Reinvigorated Forest respond to the critics with 3 straight wins + what are the realistic goals for this season.

Forest, without a win in 3 league matches, playing inconsistent and disjointed football could not have been more ready for the international break. The extra time gave Karanka an opportunity to discuss with his players what was going wrong and how to improve. Many issues regarding coherence and chemistry on the pitch would, for sure, be solved by time. However, they also came to the unanimous conclusion that the stand -out problem was a lack of consistent intensity, especially at the start of matches. BennyAnd, finally, it was nice to see much of the endeavour that goes on behind the scenes reflected on the pitch in some physical, aggressive Forest performances capped of by spits and spurts of eye-catching, fluid attacking football. The depressing clouds of doom and gloom surrounding the City Ground have been temporarily blown away, after an incredible September ( well, after September 2nd anyway) picking up 3 wins and a draw out of 4 games- leaving us in the healthy league position of 9th and only 2 points off the play-offs. The optimism from the start of the season has returned- but in a slightly more hesitant and considered form.

Forest, evidently, took the intensity advice on board, as we saw a well-devised pressing game by The Reds against Swansea, with the mighty Ben Osborn as the poster boy for aggression and fight, his commitment inspiring fans and teammates alike. Forest attacked Swansea with verve and impetus, unprecedented for us away from home this season,  and, doubtless, deserved to emerge victorious at The Liberty Stadium, but only returned with the underwhelming draw. 3 points were much-needed, so it was gutting to collect just the 1 after one of the performances of the season. The only downfall being incision and composure in the final pass/shot. Ben Osborn, once again at the forefront of things, was this time the main culprit for profiglacy. His performances summed up Forest’s week.

3 points had evaded Forest too many times, so a win on Wednesday night was paramount. Forest scraped through after a nervy final 5 minutes, when Steven Fletcher’s audacious effort deflected beyond Pantilimon. Crowd vibesIt was a scrappy game, with lots of individual errors but, by and large, Forest controlled the tempo of the game, and enjoyed the majority of possession. Forest were not magnificent, but they did not have to be at their very best against a deflated Sheffield Wednesday side. Forest, once again, pressed well and were up in the faces of Wednesday, right from the first whistle, and their endeavour carved out an opportunity for Cash in the 1st minute, but he sliced into Row Z. Forest teased crosses in towards Grabban all night long, and Sheffield Wednesday couldn’t cope.

Saturday brought a different challenge. A dogged Rotherham United who had recently troubled Frank Lampards unspeakables. It was another scrappy game and a frustrating day where Forest were mediocre. We struggled to penetrate The Millers’ deep, compact back line, and only really started to slice through them when Matty Cash and Joe Lolley came on. Rotherham will trouble many teams this season with their resilience, and definitely have what it takes to stay up. Once again the desire for Forest was present, but not the quality unfortunately. Nevertheless, The Red’s prevailed with a satisfying 3 points after a rainy, miserable Saturday. We then maintained our momentum, and earned a place in the round of 16 of the Carabao Cup against a demoralised, deflated Stoke side. It has been a great 2 weeks for Forest, but there is evidently much to improve upon.  Regardless, The Reds remain unbeaten at the City Ground- which is quickly becoming a fortress. 27,266 have, on average, turned up to each home game this season- the 3rd best attendance in the league.

Areas to improve

Killing off matches. Forest could have been punished for their reluctance to kill teams off  when the momentum is on their side against both Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke. It is almost as if they feel sorry for the opposition and don’t want to rub salt into the wounds. This flaw is without doubt related to their lack of composure in front of goal. Time and time again this season, Forest have tried to pass the ball into the net, consistently choosing the wrong option on the final pass. However, when we do pull the trigger it is always a lash instead of a calm, calculated placement.

Forest have looked particularly strong off the ball in recent weeks- harrying the opposition with their press and forcing countless errors. Yet when we have a lot of time on the ball in possession, players freeze for some reason and don’t move into space. Our class has only shone through when the play is fast paced and instinctive. We must learn to play with that same urgency when building attacks.

Realistic goals for this season

Is it completely ludicrous to say that I hope with all my heart that we don’t get promoted this year ? It is not unlikely that Forest could scrape into the play-offs this year. Anything can happen from there. So say we were to pull of a Huddersfield-esque miracle and make into the Premier League, would we be ready ? Absolutely not. We would finish rock bottom, our key men would depart, fans would fall out of love with the club and it would be a disaster and a return to the gritty, gruelling Championship*. Back to square one. It is a marathon not a sprint. In my opinion, it would be a disappointment not to finish in the top 10. I also believe that we are more than capable of pushing for a play-off spot this year. It is all about next season for me. If Karanka doesn’t get us out of this hellish division by 2020, the pressure will start to mount.

*That was maybe a minor exaggeration.

The rest of the Championship

You have to put Leeds as favourites for the title this year. Graced with a world-class manager in Bielsa, they look as formidable a team you’ll see in the Championship. They are the Real Madrid of English’s second tier- full of individuals who can change a game in the blink of an eye. Samuel Saíz, Ezgjan Alioski, Kemar Roofe and Pablo Hernandez are Premier League quality. But don’t write off Tony Pulis’ well drilled Middlesborough. Few teams will score past them this season. Wigan are also capable of major shocks.Leedy leeds.jpg At the other end of the table, i have already mentioned my faith in Rotherham. Stoke also need to be careful- I know people feel he needs more time, but i feel Rowett has to go. I was sceptical about his appointment in the first place. He doesn’t exactly strike you as a particularly charismatic man. Something tells me that the best cure for Stoke at the moment is a new manager who can rip into their complacent, snobbish attitude, and give them a right kick up the backside. They have Premier League standard players, but they came in to the Championship thinking it was certain they would go straight back up even if they only gave 50% effort, and were punished for it. Is it time for Big Sam ?

Forest player ratings

Costell Pantilimon- 8/10: Kept 2 clean sheets out of 3 games, and has generally commanded his area well. It helps when you are 6’7. A few times, he has looked nervy when the ball is at his feet, but I put that down to the outfield players as I think at this level goalkeepers shouldn’t be expected to be skilled with their feet- they should stick to using their hands.

Danny Fox: 7/10: Danny Fox never ceases to amaze me. He was seemingly done and dusted last year after a horrendous performance in the FA cup against Hull but Karanka kept his faith in him and he was one of Forest’s most impressive players towards the end of last season. 14 signings and two new centre-backs later, Fox is still the main man. His flying tackles, towering headers and signature move: the left footed, over-the-top diagonal, pinpoint ball makes him a crowd favourite. 2 clean sheets from 3 league games is not bad at all.

Michael Hefele (The Rhino)- 7/10: In my last piece on Forest i wrote about how Hefele struck me as clumsy and prone to errors. But over the past couple of weeks I have noticed what a valuable player he is. He is constantly barking orders and commanding the defence. The suppression of 6’5 beast Atde Nuhiu of Sheffield Wednesday was also vindication of his fearlessness and immense physicality. The Rhino has earned the reputation as the ‘hard man’ of Forest.

Saidi Janko- 8/10: Janko has had a very impressive start to life at the City Ground. He is like an upgraded Darikwa. Fast and dynamic on the ball, but more robust defensively than his Zimbabwean colleague. Delivers quality crosses into the box.Foxy He is reminiscent of Man City’s Kyle Walker.

Jack Robinson- 7/10: He has made that left back spot his own after some more solid performances, with the pick of the bunch against Rotherham. A reliable defensive asset.

Ben Watson- 7/10: Looks a lot more like his combative old self- commanding the middle of the park, determination inspiring teammates.

Jack Colback- 7/10: Had an outstanding performance against Sheffield Wednesday and looked strong against Swansea and Rotherham too. He is such a clever player, he can always sense where the danger will be and works tirelessly for the team. Nottingham Forest’s Kanté. For some reason though, he can’t play well alongside Ben Watson this season.

Michael Dawson and Tobias Figueiredo-6/10: Both only featured against Stoke, where they had to stand up to an onslaught late on as The Potters sought to take advantage of the extra man. Dawson dealt with Crouch well. Can’t say much about these two though.

Adlène Guediora- 5/10: He has looked sluggish and out of sorts on his return from injury. No doubt, he will soon find his find his feet again. When this man is firing on all cylinders, Forest look a different side.

Matty Cash- 6/10: Cash hasn’t really been able to maintain that blistering form from the start of the season. Has been wasteful at times, but is always a nuisance for defenders.

Joe Lolley- 6/10: Anonymous against Swansea, but then came on against Rotherham and used his direct running to get in behind the defence. Looked at his best against Stoke with some fine link up play and meandering dribbles in what was a lively Lolley display.

Gil Dias- 5/10: Has looked clumsy and uncomposed recently for some reason. Definitely not at his sharpest.

Joao Carvalho- 8/10: He is really starting to grasp life in the Championship and prove why we spent 13 million on him. He can unlock defences with his passing and can mesmerise defenders with his trickery and deft touches. A wonderful finish against Sheffield was the highlight of a great week for Carvalho. He doesn’t shy away from tackles too and isn’t the foreigner that “won’t fancy a wet Tuesday night at Stoke”, like many expected.

Ben Osborn- 9/10: The versatile Ben Osborn encapsulates the expectations that follow when you sport The Garibaldi. His desire and fearlessness is second to none. I just doubt whether he has the quality in the final third to play at left-wing. Any club, though, would happily have a Ben Osborn in their squad.

Daryl Murphy- 7/10: Featured only against Stoke where he shone with a thumping strike.

Lewis Grabban- 7/10: 2 goals in his past 2 league appearances will be a massive confidence boost after a poor start to the season. Grabban can easily bag 20 for Forest this year.




Pochettino’s conundrum+ Spain’s perfect response to World cup debacle

Continuity is perhaps underrated in football. It is a significant cog in the Pochettino workings, and one of the main factors of Spurs’ rise to the elite. It makes the North Londoners special, and a favourite for the neutral. Likewise for Diego Simeone’s Athletico Madrid. Pochettino is also renowned for his lust to improve players. Yes, a seemingly basic attribute, but one that is becoming rarer for a manager in the modern age of quick fixes. Yet, even when taking this into account, he was ridiculed by fans around all the country for not signing a single player this summer. PochHowever, these critics did not consider both the Pro’s and Con’s of Pochettino’s brave, astute decision. After 3 games Spurs’ superior cohesion and chemistry had contributed to a 100% start to the start to the season. After 3, somewhat jaded, slightly average performances.

As expected, the main talking points were: “We need to start considering Spurs as title contenders”, “Spurs are capable of going all the way”, “continuity makes Spurs a class act”. Then a week later, after a 2-1 defeat at Vicarage road, the tables turned:  “Spurs have lack of squad depth”, ” Soft Spurs  have no leader”, “Harry Kane is tired from the World Cup”. This occurrence is revealing. Do the press and pundit’s opinions fluctuate too easily? Maybe they do. But the focused question today, is does Mauricio Pochettino, for all his myriad qualities, succumb to the critics, take a long look at his squad sheet and ask himself a question that he would consider premature: Should he have bolstered the squad in the summer? Or does he stick with his ethos and believe in his players as, we must not forget, Spurs are a stellar team with a world class manager.

It is essential that one is careful when pondering over the question that is whether the ‘squad’ or the ‘team’ needs investment. In terms of the first 11, Spurs, doubtless, have the tools to excel in both the Premier League and Champions League this year. Although it is not that simple. In terms of depth, Spurs are depleted in comparison to Europe’s elite. Take a look at the bench of Liverpool, Man City and Juventus- 3 contenders in the domestic league and Europe. Sturridge, Lallana, Fabinho, Henderson, Clyne and Shaquiri didn’t start in Liverpool’s match against West Ham. De Bruyne, Sane, Jesus and Kompany didn’t start against Arsenal. Bernadeschi, Can, Matuidi, Mandzukic and Barzagli didn’t start against Chievo Verona. All Spurs have off the bench is Heung-Min Son (who, admittedly, is class), Sissoko and Llorente as attacking options.

But this is not merely comparing firepower off the bench. As the season goes on, the 4 competitions start to take their toll and ,incidentally, injuries begin to plague teams. Who can replace Kane? Who can replace Dier and Dembélé? Alli? Eriksen? What’s more, is 9 of Tottenham’s first team went to the semi finals of the World Cup or further which is inevitably going to be to the detriment of Spurs come November, December period- the peak of fixture congestion. Spurs are an ambitious club and are on a clear upward trajectory, so although in this moment it may seem harsh to compare them to the European heavyweights,Winks it is also entirely necessary if they wish to live up to expectations this year and add some silverware to the gaping trophy cabinet. Would it be going too far to say a depth crisis looms on the horizon?

To balance the debate, we must look at things from Pochettino’s point of view. As mentioned previously, he values continuity, camaraderies and general positivity very highly. So why would he risk destroying the near-perfect atmosphere he has moulded at Tottenham, by spending large amounts of money on players whose egos might upset the cohesion of the team? Even so, Pochettino is no stubborn Wenger. He is a meticulous man, who is also not afraid to go back on his decisions and judgements. So, if he sincerely believed that there was a deficiency of depth and squad solidity, we can be sure that he will have scoured the transfer market right until the very last minute to find the players to fill the gaps.

However, it is all too easily forgotten that moving to a new stadium costs hundreds of millions, so Tottenham can not afford to burn money in the next couple of years. Keeping the theme of money, Danny Higgingbotham stated on The Debate on Sky Sports that if Spurs were to spend 40m+ ( the price required for any player who could have a significant impact) on somebody like Martial for instance, he will demand high wages. Incidentally, it will discontent his star men who would then be thinking  “Who does he think he is, I want that sort of money too”, so a wage inflation occurs, which Spurs can not afford at this moment in time.

A very much relevant issue in English Football that has troubled many but not Pochettino, is gametime for English players. They gave 12,553 minutes, the most in the top 6, to English players that include Kane, Alli, Dier, Rose, Trippier and the young Harry Winks. Consequently, this makes them a neutral favourite and perhaps the press have more tolerance after poor performances. Spurs are envied for this. So if Pochettino were to dip his hand into the market surely this would this intercept the bright development path into the 1st team that awaits the likes of Winks, Onomah and Walker-Peters. It may also prevent Dier and even Dele Alli- who needs to start performing- from regular game time.

It really is a mind boggling conundrum that faces Pochettino. Hopefully, they can get back to winning ways tonight against Inter Milan.

Spain’s impressive response

Lago Aspas steps up to the spot. Saved. The stadium erupts while subs and managers spill onto the pitch in euphoria. Pique, Iniesta, Carvajal and Busquets, nostalgic, stare into the distance in dismay. An image that would certainly best sum up their tournament. Lost for ideas, aging, vulnerable. Russia, the hosts, who prior to the tournament people labelled hopeless and a liability, have just knocked the mighty Spain out of the World Cup and advanced into the quarter-finals via penalty shootout. That same night, Iniesta, the linchpin of Spain’s 08,10,12 successes, announced his international retirement. David Silva and Gerard Pique would later follow suit. EnriqueFernando Hierro would also resign as manager. It marked the end of an era, and many anticipated a descent into turmoil for the Spanish team but it wasn’t to be.

It was stark that Spain were respecting teams too much, which often boils down to a lack of ruthlessness and intensity. They even became languid at times. While the FA would have panicked and recruited Big Sam or David Moyes by this point, Spain calmly appointed the shrewd Luis Enrique, renowned for his strict regimes and professionalism, the best antidote for Spain’s problems. His orders consisted of no mobile phones at the dinner table, no video games late at night, less free time and no ketchup. It must be said though, Enrique also had some techniques that were certainly novel, even uncanny. However, in retrospect, highly necessary. He sent them to an escape room, where the idea was that they had to solve a series of clues while being tormented by the Zodiac Killer, in order to escape the room. It is designed for team bonding, and building trust and communication- while at the same time just to have a bit of a laugh. The winning team was Lago Aspas, Thiago Alcantara, Sergi Roberto, Inigo Martinez, Cesar Azpilicueta and Rodrigo. SpainIt is also abundantly clear that he makes full use of his position in power and revells in it – he ordered for a tall piece of scaffolding to be erected, where he has a perfect view of training every day. In footballing terms, his style of play very much reflects his style of coaching. Direct, pragmatic and clinical- no faffing around. This was evident in Spain’s return to competitive football, with a 2-1 win over semi-finalists England, and then a 6-0 rout over finalists Croatia. Many would have mourned over the past, but Spain appear hungry for the future.

Luis Enrique’s work is only one piece of the jigsaw. It is the RFEF ( Spanish FA) who must also be credited. Their impressive work across platforms such as social media for example- where they changed their Instagram bio to UnaNuevaIllusion (a new dream)- creates the aura that they are moving into new, exciting times, inviting fans to join the ride. It encapsulates the rare calmness and ability to fight against a crisis that has distinguished Spanish Football in this past decade. Spain are back.

Consistently inconsistent Forest inevitably punished.

If every player and team were to be consistent throughout every minute, match and season- what would football be? Would Liverpool have fought back from a 3-0 deficit to claim their 5th title in Europe? Would Leicester have won the Premier League with odds of 5000/1? Would Portsmouth have crashed down from the Premier League to League 2 in the space of 4 seasons? Would 650 million people tune in to the El Clasico? Consistency defines teams. ForestConsistency defines football. Somehow though, Nottingham Forest, in their first start to a season under Aitor Karanka, manage to be consistently inconsistent. One minute Joe Lolley is dancing past defenders, The Rhino (Hefele) is thwarting attack after attack and Guediora is nearly netting 100 yard screamers. Look a minute later and  Sam Byram is slipping over for the 3rd time in a row, Ben Watson is failing to make 5 yard passes and Gil Dias is blundering straight into defenders. One minute it is The Avengers, the next, Toy Story. One minute it is Apple, the next, Nokia. Avengers, Toy Story. Toy Story, Avengers. Apple, Nokia. Nokia, Apple. It is simply unacceptable for a club like Nottingham Forest, regardless of any situation.

Consequently, our unbeaten run went astray at Griffin Park. It was a lethargic, disjointed first half performance, where we showed Brentford too much respect and played into their hands that wasn’t improved, significantly enough upon, in the 2nd half to earn any points. Brentford are a well-drilled and disciplined side, whose performances seldom differ drastically. Take note, Forest. Pocket full o' CASHPerhaps, though, it is a positive that no points were collected on Saturday. Why feed the players with false information that they have performed to the level whereby they earn a point or three, when in reality they were far worse than that ? From a tactical point of view, Forest should have tried to maintain possession  and get forward more against a Brentford team with an array of attacking talent. Instead, they invited pressure on and Brentford could have been 4-0 up after the 1st half.

Forest must take the positives out of the past 2 weeks though as self belief is pivotal to success not just in football, but sport as a whole. An incredible performance on Wednesday night saw them defeat Premier League Newcastle in what turned out to be a thrilling spectacle. Salomon Rondon’s 92nd minute equaliser seemed to have saved The Magpies, but The Red’s resisted deflation and Matty Cash fired in his 3rd goal in 4 appearances. To rub salt in the wounds, Dias pressed down Kennedy and intercepted well, and then chipped it audaciously beyond Darlow. That goal epitomised Forest’s performance- fearless, energetic and classy. The previous Saturday the Red’s also fought back from a 2 goal deficit at home to Birmingham. It portrayed immense team spirit, to gain a 3rd point from a losing position, but it also reiterated the points discussed on my last piece on Forest. As much as us Forest fans would like to think a large sum of money spent on a handful of players guarantees instant success, in reality, it is implausible. Time and patience are needed. 5 years of stagnation can’t be repaired in a matter of months. It is also necessary to mention that we have developed a habit of starting matches without  verve and intensity but I do not wish to extend on these topics as they were discussed in the last piece on Forest. Onto the player ratings.

Player ratings  

Note: It is difficult to rate the players as they are very inconsistent but I will try my best and I apologise in advance for any inaccuracies.

Costel Pantilimon- 6/10: Has improved on a cagey start to the season. Not been directly at fault for any of the goals.

Luke Steele- 5/10: Not an impressive first start for Steele against Newcastle. Had a few nervy moments. At the moment, a long way away from contesting Costel for the No1 spot.

Tendai Darikwa- 6/10: In my opinion, he does little to affect the game. Only plays well if the rest of the team are. His pace adds another dimension though.

Sam Byram- 6/10: The Championship doesn’t respect people because of their background.  You will be punished if you ponder on the ball. Byram will have learnt his lesson quickly . He was all over the place against Birmingham. But he had a much improved performance against the Toons, where his class shone, assisting Murphy for the opener.

Danny Fox- 6/10: Fox is in his prime when alongside a composed, reliable partner, which Hefele doesn’t provide in my opinion. Sometimes appeared lost and has had lapses of concentration. Distribution on point as usual though.

Michael Hefele ( The Rhino)- 7/10: Only reason I have given him a 7 is due to the majority of other peoples opinions. From my point of view, he can be reckless and clumsy. Yes, he is a physical presence and wins ariel duels, but he is not a shadow of the player that Figueirdo is, and wouldn’t make it into my first 11.

Dawson, Guediora, Grabban, Figueirdo not featured here due to injury or lack of game time.

Jack Robinson- 6/10: Had a cagey league debut against Birmingham, but improved massively as the week went on with a particularly strong performance against Newcastle. His performance level then dipped against The Bees in what was a poor Forest display all round. Unlike Osborn, he is a robust, reliable defensive asset who seems comfortable at left back. Not as much of an attacking threat though.

Ben Osborn- 7/10: Played in spurts since the Wigan match. At this moment in time, I think Robinson is edging him for the left back spot due to his lack of experience in defence. Osborn’s greatest quality is his versatility, he will prove priceless when injuries start to plague us. Impressive cameos against Newcastle and Birmingham will argue his case for a spot in the team. His pace down the wing adds another dimension.

Jack Colback- 6/10: Has looked unprecedentedly uncomfortable alongside Watson. For some reason, he is failing to set the tempo and assert his authority in the middle of the park like he did so well last season. Perhaps, it is taking him a while to accustom the new players around him.

Ben Watson- 3/10: Dreadful from the captain. Against Birmingham, he produced one of the worst ever performances in a Forest shirt. 5 yard passes were going astray, he lost every ariel battle and he was generally sluggish. Yes, he looked a different player on the Wednesday night as did the rest of the team, but it proved to be case of 1 step forward 2 steps back as he failed to organise his team in an erratic 1st half performance at Brentford, where he was sloppy throughout.

Liam Bridcutt- 5/10: Can’t say much about Bridcutt, his only appearance came against Newcastle where he had a quiet game. Can sometimes be too negative in his passing. You can’t help but feel for him though, his career has fallen apart. It was only 3 years ago that he was a Premier League regular with Sunderland.

Joao Carvalho- 6/10: Seems to be getting to grips with the hustle and bustle of English football. Links up play very well. In his absence, Forest have struggled to make attacks flow. He also possesses the touch of quality in the final 3rd that unlocks defences. He could perhaps get involved more.

Gil Dias- 5/10: His form has slowed down since the start of the season. He appears jaded by the hectic schedule. But his clever chip against Newcastle reminded everyone of his quality.

Joe Lolley- 8/10: Made a huge impact off the bench against Birmingham, Joe Lolley celebrates as his first touch puts Forest back in the game.and then followed it up with a fantastic performance against Newcastle. He glides past defenders like they aren’t there and the directness of his running unsettles defenders. Wasn’t as effective against Brentford unfortunately.

Hillal Soudani- 5/10: Made only 1 appearance which was when he started against Birmingham. Didn’t make an impact on the game in the no.10 role. His primary function this season will be as a super sub.

Matty Cash- 9/10: Cash has been in prolific form, scoring his 4th in 5 appearances on Saturday. He has been Forest’s stand out player this season by far. His ruthlessness and incision in the final third has saved forest many times. What more does he have to do to earn a place in the starting line up?

Daryl Murphy- 7/10: Murphy, despite everyones expectations, is at the moment Forest’s No.1 option up front at the grand age of 35. He seems to have evolved his game to suit his dwindling pace. He now positions himself right on the defenders toes and uses his large frame to shield the ball and hold it up, whereas before he would drop deeper and try and turn with the ball. He set the tone for the rest match with his 2nd minute header against Newcastle.