Preview: Derby County

On the evidence of Coventry City’s last performance, against Millwall on the 28th December, another enforced break may prove to be in the team’s favour. As uninspiring as an FA Cup tie against a team in the same division is, this home game against Derby County could be useful as a soft reboot of the Sky Blues’ flagging campaign.

Where once this game would have been seen as an unwelcome hurdle in the fixture list to overcome (or fall flat in), being able to back into the swing of things after effectively a month away from regular action lends more meaning to this upcoming contest. Nevertheless, it speaks to the diminished importance of the FA Cup that the meaning in this tie derives less from a shot at glory and is more about its relevance to the league season.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Wilson; Hyam, McFadzean, Rose; Dabo, Kelly, Sheaf, Maatsen; O'Hare; Walker, Gyokeres.
Possible Line-Up

Mark Robins has had a habit of treating cup competitions during his time at the club with a certain level of indifference, often conveying a level of outright disdain. The fact of how long the squad has been without match practice may change just how strong a team the manager would otherwise select, injuries and fitness levels permitting.

The three Covid absentees from last time out – Simon Moore, Fankaty Dabo and Gustavo Hamer – should all be available here, albeit having missed out on a chunk of training over the past couple of weeks. While that strengthens Mark Robins’ hand significantly, it is possible that none of those aforementioned three will start, for differing reasons.

Starting in goal, Ben Wilson will probably start this cup game as part of his duties of being second-choice goalkeeper – unless it is felt that Simon Moore needs to be brought up to speed following a one-game absence. With Gustavo Hamer having been out longer-term than this recent Covid absence, he may be brought back into the fold with a level of caution. Fankaty Dabo is the likeliest of the three to start, but Todd Kane and Ian Maatsen may be favoured for reason of form.

The other key area to keep an eye on in terms of team selection will be in attack. This could be a chance to try something different out, with an eye of reinvigorating the league campaign, which could involve a start for Jodi Jones either alongside or in place of Callum O’Hare. However, Mark Robins may want to hand a chance for Tyler Walker and Viktor Gyokeres to play themselves into form, or allow Martyn Waghorn a chance to rebuild his fitness, if he is available.

Elsewhere, it will be interesting to see whether Mark Robins looks to bring in some of the younger members of the squad for an opportunity to see what they could offer. This is maybe the right environment to take a look at prolific under-23s goalscorer, Fabio Tavares, or hand Josh Eccles a chance to get back up to fitness in central midfield. However, the need to hand senior players the chance to regain match fitness may take precedence here.

Last Time We Met

The meeting between Coventry City and Derby County signalled the breaking of the CBS Arena spell was broken for the home team. Having won every home league game leading up to the fixture, the Sky Blues were in a confident mood/ While they set about Derby fairly well in the opening stages of the game, they struggled to create anything clear-cut, until getting somewhat fortunate when Matt Godden took one of those tumbles in the box, from which he converted the resulting spot-kick.

The game gradually slipped away from Coventry City in the second-half as the failure to add a second kept Derby County in the game. The away team’s patient possession style began to frustrate the home crowd and players, even if it wasn’t directly leading to goalscoring chances. After surviving a scare from Derby substitute Colin Kazim-Richards, midfielder Graeme Shinnie pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area to earn his team a deserved share of the spoils.

The Opposition

The Manager – Wayne Rooney

There are so many reasons why Wayne Rooney is doing an impressive job at Derby County. Rooted to the bottom of the Championship due to points deductions caused by previous owner, Mel Morris’ mismanagement of the club, unable to recruit players and facing an uncertain future, the fact that relegation for the Rams is not certain at this stage of the season shows how well motivated, and astute, Rooney’s management of the club has been. That the England legend entered this campaign on the back of a poor run that nearly saw the club relegated last year demonstrates that Rooney is learning and improving on the job, in spite of the nearly insurmountable obstacles he has faced.

Derby County have played a very deliberate brand of possession football this season under Wayne Rooney. At stages of this campaign, the desire to keep possession has conveyed a seeming lack of urgency to pick up the wins the team needs to give itself a chance of survival. However, a recent run of three wins and a draw appears to signal that the team is moving in the right direction in terms of picking up the results to close the gap to safety.

Who To Look Out For?

Having played throughout the festive period, the incentive to rest and rotate players for Derby County is much greater than for the Sky Blues. Furthermore, Wayne Rooney has shown in the past that he will make wholesale changes for cup competitions, making it likely that this will be a second-string Derby side.

Nonetheless, Derby County are likely to employ their familiar, possession-heavy, style, meaning that they will look to have a lot of the ball between their defenders and central midfielders. Youngster, Liam Thompson, could well be important for the Rams in this game in setting the tempo in midfield with his metronomic passing style. He could have a lot of work to do depending on his midfield partner, whether that’s someone more experienced, such as Graeme Shinnie, who can share the workload or a younger colleague, such as Osazee Aghatise or Jordan Brown.

The experience in this team selection is likely to come in defence, where Richard Stearman and Craig Forsyth will take leadership roles in the stead of Curtis Davies and Phil Jagielka, who may be given the game off here. Additionally, Wayne Rooney may want to give Colin Kazim-Richards the chance to start in attack, having been relegated by the emergence of young striker, Luke Plange, in recent weeks.

Another player to keep an eye on who may be given a run-out here is Louie Sibley. A skilful attacking midfielder who burst on the scene around two years ago, Sibley hasn’t kicked on since then but is the kind of individual talent who can still decide games when he’s on song.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

A lot depends on just how strong a selection each manager names, as well as how seriously those who are selected take this game – which cannot be guaranteed in these relatively low-key cup games. With Derby County having bigger fish to fry than the FA Cup (on a number of levels), there are likely to put out a weaker team, placing the onus on the Sky Blues to charge of this contest – although, a different dynamic may become apparent when the teams are announced.

Based on the last meeting between the two teams, Coventry City will need to get their pressing right in order to put Derby County under pressure. The Sky Blues showed they can cause their upcoming opponent problems in that manner, however, that may be more difficult to achieve now, given the poor recent form, lack of match practice and the waning CBS Arena pitch.

For Derby County, their gameplan here is likely to be centred on holding possession, keeping the game tight and wearing the Sky Blues down. If the contest can be kept to a single goal either way (or into extra-time and penalties), Derby will feel they have put in a good afternoon’s work, regardless of whether it leads to progress in a competition that is very low down in their list of priorities this season.

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