Manchester United will be looking to climb into the top four sooner rather than later
Nottingham Forest need points on the board in their battle against relegation
Manchester United will probably prove too strong for the visitors to Old Trafford
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We fancy Erik ten Hag’s side to start the second part of the season with a victory and a clean sheet.
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That is a consequence of the scheduling of the tournament in Qatar in November and December, which always meant there would be no break between its end and the resumption of domestic soccer (with the exception of the Bundesliga, which does not return until January 20).
It is fair to say Manchester United had a mixed start to the 2022/23 campaign. There were a number of low moments - back-to-back defeats by Brentford and Brighton, a demolition by local rivals Manchester City - and a few highs too, including triumphs over Liverpool, Arsenal, and Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford.
United are still a work in progress under Erik ten Hag, but there were signs before the break that things were starting to come together for the Dutchman. United signed off with a last-gasp victory over Fulham, with the winner scored by teenage starlet Alejandro Garnacho. They lost only one of their last seven Premier League outings before the pause for the World Cup.
That was not enough for United to break into the top four, but they could easily climb into the Champions League qualification spots before the start of 2023. They are just three points outside as things stand, although it is worth noting that their goal difference of zero is poor compared to the teams around them in the table.
Nevertheless, United are clearly moving in the right direction. The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo should serve them well, removing a disruptive influence from the locker room. Ten Hag’s position has been strengthened as a result and that should help the former Ajax head coach moving forward.
Nottingham Forest were also showing signs of life before the action in Qatar got underway. After signing 22 players in the summer transfer window, Steve Cooper’s side were slow out of the blocks following promotion through the EFL Championship play-offs. Unsurprisingly, it took the manager a while to fashion a cohesive side out of so many different parts.
Forest won just one of their first 11 matches and an instant return to the second tier seemed inevitable. But a 1-0 defeat of Liverpool kick-started a run in which Forest lost just one of four matches, beating Crystal Palace and drawing with Brentford along the way.
Cooper’s side remain in the bottom three, but they are 18th instead of 20th and a win at Old Trafford could be enough for them to climb above the dreaded dotted line. That would be a major boost for Forest going into the new year.
Yet there is still plenty of work to do. Only Bournemouth have conceded more goals than Forest, who are unlikely to avoid the drop unless they tighten up at the back. At the other end, only Wolves have found the back of the net less often. Attacking inefficiency and defensive openness is never a recipe for success at any level.
Forest will hope that a few weeks off will have done them good, allowing Cooper plenty of time on the training ground to work with a new-look squad. Only time will tell if that proves to be the case, but an improved performance here would give Forest renewed hope that they can extend their stay in the top flight by at least one more season.
It is hard to know how well Premier League teams will perform after such an unusual mid-season break. Some may look refreshed, re-energized, and ready to go immediately. Others could appear sluggish and require time to get back into the groove. Before the action returns, it is impossible to know which teams will fit into which category.
That in turn makes it hard to predict the outcome of matches like this. Will increased training time have made United a more coherent attacking outfit capable of blowing the likes of Forest away? Or, short of competitive action, will they be rusty and easily blunted by opponents who will no doubt sit deep and pack men behind the ball?
Given their poor record going forward so far this season, Forest may find it tough to score at Old Trafford - even if they do have some success in frustrating the home team’s attack. With that in mind, a win to nil could be the way to go here.
United could be without their two starting center-backs in Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez, who both started the World Cup final, but Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof are more than capable of deputizing.
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Teams: Manchester United vs Nottingham Forest
Location: Old Trafford, Manchester, England
Date and Time: Tuesday, 27 December 2022, 03.00 PM EST
How to Watch: USA Network
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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