After a nearly two-week hiatus, the Premier League returns this Friday night as last-seasons Championship champions, Fulham, take on play-off winners Nottingham Forest.
There has been a big contrast in fortunes between two of the newly promoted sides, Fulham have had an excellent start to life in the top-flight – sitting 10th in the league thanks to some superb performances from Aleksandar Mitrovic. Their Friday night opposition were predicted to follow similar form, but instead, they find themselves second bottom in the Premier League having lost three consecutive fixtures.
Marco Silva’s excellent Fulham side have impressed following their return to the Premier League. They’ve beaten Brighton and Brentford – who have proven to be tough opposition for many teams this season- they were unfortunate not to beat Liverpool and they narrowly fell to defeat away at Arsenal and Tottenham. At the start of the season, many predicted the Cottagers to struggle in their new division, but they’ve been full of surprises so far – Mitrovic has continued his record-breaking form and is currently one of the form players in the division, at 34-years-old Tim Ream has adjusted well to the physicality of the Premier League and both Joao Palhinha and Andreas Pereira have hit the ground run in Fulham’s midfield.
Similar to Fulham, Forest haven’t yet met their pre-season expectations – but this time for all the wrong reasons. Having made 22 new signings, the Reds were dark horses for a midtable finish but with injuries and inconsistent performances plaguing the side they currently reside in the bottom. After a positive start to the season, back-to-back defeats didn’t detour Steve Cooper’s side going into their encounter against managerless Bournemouth. Forest blew a two-goal lead and ended up losing three-two, in a result which left everyone wondering whether they’re capable of even surviving in the top-flight.
Friday night presents an opportunity for Forest to get their season back on track and pick up hopefully pick-up their second win of the campaign, but Fulham aren’t pushovers and this could prove to be one of Forest’s more difficult encounters so far.
WHEN AND WHERE?
Where: The City Ground, Nottingham.
When: Friday 16th September 2022, 20:00pm (BST).
Referee: Jarred Gillett.
Assistants: Simon Long, Richard West.
Fourth official: Peter Bankes.
VAR: Michael Salisbury.
Assistant VAR: Derek Eaton.
The two-week break might have meant we had to endure a weekend with no British football, but it also gave the injured players at Nottingham Forest the chance to return to full fitness. Both Orel Mangala and Moussa Niakhate are likely to be back in action this weekend – but Omar Richards remains side-lined. It will be interesting to see which team Steve Cooper goes for this weekend, after their dreadful defeat against Bournemouth you’ll expect a lot of change to the side but early team news suggests there won’t be a lot of change – with Joe Worrall, Cheikou Kouyate, Brennan Johnson and others expected to reclaim their place in the starting 11.
Harry Wilson continues to be ruled out for Fulham. He’s joined by defender Antonee Robinson and forward Manor Soloman who are both out with long-term injuries. Swiss international Kevin Mbabu will take Robinson’s place in the starting side – in what should be the only change Marco Silva makes after his sides defeat against Tottenham nearly two weeks ago.
Fulham are excelling under Marco Silva, and they have been since the Portuguese’s arrival at the beginning of last season. The Cottagers stormed to the top of the Championship and are now seeing a similar trajectory back in the Premier League. One of the more underrated coaches in the league, Silva has set his side-up with an attacking mentality, with the likes of Pereira, Neeskens Kebano, Bobby Reid and of course, Mitrovic capable of punishing any top defence.
The visitors will look to remain sturdy at the back and win back possession, before playing the ball into the feet of one of their pacey wingers who will try and cross the ball into the dangerous Mitrovic time and time again. Kebano and Reid have both proven a handful already this season and if they pick up the ball in space they have the ability to easily drive forward and accurately get the ball into the box. Forest’s back five will have to be up to the task of limiting any wide threats which could see Worrall and McKenna both drift further wide to close down the wings.
With the fluidity and attacking threat of Mitrovic, it won’t be enough just to limit the amount of balls that are played into him. The Serbian has proven to be more than just a poacher and his all-around game has improved since his last stint in the top-flight. Forest will have their work cut out if they are to contain him and will likely have to keep one man on him at all times just to keep him quiet.
Friday almost seems like a now-or-never moment for Steve Cooper’s side. We’re only six games into the season, but after the collapse against AFC Bournemouth fans are desperate for some excitement and for some more points on the board. Cooper’s job is more than safe, but with £150m spent this summer if results don’t come soon, fans will soon lose hope of the campaign they dreamed of.
If Cooper has shown us anything, it’s that this team won’t lie down or rollover. Fulham can expect a tough challenge at the City Ground on Friday, against a side who are determined to turn their poor run of form around. The Reds will look to dominate the game, keep Fulham penned in and push players forward to overload the defence – they will do all they can to make sure Silva’s side don’t have an easy night on the banks of the Trent.
It’s clear that Cooper still doesn’t know who his best side is and who he can trust off the bench. Kouyate, Mangala, Lewis O’Brien, Ryan Yates and Remo Freuler, Jack Colback and Cafu have all had stints in midfield already, and his attacking options are rotated just as much. With so many new signings Cooper has to bite the bullet and throw some of his new signings in the deep end.
It’s getting hard to predict who’s going to be the key man for Nottingham Forest. Cooper’s side have been on a poor run of form and could easily chop and change this weekend, making it tough to know who might stand out for the hosts. One player who has impressed since his arrival is Morgan Gibbs-White. The former Wolves man has looked better week-on-week and looks like he will return dividends soon enough. Whether he plays in a front two, or as a 10 beneath the striker he has the ability to link-up play and cause problems for the opposition.
Gibbs-White has been unfortunate not to have found the back of the net yet, having already had a handful of good chances, but the 22-year-old has already registered an assist and I expect more to come this Friday night. It’s yet to be seen who he will be playing alongside – I for one would like to see him playing behind Emmanuel Dennis and Taiwo Awoniyi, allowing Forest to offer a different attacking threat to previous weeks. Whichever way he features on Friday, he’s the one to keep your eye on.
Who else was it going to be? Mitrovic has been electric so far this season and has shown no signs of slowing down. The Serbian already has six goals to his name, which puts him second in the league scoring charts – not a bad start for somebody deemed not good enough for the Premier League.
At the age of 27, Mitrovic seems to keep getting better and better, and is quickly establishing himself as one of the best finishers in England. A lot of Fulham’s chances have come from crossing the ball in out-wide, but Mitrovic has shown he’s more than just a poacher who can get on the end of a cross. His goal and overall movement against Tottenham two-weeks ago, show how dangerous he can be – the Forest backline will have their work-cut out containing him, let along shutting down the options around him. Given Forest’s record, conceding 11 goals in their last three league games, Mitrovic has a fantastic opportunity to add to his record this weekend.
Nottingham Forest predicted lineup vs Fulham: Henderson, McKenna, Boly, Worrall, Lodi, O’Brien, Mangala, Williams, Gibbs-White, Lingard, Dennis.
Fulham predicted lineup vs Nottingham Forest: Leno, Mbabu, Ream, Adarabioyo, Tete, Palhinha, Reed, Kabano, Pereira, Reid, Mitrovic.