The party is not quite over for Nottingham Forest after their stunning promotion to the Premier League in May but the hard work behind the scenes is already in full swing.
Steve Cooper’s side are back in the top flight not a minute too soon after returning following a 23-year absence, having defeated Huddersfield Town in the Championship play-off final back in May.
But although Cooper will be keen to reward his stars who have guided them back into the Premier League, reality bites and it is likely Forest will have to bring in plenty of recruitments if they wish to keep their place among England’s elite sides beyond a year.
Nottingham Forest are back in the Premier League after winning the Championship play-offs
Norwich City in recent seasons are an example of how spending little and keeping faith with mostly Championship winners can lead to miserable campaigns in the Premier League.
But teams can go too far as well, with Fulham also going straight back down in 2019 despite a mass array of incoming transfers totalling £100m.
So a balancing act needs to be found – but where are the key areas Cooper needs to address to keep the Premier League cameras inside the City Ground beyond 2023?
Manager Steve Cooper will now be keen to make a number of signings during the summer
A huge concern for Forest next term is where the goals are going to come from. Granted, starman Brennan Johnson scored 16 times playing just off the main forward, while Lewis Grabban and Sam Surridge chipped in with 19 between them.
Grabban was the more used striker but he is now 34 and has played much of his career in the second tier. His only appearances in the top flight came with Norwich City where he struck once in six games before a year at Bournemouth saw him fail to score at all in 18 games.
Likewise, Surridge also failed to find the net regularly during his Premier League years with the Cherries so it’s no surprise that one of Forest’s first priorities this summer was to land a striker.
Encouragingly for Cooper, this has already been completed with a club record move of £17.5m for Nigerian and former Liverpool forward Taiwo Awoniyi from German side Union Berlin.
Taiwo Awoniyi is set to arrive as a record transfer from Union Berlin to boost the attack
This may be enough for now in attack given the other areas of squad that need addressing with limited funds to spend, but Cooper may also consider brining Aston Villa striker Keinan Davis back in on loan after the 24-year-old’s five goals from 15 games last term to act as further cover. Out of favour Everton striker Moise Kean has also been linked.
Grabbing a new goalkeeper shouldn’t have been a priority for Cooper, but the looming exit of Brice Samba has forced him to raid the market.
Samba has one year left on his deal at the City Ground, and while he has been a reliable No 1, contract talks have stalled and he now looks set to join Lens.
Forest though have moved swiftly to target a replacement and are looking to bring in Dean Henderson in from Manchester United, who impressed in the top flight with Sheffield United during the 2019-20 season.
Dean Henderson (left) is expected to replace Brice Samba (right) in goal who is set to depart
Cooper is likely to keep faith with his 3-5-2 system for next season and now the hunt will be on for a right wing-back.
Djed Spence impressed in the position last term on loan from Middlesbrough but has since attracted interest from higher profile clubs including Tottenham Hotspur, forcing Forest to look elsewhere.
Hopes of bringing in Spence are not quite over but alternatives have been sought, with Liverpool’s Neco Williams and Manchester City’s Issa Kabor options
Left-wing back will also have to be a major area of concern for Cooper, who had to play the play-off final with centre-midfielder Jack Colback filling in the position.
Max Lowe has returned to Sheffield United following a loan, and there has been links with Ajax’s Nicolas Tagliafico.
While starman Brennan Johnson (bottom left) is likely to stay, key men such as James Garner (middle left) have returned to their parent clubs following successful loan spells
There have been links with Manchester United’s Brandon Williams and while he struggled on loan at Norwich City last term, can cover both flanks and is likely to remain an upgrade on Forest’s options.
United look only keen to sell though and have slapped a £10million on the defender.
Cooper is also going to need a boost in central midfield following the departure of two key loan stars from last season in Philip Zinckernagel, who has now been sold by former parent club Watford to Olympiacos, and James Garner who is looking to step up a level with Manchester United.
Morgan Gibbs-White is out of favour at Wolverhampton Wanderers but showed glimpses of his quality while in the Premier League and impressed at Sheffield United last term.
In a more defensive side of the midfield, Forest have reportedly already made contact with Arsenal over a move for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Roma, while Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic could add Premier League experience in the centre alongside Ryan Yates.
Cooper though can be happy with his defensive pairing of Joe Worrall (left) and Scott McKenna
Probably the one area Cooper will not be overly concerned about is his back three, with Joe Worrall and Scott McKenna likely to be trusted in the defence next term.
A third defender would be ideal to play the central role of the three, but even so Steve Cook does have previous Premier League experience with well over 100 games with Bournemouth.
It’s clear Forest are going to have to strengthen across the board in some way, especially, with loan deals ending already seeing them weaker than the side that were surprisingly promoted last term.
You don’t have to go too far to see how much damage an undercooked side can cause, with East Midlands rivals Derby paying a heavy price after a going up without a structure in 2007 before finishing the next campaign with a record low 11 points.
Forest thankfully already are putting the moves in place to try and avoid a similar fate, but they are going to need a busy summer to keep their heads above water next season.