It’s the start of 2023 and Nottingham Forest remain rooted in the bottom-three. Their first game of the new calendar year sees them take-on a Chelsea side struggling to adapt under new manager Graham Potter. Both sides are desperate for three points, with Chelsea falling away from the Top 4 and Forest eager to escape the relegation spots.
Prior to the Qatar World Cup, Chelsea had gone five league games without a win, amassing just two points in the process. A returning fixture against Bournemouth presented an opportunity for Potter’s side to get back to winning ways against the league’s worst defence. The Blues picked up a routine win, with two first-half goals enough to seal all three points. Still, Potter’s side remain six points off the top 4, a small gap to bridge but with a difficult run of fixtures to come they need to take advantage of a struggling Nottingham Forest.
Everything seems to be going wrong for Nottingham Forest following their return to the top flight. After splashing out on 23 new players, there were high expectations for Steve Cooper’s side to solidfy themselves in the Premier League – however, looking at any Forest game you can see how disjointed and lacklustre they actually are. The Reds found some form before the international hiatus Losing just one of their last five games before the break – that one loss coming against league leaders Arsenal. It’s getting even worse for Steve Cooper’s side who are now in the midst of an injury crisis with numerous high-profile players out on the sidelines. Things could be about to get a lot worse on the banks of the Trent.
WHEN & WHERE?
Where: the City Ground, Nottingham.
When: Sunday 1st January 2023.
Time: 16:30pm BST.
Referee: Peter Bankes.
Assistants: Eddie Smart, Nick Greenhalgh.
Fourth official: Graham Scott.
VAR: Andre Marriner.
Assistant VAR: Richard West.
I’m not sure what the official figures are, but Sunday could see the two most injury hit sides face off against each other. The hosts are without 6 key first-team players who have all been ruled out through injury. Moussa Niakhate, Giulian Biancone and Omar Richards have all been out since before the World Cup. Cheikhou Kouyate, Jesse Lingard and Morgan Gibbs-White have also all found themsleves in the treatment room in recent weeks.
Some good news coming out of the City Ground is that Omar Richards is finally nearing a return to fitness. The former Bayern man hasn’t played a single minute for Nottingham Forest after suffering from a hairline fracture shortly after his arrival.
Brazilian Gustavo Scarpa is officially a Nottingham Forest player in the new year, but due to the turnaround time he won’t be allowed to feature on Sunday afternoon. It’s likely his first taste of English football will come against Blackpool next weekend.
The list of injuries is even longer for Chelsea. Graham Potter has seven players all our injured, including star man Reece James. The English international is joined by: Ben Chilwell, Armando Broja, Edouard Mendy, N’Golo Kante, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Wesley Fofana, leaving a rather thread-bare squad to travel to Nottingham.
On the back of three consecutive defeats, Potter switched system and moved to a back four of Cucurella, Thiago Silva, Koulibaly and James. Given the success last weekend, Potter will probably stick with his 4-2-3-1 formation but will require new personnel following recent injuries. Veteran Cesar Azpilicueta will presumably take James’ spot in the starting 11, significantly lowering the pace and mobility of the Chelsea backline.
Forest would usually be licking their lips going up against such a slow backline, but with a handful of injuries Forest’s attack is likely to be without Lingard and Gibbs-White and could be forced to try a different approach. Given recent form of Azpilicueta, I think this has to be an area Forest look to exploit. Cooper often opts for a fluid and interchangeable front three that can attack from any side and that’s something he needs to use again on Sunday. Assuming Forest start with a front-three of Dennis, Awoniyi and Johnson, they will have the talent to compete against the Chelsea backline – but it’s the pace of Johnson that they really need to take advantage of.
Looking at their recent encounter against Bournemouth, Chelsea are going to dominate the game and when they do their back four will shift forward. In the absence of James, Azpilicueta will sit deep with Koulibaly and Silva to make more of a back three when in possession whilst Cucurella will drift centrally and join the attack. This transition will leave Chelsea open for the pace of Forest’s attack, should they lose possession in the opposing half. If Forest are able to counter against Chelsea, the pace of Johnson on the right will be crucial in getting his team forward, as we saw in the recent viuctory over Blackburn.
Chelsea probably have the most scrutinised attack in the league by this point. Havertz, Sterling, Mount, and Aubameyang all receive their fair share of criticism, and rightly so, but this does look like an attack that is slowly coming together. Currently, Chelsea have been outscored by every other side in the top 10, with their 19 goals scored being one of the lowest in the league. All attacking players are starting to chip in with goal contributions. Going up against an incredibly poor Forest defence, you wouldn’t write them an offer adding more to their tallies on Sunday afternoon.
Nottingham Forest: Brennan Johnson
Johnson was slandered for his performance against Manchester United, and I mean slandered. The 21-year-old has really struggled to adjust to life in the Premier League and has bene hounded by fans because of it. He was poor against the Red Devils, but his performance against Blackburn was superb – albeit against Championship opponents – I expect similar performances to come soon. Will he guide Forest to three points on Sunday? Probably not, but his pace and ability to get forward will be crucial in getting Forest forward. They need to utilise the Welshman’s talents effectively if they want to get anything from Potter’s side.
Chelsea – Kai Havertz
Chelsea’s disjointed attack has underwhelmed so far this season, and I think that’s largely down to lacking a clear focal point. Watching Chelsea this season they’ve rotated personal and positions and have had no clear striker up top, until recently. Havertz is slowly becoming a key man in this Chelsea attack and I believe he’s the figurehead to lead them forward. With Sterling, Mount and Pulisic all creating around him, Havertz will get opportunities to score, it’s just up to him to take them. It’s well known that Chelsea are again in the market for another forward, it’s time for Havertz to step up and prove he doesn’t need a replacement but a supporting cast.
Nottingham Forest lineup vs Chelsea: Henderson, Williams, Mckenna, Worrall, Aurier, Mangala, Freuler, Yates, Dennis, Awoniyi, Johnson.
Chelsea lineup vs Nottingham Forest: Kepa, Cucurella, Silva, Koulibaly, Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Zakaria, Pulisic, Mount, Sterling, Havertz.