Is this the first relegation six-pointer for these two sides? Nottingham Forest face Wolverhampton Wanderers at the City Ground on Saturday, with both sides needing a win to move away from the bottom three.
With the end of the Premier League season just 11-games away, were entering dangerous territory for both these clubs, who can’t seem to escape from a relegation battle. Nottingham Forest looked like a different team in January and February, picking up points from all areas of the table as they looked to move away from the bottom three. However, injuries and poor performances have dragged the squad back down and defeat against Leeds could see them wind up in the bottom three.
Wolves are better positioned to fight off relegation than most sides in the bottom half. Julen Lopetegui has steered his side way clear of the bottom three, guiding them up to 13th in the table. The West Midlands side have had a tough run recently, which is reflected in their poor form since mid-February. Last time out, a home game against Leeds was a fantastic opportunity to recapitulate that winning feeling but instead Lopetegui’s side ended up on the wrong end of a 4-2 score line. The former Real Madrid manager will be looking to turn their form around this weekend against their relegation rivals.
WHEN & WHERE?
Where: The City Ground
When: Saturday 1st April 2023
Time: 15:00 (GMT)
Referee: Chris Kavanagh.
Assistants: Simon Bennett, Dan Robathan.
Fourth official: Matt Donohue.
VAR: Neil Swarbrick.
Assistant VAR: Timothy Wood.
Chris Wood is the latest man to be ruled out for Nottingham Forest. The January signing is now out for the remainder of the season, just weeks after triggering his permanent move to the City Ground. The New Zealand international has struggled so far in his new colours, and other than his late equaliser against Manchester City has looked out of place in what is usually a fast-paced attack. The Reds will be boosted by the return of a number of first-team players, including first-choice striker Taiwo Awoniyi who is fit for selection again since his injury in early January.
Some good news for Wolves’ fan’s is that Matheus Nunes’ red card has been rescinded and the 24-year-old will be available for selection this weekend. Wolves still remain without a number of first-team players, but none who should give Lopetegui too much of a headache, with most of his key players raring to go as we begin to close out the season.
Nottingham Forest’s atrocious home form looks like it might have creeped onto their home turf. Following an excellent draw against Pep Guardiola’s City, Forest struggled to find a point against Everton and looked out of sorts as they fell to defeat against Newcastle. The international break has given them some time to recuperate, but if I’m Lopetegui, I’m seeing this as a fantastic opportunity to get points on the board.
In recent weeks, Forest have looked almost scared to get forward. They sit deep in their own half and wait for small holes to appear before trying to counter. If we see Steve Cooper to continue to play this tactic on Saturday, Forest will struggle as Wolves will look to fill the middle of the pitch and limit any passing lanes. Cooper has to take a different approach this weekend, to take to onus of his backline and create more opportunities for his frontmen. The return of Awoniyi could be massive for the Reds, meaning they have more than just Brennan Johnson to rely on for goals.
Wolves were quite unfortunate to come away with nothing against their game with Leeds. You could make the case they unfairly conceded a fourth goal, but more than that, they created an incredible amount of chances but just failed to find the back of the net with any of them.
Wolves’ quality in midfield gives them the opportunity to create plenty of chances, but it also forces Forest to not sit deep. Players like Ruben Neves have the ability to find the net from long-range, meaning if Forest do invite pressure and leave space around the box they will surely be punished.
One thing that does bode well for Cooper’s side is how wasteful Wolves were against Leeds. Forest have easily one of the best goalkeeper in the Premier League, his shot-stopping is impeccable, as is his positioning – he isn’t easy to beat. It won’t be as easy for Wolves to find a way past Navas as it is other goalkeeper in the league – they’re going to have to do a lot better with the chances that come their way.
Nottingham Forest: Taiwo Awoniyi
Awoniyi is finally back to fitness after nearly four months on the sidelines. It’s likely that he wouldn’t feature this weekend, if it wasn’t for an injury to Chris Wood, but with Forest down a striker I imagine Awoniyi goes straight back into the starting line-up. Before his injury, Awoniyi was finally picking up form in the Premier League – finding the back of the net and geling with Johnson alongside him, and with what Cooper has said recently, it looks like the forward is more than ready to get back amongst the action. Dennis and Johnson have both been playing well recently for Forest, add Awoniyi into the mix and Forest could finally have a potent attack for the first time this season.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Ruben Neves
As I said before, I don’t fancy Forest to take the game to Wolves this weekend. I imagine they’ll sit back, let their defence do the dirty work and take their chances when they come. This will give any player the opportunity to score and as we’ve seen recently, those who are proficient at finding the back of the net do so against Nottingham Forest. Neves is a player who can dictate the midfield, create chances and score them himself, he’s a handful for all teams. Against Forest, Neves has the ability to pull the strings and swing the game in Wolves favour. Facing a side that can’t stop conceding, Neves has a fantastic chance to extend his goal tally.
Nottingham Forest: Navas, Lodi, Felipe, Niakhate, Williams, Mangala, Yates, Gibbs-White, Dennis, Awoniyi, Johnson.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Sa, Nouri, Kilman, Dawson, Semedo, Nunes, Lemina, Neves, Podence, Jiminez, Traore.