As each Nottingham Forest game passes by, a small group of Manchester United fans tend to flock to social media to see how James Garner performed. That group seems to be increasing on a weekly basis, as the midfielder continues to impress on loan at the City Ground.
Garner is one for the future and a player who United hold in high regard at Old Trafford, so much so, that they recalled the midfielder from his loan spell at Watford in January and sent him out elsewhere, despite playing 21 times for the Hornets in the first half of the season.
The 20-year-old has already made seven first-team appearances for the Red Devils, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be hoping that the midfielder returns to Old Trafford this summer a more mature, wiser player. More importantly, a player ready to test himself in the Premier League.
Since moving to Nottingham Forest in January, Garner has been an integral player under Chris Hughton. On Saturday, he received the man-of-the-match award for a tremendous display against Brentford, on an afternoon where he even picked up the captain’s armband after Lewis Grabban was replaced late on.
The midfielder has made 12 Championship appearances for the Reds – 11 of those being starts – and has added real quality to a Forest midfielder which was lacking guile and creativity.
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Forest have been missing the presence of Ben Watson for large parts of this season. The experienced midfielder was a vital player under Sabri Lamouchi last term, but departed upon the expiry of his contract and moved to Charlton Athletic as he looked to move closer to his family home.
Even though Garner is 15 years younger than Watson, his impact has been just as important.
If you look at his passing statistics, straight away, you can gather that Garner is a classy player. Across 33 appearances this season, he has accrued a pass accuracy of 82.4% (Wyscout), showing his technical ability on the ball and his refusal to give possession away cheaply. For a side like Manchester United, who pride themselves in playing out from the back and building attacks from defence, this is hugely important.
Garner has operated in a two-man midfield in Chris Hughton’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation since moving to Forest. Playing alongside more of an attack-minded midfielder in Cafu, the onus has been on Garner to recycle possession and break up play. The 20-year-old has won over half of his defensive duels in a Garibaldi shirt, and has made an average of 3.95 interceptions per game this term, committing only 1.53 fouls per game.
When given the license to break forward and join the attack, though, Garner has also proved his worth. He scored his first professional goal in a 1-1 draw at Derby County last month, finding space inside the area and guiding a left-footed effort into David Marshall’s bottom corner. In the following game, a late run into the area resulted in him forcing Luton Town’s Simon Sluga into a superb save to tip the ball around the far post.
This season, 56.1% of his dribbles have been successful and 22 shot assists have been registered. If Forest weren’t the unwanted owners of a conversion rate which ranks the lowest in the Championship, his assist tally could well be higher.
Garner still has a lot to do if he is to break into United’s first-team ahead of the likes of Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba, Fred and Nemanja Matic. With the latter approaching the age of 33, though, there is certainly scope for the 20-year-old to be given more of a first-team chance over the next season or two, and this loan spell at Forest could certainly be the start of a successful journey for him.
The signs are certainly there.