James Garner‘s impressive form for Nottingham Forest shows that he could be ready for a role at Manchester United next season when he returns from loan.
The English midfielder spent the second half of last season at The City Ground after consistent minutes were few and far between for the youngster at Watford, his initial loan move.
After impressing at Forest, he then returned to the club that finished 17th in the Championship which initially raised a few eyebrows from United supporters who thought he’d be ready for a loan at the upper echelons of England’s second tier.
However, after Chris Hughton was sacked due to a dire start to this campaign, new manager Steve Cooper has revitalised the two time European Cup winners, with Garner being a vital member of the team that now looks a certainty for the play-offs in a months time.
The 21-year-old has played in every league game but one for the Championship club this season, and has started 29 of those 35 matches. Since the 23rd of November, he has played 90 minutes in every league fixture but one, where he played 87 minutes against Bristol City after scoring in a 2-0 win.
Statistics show an attacking improvement
In this late play-off push, Garner has proved that he can not only play an impressive possession game in deeper areas, but that he can also contribute in the final third.
In his last 11 league matches, the loanee has seven direct goal contributions (3G, 4A) and also provided two assists in FA Cup encounters against Leicester City and Huddersfield Town this year. He was also close to unlocking Liverpool‘s defence in their narrow 1-0 loss to United’s rivals in the quarte-final, but his through pass to Ryan Yates was intercepted by Allison.
The young midfielder is averaging just under two key passes per match, but is also not shirking his defensive duties in a team that has 14 clean sheets this campaign.
“He’s performed really, really well. I spoke to him at length the other week about that. And he did well for England Under-21s as well.” Steve Cooper told the Nottingham Post.
“It’s about him understanding that he’s playing well, but, more importantly, understanding why he’s playing well and making sure he doesn’t take any backward steps in not producing game in, game out. I really think he’s found his athletic legs now for the Championship. He’s a strong runner.
“He is a very good example of making sure he finishes the season off strong, because there’s still so much to play for and so many minutes to play. He’s doing really well, but now is not the time to think about how well he’s doing – now is the time to play even better in the next game.
“He’s good for a goal, too. He’s around the set-pieces a lot with his delivery, and he’s a good technician.
“He’s got really good technique. His out-of-possession game might go a little bit under the radar, but that’s been really good as well. He reads and intercepts some really important passes, and that’s as pleasing for me as the other stuff.”
James Garner and Forest have just seven games remaining this season and they currently sit fourth in the table with two games in hand on the other teams surrounding them in the play-off positions.
With just six points separating them and Bournemouth, who are operating in the automatic promotion position, Forest could be hoping to go into the penultimate game of the season against The Cherries with a chance that they could nick their place in the top two.
If they cannot accomplish that feat, there’s no doubt that the play-offs will be a great experience for Garner, and it could be another chance for him to show that he’s ready to push on next season and challenge for a place at his parent club.
While the midfield options are slim at Old Trafford at this moment in time, his chances will likely demand on the amount of midfielders that the club bring in during the summer transfer window, but if he is gifted that chance, his experiences in the Championship over the last two seasons would greatly aid him in his aim to be part of a Manchester United squad that will be looking to rebuild under a new manager.