Nottingham Forest will visit Villa Park on Sunday, and although they have the same goal difference as Aston Villa, the ways the two clubs have played could hardly be more dissimilar.
The number that I’m speaking of is 0. Both Forest and Villa have conceded exactly as many goals as they’ve scored so far. However, Philippe Montanier’s side have found the back of the net 11 times, compared to just five for Roberto Di Matteo’s team.
A little about the squads...
While Villa’s newly-found defensive fortitude has seen them concede just five times, the lack of a prolific attack means the points have been slow to come in, just five of them in as many matches. Naturally, fewer goals equates to more draws, which is how two of Villa’s contests have ended so far.
Forest, on the other hand, have been leaky at the back but able to cancel it out at the other end. It’s been all-or-nothing for the Reds as they’ve won three times but lost twice.
Some of that early production is sure to be missed for the rest of the campaign, following the sale of 19-year-old Scottish winger Oliver Burke to RasenBallsport Leipzig. Burke had provided a whopping 36 percent of Forest’s goals (4/11), and Montanier’s side won every time he netted. The rest of the side must step up going forward.
Portugese winger Licá joined Forest from FC Porto on deadline day, and figures to get the start on the right.
Jack Grealish picked up a knock over the international break and had to return home early from England U21 duty, but Di Matteo will be hoping the midfielder is available for selection come Sunday. With two goals and an assist already, he’s becoming a focal point for the side.
Defensive midfield could prove to be a problem area yet again, as Mile Jedinak’s home debut looks unlikely to come against Forest after the former Crystal Palace captain missed Australia’s game against UAE on Tuesday. Aaron Tshibola also faces a late fitness test.
The backline was a shambles in the 3-1 defeat at the hands of Bristol City, so expect to see at least one change in that area. Either Nathan Baker or Micah Richards (or both) could come in for James Chester and/or Tommy Elphick. Neither Ritchie De Laet nor Aly Cissokho should feel too safe about retaining their starting role on the right and left of defence respectively.
A big question mark for Villa remains at centre forward. Rudy Gestede and Ross McCormack’s strike partnership has shown positive signs and should start paying dividends soon, but new signing Jonathan Kodjia is also in the mix now. Oh, and that Jordan Ayew guy. No shortage of strikers here!
What to watch for:
If the frontmen receive appropriate service, the goals should follow. There’s a reason Forest have shipped 11 goals in five matches, and much of it comes down to organisation at the back. That, and depth. Playing right back has been 20-year-old Hildeberto, who has played on the right wing, up top as a striker and now as a right back. That’s an area where the hosts could find success.
Forest also have a new striker of their own. Although he’s the former Wolf of Wolfsburg, Nicklas Bendtner hasn’t played a competitive club match since February and probably is lacking match fitness. All jokes aside, Britt Assombalonga actually will play, fortunately for the Tricky Trees. He’s scored three times so far this season, and is always a threat when healthy. Patjim Kasami plays as a number 6 and is a true box-to-box guy who really enjoys going forward. He’s scored one and assisted another this season so far.
Nottingham Forest (4-2-3-1): Stephen Henderson; Hildeberto, Damien Perquis, Michael Mancienne, Eric Lichaj; Chris Cohen, Patjim Kasami; Licá, Henri Lansbury, Ben Osborn; Britt Assombalonga.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Pierluigi Gollini; Ritchie De Laet, Tommy Elphick, Nathan Baker, Jordan Amavi; Albert Adomah, Ashley Westwood, Gary Gardner, Jack Grealish; Rudy Gestede, Ross McCormack.
What do you think is Villa’s best tactical option to take three points against Forest? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!
*Editor’s Note: At the time of writing, I didn’t know that Aaron Tshibola would be fit to play. If so, he should replace Gary Gardner in central midfield. I only dropped James Chester because Tommy Elphick is the captain.*