I’m not usually a fan of previews. They all seem a bit formulaic. You take the one main talking point of the moment and bang on about it, whilst giving a cursory nod to the opposition and their form. Not much to write about. Not usually much fun to read.
But this one might be a bit different.
Because as far as pre-match talking point bingo goes, I think we might have a full house.
Trouble at t’mill as fans get restless? Check.
Player unrest and transfer rumours? Check, check and check some more.
Opposition yet to get a point and so offering up a tantalising opportunity for Along Came Norwich to rear its unwelcome head early in the season? Check please!
I’ll start with the opposition. Derby County are a very different prospect to the previous incarnations of recent seasons that have been challenging at the upper end of the table. Gone are familiar mainstays like Richard Keogh and our own Bradley Johnson, replaced by youngsters and coach Wayne Rooney, who appears to be preparing the ground for his inevitable rise to the manager’s job as soon as Philip Cocu meets his end, which may not be too far away.
Derby began the season with a 0-0 draw in the Carabao Cup against newly-minted league members Barrow, just sneaking through on penalties. They then lost their first league game at home to Reading 2-0, lost 2-1 at home a few days later to Preston in the next round of the Carabao, and then went down 2-1 away at Luton.
Last week they got thumped 4-0 at home to Blackburn with the aforementioned Bradders smashing home two trademark left-foot howitzers, really kicking his old comrades as they were down.
I’ve checked out the six-minute highlight packages that are available for each of these games and picked up the following pointers:
- They play a 4-2-3-1 formation very similar to Norwich’s with the full-backs pushing forward.
- Attacking-wise, they carry a threat, particularly from Rooney’s delivery at free-kicks, which can cause consternation to the best of defences, let alone ours.
- Their midfield is packed with energetic young players who get up and down.
- They don’t really press and give you a lot of time on the ball.
- Defensively, they’re a total shambles, both individually and collectively.
Derby are, in Daniel Farke’s terms, “paying for the sins of the past” and the money that was afforded to Frank Lampard’s Derby County™ is not provided to Cocu’s Derby County.
They also moved on from Keogh, Mason Bennett and Tom Lawrence following their drunk-driving exploits, and hence the team is unrecognisable from what it was just two seasons ago; a lot of youngsters with a smattering of experience trying to bring them along.
David Marshall in goal is a familiar face and still a decent stopper but he needs more of a chance than his defence is currently giving him.
Andre Wisdom is another former Canary plying his trade at Pride Park, but he’s not quite the Andre Wisdom we remember. He’s actually much worse now.
These days Andre moves between full-back and centre-back and looks shocking at both. He seems to specialise in getting out of position and then holding his hands up appealing in vain for an offside that will never come. If he plays we need Hernandez, Placheta, Pukki et al to run at him all day long.
Nathan Byrne is the alternative to Wisdom at right-back and a much better option, especially going forward. Similar to our own Max Aarons, he sometimes suffers from the inability to get back due to the high position he takes up on that right side.
On the left, familiar Championship Steady-Eddie Craig Forsyth competes with promising youngster Lee Buchanan and either are competent without being anything more.
Central defence is definitely the epicentre of the car crash with Wisdom interchanging with newcomer Mike Te Wierik and Matthew Clarke. While some woefully catastrophic errors have come from these guys, the one thing I will say in their defence (BOOM TISH – Ed) is that whichever two are playing, they’re getting exposed the same way that our centre-backs get exposed; by the full-backs pushing on and by lack of adequate cover from midfield.
In midfield, Graeme Shinnie is the holding man, while promising youngsters Max Bird, Louie Sibley and George Evans are an energetic, if tactically naive, supporting cast.
The attacking midfield is impressive, and will create chances. Rooney’s legs may not be what they once were but he can ping a pass as well as anyone in this league not named Emi Buendia.
Kamil Jozwiak is an impressive utility forward who is just settling in but is already showing signs of being an important player in time. Former Liverpool and Bournemouth starlet Jordon Ibe has just signed on a free with the hope of kickstarting his floundering career and Morgan Whittaker is a local lad who can play on the wing or up front and offers pace and good feet.
Also in midfield, Jason Knight is a battler with a good motor and Duane Holmes remains a tricky customer on the wing.
Up front, Jack Marriott remains the same sharp, sparky striker that will score goals given the right service, and Jozwiak and Whittaker remain options there too.
Basically, Derby are already in trouble and their manager is feeling the pressure. They’ve lost every league game this season and have been battered three times at home against Reading and Blackburn in the league, and Preston in the League Cup.
The Rams are desperate for any kind of result just to get them off the mark. Coming to Carrow Road will be the last thing they’ll want to do.
The smart money is therefore on them trying to sit deep, get men behind the ball, and hope to soak up pressure and hit us on the break. Whittaker, Marriott and Ibe have great pace, and Rooney is more than capable of hitting accurate long balls over the top. If they sit deep, it would also deny our forwards having space to run at their shaky defence.
In all honesty, if they play a high line and we have the opportunity to run at them the way previous teams have, I’d put money on a cricket score and a very happy Teemu Pukki by the end of the day.
As far as previewing Norwich goes: How can you?
Based on last weekend anything is possible. Godfrey, Aarons, Cantwell and Buendia could all be gone by then. Some could be in favour, while others not, some distracted while others remain focussed. It’s basically a mess, and likely to remain so until this “bloody transfer window” is closed.
While the Canary internet brigade are getting twitchy, I think those at Colney are a lot more upbeat about progress so far. We’ve won away at Huddersfield as we’d expect, drawn at home against a pretty decent, well-drilled and settled Preston side, and narrowly lost away at Bournemouth, who remain a good side.
The performances have left a lot to be desired but by and large, we’re creating some chances, and the defending hasn’t been bad. Daniel Farke can quite rightly point to the number of new players in the squad and the need for them to have some adjustment time.
Of those we can be fairly confident of being involved on Saturday, Tim Krul remains the best keeper in the Championship, Xavi Quintilla has been solid enough at left-back with his crossing and set pieces being an added bonus.
Oli Skipp continues to impress in midfield, Onel Hernandez is seeing plenty of the ball and working defenders hard without yet providing end product, and, up front, Teemu Pukki’s work-rate continues to be good and he is now off the mark for the season.
After Farke’s comments this week, we can probably expect another start for Lukas Rupp (don’t throw things, I’m just saying it’s likely), and Kenny McLean will probably be involved somewhere because, well, he always is.
As for the rest of the team, throw a few names against the wall and see who sticks. Whoever’s agent isn’t creating will probably get a game.
We began last week with a 4-1-4-1 formation which later changed to a 4-2-3-1, and ended up with all three strikers and Placheta out wide in a formation known as “the Kitchen Sink”.
I’m assuming we revert back to 4-2-3-1 on Saturday. There seems little point in having two players behind Pukki if Skipp, in anchoring the midfield, is the one playing the most penetrative forward passes from 25 yards behind them.
While we can’t predict what transfer and training application wonders this week will have in store for us, we should really be beating Derby. If they try and play in anything like the open manner they’ve begun the season in, we’ve got too much for them.
If they try and park the bus we’ll have our work cut out, but I’d still fancy them to make errors with that shaky defence.
We’ll only have ourselves to blame if we don’t take three points.