Nottingham Forest vs Leeds United preview:  All to play for in City Ground showdown
General view of the Brian Clough Stand during the Sky Bet Championship match between Nottingham Forest and Hull City at the City Ground, Nottingham on Wednesday 23rd October 2019. (Photo by Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

All eyes will be on the City Ground on Saturday evening as Nottingham Forest take on Leeds United in a monumental heavyweight clash at the summit of the Sky Bet Championship. And, if last year is anything to go by, entertainment will not be in short supply.

Ben Osborn's 76th-minute curler sealed a pulsating 4-2 victory for the Reds last January, ending a run of no wins in five in a game that was driven by sheer emotion emanating from the terraces.

This year, though, things could get even more heated. With the two sides currently separated by just four points in fourth and second respectively, many have labeled it Forest's biggest game since surviving relegation on the final day in 2017.

Marcelo Bielsa's men, however, will be doing all they can to stifle promotion hopes at the City Ground as they look to arrest the slide that has seen them take just nine points out of a possible 27 since mid-December. Saturday presents an opportunity for them to steer their promotion bid back on course.

Team news

Sabri Lamouchi has hinted that midfielder Samba Sow, a fan favorite at the City Ground for his industry and physicality in the middle of the park, is set to return on Saturday after missing out against Birmingham City through injury. A definitive decision will be made closer to kick-off. "If he feels good, he will play," Lamouchi told Nottinghamshire Live.

The visitors will be without the injured duo of left-back Barry Douglas and centre-midfielder Adam Forshaw (hip), while Kalvin Phillips - who received a red card against Forest last year - remains suspended after his horror tackle against Queens Park Rangers. Jean-Kevin Augustin is also a doubt after picking up a knock while in action with the U23's in midweek.

Reds must draw on emotion of the crowd

Despite prolonged spells under the radar in the depths of the football league, Forest and Leeds remain two giants of English football.

Forest, two-time European Cup winners, and Leeds, champions of the First Division on three occasions, are the two best-supported clubs in the Championship. And although not exactly a rivalry, the grandeur of the two clubs always brings a marked animosity to the terraces.

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It is something Lamouchi's men must feed off tomorrow as they look to bounce back from Saturday's defeat to Birmingham and rekindle the growing optimism on Trentside that had Forest fans believing this season might finally be the year they return to the promised land.

Atmospheres at the City Ground may have been questionable at times this season, but on Saturday those in red can count on a raucous backing from a sell-out crowd. The question is whether Forest can draw on that, as they did last year under Aitor Karanka, and disrupt the Leeds rhythm with their aggression and physicality.

How will Forest approach the game?

When confronting Leeds, too many fall into the easy trap of surrendering possession and retreating into a deep, compact block in front of the goal. More often than not, Leeds pick the defense apart, and what was once a competitive affair is reduced to a case of damage limitation for the victim.

It was a similar case for Forest at Elland Road earlier this season. Lewis Grabban may have scavenged a desperate point in the 77th minute but Leeds' dominance was unavoidable throughout, with the home side penning Lamouchi's men into their own half. 

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If the Reds are to overcome Leeds on Saturday, perhaps inspiration from Preston North End is worthy. Preston executed their game-plan to perfection at Elland Road, seizing the initiative and pressing high onto Leeds. Defensive errors were awash amongst the home side that day.

However, if any side has proved their competence in a low block this season, it's Forest. A high press has been absent for large parts of Forest's gameplay this season, with Lamouchi preferring his side to retreat into their defensive shape. Indeed, this organization has been the driving force behind Forest's promotion push, but whether it will be enough to topple Bielsa's mighty Leeds is another question entirely.

The managers have their say

January's manager of the month, Lamouchi, was unsure in his pre-match press conference over whether now is the right time to play Leeds, but warned his players that regardless of their opponents' mentality, Leeds will always pose a potent threat going forward.

He told the Nottingham Forest media: "We are playing a good team in front of a sold-out City Ground so we need to concentrate on all of the small details because if we don't, Leeds have the quality and ability to punish us.

"I know Leeds have lost quite a few points in recent matches but I'm not sure whether it is a good time to play them or not. It is always tough to play Leeds because they are such an excellent side but we are all looking forward to playing such a big game in front of a full City Ground."

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After another profligate display from Patrick Bamford against Wigan Athletic last weekend, Bielsa addressed the intensifying belief amongst Leeds fans that it is time Augustin, Leeds' 22-year-old January recruit, replaced the misfiring Bamford up front. His frank examination came as somewhat of a blow to the anti-Bamford brigade.

"Augustin is a player with a lot of impact. He has a lot of skills, resources. You can realise that by how much he costs," said the Argentine his pre-match press conference. 

"But Kevin, in the last eight months, played three full matches. So when one player in this period plays just three full matches the conclusion about his fitness levels is clear."

He continued: "Because a player of his level, with his background, his skills, his characteristics, if he was playing, he’s a player that costs £30 to £40m. You know that? Everyone knows that.”