It’s Monday Night Football for Nottingham Forest this weekend, as they welcome Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa to the City Ground hoping to end their run of five consecutive defeats.
It might be hard to believe, but the feel-good factor has returned to the City Ground. Despite a run of form which has seen them lose five in a row and currently sitting at the bottom of the Premier League, Nottingham Forest head coach Steve Cooper has been rewarded with a new contract which extends his tenure in the East Midlands until 2025. The Welshman has had a difficult start to life in the top flight, but I think most in, and around, the club all agree there is no one better to take the club forward.
Over in the West Midlands, Aston Villa have finally found their footing this season, despite the loss of numerous key players. Steven Gerrard’s side began the campaign losing four of their opening six fixtures but have now gone three games unbeaten – which includes a draw against reigning PL Champions, Manchester City. A result on Monday night could see the Villians move into the top half of the table, looking upwards rather than behind them.
WHEN AND WHERE?
Where: The City Ground, Nottingham.
When: 10th October 2022.
Time: 8:00pm (BST).
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Assistants: Gary Beswick, Adam Nunn.
Fourth official: Tony Harrington.
VAR: Jarred Gillett.
Assistant VAR: Matthew Wilkes.
Another player finds themselves sitting in Aston Villa’s treatment room ahead of Monday night’s clash. Diego Carlos, Boubacar Kamara and Lucas Digne are all sidelined through injury – but have now been joined by Ludwig Augustinsson who was pulled off at half-time against Leeds United. The visitors will be boosted by the return of Callum Chambers and former Red Matty Cash, but issues still surround who will feature on the left side of the defence. Assuming Gerrard will stick with his usual four-at-the-back formations, Cash should start on the right, Tyrone Mings will partner Ezri Konsa in the centre so Ashley Young could be the one to feature on the left-hand side, despite normally appearing on the right.
When Augustinsson was forced off against Leeds, Young switched over to the left and still put in a shift. The 37-year-old was crucial for Aston Villa going forward, creating the most chances in the game. If deployed on the left, Young’s ability to get forward could easily help overpower Nottingham Forest who are traditionally weak in midfield. We saw against Leicester City how players who can score from range are deadly against Nottingham Forest, and if Young can get forward, create a numerical advantage and play the ball into the likes of Philippe Coutinho he would cause problems for the Forest defence.
Injury news has been bizarre for Nottingham Forest. Last week, supposedly the only player who was in doubt to play was Scott McKenna. The Scottish international went on to play the full 90 minutes against Leicester whilst newly fit Moussa Niakhate wasn’t even named on the bench. This weekend, there will be less questions around who is fit for the Reds and instead who will start. Looking at expected line-ups, no one knows if Cooper will stick with a three at the back and two man midfield, or whether he will shift to a 4-3-3. Will Renan Lodi or Harry Toffolo start on the left, who will start in the centre of the backline, will Serge Aurier make his first start, who will man the midfield, will Johnson start in attack, who will start alongside him? All of these questions show the extent of the task Steve Cooper has on his hands. He has to incorporate 22 players into his squad, keep current players in the picture, find his best 11 and pick up results – it’s an impossible task for any manager.
With so much in the air around who will start in the Garibaldi on Monday, it’s hard to anticipate how the game will go. So far this season, we’ve seen a Forest side stripped of all confidence, with no defensive resilience and no plan going forward. I think this all changes on Monday night. The chains are off, Cooper has the security of a new contract and although results need to come, he has the full support of the board to take the club forward.
On Monday we’re going to see a side full of confidence, with no pressure to actually win the game backed by a crowd who are in full support of the team despite their dismal run of form. I’m not saying they’re going to win, but they are going to look to take the game to Villa, play on the front foot and show the rest of the league that they can compete. This is a fresh start for both players and manager.
Let’s not beat around the bush, Aston Villa have been poor in front of goal this season, both these sides have, but Villa have lacked consistency from the get go. Their attack is full of talent, like Coutinho, Danny Ings, Ollie Watkins, Leon Bailey, Emi Buendia and Jacob Ramsey. Not one player at Villa has managed to score multiple goals this season, which really shows you the lack of a focal point in their attack. Switching from two and three striker formations haven’t helped for consistencies but you expect players at their level to be creating and converting more opportunities.
Monday night’s clash against Nottingham Forest – should the hosts maintain their form from previous games – is a fantastic opportunity for Villa to rekindle their attacking spark. So far this season, Forest have conceded nine goals from outside the box, they often sit back and let opponents have space around the box aiming to limit them getting close to goal. Unfortunately for them, they’re in the Premier League now, where most players have the quality to pick out the bottom corner when given the time and space. Against Leicester, three goals they conceded came from outside the box when the Forest defence failed to close down any attackers. If they give Coutinho the same opportunities, they will be punished.
Nottingham Forest – Taiwo Awoniyi
If this is to be a fresh start for Nottingham Forest, then they need to quickly identify their talisman. They need someone they can rely on to get a goal against the odds, and to get them back into the game when they’re on the back foot. Taiwo Awoniyi can be that man.
He’s shown he knows how to find the back of the next this season, getting himself in the right place at the right time for both his goals this campaign. If you look back at his time in Germany, Awoniyi played far better when the ball was played through for him to run onto, and we’ve seen glimpses of that so far but they’ve always been met by a player low on confidence. Last Monday, against arguably the worst keeper in the Premier League, Awoniyi found himself through one-on-one. Danny Ward came out, leaving the Nigerian with the task of getting the ball beyond him and into the open net. Ward stuttered making the opportunity even easier but instead Awoniyi’s tame effort made for a simple save for the backup Wales shot-stopper.
All of that suggests Awoniyi is a man low on confidence, and as I said, this seems a fresh start for Nottingham Forest, and the past few games will be a distant memory. Awoniyi’s about to announce himself to the Premier League in a big way.
Aston Villa – Philippe Coutinho
I said before how if Nottingham Forest don’t adapt from their previous mistakes they will be punished time and time again. I do expect Forest to improve from their defensive mishaps that has plagued them over the last two months, but not enough to prevent a player of Coutinho’s quality from impacting the game.
We’re likely to see Coutinho lining up on the left wing, alongside Ollie Watkins. In this position, Coutinho will hold up play before playing through an attacking player or look to dance his way around defenders to get into dangerous opportunities. In what was one of the worst games Villa have had this season from an attacking perspective, Coutinho still stood out, the Brazilian had a handful of excellent opportunities he narrowly missed and was unfortunate to not get on the scoresheet in the nil-nil draw.
If he puts in a similar performance on Monday, Nottingham Forest won’t be able to cope with the quality he has. We’ve seen how poor Forest can be when defending, especially in one-on-one situations, and with Coutinho’s ability to take numerous players out of the game with intelligent movement or clever passing he could be the linchpin to move Villa forward on Monday night.
Nottingham Forest predicted lineup vs Aston Villa: Henderson, Lodi, Niakhate, McKenna, Aurier, O’Brien, Freuler, Mangala, Gibbs-White, Awoniyi, Johnson.
Aston Villa predicted lineup vs Nottingham Forest: Martinez, Young, Mings, Konsa, Cash, McGinn, Luiz, Ramsey, Coutinho, Watkins, Bailey.