It promises to be a summer of transition for Nottingham Forest as Chris Hughton prepares to revamp his Nottingham Forest squad.
Forest fans may wince at the word ‘overhaul’ after what was a hectic summer transfer window last time out. The Reds were looking to bounce back after missing out on the play-offs, making 13 new signings before Sabri Lamouchi was relieved of his duties.
Before he was even able to unpack his bags on Trentside, Chris Hughton already had a big task on his hands – to get to grips with a heavily congested squad, being left with very little time to dip his toes into the transfer market.
Hughton managed to bring in Anthony Knockaert on loan from Fulham with the few days he had in October, with Filip Krovinovic, James Garner and Glenn Murray putting pen to paper over the course of a hectic January.
Mathematical safety has now been secured, and Hughton can now switch his attention to his first full summer window at the helm.
The manager is more than aware that he will be a busy man this summer. Five loan players are set to return to their parent clubs, and seven are likely to be let go upon the expiration of their contracts.
Speculation is already rife, with potential transfer targets being linked with moves to the City Ground. Here,we take a look at four ways Forest could line-up under Hughton in 2021/22 if their reported targets sign on the dotted line…
Line-up 1: Primary targets landed
There is one common theme with each of first three line-ups. They all set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which is a system Hughton has stuck by for large parts of his managerial career. He won promotion with Brighton using that formation, and it is the system he has used since taking charge of Forest.
Out of possession, Forest sit in a 4-3-3 system with two 8s, but in attack, a number 10 lies behind a striker with two holding midfielders supporting.
A lot will hinge on whether James Garner is allowed to rejoin Forest in the summer. The Reds are keen to tie the midfielder down to a new loan deal from Manchester United, but the Red Devils are considering a foreign loan move, as well as weighing up options from the Premier League.
But the 20-year-old has shown great signs of progression since joining Forest, with Chris Hughton managing to get the best out of him. If he stays, then he would be a regular starter next season.
A striker is also likely to be on the Reds’ radar, and perhaps the biggest understatement is that Forest have struggled for goals this season.
In Glenn Murray, Lyle Taylor and Lewis Grabban, they have three strikers all over the age of 31 who have chipped in with 13 goals between them this season.
The Reds have recently been linked with the signing of Charlie Wyke – the 30-goal Sunderland striker who is out of contract in the summer and could be available on a free. Cardiff, Middlesbrough and Millwall are also keen, so it would be a coup to lure him to the City Ground.
Cyrus Christie has also shown huge signs of improvement since the start of the season. He is out of contract in the summer at Fulham, but the Cottagers do have an option to extend his deal by a further year.
Finally, there could be a reunion at the City Ground this summer with Jamie Paterson being linked with his former club. Paterson spent three years on Trentside between 2013 and 2016, and Football Insider report that the Reds are among those interested in signing the Bristol City playmaker on a free transfer this summer, with his contract set to be up.
He could be a ready-made replacement for Krovinovic, but his ability to play slightly deeper was displayed when he beat Forest 2-1 at the City Ground under Dean Holden in October.
Line-up 2: Faith in League One
If Forest are unable to land Garner for another year, then their attentions may well turn to the league below.
Football Insider claim that Forest are lining up a bid for Gillingham captain Kyle Dempsey, who has scored eight goals and registered four assists from midfield in League One this season. It is said that a bid of around £500,000 to £750,000 would be enough to lure Dempsey away from Priestfield and over to the East Midlands.
A technically-gifted midfielder, his attack-minded attributes could make him a perfect midfielder in Hughton’s 4-2-3-1 system, especially alongside a midfielder in Ryan Yates who is more than known for his battling tendencies.
Tyrese Fornah will also be looking to add those physical attributes, though, having benefited from having plenty of game time on loan at Plymouth Argyle this term.
The Blackpool forward has scored 18 goals in 41 league games for the Tangerines this season, spearheading them to what looks to be a play-off finish in League One.
And, if a deal for Christie cannot be struck, then Jordan Gabriel is another player to have thrived for Blackpool this term, with the Forest loanee undoubtedly champing at the bit to break his way into the Forest first-team.
Line-up 3: Lack of depth?
This is obviously fanciful as Forest are bound to make signings this summer, but a starting XI of the players who are under contract heading into next season makes for interesting reading.
The last week has shown that injuries to Sammy Ameobi and Joe Lolley leave Forest short of depth out wide. Filip Krovinovic played on the left flank against Stoke, whilst loanee Luke Freeman hobbled off injured and was replaced by another loanee in Anthony Knockaert.
With the two loanees set to return to their parent clubs having flattered to deceive this term, and Ameobi set to be out of contract in the summer, Lolley and Alex Mighten may be the only out-and-out wingers at the club by the time pre-season gets underway.
Brennan Johnson, of course, will have something to say about that. The Wales international has flourished out on loan in League One with Lincoln City this season, scoring 12 goals and chipping in with a number of assists for the Imps.
He has established himself as a dangerous left-sided midfielder capable of driving in from the left, and will undoubtedly give Hughton an option in the final third next term.
Line-up 4: Hughton out of his comfort zone?
If there is an area of the pitch where Forest do have plenty of depth, though, it is in defence.
Scott McKenna and Joe Worrall have both had frustrating seasons with injury, but whenever the pair have played together, they have looked like an astute pairing. The duo will realistically start next season as Hughton’s preferred duo in defence, having forged a solid partnership and understanding with each other towards the end of this campaign, albeit if interest in Worrall stays away.
But Loic Mbe Soh is a talented defender who has had to be very patient this season. The young Frenchman arrived from PSG in the summer, but has since made only seven appearances for the Reds.
Hughton has hinted that a loan move could be in the offing for the 19-year-old this summer, having seen Johnson, Gabriel and Tyrese Fornah thrive in League One this term.
But should he look to develop a Plan-B, a 3-5-2 formation could be an interesting prospect.
This would also see Forest move to a formation which sees two strikers start up top, something which Lyle Taylor may be delighted about.
Taylor thrived in a similar formation at Charlton, scoring 11 goals in 22 games last season whilst playing alongside either Macauley Bonne or Chuks Aneke. There is less onus on him to lead the line on his own, and playing off someone could be beneficial for the 31-year-old.
Gabriel has operated in more of a wing-back role for Blackpool this season, but on the opposite flank, there could be issues. Tyler Blackett looks comfortable in a back-four, but whether he has the ability to produce a constant source of attacking output over the course of the season remains to be seen.