Nottingham Forest’s next match, at home to Millwall, truly is a must win game.
That oft-used phrase is particularly relevant this week as the result could shape how the rest of the season unfolds.
If Forest win, then they could go 14 points clear of 22nd-placed Millwall (depending on the Lions’ result against Reading on Tuesday night) and effectively banish any thought of being dragged into a relegation battle.
A defeat, however, coupled with Millwall winning their midweek fixture, would leave the gap between the two as just five points, meaning that the threat of relegation would suddenly be very real.
The team selected by Forest boss Stuart Pearce therefore becomes of even greater significance. The team’s current run of just three wins in their last 22 games in all competitions (which began with a 0-0 draw at The New Den in September) is abysmal and Pearce is seemingly yet to find a winning formula.
All confidence gained in the fantastic win at arch-rivals Derby County was seemingly eroded when the Reds went 3-0 down against Fulham in their next game.
The XI for this game was identical to the one that started that Derby win, but it quickly became apparent that it was one designed to cope with Derby’s specific threats - the physical Chris Martin - rather than the more elusive trickery of Fulham’s Ross McCormack.
Forest need to pick a team on Saturday that combines the players who have emerged from recent games with credit (de Vries, Osborn, Tesche) with those who are - in theory - the club’s best (Lansbury, Assombalonga, Mancienne).
A formation that could be used on Saturday is the diamond formation (a narrow 4-1-2-1-2).
This would ensure that the players mentioned earlier are selected in their best positions, and also be fresh enough to offer something different as it is not a formation that Pearce has started with yet this season.
It is also an attacking formation (used by Liverpool to devastating effect in the Premier League last season) - Forest are the favourites going into Saturday’s match and they must play like they are.
In some recent matches (Rochdale in the FA Cup being the most notable example) the Reds have shown their opponents too much respect.
Below is the team that could implement the diamond formation most effectively - comment below and have your say on the team for such an important game.
Dorus de Vries (GK)
The experienced Dutchman has made some spectacular saves since replacing Karl Darlow in goal, and the jersey seems to be his to lose at the moment.
Eric Lichaj (RB)
Has never convinced at left-back; the emergence of Stephen McLaughlin as a credible option in that position means that Lichaj could be restored to his preferred flank ahead of the loanee Todd Kane. It would have been interesting to have seen whether Chris Cohen would have eventually been played at left-back had he remained fit, with Pearce never fully trusting either Dan Harding or Danny Fox.
Stephen McLaughlin (LB)
Has yet to start a game in his new position but has offered an attacking threat in his substitute appearances in the role. Forest will need to put Millwall under pressure from the start and an attacking full-back is key for this diamond system to work.
Jack Hobbs (CB)
Is the club’s best central defender and will be hoping to finally get a significant injury-free run in the team - has only featured 11 times since joining the club permanently almost exactly a year ago.
Michael Mancienne (CB)
Assuming Mancienne is fit enough to start on Saturday, his partnership with Hobbs, which looked so promising in August, should be given more time to develop. Didn’t seem suited to the captaincy role; presumably Hobbs will retain the armband.
Robert Tesche (CDM)
The summer signing from Hamburg is not afraid to make his presence felt on opponents and has an impressive passing range. Will need to show discipline and hold his position in this system but has the quality to do so.
Henri Lansbury (RCM)
Lansbury has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism from some sections of the Forest support this season, with his two-goal showing last time out against Fulham offering a tantalising glimpse at what he can be capable of.
Ben Osborn (LCM)
Has been one of few bright spots for Forest in recent weeks, with his spectacular winner against Derby being the highlight of his increasingly mature displays. Playing on the left of a diamond will allow him the opportunity to team up with McLaughlin on the left-wing, as well as to influence the game from the middle.
Matty Fryatt (CAM)
Along with Mancienne, is expected to return from injury on Saturday. Offers intelligent link-up play between the midfield and the front two.
Britt Assombalonga (ST)
His recent goals for Forest have been predatory finishes, contrasting with his more explosive efforts from earlier in the season. This ability to score different types of goals means that he is still the first name on the teamsheet; assuming the chances are created he is one of the most reliable strikers in the league.
Michail Antonio (ST)
Antonio has found himself marked out of the game whilst on the wing in some matches, which is why it will be interesting to see him partnering Assombalonga in this formation. He will be given the freedom to drift to the left if required, but he will not be relied upon as much defensively meaning he should be able to wreak havoc amongst the Millwall defence.