Nottingham Forest are returning to the Premier League after 23 years away – and they appear to be making all the right moves as they look to stay there.
Having won promotion from the Championship after a 1-0 play-off final win over Huddersfield, Steve Cooper’s side are ready to show everyone why they received so many plaudits last season.
Cooper has to take a lot of credit for that, having taken charge when they were rock bottom of the second tier, before turning the perennial disappointers into a promotion-worthy team.
However, they will be without six players who played a key part in last season’s squad for the upcoming campaign.
Max Lowe, Djed Spence, James Garner, Philip Zinckernagel and Keinan Davis have all left the club after their loans expired, whilst Brice Samba signed for French club Lens.
For some clubs, including Forest if this had happened a few years ago, this may seem like a disaster.
But the two-time European Cup winners are now stronger, if anything, since those departures, having worked some magic in the transfer window this summer.
Now 10 players have already been signed to play a role in their mission to avoid relegation, with at least another expected to join them.
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One of their most high-profile signings was Samba’s replacement, Dean Henderson.
The England international arrived on loan from Manchester United, despite being wanted by numerous Premier League clubs, and is one of the most highly-rated goalkeepers in the division.
Two new full-backs were also needed, with Lowe and Spence returning to Sheffield United and Middlesbrough, respectively – before the latter signed for Tottenham.
One from Bayern Munich and one from Liverpool will do, as left-back Omar Richards and right-back Neco Williams arrived at the City Ground for a combined £26million.
Another left-back, Harry Toffolo, has joined Cooper’s growing army of defenders, along with Huddersfield teammate Lewis O’Brien.
O’Brien will be Garner’s replacement in centre-midfielder and will currently partner academy graduate Ryan Yates in the 3-5-2/3-4-3 that was so successful last season.
Not only did Forest beat Huddersfield in the play-off final, but they have also signed two of their best players for what is a reported total of £10m – a preposterously good deal.
And preposterously good deals seem to be the theme of Forest’s transfer window, which includes moves for Bundesliga duo Moussa Niakhate (£9m) and Taiwo Awoniyi (£18.5m).
Centre-back Niakhate captained Mainz to an eighth-placed finish last season, whilst former Liverpool striker Awoniyi (who never played a game for the Reds) netted 15 goals in 31 games.
Despite splashing the cash on Niakhate, he’s not guaranteed a start, after the trio of Scott McKenna, Steve Cook and Joe Worrall conceded just 40 goals last season.
Any of those four could start in their opener against Newcastle when the season kicks off on August 6.
And one player who could join them in the starting XI is free agent Jesse Lingard, who is reportedly in talks to join the newly-promoted side.
The attacking midfielder, who is a free agent following the expiration of his Man United contract, is said to be leaning towards a move to Forest after West Ham refused to increase their wage offer.
The club were originally targeting Wolves forward Morgan Gibbs-White, but Lingard now appears to be the man they want to bolster their attack.
He would play alongside Awoniyi and Welsh starlet Brennan Johnson, who has the potential to light up the Premier League next season, despite being just 21 years old.
Johnson scored 16 goals and provided nine assists last season and, along with his old and new teammates, he could be key in keeping Forest in the Premier League next season.
Whilst some will assume that last season’s play-off winners will go straight back down, this Forest side is ready to prove everyone wrong.
The £63m they’ve already spent shows that the east Midlanders mean business ahead of next season.
And, with Cooper in charge, anything is possible.
How Nottingham Forest could look this season…
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