He's been given a free hand to make countless signings in a short period of time. Most of it has made sense, some of it less so. There has been a quietly mumbled ambition of promotion ASAP and it's partly been bourn out by the transfer dealings partly not. It seems as if Worrall and Brereton had been excluded from the plans before a ball was kicked - almost putting them into the same category as the 'dead wood' who were sent to train with the U23s. They were at least seen as more valuable assets although only one appears to have a future at the club. Personally I'd have thought both could have benefitted from a clear plan to take a year gaining experience whilst we 'give it a go' this season and review it next season when spaces will open up if only because of the passage of time. Hefele's arrival gave the numbers to make the Worrall loan look engineered, the lack of a replacement for Brereton otherwise. I hope this means the likes of Appiah and Gomis are given the chance to gain some experience and prove themselves better than Brereton was able to. Before the season it made sense to me. A solid, experienced spine with options and flair in wider positions. Preseason appeared to have gone smoothly and Karanka used it to tweak his best team, it couldn't be better. Since then however it seems to have gone largely out of the window. Some players have a 'golden ticket' whilst others are given a rest before they've stopped celebrating their last goal. Whatever is going on in his head it hasn't looked 100% coherent to anyone unable to enjoy that insight. He hasn't got many excuses left to use and needs to show leadership and clarity of thought and purpose that can give the whole club the confidence it needs to have in him. The next four games are vital. There's a mini crisis of his own making now that he needs to deal with. I believe he's a very capable and dedicated manager and the club have backed him. In fact I think the problem is almost he has been given too much trust and is now 'spoilt for choice' if anything.
Since the first ball was kicked we have seen mixed performances. A couple of strong performances but most characterised by spells of panic, changing tactics and a degree of fragility. I do wonder if a more relaxed approach to success in the Cup has led to better performances compared to the far higher anxiety shown in our league performances. I'd like to feel as if we knew eight or so of the starters every week by now but it's probably more like 5 currently. We have seen good qualities from some off the new arrivals in shorter spells and compelling performances from most notably Cash, Lolley and Guedioura who have been at their best. For one reason or another they all haven't played every minute but have no doubt made significant contributions. The whole squad need to accept that they too can be important without necessarily playing every game. Trust that their time will come and they will be rewarded when they warrant selection. It's not personal, just part of a far bigger plan.
There are two key areas that currently still don't really make sense to me. The striker and midfield is vital for any fully functioning team. Guedioura's injury has somewhat forced his hand but it must now be a law of physics that Watson and Colback just doesn't add up. Both have admirable qualities but they don't complement each other and give the team the engine it requires. Watson had a stinker against Birmingham. It happens and maybe it was right to give him the chance to redeem himself in the Cup which he duly did. To then not move on but make the same selection and need another redemption now... what happens after the International break? He is the club captain and it's always good to rehabilitate players in the wake of poor performances to maintain their confidence but the treatment of Watson and Murphy seems to revolve more around a constant crusade to find a way to include them regardless of their performances rather than the chopping and changing the rest of the team seem to be subjected to. The captaincy only complicates the issue too. For me you have to make the captain a player you will never drop, so currently it has to be Foxy. He has made himself undroppable and whilst Watson and Dawson remain on the periphery it surely makes sense to give Fox the role to keep it simple. It shouldn't be an issue. They are all seasoned pros. Watson hasn't played too badly, to be fair to Murphy too, he has played some of his best games for Forest recently and has found the net. However both, when anything below their best, are of virtually no use to the team and render it impotent.
How do Forest want to play? To be frank it's not 100% clear still but for me it seems to revolve around the expansive play from a central midfielder to stretch the game mixed with the short inter-passing of the midfield with winders cutting in once play has been stretched by the threat posed on the wings once established. This makes sense. The problem is with Adlene's absence there's no one else really able to fit the bill as playmaker. With Colback and Watson, or even Bridcutt as against Newcastle we still have the option to play through them, albeit predictable and therefore with less regularity. Therefore we are able to see the effectiveness of the likes of Cash and Lolley to come off their wings. Murphy doesn't work in this system really. He is far more suited to a team where we are hitting the line and putting in crosses like Byram was showing he was more than capable of. Grabban offers more flexibility and suits both systems to some extent. I don't think there's a problem there and despite my misgivings about Murphy there's no doubt he's a decent option as a 'big 'un' if that is what is needed. You need to perm a combination from him, Grabban and Carvalho and Soudani it seems. As a rule of thumb I'd always go for Grabban with Carvalho in a 'fully functioning team' and use Murphy/Soudani as a more direct, plan B option when you want to play tighter, possibly away from home and switch things up from the bench. There are options and using Carvalho/Soudani as 60/30 subs immediately allows you to adapt gracefully from kickoff or mid-game when necessary. Again out wide there are encouraging signs we have the necessary ingredients. Cash and Lolley are better than ever and demand inclusion or a very strong reason not to. Dias has shown huge potential if not quite delivered on it just yet, but his time will come, give him an inch and he'll take a mile. Goncalves has obviously not found it easy so far. He has undoubted talent and the only concern with him should be to give him time and opportunity to prove himself by removing all pressure from his shoulders. We are lucky that we have the options firing to make his problems less of an issue. His time will come.
After scratching my head about this for quite some time I was delighted with the signing of the Greek enforcer with apparently the wide passing range we were sorely missing. I've never seen him play but if his billing is anything to go by then Panagiotis Tachtsidis will be perfect to give us what we were missing. I'm not so bothered about how good he might be, we sorely need this part to make the rest of the machine work. The arrival of Claudio Jacob was however far more bemusing. He's a decent player no doubt and an effective 'destroyer' but if it's him that ends up being the preferred option then where does that leave Colback and even more so Watson? It doesn't matter which of the three you prefer, there can only ever surely be space to pick one of them. You also have Bridcutt and Osborn is too good to be left out too.
The defence has shown some of the same problems in the past although I put them down to the same failings and more structural in nature than down to the players. The less obvious problem is the midfield. If that's not working then it's virtually impossible for either the defence or attack to thrive in isolation. The combination of Guedioura with Colback is a no brainer for me. Assuming they're on form they deliver the perfect combination of control, threat, strength and guile to ensure our opponents cannot feel comfortable or have the time to win balls and measure passes into our box for the defence to deal with. Watson is a great replacement for Colback as required but who could previously fill Guedioura's boots without breaking the system? With Watson pairing Colback we see the centre halves required to make passes into the channels which inevitably tend to be longer, slower and more predictable effectively removing that threat and limiting the wingers and full backs ability to get behind defences. I feel this was the one area Forest skimped on in their transfer dealings and have now addressed with the arrival of Tachtsidis. There was always a plan to buy the stellar play maker but the renaissance of Adlene made it seem somewhat optional as he now had to play and only one could. It was a tricky one as you need someone good but prepared to pay second fiddle on occasion too. Hopefully this is what Karanka saw too and has now closed the barn door.
I feel he had everything sorted in preseason and since then has panicked a little be and been too reactive to what has happened in individual games. He's no doubt a control freak and has not been able to resist the temptation to do whatever he can to put things right. Not only with selection, signings, and his style but I also wonder if maybe he's training them a bit too hard too? I don't know but that's how it looks sometimes. Personally I think the whole squad has to get together, regroup and get an understanding of what is needed, that they are all together, capable, trusted and have their parts to play - all of equal importance if not size. Karanka has to listen to them, trust them and share the burden of expectation with them too. This is all just the impression I get. The team will take time to gel and it's not been as easy as it seemed because he's still not settled on his best team. Karanka needs to back his first eleven but value his entire squad and they all need to know that. He has to use the carrot as well as the stick, at the right time and place. You don't want players to be complacent but you do want them to be comfortable and confident. Knowing the manager backs them and has their interests at heart as well as the clubs. They will lose their place if they don't perform but if they apply themselves and are good enough they will win it back in due course. I have no doubt about his ability but under pressure you do feel as if he's the football equivalent of Amir Khan. It's hard to walk the talk. You need establish the confidence of the club, players and fans and respect of opponents - you do that with your talent and your approach. It's important for Karanka to start to instil the fear and confidence Mike Tyson employed in his heyday but he needs to muster some results before he's able to do that and so far he's not been able to get them under his belt.
He has to resist the temptation to tinker too much and trust himself as much as anything. So often less is more. It's an adage that's so true in music. The classics are simple and timeless - you ruin them when you keep trying to improve them by adding more and over producing them. Karanka will find the perfect formula when he clears his mind and picks a team off the cuff and gives them a clear, simple message about the system and way he wants them to play. That he's given them the chance but he'll pick the team on form and there are good replacements for every one of them waiting for their chance. They are all important and part of an exciting project that they should enjoy above all else - if he can do this then the results should follow. It's not rocket science, it's an art, sometimes you need to remember that - it's all about people and how they work.