Before the real derby, City head to actual Derby for an early reunion with Mr Cameron Jerome and the high-flying Rams. Andrew Lawn spoke to the Derby County Blog for our Pride Park preview.
Andy – Hello again, things are going pretty well for you since we last met. Play offs now the minimum?
Derby County Blog - Hello. When you look at the points we've amassed and compare it to the average for sixth in recent years, it's clear that it would take a disaster for us not to at least make the play-offs. Derby are no strangers to disaster, however, so nothing is certain. That said, there is a defensive competence about this team which makes a McClaren-like meltdown feel unlikely.
Automatic promotion requires a lot of things to go right, but we're in the hunt, which is really exciting and to be honest, not something I expected at the start of the season.
We're on a tidy run ourselves so it will be two confident teams facing off Saturday. Like yourselves, we're solid at the back so I wouldn't bet on too many goals and that's before we mention Cameron Jerome...
He was a popular figure here but could never shake the tag of being, let's say hit and miss, in front of goal. How was his signing greeted and how's he settling in?
One goal in one start so far. Jerome came in to strengthen us in an area where we were already relatively strong, so it wasn't a case of throwing him straight in out of necessity - instead, he initially featured from the bench.
I don't think many fans were massively excited when he signed, but we have already seen his power and pace (although he rates C- for his going-to-ground skills, as demonstrated in the game against Bristol City). It's still early days for him here, so you know more about him than I do - but as one in a range of different strikers, he's clearly a useful option to have.
On his day he can be unstoppable but I personally wasn't too disappointed to see him leave.
So, who are the stars in this County team, apart from Bradley Johnson, obviously...
First rule of Derby County is... we're not called County. I think that's to do with there being Notts County up the way... We're just Derby.
Points of order aside, the undeniable star of the team is Matej Vydra. He's either scored or assisted almost half of our goals in all competitions this season. He is fast, silky and which isn't to say that you stop Derby if you stop Vydra, but if you don't stop Vydra, the likelihood is, you'll have a horrid afternoon. He is outstanding in the ten role. He's a Premier League standard player, no doubt about that.
Nigel Pearson signed Vydra, but was sacked before he'd managed to work out how to get the best out of him. Then Steve McClaren had no idea how to use him, as he played a 4-3-3. It was only when Rowett came back and changed the team's shape (it's now either 4-4-1-1, or 4-2-3-1, depending on how you look at it) that Vydra was able to really flourish.
You could say that Rowett has built the team around him to an extent and he has revelled in the status of chief goal threat.
Defensively, goalkeeper Scott Carson and centre back pairing Richard Keogh and Curtis Davies have been absolutely outstanding for months now, so much so, that the Rams have barely conceded a goal. There was a bizarre meltdown against Reading late last year, but other than that, it's been clean sheets as far as the eye can see for a long time now - which has helped us to remain unbeaten since a textbook Mick McCarthy shithousing at Pride Park in late November.
Midfield-wise, Johnson is injured (in my view, the team is far better without him anyway). The legend Tom Huddlestone will cruise around playing his sumptuous passes with support from either the cult hero George Thorne (fundamentally, a similar type of player to Huddlestone) or bearded wonder Joe Ledley (a reassuringly solid, neat-and-tidy holding player).
The strength of the team is down its spine.
Point of order noted. I have a soft spot for Notts County for their wheelbarrow song though, I must admit.
Vydra is someone I really rate. He was excellent at Watford but then seemed to lost his way at WBA. Our new look back 3 are our strength at the moment so I'm confident we can nullify him. At least a bit. Maybe.
Better without Bradley?! Heresy.
Farke is starting to develop his own reputation for shithousing so if we get our noses in front don't be surprised if there's more Anglian frustration coming.
What, if anything, have you made of us and our new German outlook?
You'd have to tell me what exactly that is, to be honest....I'll have a look at the stats a bit later on, but the league table isn't looking too clever. What do you make of Farke?
Well basically, we ripped up the entire board structure last year and appointed a Sporting Director (Stuart Webber, who we nicked from Huddersfield and was responsible for Wagner). He then appointed Farke in the summer (like Wagner from Dortmund II), and we have since set about clearing the deadwood and bringing in unheralded players from the German lower divisions.
It took a while to bed in, but we appear to have found a groove now and while promotion this season is probably off the cards, we look set to have a bright future under him. Keep an eye out for Christoph Zimmermann (CB), who came from the German 4th division and has settled like a duck to water and Moritz Leitner (who was in Dortmund's Champions League final squad) as 2 examples on Saturday.
Moving on to Saturday, I presume the expectation is for a routine home win?
I wouldn't be presumptuous enough to expect us to win easily - the game between the two sides at Norwich could have gone either way and Derby haven't been sparkling at home.
I'd be disappointed if we didn't win, but surprised if we made it easy on ourselves. 2-1, with Jerome scoring the winner.
I think you're right it'll be very tight. A Jerome winner would be quite the story but I'm going for a dour 0-0.
While you're here. Two things; first, did you know we have a new podcast? It's available via iTunes and Soundcloud. Alternatively you can just listen to it in your browser via our podcast page. Bundesliga and Premier League commentator Dan O'Hagan was our recent guest as we debated the latest talking points regarding NCFC.
Second, to keep AlongComeNorwich advert free and to help us fund additional initiatives aimed at improving the Carrow Road atmosphere, we occasionally produce exclusive t-shirts/merchandise.
This time we've produced two t-shirts, the Farke Fussball and Canary Cosmos, celebrating the further German invasion at Carra Rud. As always, we take no profit from these and put all the revenue back into the site and things we can all enjoy.