James Garner is showing why he could be set for a surprise opportunity in the Manchester United first-team next season.
The 21-year-old is regarded as one of the most talented players to come through the ranks at Old Trafford in recent years, proving his talent as he earns his stripes away from the club.
The start of the 2020/21 season saw the central midfielder head out on loan to then-Championship side Watford where he made 21 appearances, before scoring four goals in 20 appearances during a loan spell with Nottingham Forest in the second half of that term.
He then returned to the City Ground last summer, linking up with the Tricky Trees for the second time in a season-long loan.
It was the perfect dress rehearsal to show what he was capable of.
So how has Garner fared in his second spell with Forest this term? talkSPORT.com takes a look…
James Garner: Season in numbers to date
Minutes played 2475
Yellow cards 8
Red cards: 0
Pass success rate: 79.9%
James Garner: Position and responsibilities
A central midfielder by trade, Garner is a player who is incredibly comfortable on the ball.
The 21-year-old isn’t renowned for his goalscoring or ability to tee up his teammates, but instead dictates play from a deep position as he picks the ball up from the defenders, before looking to move the team forward on the attack.
Typically playing alongside Ryan Yates or Jack Colback in Forest’s midfield, Garner’s role is typically quite reserved as he slots in to cover for the club’s wing-backs such as Djed Spence, while also allowing the likes of Brennan Johnson and Philip Zinckernagel to play a more natural, attack-minded role.
With Forest within touching distance of the play-off spots, the club’s manager Steve Cooper will be hoping for more of the same from the midfielder between now and the end of the season.
James Garner: Key moments
Forest’s run in the FA Cup has been a huge headline-grabber this season.
Despite being knocked out in the quarter-finals by Liverpool, Cooper’s side did incredibly well to reach the last-eight by defeating Arsenal, Leicester City and Huddersfield on their way.
While playing an integral part in that journey to the quarter-finals, Garner has been hugely consistent in his performances in the Championship.
Recent victories over Blackburn Rovers and Bristol City in the league have really seen Forest establish themselves as candidates for the play-offs, but if the Reds are to go up they’ll need Garner and his teammates to continue their current wonderful form that has seen them go seven matches unbeaten in the second tier.
James Garner: What has been said?
Forest manager Steve Cooper has been full of praise for the midfielder, saying: “I knew him from his England Under-17 days, where he was captain, so we had a relationship before here.
“He has been excellent.
“Over recent months he has been a high-performing player in the team. He has been a constant selection for us.
“The loan is proving to be a really beneficial one.
“It is important now that he stays at the same level for the run-in. He needs to get to the end of the season and be able to say that he is a better player than he was before he came here. That is always the objective of a loan.”
James Garner: What does the future hold?
Garner could be gearing up for a huge summer in his fledgling career to date.
After thriving with Nottingham Forest this term, the midfielder looks like a player who could be ready to make that step up to Premier League level.
Logic would suggest that if that was to happen, then it could come with a newly-promoted team – perhaps Forest if they were able to secure promotion.
However, the winds of change at Old Trafford could offer a surprise opportunity in the first-team.
With Paul Pogba out of contract, Nemanja Matic past his peak and questions over the ‘McFred’ partnership of Fred and Scott McTominay, the centre of Manchester United’s midfield seems like an area that is far from set ahead of the new season under a new manager.
Garner is very highly-rated at Old Trafford and, given his technical ability and physical attributes that can see him press hard and defend aggressively, he could be someone who sees an opportunity for himself to impress during pre-season.
Whatever happens at United, the England under-21 international is someone who will undoubtedly be playing in the top flight before long and, after impressing at the City Ground, it may well be an opportunity that crops up sooner rather than later.
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