Back in-form and back on top. An emphatic victory away at Arsenal has seen Manchester City move atop of the Premier League for the first time this season, can they extend their stay in pole position with another three points at injury-ridden Nottingham Forest?
It’s been an unusual season for Manchester City, despite still being at the top of the Premier League. Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal seem to have really gotten under Pep Guardiola’s skin, with the Spaniard actively calling out players for not having a winning mentality, switching to a dysfunctional three-at-the-back and rotating his side like we haven’t seen before. It’s easy to forgot that Man City still have the best squad in the world, which is why despite their ‘mid-life crisis’ they have still found a way to claw themselves into first position.
The next team standing in the way of Pep claiming a third consecutive league title is Nottingham Forest, a team so battered and bruised by injuries it’s a miracle they’re still sitting outside the bottom three. At the start of the season, opposing fans laughed and mocked Forest’s lucrative spending, with over 20-new arrivals in the Summer alone. Now, however, sitting 14th in the league it looks like Steve Cooper and Nottingham Forest are having the last laugh. With the Winter window now long closed, Forest are in the midst of another injury crisis, and are looking threadbare in defence as they welcome to reigning Champions to the City Ground this weekend. Joe Worrall and new-signing Felipe will have their work cut out for them over the coming weeks – are the pair strong enough to keep Forest away from the relegation zone?
When & Where?
Where: City Ground, Nottingham.
When: Saturday 18th February 2023.
Time: 15:00 BST.
Referee: Graham Scott.
Assistants: Matthew Wilkes, Derek Eaton.
Fourth official: Josh Smith.
VAR: Peter Bankes.
Assistant VAR: Sian Massey-Ellis.
Where to begin with the list of Nottingham Forest injuries? Nine players now find themsleves in the treatment room, after Scott Mckenna and Willy Boly both came off injured early into the game against Fulham – with the latter facing 3-months out of action. Those two injuries leave Forest incredibly short in defence, with just Worrall and Felipe as the registered centre-halves in the 25-man squad. There are reports Steve Cook could be reintroduced should the Premier League accept Forest’s request – otherwise, it could be a long couple of weeks. Some good news is still coming out of the City Ground however, with Moussa Niakhate and Omar Richards both nearing a return from long-term injuries. Taiwo Awoniyi could also be back soon, although he’s expected to be about for a couple more weeks.
The visitors have a nearly fully-fit squad to help their championship charge, with only John Stones out of action. The English centre-back is struggling with a hamstring injury that will keep him sidelined until next month at the earliest.
If you had asked me two weeks ago who I thought was going to win the title, without hesitation I would have said Arsenal. Now though, after facing off against Manchester City midweek it seems impossible to call after City expertly dispatched the Gunners in a rather convincing fashion. Man City haven’t been at their best this season, far from it in fact, and yet they always find a way to win when they need to. Pep has continued to show why he’s the best manager in World football and has adapted his side well over the season, which he showed perfectly by switching from three to four at the back to contain Arsenal’s lethal front three.
Forest at home had been an incredibly tough place for sides to visit this season – far more so than most would have expected. The Reds have only been beaten on home soil three times, winning five of their 11 fixtures at the City Ground. This largely has to be attributed to the cauldron like atmosphere the fans create, but playing on the largest pitch in the league also atones itself well to their fluid and quick counter style of play.
Having watched all of Forest’s home encounters this season, it’s obvious that they won’t be fazed by their opponents and will stand their ground this weekend. Man City present a different challenge though, and with Cooper having to play a weakened side due to the number of injuries they’ve accumulated, they could really struggle against a momentum filled Manchester City.
Nottingham Forest are likely to give City the freedom of the pitch, limit the spaces around their own box and wait for the opportunity to counter – which they do incredibly well. Unfortunately for the Reds, their opponents are lethal. Giving them time on the ball will leave them with enough time to unlock the Forest defence and if they get any chances, expect them to convert them. Against Arsenal in mid-week, Man City were slow and looked disjointed going forward but each time a chance came their way they near punished the Arsenal defence. Things could get messy unless Forest’s back four can step up.
Nottingham Forest – Felipe
In just his second game, I’m singling out Felipe to be Forest’s key man against the reigning champions. Last time they played Manchester City, the Forest backline was made to look Championship quality and there is the fear there could be a repeat of that this weekend. With the introduction of Felipe – and the new shot-stopper behind him – Forest two defensive players with experience playing at the highest level. His leadership and experience will be crucial in keeping Man City at bay on Saturday. If the Reds have a solid defensive performance, Felipe will be right at the heart of it.
Manchester City – Jack Grealish
£100m flop I heard. Jack Grealish is really starting to prove the doubters wrong. He might not have the goals and assists you’ll expect from a triple-digit signing, but my word has he grown into the City system. He looked a constant threat against Arsenal on Wednesday night and finished perfectly past Ramsdale to give his side the lead. At 27 he’s still got time to live-up to his price tag, and if he continues this form he’ll no doubt exceed it. He’s key to this City side and his importance is growing every week, the best of him is yet to come.
Nottingham Forest predicted lineup vs Manchester City: Navas, Lodi, Felipe, Worrall, Aurier, Mangala, Shelvey, Freuler, Gibbs-White, Ayew, Johnson.
Manchester City predicted lineup vs Nottingham Forest: Ederson, Ake, Akanji, Dias, Walker, Gundogan, Rodri, Grealish, De Bruyne, Silva, Haaland.