Even after a top-flight absence of more than a decade, Frank Lampard’s Derby County team was always amongst the ‘in-crowd’ for promotion ahead of this season. So is there room for improvement at Pride Park, or are Derby already the complete package?
As a rookie manager at a club that traditionally thinks big, Lampard had to get it right from the off. As such, his first order of business was to ‘sell a dream’ to the sort of hungry, young players that could make promotion a reality. Just like Brian Clough, Arthur Cox and Jim Smith in preceding generations, Lampard needed to build a squad with a long-term vision in mind and – like those three predecessors – enact it to success.
Great white hopes
As is traditional for relatively younger managers, Lampard has clearly placed a great emphasis on youth talent. No doubt wishing to emulate Gareth Southgate’s achievements with the England squad, Lampard’s loan signings of Harry Wilson, Fiyako Tomori and Mason Mount have all worked out brilliantly so far.
All of them have managed to utilise Premier League culture and translate it into results; particularly Wilson, who began December as Derby’s top scorer. With his ability to change the dynamics of a game, he has been a principal reason for the shortening of Derby’s promotion odds. Right now, Derby would also be eight points worse off without Wilson’s presence in the side.
Tomori has also benefitted from playing alongside veteran centre-back Richard Keogh, with the duo most recently securing a clean sheet at the DW Stadium. The Chelsea loanee embodies the new breed of defender with an attacking mindset, alongside an experienced battler, who sticks to his position and acts as the anchor man in the back line. While it may be somewhat reactionary to represent Keogh as the Dave Mackay of the late 2010s, every young manager needs a reliable lieutenant on the pitch, and Keogh is fulfilling that role to great effect alongside Tomori.
Then there is future England regular Mason Mount. Seen by many experts as the total package, he undoubtedly has the same type of ‘natural’ talent boasted by the likes of Charlton, Gascoigne and Hoddle. However, only the right sort of coaching can take Mount’s dormant talents to the next level. As a former England international, Lampard is certainly one of the better candidates out there in that regard.
It’s definitely ‘A+’ where Lampard’s signings are concerned, but Derby’s ‘big game’ mentality still under question. As the season progresses, Derby’s record against teams that entered December in the top six – particularly the home games – will be an increasingly vital battleground. Sporting Index, with an extensive range of sports spread betting markets, knows this as well as any other bookmaker, with barely anything to separate the current top six in the promotion market.
After a strong 2-1 win at the Madejski Stadium in his first league game as Derby boss, Lampard was brought back to earth with a crash in his home debut at Rams manager. He was out-thought and out-manoeuvred by highly seasoned Leeds counterpart Marco Bielsa, and just a little over a month later, Derby opened October with a 1-1 draw at home to Norwich. On that occasion, the Rams avoided defeat by just four minutes after being second-best for most of the match.
A lack of composure in defence also saw Derby drop two late points at Middlesbrough on the final weekend of October, with Jayden Bogle putting through his own net. Somewhat infuriatingly for the Rams faithful, that match was preceded by Derby’s best performance of the season to date.
Room for improvement?
Many saw Derby’s 4-1 win at The Hawthorns on 24 October as a real turning point, but that has not proven to be the case. Overall, there has been an increase in options, and Lampard’s reputation from his playing days represents the sort of ‘pull factor’ that can make all the difference. However, the fact remains that Derby only recorded two points more from their first twenty Championship games of 2018/19, compared to the same point in 2017/18.
Given that the title race is set to be a lot closer this season, Derby may not need to improve too much on the last campaign. A 1-0 win at Wigan back on 8 December saw Lampard’s men momentarily go third, setting them up strongly for a festive season that sees the Rams travel to Bramall Lane and Carrow Road in successive outings.
These games, and the small break between them, represent a physical, mental and logistical test like no other. Yet, if Lampard’s men can somehow take at least four points from those away trips, the new year could be an extremely promising one, for a club that is all too familiar with heartbreak in recent times.
Picture Credit: Derby County