It’s been over a month and a half since Nottingham Forest clinched their historic promotion back to the Premier League after a 23-year absence.
An absence as lengthy as 20 plus years for a club as big as Nottingham Forest, always leads to expectations. Whereas that shouldn’t be the case in this situation – the start to last season couldn’t have gone worse for the City side, as they only picked up one win, six losses, and a draw from eight games – taking 0.5 points per game.
This eventually led to the sacking of former Brighton manager Chris Hughton, and in came Steve Cooper. Cooper’s arrival sparked an instant revival with the mood lift from the former England youth manager transcended onto the pitch and was felt by the fans especially.
Forest would go on to win twenty-two, draw ten, and only lose six, as they secured a promotion place and would eventually win that said playoff run in the final versus Huddersfield Town. Being back in the top-flight brings about an emphasis on spending, and spending big,
So far, it’s hard to say that Forest hasn’t done that, with the club spending £62 million so far; Taiwo Awoniyi, Neco Williams, Giulian Biancone, Omar Richards, and Dean Henderson all being signed, but one name that has gone under the radar and can provide to be an intelligent and astute capture is Moussa Niakhaté.
The 26-year-old defender was entering the final year of his contract with German club Mainz and provided Forest with a cheap option willing to take the next step up in his career, and a deal was done for a fee of around £9 million.
The Frenchman came through the LOSC Lille academy as a standard French youth product who had similar potential amongst his peers that could be one day renowned on the international stage. He made his debut for Valenciennes in 2014, for who he made 77 appearances in three seasons.
A brief stint at Ligue 1 side FC Metz would see the former French youth international join Bundesliga side, Mainz – making 100 appearances for the club and establishing himself as club captain.
Moussa Niakhate’s Style of Play
Moussa Niakhate is a left-footed center-back and has primarily operated on the left side of a back three – this will provide a smooth transition to Nottingham Forest who also play a back three.
Niakhate is a highly proactive defender, who takes up the role of being an aggressive outside defender in one of the most exciting pressing systems in Germany, usually closing down opposition wingers or full-backs – Antonio Rüdiger-esque. This style of play will likely see Scottish defender Scott McKenna move inside a take up the central role in the back three.
His aggressiveness shouldn’t deteriorate the spectator from his ball-playing abilities. The defender offers a vital progressive outlet from the back, ranking in the top 10 percentile for progressive passes amongst defenders, and also ranks in the top 7 percentile for shot-creating actions (SCA) – emphasizing the technical skill he has and his ability in possession.
At 6’3, the Frenchman offers a valuable asset in both boxes, especially the opposition box as a set-piece threat. Also, worth noting he was the designated penalty-taker for his former side, Mainz.
What Does Moussa Niakhate Bring to Nottingham Forest?
Nottingham Forest and Mainz share some interesting similarities, as also another Bundesliga side Union Berlin, who have had their former player snatched by Forest, Taiwo Awoniyi.
Niakhate’s ability to progress the ball on that left side is something Forest needs, and having someone with more ambition on the ball, especially in starting quick transitions.
Mainz see quite little of the ball in their matches – only averaging 40% of possession, something similar that Forest will face in the Premier League. This means that the structure is mid to low block when off the ball, and set up an extremely effective pressing system thanks to the talents of Bo Svensson.
The Frenchman tends to maraud forward, usually occupying the positions in the half-spaces in sustained attacking phases. Sometimes he will find himself in wider areas, occasionally swapping the wing-back, and he’s able to show his capabilities in the crossing aspect.
Niakhate’s arrival to Forest will also limit the expectations of unorthodox wing-back Jack Colback, who tends to be reserved in his attacking actions. He will ease the pressure on having a highly attacking wing-back and offering interchangeability in their roles, similar to Chelsea’s right-hand side pairing of Reece James and César Azpilicueta.
Overall, this is a very clever and well-thought-out deal from Nottingham Forest and Moussa Niakhate, specifically the former. Niakhate is a player who has shown the qualities and talent that Forest desires in a similar system to what the City side will look to operate in the top-flight – having a player who can adapt smoothly to a newly promoted side’s system is ideal and this signing is just that.
Niakhate is coming into a league and a team that will have a lot of attention next season, and if he can implement the performances he was showing for Mainz, any aspirations of playing for France in the winter can only be enhanced with this move.
By: Raphael Adelugba / @xGConvertor0
Featured Image: @Juanffran / AMA