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Analysing Nottingham Forest’s path to Premier League survival – game by game

“There’s going to be tough games ahead of us but it’s in our hands… we have to be ready for it.”

Nuno Espirito Santo knows that Nottingham Forest can still decide their relegation fate. As they head into the final five games of the Premier League season, Forest’s task is straightforward: finish with more points than three of the other sides in the fight for survival.

Sheffield United look to be all but doomed and Burnley need to finish the season with an unexpected flurry to have any realistic chance of avoiding the drop.

So it looks likely to be a fight between Forest, Luton and Everton to avoid finishing in 18th and going down to the Championship. Mathematically, Brentford and Crystal Palace could still be relegated — but that is highly unlikely.

What do Forest’s final five games look like? Where are those precious points going to come from? And how does their run-in compare to that of their rivals?

The Athletic has taken a look at the route the club will have to successfully navigate if they are to secure a third consecutive season of top-flight football.


Everton (A), April 21, 1.30pm

Things have been chaotic at Forest — but even they might struggle to rival Everton when it comes to the number of fires they have had to put out (or are still burning) this season.

There has been a relentless cycle of bad news at Goodison Park, where there has been takeover uncertainty, two separate points deductions and a slow, painful slide down the table.

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The first points deduction suffered by the club — a ten-point punishment that was subsequently reduced to six on appeal — prompted the perfect response. Everton were one of the form sides at the end of 2023, taking 19 points from a possible 24, including four consecutive wins in the first half of December — kicked-off by a 1-0 triumph at Forest.

But after their latest two-point deduction, their reaction was hardly one of defiance. As The Athletic’s Everton correspondent, Patrick Boyland, put it, it was ‘meek surrender’, as Dyche’s side were hammered 6-0 at Chelsea on Monday. Everton vice-captain James Tarkowski said it was the “most embarrassed I have felt as an individual”. Dyche accepted his team were “miles off” and called the performance a “head-scratcher”.


A furious Dyche on the touchline against Chelsea (Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

If the first points deduction had a galvanising affect, the combination of the ongoing takeover bid by 777 Partners, combined with the latest profit and sustainability rules (PSR) punishment, appears to have had an adverse impact.

Everton were last relegated in the 1950s and Opta’s supercomputer predicts that Everton have only a 7.6 per cent chance of dropping out of it now.

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But that number might increase if Forest can win at Goodison Park for the first time since 1999 on Sunday.

Everton and Forest have something else in common — both will hope that their appeals against their PSR punishments see their punishments reduced, which would only add another twist to the relegation fight.

Form: LLDWL

Difficulty: Forest will hope that Everton turn up in the same fragile state as they did at Stamford Bridge — but that is unlikely. Dyche will demand his players show their character, rather than roll over and have their bellies tickled for the second game in a row.

Significance: A win would be huge for either side. If Forest are victorious it would pull Everton into real danger. If the game ends in a home win, Everton will feel much more confident of avoiding relegation for another year. It will be labelled as the PSR derby, but neither team would want to be relegated by decisions made from behind a desk.

The last time Manchester City visited the City Ground, in February 2023, Chris Wood scored one of the best team goals that Forest have scored in many years. Every Forest player had a touch in the build up, before the New Zealand international applied the finish in the 84th minute, to earn Forest an unlikely point.

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Believing in the plan: How Forest secured an unlikely point against Man City

If it is possible to label a 1-1 draw a smash and grab raid, this was it. City had 73 per cent possession, they mustered 23 efforts on goal — but only six on target — while Forest had four efforts in the entire game, with Wood’s the only one on target.


Wood celebrates scoring against Manchester City last season (Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The reason for this history lesson is simple: it is because Forest will almost certainly require a similar plot to unfold if they are to emerge from this game with anything.

No team has a better possession average than Pep Guardiola’s side (65.9 per cent) this season. In contrast, Forest’s possession average of 40.7 is the third lowest in the Premier League, just ahead of Everton (40.6) and Sheffield United (35.1).

In City’s case, it is not just how adept they are at keeping the ball, it is what they do with it. They have scored the most goals (76) in the division. They average 18.44 shots per game. Only Liverpool (20.03) average more. City’s expected goals per 90 minutes figure of 2.10 is again only beaten by Liverpool (2.29).

Forest’s own xG in the last ten games has been 1.64, which is more than respectable. But they have also kept only one clean sheet during this period, which is an obvious concern.

City will be stinging following their Champions League defeat, on penalties, to Real Madrid on Wednesday. But, after seeing both rivals Arsenal and Liverpool slip up last weekend, they will be determined to tighten their grip on the title.

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Form: DDWWW

Difficulty: As tough as it gets. Don’t get too excited by the two draws in their recent run of form, either. They were against Arsenal and Liverpool.

Significance: A repeat of last season’s draw would be a huge bonus.

Sheffield United (A), May 4, 3pm

Sheffield United have not won at Bramall Lane since December 9, when they edged a 1-0 win over Brentford. Forest have not won on the road since their remarkable 3-1 success at Newcastle on December 26.

Both situations could change before this fixture is played. But they are still statistics that underline why each side finds themselves where they are.

A big influence on the match will be whether Sheffield United have been relegated by the time Forest visit. Bramall Lane is always a passionate, partisan venue… but that would only intensify if United are in a situation n where victory over Forest would fend off what feels inevitable. They certainly would not relish the possibility of a home defeat to the Nottingham club being what officially sends them down. For what it’s worth, Opta give Chris Wilder’s side just a 0.2 per cent chance of avoiding relegation.

Sheffield United have conceded 84 goals in 32 games. That is the most at this stage of a top-flight campaign since Ipswich Town in 1963-64 (85), and the most United have conceded in a league campaign since 1954-55 (86 in 42 games). Forest will hope their own potent attacking threat comes to the fore and that they can exploit a fragile backline.

This fixture is not a local derby exactly, but it often has the feel of one, with a fierce rivalry having developed since Sheffield United defeated Forest in the First Division (now Championship) play-off semi-finals in 2003. Forest gained some revenge by beating them in the play-offs on their way to promotion in 2022.

With complete respect to United, Forest will hope that they do not have to return to Bramall Lane next season. Because if they do, it would almost certainly be in the Championship.

Form: DDLDL

Difficulty: There are no easy games in the Premier League. But if Forest can’t beat a side that already looks doomed to the drop, then you could reasonably question whether they deserve to stay up themselves.

Significance: Forest are not expected to beat Manchester City. But they will be the favourites to win this one.

Chelsea (H), May 11, 5.30pm

Forest fans will still cast their minds back fondly to the penultimate game of last season, when another London club visited the City Ground. Arsenal arrived on that day still harbouring hopes of securing the title, but departed with those dreams killed off, following a memorable 1-0 victory for Forest which secured survival amid an explosion of colour and noise.

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When Chelsea come to Nottingham, they should still have a fighting chance of qualifying for Europe. But they also remain one of the most unpredictable sides in the top flight.

In Cole Palmer, they possess a truly exciting talent. The 21-year-old England player made his debut as a substitute for Chelsea against Forest at Stamford Bridge, just a few days after his £42.5million move from Manchester City. However, Anthony Elanga’s goal was enough to ensure that the script did not unfold how he would have liked, as Forest claimed a 1-0 win.


Elanga celebrates his winner against Chelsea (Visionhaus/Getty Images)

But those who saw him put four past Everton, as Dyche’s side were hammered 6-0, will know what Palmer and his Chelsea team-mates are capable of, if given the opportunity to hurt teams on the break.

However, Chelsea have only won five away league games this season and they will doubtless be greeted by what has become an increasingly familiar wall of noise at the City Ground. Will three points from their final home game again be enough to keep Forest up? There are some who might accept that scenario, if it was offered now.

Form: WDWDW

Difficulty: As well as hammering Everton, Chelsea have beaten Newcastle United and Manchester United recently — but they have also drawn with Sheffield United and Burnley.

Significance: Whatever the precise situation, if Forest can win their final home game of the season, it would surely help them take a big step in the right direction.

Burnley (A), May 19, 4pm

When Nottingham Forest signed Arijanet Muric on loan from Manchester City in 2019, he was heralded as one of the brightest goalkeeping talents of his generation. What they got was a young man who endured a difficult time, as a handful of mistakes ended with him making only four league appearances.

Muric, who is still only 25, joined Burnley in the summer of 2022 and enjoyed a rather better time of it, helping them to promotion, while securing himself a place in the Championship team of the season.


Muric playing for Forest in 2019 (James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images)

The Kosovo international has had to play second fiddle to James Trafford during much of the current campaign, though. But last month, Muric was restored to the team and duly responded with a match-winning display against Brentford — the one victory Vincent Kompany’s side have secured in their last 15 games. Yet Muric has made errors against Everton and, most recently, Brighton — when he allowed a back pass to slip under his foot for a late equaliser — in their last two games.

Forest have seemingly solved their own goalkeeper problems by signing Matz Sels in January; a player who has quietly looked more solid and composed than Matt Turner and Odi Vlachodimos occasionally did.

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Burnley have improved of late, losing just one of their last six games. And in this period, only Arsenal (three), Manchester City (six), Arsenal (six) and Newcastle (seven) have conceded fewer goals than Burnley’s eight. But Kompany still has a problem to solve between the posts, if they are to forge a meaningful survival push.

The former Manchester City defender has refused to stray from the approach that helped Burnley to win promotion; he has not betrayed his football principles. Even if their fate is confirmed by the time Forest go there, Kompany will demand that his Burnley side do not stray from that path.

Form: WDDLD

Difficulty: The recent improvement may well have come too late to save Burnley, but it could still also be bad timing for Forest. The thought of potentially needing a win at Turf Moor to stay up, is not an enticing one.

Significance: Potentially massive, but it is down to Forest to step closer to safety before then.


Here is the how the bottom of the Premier League table looks:

The bottom of the Premier League

Position Team Played GD Points

14

32

-17

33

15

33

-11

32

16

32

-16

27*

17

33

-16

26**

18

33

-24

25

19

33

-35

20

20

32

-54

16

*Deducted eight points

**Deducted four points

The rival run-ins:

Everton: Nottingham Forest (home), Liverpool (home), Brentford (home), Luton (away), Sheffield Utd (home), Arsenal (away).

Verdict: The game against Liverpool could be one of the biggest Premier League games left this season, given what is at stake. Brentford have seemingly fallen apart, even if not quite enough to get properly sucked into the relegation fight. But the games against Luton and Sheffield United will be packed with tension.

If Everton do have to pick up points away at Arsenal on the final day then it will be a tall order.

Luton Town: Brentford (home), Wolves (away), Everton (home), West Ham (away), Fulham (home).

Verdict: Again, Brentford could have a say in the relegation fight, even if they remain on the periphery of it. If Luton are to put pressure on Forest, their home games at Kenilworth Road — where they have generated a similar spirit to the one that kept Forest up last year — will be key for Rob Edwards’ side.

Burnley: Sheffield United (away), Manchester United (away), Newcastle (home), Tottenham (away), Nottingham Forest (home).

Verdict: Burnley’s remaining fixtures are not kind. Kompany has labelled the game at Bramall Lane as ‘must win’. It almost certainly is, with the games that follow. Forest will be rooting for Sheffield United this weekend as defeat would leave Burnley on the brink of relegation.

Sheffield United: Burnley (home), Manchester United (away), Newcastle (away), Nottingham Forest (home), Everton (away), Tottenham (home).

Sheffield United’s run-in is similar to Burnley’s… with Manchester United, Newcastle and Tottenham all to play. It’s hard to see them achieving the miracle they need.

(Top photo: Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)



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