Not much was expected from Nottingham Forest last season, particularly because it was their debut Premier League campaign in 23 years.
Despite being expected to struggle and considered strong relegation candidates, they surpassed expectations and managed to stay out of trouble.
The Tricky Trees finished 16th on the table after accumulating 38 points – four above the bottom three, which guaranteed at least another campaign in the top flight.
Their ideal target for the coming season would be to consolidate their top-flight status, but avoiding another relegation battle will be challenging.
Here is our Forest season preview for 2023/24. You can also check out our detailed Premier League season previews for all 20 teams.
Forest’s opening three fixtures will see them take on Arsenal (A), Sheffield United (H) and Manchester United (A) in what is set to be a challenging start to the season for the Tricky Trees.
It gets even tougher for Steve Cooper’s side in September, with a home clash against Burnley sandwiched between trips to Chelsea and reigning champions Manchester City.
They round off the month at home to Brentford before embarking on a relatively favourable run of fixtures until they lock horns with Liverpool on October 30.
Everton (H), Fulham (A), Wolverhampton Wanderers (A), and Tottenham Hotspur (H) are amongst a run of fixtures that precedes the festive period in December.
Forest welcome Bournemouth to City Ground two days before Christmas, then travel to St. James’ Park to take on Newcastle United on Boxing Day.
They close out the year with a tough home clash against Man United before facing Brentford (A) and Arsenal (H) in their opening two fixtures of 2024.
Forest’s final home game of the season comes against Chelsea on May 11. They then finish the season away to former Championship foes Burnley on May 19.
Steve Cooper has done a remarkable job since arriving at City Ground two years ago, and last season’s exploits further bolstered his popularity at the club.
Leading the Reds to their first taste of top-flight football in over two decades was no small feat.
But he has also helped Forest take that vital first step toward establishing themselves as a Premier League club.
However, it was not a walk in the park, with the 43-year-old linked with a sack for most of the season.
While he rewarded the board’s faith in his managerial ability, many still believe that a lack of viable alternatives played a key role in his survival.
Cooper will be determined to repeat last season’s success. However, he will require significant reinforcement from the transfer market to bolster their chances of realising the objective.
Last summer, Forest were the busiest Premier League club in the transfer market, with the Reds making wholesale changes to their promotion-winning squad.
Desperate to build a team capable of coping with the step-up, they added an astonishing 21 recruits, while a further seven joined in January.
Their remarkable business strategy threatened to disrupt team cohesion, but it ultimately worked in their favour as they achieved their goal.
However, they have decided to take a more conservative approach to this summer window, with just three new players joining Cooper’s squad thus far.
Chris Wood and Anthony Elanga have joined for £15 million each from Newcastle and Man United, respectively. They have also signed Ola Aina on a free transfer from Torino.
Wood initially joined Forest on a short-term loan last season but only managed one goal in seven appearances before sitting out the rest of the campaign with a hamstring injury.
Elanga found playing time hard to come by under Erik ten Hag’s leadership at Old Trafford and will be looking to prove his mettle at City Ground.
Meanwhile, Aina returns to the Premier League five years after departing for Serie A – although he had a loan spell with Fulham in the 2020/21 campaign.
Forest still need to sign a goalkeeper, with Dean Henderson and Keylor Navas returning to Man United and Paris Saint-Germain, respectively, after their loan deals expired.
Jack Colback, Andre Ayew, Cafu, Sam Surridge, Renan Lodi, and Jesse Lingard are among those to have left the club.
However, there should be more, considering Forest still have 35 players on their roster, which is a familiar recipe for disaster.
Forest are working on a deal to bring Henderson back to City Ground after his eye-catching performances in goal last season.
The 26-year-old kept six clean sheets in 18 appearances before suffering a thigh injury that ended his campaign early.
If the transfer is completed, Henderson should pick up where he left off, with Moussa Niakhate, Joe Worrall, and Willy Boly playing in front of him.
Danilo showed signs of an excellent addition last term and should start alongside Ryan Yates in the middle of the park, with Neco Williams and Aina as the starting wing-backs.
Morgan Gibbs-White and Brennan Johnson were standout performers for Forest last season, racking up 13 goals and 11 assists combined.
They should line up behind Taiwo Awoniyi, who is set to lead the attack after netting ten league goals last term.
Here is our prediction for Burnley’s strongest starting XI next season:
3-4-2-1: Henderson; Niakhate, Worrall, Boly; Aina, Danilo, Yates, Williams; Gibbs-White, Johnson; Awoniyi.
Awoniyi, Gibbs-White, and Johnson formed an effective front three for Forest last season, and their goal contributions were vital to the team’s survival.
Johnson has been linked with a summer departure, but the other two will be expected to provide the goods once again this year.
Forest raised several eyebrows when they paid around £40m to sign Gibbs-White from Wolves, but he soon became vital and is perhaps the most talented player on the roster.
The versatile 23-year-old forward lived up to expectations last season, returning 13 goal contributions in 37 league games.
If he replicates or even exceeds the form he showed last year, he could easily be the difference between relegation and safety next season.
Forest will certainly be determined to build on last season’s achievement, and they have made a couple of smart signings this summer to further their cause.
However, they will require further reinforcements to bolster their chances of surviving the drop again this season. Otherwise, they risk getting left behind by their rivals.
Their home form is likely to be the key to their survival, and the raucous atmosphere at the City Ground could potentially earn them a few extra points this season.
However, we expect them to be heavily involved in a relegation battle this year, and their fate could be uncertain until the very end.
Predicted finish: 18th
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