Tactics writer Sam Tighe previews Southampton's Monday night trip to the City Ground to take on survival rivals Nottingham Forest in the Premier League.

Promoted Nottingham Forest generated a lot of talk last summer after a run to the play-offs and then a busy transfer window. How has the season panned out for them so far?

For a newly-promoted team, the first goal is always simple: stay up. The summer work is all geared towards this single aim, and with four games to go in this Premier League season, they’re in with a shot of achieving it.

As the season has worn on, Forest have steadily become a more reactive, counter-attacking side. Manager Steve Cooper is renowned for his attacking philosophy and in that run to and through the play-offs last season, they played some thrilling stuff. But life in the bottom half of the Premier League is tough, and adaptation is an absolute necessity.

They’ve had to bounce back from some very difficult periods of form and found games away from home extremely difficult, leading Cooper to shift his focus in a bid to beat the drop.

What threats should Southampton be wary of?

It’s near-impossible to play effectively on the counter-attack if you lack speed or dribbling ability. Fortunately for Forest, they have both.

With the first ball out from the back, they look for either Brennan Johnson or Morgan Gibbs-White, who support the striker in slightly different ways. Johnson, recently clocked in as the fastest player in the Premier League this season (22.8 mph) drifts wide to the right and can run onto balls over the top; Gibbs-White is a ball carrier and works the central column of the pitch to good effect, gaining 30-40 yards with solo runs at times.

With Taiwo Awoniyi occupying and pinning the centre-backs and creating space for his teammates to utilise, it can be difficult to stop Forest’s more direct approach on the counter. That said, in recent months, Forest have had difficulty turning these counter-attacking surges into good shots or chances, with moves often breaking down.

How can Southampton cause Forest issues?

Forest may defend deeper now, but when the ball reaches their own third they can become very aggressive in trying to snuff out danger. This has led to centre-backs leaving the line to hunt the ball, which can create openings and, in Felipe’s case, has led to five yellow cards since signing in January.

Against Brentford last weekend they struggled to stop crosses coming into the box and the low deliveries, flashed across the face of goal, caused particular issues. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas tends to stay on his line rather than step out to claim, so corridors do open up here and there.

A few weeks before, against Aston Villa, the same issues cropped up; Villa stretched the pitch horizontally as much as possible to widen the gaps between Forest’s defenders, then used the space created.

Rubén Sellés has plenty of options at his disposal to work some of these angles. Carlos Alcaraz’s ability to pop up in the box and score could be especially useful if Saints can put a good stream of balls into the box.

Predicted XI (3-4-2-1): Navas; Worrall, Felipe, Niakhaté; Aurier, Freuler, Mangala, Renan Lodi; Johnson, Gibbs-White; Awoniyi.

Forest have a huge squad but also a huge injury list, meaning they’re not as flush with options as they really should be
-Johnson limped off against Brentford but with over a week to recover, it’s hoped he’ll play
-Danilo also limped off and may not make Monday’s game; Cheikhou Kouyate and Freuler will both be eager to step in
-Emmanuel Dennis and André Ayew can offer a different perspective up front to Awoniyi if he needs a rest