Frank Lampard’s Defensive Headache.

We’re now 6 games into Frank Lampard’s reign in charge of Derby County, and a department that’s had its fair share of stick over the years at Pride Park is once more proving to be a talking point- the defence. Although our fan base will never agree entirely over who fits where in the starting eleven, I’m going to have a good go at assessing Lampard’s defensive choices this season and who, ideally, could help take the Rams forward.

We’ll start with the left back situation. The options available to Frank are Craig Forsyth, Max Lowe, Scott Malone and, at a push, Ikechi Anya. It appeared as though Max Lowe was going to push on this season and take his spot in the first team, however just two games into the campaign he’d already lost his place. Our academy graduate was a star in pre-season, showcasing impressive performances whenever chosen to play, teasing a real hint of class and tearing down the right flank of last years Championship winners, Wolves, in a 2-1 victory, along with many other outstanding displays. The fans were heaping praise on the youngster before losing two aerial battles in two games, against Reading and Leeds, which both lead to goals. He hasn’t made an appearance since, however he still remains a strong option, and potentially still one for the future. Scott Malone, the new lad from Huddersfield- we haven’t seen enough of him really to judge whereabouts he fits in the squad, despite making a Carabao Cup appearance and a cameo against Millwall before getting injured. He’s now back from injury so it’ll be interesting to see what he has to offer. I think I’m speaking for everyone when I say I hope we get the Fulham version of Malone, and not the Huddersfield one, they’re too very opposite ends of the spectrum and we’ve had more than enough pain through watching dire left back displays over the years. Forsyth is an odd one. He was extremely good during our 2013/14 campaign, but due to two lengthy injuries, he’s never been able to perform to the same standard again. Without turning him into a scapegoat, he’s been a consistently poor performer for a while now, hence why there have been calls all summer for a new left-back, and why Lamps started the season with Lowe in that role. However, he’s not been quite as bad since his return to the squad, as he came off the bench away at Millwall. I’m not buying into the whole ‘he’s back to his best’ hype because quite frankly it’s not true. I believe that due to some of the horrid performances we’ve seen before, us Derby supporters are quite happy to congratulate average performances from time to time simply because it wasn’t as terrible as we expected. Overall, I think the first choice left back spot is still very much up for grabs, poor Anya has almost been frozen out of the squad so an assessment of his qualities isn’t perhaps needed. So that’s the first of Lampard’s defensive headaches. Next up is the centre of defence.

Richard Keogh, Curtis Davies, Fikayo Tomori, Alex Pearce. Those are Frank’s choices. Arguably I think we all know the best potential partnership here, but I’ll explain anyways. First of all, Curtis Davies has been a rock since his arrival last summer and is surely the best thing to come out of Rowett’s tenure at the club. He’s been instated as the club captain this season and rightly so, I honestly couldn’t hold him in any higher regard. He has to start in our best defence for me. Next up we have Richard Keogh. The man has Derby running through his veins however, does that constitute having a place in the starting eleven? Unfortunately not. I’ve stuck by Keogh through all the criticism in recent seasons, but now he has serious competition. It’s fair to say he’s had a sloppy start to the season despite scoring against Preston, his decision making at times has been off, and his contributions have often lead to key chances for the opposition to capitalise on, the fact they haven’t is down to pure luck. Don’t get me wrong, I like Keogh, but he’s definitely struggled so far in my opinion. Keogh’s potential replacement is our Chelsea loanee, Fikayo Tomori, who has been top quality since his transfer to the Rams. He’s confident on the ball, tremendously quick and delivers a threat from set pieces. The youngster has settled in quite nicely already, and although we haven’t seen too much of him yet, I’d say I’m a big fan, I’m certainly confident in his abilities. Frank’s final option is the forgotten man, Alex Pearce. It’s not that long ago since he was a first team regular, alongside Keogh, in a Derby defence that recorded a new clean sheet record, however the Rams did fall out of the Play-Off spots that season. He’s certainly one of the better fourth choice centre backs in the league that’s for sure, unfortunately barring any bizarre circumstances that’s the way I see it being for Pearcey this whole season unless he works a move away from the club. Now we turn our attention the the right back spot.

Without delving too much into the U23’s, Lampard’s only real options for the right-back spot are Andre Wisdom and Jayden Bogle, two very strong candidates. Wisdom’s now in his second season at the club since signing permanently from Liverpool last summer and it’s fair to say he’s not shown quite the same level of performance as he did during the 2013/14 season whilst he was only on loan at the club. He was constantly battling with Chris Baird last season over who would get that starting spot come match day, and often lost out to the ageing utility player. This season he faces fresh competition from 18-year-old academy product, Jayden Bogle. Bogle featured for the Rams during pre-season and has just gone from strength to strength ever since, he was chosen to start against Oldham in the cup which started a four match run of being in the starting eleven, only to be injured against Preston after what was looking like his best performance yet. His attacking flare really shines through and it’s clear that he’s becoming a fan favourite of sorts, “Jayden Bogle, he’s one of our own” was heard ringing around Pride Park once he was subbed off last weekend. Either way, we should feel privileged to have such strong competition in the right-back position, most clubs would die for that kind of quality in one department.

Now comes the hardest bit, choosing who I think the first choice back four should be this season, disregarding injury or suspension. For the left back spot, although I’d love to say Max Lowe, I think he still has a bit of improving to do, so for that reason I’ll say Scott Malone. Despite Forsyth’s ‘resurgence’ in the eyes of some, Lampard clearly noted that our weakness over recent seasons had lay in the hands, or rather feet, of our left-backs, hence why he’d been after Malone for so long, and finally sealed the deal for him to join his squad. As for centre-backs, I don’t think there’s a better combination than Davies and Tomori. We’re yet to see them start together due to the absence of Davies, however they’re our best two centre-backs going off pure quality alone, so despite Keogh being adored by a large majority of our fan base, me included, I think it’s his time now to step down to the bench. Finally for the right back spot, it’s early days in his career, but I personally feel Bogle can make the step up and cement his place in the first team. He’s without doubt one of our best young talents, and a great example to the academy players of what hard work can be rewarded with. If he can avoid injury, he’s certainly good enough to be in this Derby starting eleven.

So if you’ve managed to read through all of that mumble, you’ll see that the conclusion drawn up is as follows- Scott Malone, Fikayo Tomori, Curtis Davies and Jayden Bogle should be our defence pushing on this season.

Feel free to let me know what you would change and why, and of course there’s no hard feelings towards the players not selected in my back four, after all it’s just an opinion.

Picture Credit: Derby County

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