Nottingham Forest manager Martin O’Neill switched formations in his first match in charge of the club against Bristol City at The City Ground on Saturday, and his initial tactics suggest that Diogo Goncalves could have a bigger role to play than record signing Joao Carvalho during the run-in if he sticks with the same system.
The Irishman’s predecessor Aitor Karanka largely stuck with 4-2-3-1 throughout his tenure, but O’Neill instantly looked to stamp his mark on the side by lining up with a 4-4-2 formation that partnered Lewis Grabban up top with a player he knows well in Daryl Murphy.
The match may have ended in a 1-0 defeat but it was surely a sign of the way the 66-year-old intends to set up his side for the foreseeable future, with goal threat and width pivotal in the final third.
Joe Lolley and Matty Cash were tasked with getting balls into the box from wide areas at the weekend, but they also have competition for their places from Monaco loanee Gil Dias and Goncalves – neither of whom have exactly uprooted trees at Forest.
Despite what happened under Karanka previously, he could well be.
Carvalho and Goncalves joined Forest at the same time, according to BBC Sport, from Portuguese giants Benfica during the summer transfer window, and while the former has scored three goals and provided a further six assists in 26 Championship appearances, as per Whoscored, his 21-year-old has teammate hasn’t fared as well.
He only featured for 144 minutes in the league prior to O’Neill’s arrival at The City Ground, but his latest appearance on the bench suggests he is in his new manager’s thoughts because of his ability on the wing.
Carvalho is more used to playing a central attacking midfield role – he has often been given the job of featuring behind Grabban during the current campaign – but with the former Republic of Ireland boss likely to now favour two more balanced players at the heart of his 4-4-2, as he did with Jack Colback and Claudio Yacob at the weekend – the record buy may find first-team minutes harder to come by between now and May.
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