost their shooting boots.
One area where he will need to be agile is command of his area. In Mount’s absence, Christian Eriksen will be back and he is a bigger threat from set-piece delivery than any other United player. Casemiro in the box is always a menace, and Raphael Varane will also fancy his chances.
Turner will likely face a lot of shots from a United squad eager to put things right after back-to-back dismal displays. If he rises to the challenge, he’ll answer every Dean Henderson-related question emphatically.
Man United predicted starting lineup: Onana; Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Martinez, Shaw; Casemiro, Eriksen; Antony, Fernandes, Sancho; Rashford.
Nottingham Forest predicted starting lineup: Turner; Boly, Worrall, Mckenna, Aurier; Danilo, Mangala, Williams; Johnson, Gibbs-White, Awoniyi