OPINION: Karanka's team selections key to keeping Forest faithful on side
Nottingham Forest recent search for their 14th permanent club manager of the decade came to an end as they appointed Aitor Karanka.
The former Real Madrid defender had his most successful stint as manager in charge of Middlesbrough which saw them earn promotion to the Premier League.
Karanka, whose new team recently progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup, will take charge of the Reds against Aston Villa on Saturday.
A major factor that needs to be addressed at the City Ground is the defence. The Reds have conceded a massive 53 goals, across all competitions, this campaign, and are yet to find a settled back four.
Eric Lichaj has cemented himself into the right back position after being snubbed at the beginning of the season for new signing Tendayi Darikwa and academy graduate Joe Worrall has been ever present at centre half.
But with persistent injuries to the team’s left backs, Danny Fox and Armand Traore, and Matt Mills and Michael Mancienne being switched in and out at centre back, the Reds are still yet to find their perfect back four.
Lichaj netted two goals against Premier League opposition, Arsenal, in the FA Cup last weekend proving how capable and valuable the American is at attacking as well as defending for the team - but the same cannot be said for the left back position.
Traore has most recently claimed the position as his own but after a string of injuries after only 18 months at the club he may not be a reliable, consistent first choice player going forward.
A fast, strong, and hopefully injury-free left back would be a long awaited and highly anticipated new arrival at the City Ground if Karanka prioritises finding one.
Another vital member of any team that Forest appear to be lacking is a captain. Mancienne has occupied the captain armband this season in the absence of Chris Cohen but lacks the qualities that make a leader.
A loud and bossy centre half is something the club hasn’t seen since the sale of Wes Morgan and a purchase the fans desperately want. If Karanka wants to move his team further up the table an experienced, mature, and demanding centre back would be an essential recruitment.
However, transfers aren’t the only aspect Karanka needs to get correct during his first few weeks in charge, team selections are also key.
Previous manager Mark Warburton began to lose the fans backing when his team selections played players in unnatural positions. Fan favourites, Ben Brereton and Ben Osborn, were harshly moved out of their preferred positions and others were never given a fair opportunity to prove themselves.
This ultimately proved costly for Warburton and was something caretaker manager, Gary Brazil, took into account for last Sunday’s game. Brazil highlighted to Karanka that if he is to have a successful start to his Forest career following last week’s team choices would be a good start.
Brereton started the game as the sole striker and was pivotal in the win against Arsenal.
Warburton chose to play Brereton on the wing during his tenure and if Karanka watched the 18-year-old torment Arsenal captain Per Mertasacker he would know that the wing is not his position and can be the main source of goals moving forward.
Brereton isn’t the only youngster in the Forest first team that can be a source of any future success, Matty Cash is also.
The 20-year-old came through the Reds academy and looked promising after breaking through to the first team last season but an injury during pre-season halted his 2017/18 debut.
Cash jumped straight back into the starting 11 after Brazil took charge and proved his influence on the team. He can play comfortably across the midfield and brings a much-needed energy boost to the team.
A major key to any future Nottingham Forest success is the fans, a sold-out City Ground in full voice is the 12th man and can easily drive the team further, as Sunday’s game proved.
However, as previous mangers know all too well losing the backing of the Forest faithful can quickly push you out of the door to an early exit so if Karanka only takes one thing on board from looking at Forest’s past it is keeping the fans on side.