Daniel Farke's derby-day victors welcome an in-form Derby County to the city Saturday in the first instalment of what feels like it could be a huge Carrow Road double-header. Andrew Lawn spoke to Ollie Wright from the Derby County Blog for the lowdown on our visitors from the Midlands.
Andy - First up, we're both coming into the game on the back of recent derby (little d) wins, plus you followed yours up with a great win over Sheffield Wednesday, how do you feel your season has gone so far?
Ollie - This is a very different Derby team to the one that the Championship has become used to in recent seasons. For a while, we were the neutral's favourite, with our Dutch-inspired system, fitful brilliance and soft underbelly. But Gary Rowett doesn't share Steve McClaren's purist principles and has changed tack, considerably - out have gone Will Hughes (who never seemed to fit into Rowett's plans), attacking full back Cyrus Christie and Tom Ince - in have come sturdy defenders Andre Wisdom and Curtis Davies, along with the lavishly gifted passer Tom Huddlestone and the unfussy Joe Ledley, all slotted into a 4-2-3-1 shape intended to get the best out of Matej Vydra.
However, there have been a couple of shocks along the way, not least an embarrassing pummelling at Bristol City - that result spooked Rowett into abandoning football altogether for the next game at Brentford and Vydra may now be considered an unaffordable luxury for away games, especially tough ones at places like Carrow Road.
Rowett could deploy a rigid 4-4-1-1, with the "ten" position possibly filled, Marouane Fellaini-style, by a physical midfielder (some bloke called Bradley Johnson - you may have heard of him?). Jogo bonito it ain't, but since the malfunction against the Robins, we are keeping clean sheets - toughing out a goalless draw at Cardiff, for example. At the very least, we should be a lot more competitive than the shower which turned in such a pathetic “performance" at your gaff last season.
When we went into the East Midlands Derby, we had won three, drawn four, lost three, so beating Forest and then Wednesday put a far better spin on our season. In both games, the opponents claimed the moral high ground for playing nicer stuff, but they both got done over. Brentford had 76 per cent of the ball against us - that would have been unthinkable under McClaren or Paul Clement - but they didn't beat us, or ever really threaten our goal. Defensively, we are developing a strength which gives us a chance of staying in games, even when we're not quite flowing in attack.
The manager is still finding his way and hasn't really hit on the right blend yet - nevertheless, we sit ninth, three points behind you lot, with a game in hand (which will be against Ipswich at home, in case you're interested...)
It sounds like being another right Championship affair then because while we’re the opposite in terms of liking to have the ball, we’ve equally developed a formidable defensive record. However, having come off the back of that Ipswich win, followed by a full-strength side embarking on an epic 2 hour affair in our Carabao Cup trip to Arsenal a mere 48 hours later, your new found form concerns me.
Rowett was a lot of people’s favourite to replace Alex Neil here before we opted for a “rip it all up and start again” approach. I presume Derby fans were happy to have him? Can he finally be the man to take you back to the top-flight do you think?
Well, thats the £100m question, isn't it? I'm sick of Derby's loitering in the second tier comfort zone - only Ipswich have been farting around down here for longer - and at some point, somebody needs to get it right and drag us back up.
Rowett was the obvious candidate once McClaren left (although clubs like Huddersfield and Norwich are showing that it's possible to import good coaches to the Championship, as well). My opinion before a ball was kicked was that Derby were just short of being promotion-ready and, based on what I've seen so far, I'm not ready to change that belief just yet. So, much will depend on whether Rowett is given enough time to remodel the squad to his liking - that realistically means two more transfer windows, by which time, he will be able to point to a team which is "his", rather than a collection of players hired by his various predecessors.
It's clear that there are certain (highly-paid) players whom Rowett would like to move on and until that can be done, he will be a bit constricted. I'm sure that Norwich have faced similar issues in recent seasons, but at least you got some Premier League football out of it.
Managers don't tend to get much time anymore and Derby's owner Mel Morris has gained a reputation for "wielding the axe", so while Rowett can quite reasonably ask for a bit of patience, like any manager, he needs enough good results along the way to keep everyone, from the boardroom down, on-side. Beating Forest was massive in that regard and will have been a big relief for the manager.
In summary, given time, Rowett might get the job done, but it would be unfair to expect instant miracles, given all the upheaval of recent seasons
If one of those players you need moved on is the aforementioned Mr Johnson, I'm sure we could organise a whip round, if only to see his lovely face again, as he probably doesn't suit the Farke way but still...
Where does Rowett need to strengthen in order to make the team his and in the same vein, where might we get joy against you Saturday?
The defence looks good and there are goals in the side, but there remains an issue in the midfield. After the Sheffield Wednesday game, Rowett pointed to a lack of "natural athleticism" and that is a potential weakness to exploit - Huddlestone and Ledley as a pair lack pace, so teams with quicker forwards can and will dance around them. Hence, for this game, Rowett will probably sacrifice an attacker for the sake of a more solid system. Johnson is a favourite of Rowett's and will probably start (hopefully on the left of midfield and not as an "anti-ten".)
In terms of the bigger picture, too many of the current team are aged 30+, so there is a real need to introduce some younger blood in midfield and maybe a bit of unpredictability in forward areas. Whether we do that by recruiting or by trying to bring our own academy players through is Rowett's call. I would like to see a new wide forward join and there is a decision to make over Ledley's future, as he is only contracted to Derby until this January.
Are there prospects coming through to get excited about? We’re heading down the academy route much more now, what have you made of Norwich so far this season and our new approach?
Derby brought through one of the best midfield prospects in England, Will Hughes, but Rowett chose to sell him to Watford for not much (and he might even end up back in the Championship on loan this January, which could be extremely awkward). There have been no league debutants from our academy this season so far and, with a squad stuffed with too many players aged 30+, it's hard to see anyone breaking through in the immediate future.
I haven't paid close attention to Norwich this season, other than wondering what on earth was going on for the first few games, but I have noticed the influx of players from German football to complement the youngsters, so there's obviously a blend there between youth and experience - something we're lacking at Derby.
I have also been impressed recently by the positive vibes coming out of your camp. From the outside anyway, it seems like there's a unity among the fans - the "Farkelife" chant is great - and that can only help. Norwich should always be a major force at this level, just as we should, so I'm expecting a tough afternoon. My hope is that there will be an element of "after the Lord Mayor's Show", given the Canaries' fine effort in beating Ipswich, then taking Arsenal the distance. However, I agree with you that this one is likely to be tight and I'd suggest a 1-1 draw is the most likely outcome.
I’d very happily take 1-1 as it stands. I think we’ll be tired and can see you nicking a 1-0
While you're here...
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