Liverpool vs. Nottingham Forest: Premier League Matchday 27 Preview

Liverpool head out for an away match with Nottingham Forest.

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Once again, the kids are a big part of the plan for Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Amidst horrific injury woes, the Reds fielded a youth-heavy lineup in the FA Cup Round of 16 against Southampton, and the newcomers got the job done in a 3-0 win.

For the first time in Liverpool history, two goal scorers of age 18 or younger chipped in, including the first two goals of promising forward Jayden Danns’ career.

However, the only match that matters is the next one, and it’s a sneaky-tough one. It would be easy to look past a fixture against Nottingham Forest- the next four after that one include two Europa League Round of 16 matches against Sparta Praha, a Premier League clash with three-time defending champs Manchester City, and an FA Cup Quarterfinal against longtime rivals Manchester United. 

Still, Forest are a tough side at home, and these three points are vital as Liverpool look to stay a point ahead of City. Let’s take a look at what we might be able to expect from Klopp’s side as they return to Premier League action this weekend.

Top of the Pitch

Yes, we have to talk about Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez once more. Neither one appeared or was even named in the squad against Southampton, even though the belief was that both were close to a return.

Presumably, Klopp was content to play the kids against a Championship side, and the gamble paid off as youngsters Danns and Lewis Koumas both made it onto the scoresheet. 

However, at a certain point, a long view has to be taken. Even if Klopp believes that Liverpool can get past Forest without Salah and Nunez- which is not a given by any means- he probably needs to start giving them some bench minutes if he wants them comfortable and fit to perform in a larger capacity against the two Manchester clubs and Sparta Praha. 

Expect Luis Díaz to return to the lineup after a much-needed full day off against Southampton. He should be joined by some combination of Harvey Elliott, Cody Gakpo, and the two teenage strikers.

Salah, Nunez, and any of those three who end up on the bench will all be strong contenders to see the pitch later and look to fire in some goals against a Nottingham Forest defense that ranks 15th in goals conceded per match and a respectable ninth in xG conceded. 

The Midfield

The midfield against Southampton had an interesting look to it, to say the least. Youngsters Bobby Clark and James McConnell both started; the former even played a full 90 and contributed an assist. But officially on the sheet, they were flanking none other than Joe Gomez, as Klopp started five true defenders. 

Don’t expect anything similar to that particular approach against Forest. Alexis Mac Allister played just 30 minutes on Wednesday and as he is one of the few fit starters, he should be a centerpiece in the XI.

That being said, with tenuous timelines for the returns of Wataru Endō and Stefan Bajcetic, it’s hard to know who else might be in the lineup.

Elliott could slide back if Klopp feels good enough to give more time to the questionably-fit senior players or the breakout young forwards, but other than him, it might be a youth-heavy midfield. Mac Allister in the middle flanked by Clark and Elliott could be a good bet, but with Klopp’s ever-changing and creative tactics, we won’t truly know until the team sheet comes out.

If the youngsters are in the lineup, it won’t necessarily be a true trial by fire, as Forest ranks 18th in the league with an upsetting average of 40.4% possession.

Newcomer Nicolás Dominguez has been a breath of fresh air of late, with appearances all over the pitch and a couple of assists in his last three league outings, but Nottingham’s greatest strengths certainly lie elsewhere on the pitch.

The Back End

As evidenced by Klopp’s decision to play five defenders against Southampton, this is still the healthiest position group for Liverpool.

After Virgil and Ibrahima Konaté each played half of the Southampton game, expect their partnership in the middle to be on display once more, with Andy Robertson set to step back in at left back after a day off and Conor Bradley once more on the right.

It’s amazing to see how powerful Klopp’s system truly is, as it feels like Bradley and Robertson have already developed so much chemistry even though the two have only been playing together on a regular basis for a few weeks.

It’s not a true replacement for the historic Robertson-Alexander-Arnold pairing, but it’s a great stand-in, and a testament to the gaffer’s ability to prepare his players.

Even if the goal scoring numbers aren’t quite there, Forest’s attack is probably its most talented position group. The versatile Morgan Gibbs-White has been easily the squad’s best player with positive contributions even when he isn’t able to score or assist, Chris Wood and Taiwo Awoniyi provide some solid finishing up top, and Anthony Elanga seems to always be around for a timely goal.

Unfortunately for them, they’re running into the most intact and in-form Liverpool position group; we’ll see if the home atmosphere can buoy them to a goal or more, but it’ll be an uphill battle in that regard.