Nottingham Forest have finally made their first signing of the summer this weekend, as Union Berlin forward Taiwo Awoniyi joins the Reds for a club record fee of £17.7m.
With a £100m war chest at their disposal, Nottingham Forest have made their first signing since returning to the top flight, after activating Taiwo Awoniyi’s £17m release clause. The 24-year-old arrives at the City Ground on the back of his best goal-scoring campaign, netting 15 goals and registering one assist in 31 Bundesliga appearances last season – but what will Awoniyi bring to Steve Cooper’s side?
How does he fit into Forest’s system?
The style of play utilised by Urs Fischer and Union Berlin almost mirrors that of Steve Cooper at Nottingham Forest. Both teams operate in similar formations (5-3-2/3-5-2), and have a large emphasis on counter-attacking and applying pressure through their wing-backs and forwards. With the need to replace a handful of key loan players, as well as improve the overall quality of the squad, those at Forest will be looking for players ready made for the Premier League. As Awoniyi will already be familiar with the system Cooper will utilise on the banks of the Trent, it should allow the forward to hit the ground running in the English top-flight.
Partnering Brennan Johnson in Forest’s attack, it will be interesting to see how Awoniyi will operate in the front two. Before, we saw Keinan Davis drift out to the left-hand side, as Johnson moved over to the right. During his time in Berlin, however, Awoniyi was given the freedom to roam from left-to-right in the attacking third but most of his goals came when he picked-up the ball in the centre of the pitch – rather than coming in from one of the channels. A lot of these opportunities came from Awoniyi running onto a pass played behind the backline. With Forest creating the majority of their chances on the counter, we could expect similar chances fall Awoniyi’s way in the Premier League.
What can we expect to see from Awoniyi?
Awoniyi was one of the most dangerous goal scorers in the Bundesliga last season, but it isn’t just his form in front of goal that attracted the attention of Cooper and co. The Nigerian international’s intelligent movement makes him a handful for opposing defenders. With the ball at his feet, Awoniyi was able to use his pace and strength to move past and shrug off any defensive challenges. Off the ball, the forward is equally impressive, using his exceptional movement to find space and create goal-scoring opportunities.
Reports from fbref.com, show Awoniyi recorded 0.51 npxG per 90 (non-penalty expected goals per 90) in the Bundesliga last season – the fifth highest in the league. The forward was fantastic at finding space in the box, where his teammates could supply him goal scoring opportunities. You like to think, with the support of Johnson – and hopefully a new number 1o – these opportunities will continue to fall Awoniyi’s way.
Despite benefiting from the creativity of the players around him, Awoniyi could also be relied on to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. His one assist last season won’t get any pulses racing, but his underlying numbers show that the creativity is there. Averaging nearly two progressive passes per game, Awoniyi has the vision and ability to put the ball into dangerous areas, and create shooting opportunities.
Areas to improve
At 24-years-old, Awoniyi has the potential to be a top Premier League forward, but he’s still not the finished product. Despite his strong physique, Awoniyi struggles in possession, often conceding the ball to opposing defenders – unlike Davis, who was one of the best players we’ve seen in a Forest shirt when it comes to holding possession and keeping defenders at bay. It does seem Awoniyi is able to sometimes beat his man and progress the ball forward, he just struggles with consistency when doing so.
Taiwo Awoniyi is a fantastic first signing for Steve Cooper in the Premier League. The forward should slot seamlessly into the Welshman’s system and could be a great partner for Brennan Johnson up-front, with both causing problems on the counter.
His £17m fee seems like a fantastic business for a player attracting interest from RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund. If he can contribute to Forest like he did at Union last season, and help maintain the Red’s place in the Premier League, then his valuation will no-doubt increase.
With it looking more unlikely that Keinan Davis will return to Forest this summer, fans need to understand Awoniyi isn’t his direct replacement. Awoniyi isn’t as good in possession, but what he lacks in holding up play, he makes up for with his finishing and aerial threat. If the price is right, it could still be worth Forest trying to bring Davis in permanently to increase their attacking options.
It really does seem like a great signing for Forest, as Awoniyi looks primed to hit the ground running at his new club unlike previous arrivals from the Bundesliga. There is a lot of work that needs to be done at Nottingham Forest before the season begins in August, but the signing of Awoniyi is a big step in the right direction. Next up on the agenda needs to be adding some creative reinforcements in the form of a new number 10 and a Djed Spence replacement.