Preview: Derby County

A chastening defeat at Preston North End in midweek leaves the Sky Blues looking for home comforts to get back on track. While Coventry City remain in an excellent position at this stage of the season, to be so reliant on home form will inevitably heap the pressure on games at the Coventry Building Society Arena. For now, the immediate task is to ensure that the Sky Blues can continue to produce the goods in Coventry.

There will be a large, expectant home crowd as Coventry City take on bottom-place Derby County. However, the Rams will likely be a tough nut to crack, which sets this up to be one of the more challenging home fixtures this team has faced thus far. A win gets the Sky Blues back on track, anything less starts to raise questions as to whether this early run of form can be maintained.

Expected Line-Up 

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Moore; Hyam, McFadzean, Clarke-Salter; Dabo, Hamer, Kelly, Maatsen; O'Hare; Walker, Godden.
Possible Line-Up

With this the third game in a week, and with some clear signs of tiredness on Wednesday night, Mark Robins may end up resting one or two. Most notably, Callum O’Hare and Viktor Gyokeres appeared to fade over the course of their respective appearances against Preston North End and, in an ideal world, may be taken out of the firing line. However, the difficulty for the manager is in striking a balance between freshening things up while avoiding weakening the starting line-up.

The return to selection contention of Matt Godden improves Mark Robins’ options to pep up the attack. The manager has been keen to pair Godden with Tyler Walker, which may be what he looks to do here. That is despite the duo probably being a little too similar to one another and not offering the team the same presence outside the penalty as either Viktor Gyokeres or Martyn Waghorn can, Godden’s assist for Gyokeres against Fulham may lead Mark Robins into believing that maybe there is something to work with in a Godden-Walker strike partnership.

In midfield, Ben Sheaf could come into the midfield ahead of Liam Kelly in order to supply the extra quality in possession that the team may need to produce a fluent home performance. It is unlikely that Callum O’Hare will be taken out of the team given his importance to the team’s final third threat, but it may be a consideration to hand him some help by bringing Jamie Allen into the side in place of a striker. 

Elsewhere, Jake Clarke-Salter made the bench on Wednesday night after being absent due to Covid. Just who he might come into the side for is a debate to be had, however, that extra balance and pace he provides in defence is a big asset and perhaps one that the team can’t really afford to be without. 

Last Time We Met 

After taking the lead early at St Andrew’s back in March, the Sky Blues did exactly what they did on Wednesday night against Preston North End in inviting pressure from the opposition but were fortunate that Derby County were unable to conjure the quality to punish a timid performance. 

That meant that a rather well-taken finish from Maxime Biamou was enough to hand Coventry City a vital three points in their quest for survival last season. 

The Opposition 

The Manager – Wayne Rooney 

Having struggled desperately to keep Derby County in the division at the back end of last season, Wayne Rooney has done an incredible job, in the most difficult of circumstances, to galvanise the Rams and provide a club that is in administration and was severely limited in the transfer market over the summer with a glimmer of a hope of survival. 

With the second-best defensive record in the division, it might be assumed that it has been backs-against-the-wall stuff from Derby County, but that isn’t really the case. This is a side packed with good technical midfield players that can really dominate possession. A lack of cutting edge has been the team’s biggest issue, but the overall level of performance has been much higher than anyone could reasonably expect for a club in such disarray off-the-field.

Who To Look Out For? 

Possible Line-Up (4-3-3): Roos; Ebosele, Jagielka, Davies, Buchanan; Bird, Morrison, Shinnie; Lawrence, Jozwiak, Kazim-Richards.
Possible Line-Up

With Graeme Shinnie and Max Bird capable of doing the dirty work in midfield, it provides the platform for some outstanding technical players to take control of games. Former Manchester United hot prospect Ravel Morrison has been a star turn at times for this Derby County side, while there are players around him such as Jason Knight, Louie Sibley and Tom Lawrence that are on a similar wavelength that can make for some very attractive sequences of play.

Another player to keep an eye on is right-back/winger, Festy Ebosele, who is increasingly coming to the fore after coming through the club’s academy. Incredibly pacey and skillful, Ebosele provides the team with a much-needed change of gears to turn possession into chances. Similarly, Poland international winger Kamil Jozwiak is another skillful player who can beat defenders in the final third.

At the back, veterans Phil Jagielka and Curtis Davies have shown their class for the Rams, playing a key role in their excellent defensive record. What they lack in pace they make up for in nous and presence. Perhaps most impressively, they have contributed effectively to Derby County’s possession-based style of football too.

While Derby County have been without an out-and-out centre forward for much of the campaign, the return to proceedings of the physical and mobile Colin Kazim-Richards offers Wayne Rooney the option to play an attacking spearhead, instead of a ‘false nine’ of either Tom Lawrence or Kamil Jozwiak.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost 

This could prove to be quite a frustrating game for Coventry City and an expectant home crowd. Derby County aren’t a side that are going to sit deep and allow the Sky Blues control of the game, they are going to look to get on the ball and dominate possession. Coventry City are going to have to be prepared to be without the ball for extended spells of this game and build a game-plan around that.

A concern with Derby County’s possession style is that, especially if they play with a ‘false nine’, they could vastly outnumber Coventry City in the centre of the park. On Wednesday night, the combination of Callum O’Hare pushing forward and the wing-backs dropping deep often left it two versus three to five players in midfield against Preston North End, the instructions to O’Hare and the wing-backs may have to change for this game.

An area Coventry City may look to exploit is Derby County’s veteran centre-back pairing. This could either be done by taking advantage of Derby looking to hoard possession and countering quickly to leave Davies and Jagielka one-against-one versus Gyokeres and O’Hare, or by pressing Derby high up the pitch and testing the duo’s ability to pass out from the back.

Derby County have been fairly weak this season from set-plays, which is an area the Sky Blues need to target improvement in attacking over the coming weeks and months. Theoretically, deliveries from Gustavo Hamer have the ability to cause problems, it’s about making sure they are targeted and attacked more effectively than they have been for much of the season.

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