The Derby County BlogCast, #5 – November recap, plus East Midlands Derby preview and transfer talk

The latest monthly Derby County BlogCast has landed, with my regular amigo Chris Smith on board, plus a special cameo appearance from Joel Clyne, the man who set up the original Derby County Podcast, before moving on to pastures new.

I’m really pleased with how this month’s episode came out – there was a lot to talk about, with two losses and two defeats in the period, one of which was at Gary Rowett’s Stoke.  Also, there was richly deserved praise for Harry Wilson, the opposite of that Bradley Johnson, a look ahead to what could be a very closely fought East Midlands Derby and the first glance forward to the January transfer window. 

Enjoy and let us know your thoughts.

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Stoke City v Derby County preview

Like his spiritual father Tony Pulis, Gary Rowett sees himself as a pragmatist.  His reactive brand of football may not be very popular, but Pulis and Rowett argue that it’s necessary to play less-than-scintillating football sometimes to get results.  The trouble for this type of manager comes when the promised results don’t materialise, because then, there’s very little there for fans to get behind. 



Just like José Mourinho, another key influence, Rowett is very fond of statistics – at least, his own personal reading of them, which he uses in press conferences to influence reporters and defend himself against criticism, either of his overall record or of his playing style.  He couldn’t help, for example, telling reporters in the press conference before this game that “The reality is, we had more goals and points (with Derby) at this stage last season than [this season’s] side has currently got.”

This serves only to remind Rams fans a) how badly the arse fell out of Derby’s season under Rowett once 2017 ended and b) how petty he is, that he obviously can’t stand to see the infinitely more popular Frank Lampard getting the plaudits and affection that he never did.

For Rowett, the top line at the moment will be that Stoke City have only lost one of their last nine league games.  Superficially, that sounds decent, but the run has included five draws, resulting in a tally of 14 points from a possible 27.  Not awful, but not play-off form – and this is Stoke, freshly relegated, swimming in Bet365’s money and parachute payments, carrying an England goalkeeper and internationals wherever you care to look.  The expectation was for much, much more than this.

Rowett had big money to spend – signing Ryan Woods, Tom Ince, Peter Etebo, James McClean (who feels like the ultimate Rowett signing, somehow) and Benik Afobe, plus Ashley Williams on loan, with the idea of building an experienced force which would be too strong for this league.  A better chance of Premier League football was, after all, what Rowett left Derby in the lurch for last summer.

Stoke’s wage bill last season was in excess of £90m and while relegation means an inevitable financial haircut, their parachute payment for this season is £42m – far higher on its own than any normal Championship club’s total turnover (Derby, who are obviously one of the division’s bigger clubs, turned over £29m in 2017).

So, surely pretty much every Derby fan has felt huge schadenfreude at Rowett’s struggles – particularly the Potters’ damaging home losses to Wigan, Blackburn and Birmingham – and the current gap of eight points between the two clubs is, even at this stage of the season, quite a chasm.  

Their problems haven’t come because they’re being thrashed every week, however – it’s because they can’t stop drawing.  They’ve been held by Brentford, Middlesbrough and QPR at home, while away, they picked up what Rowett probably perceives as valuable points at Sheffield United, Forest, Preston, Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham (Rowett’s Derby drew 15 times last season – the high for the division was 16).

Too many draws, not enough points at home, not enough goals (21, with a goal difference of -1).  For shots per game, they rank 17th in the division, for shots on target per game, 20th.  Nobody is scoring heavily, although the big names Afobe (four goals), Ince (three), Joe Allen (three) and Saido Berahino (two) have at least chipped in.  37 year-old Peter Crouch is still on the wage bill and acting as Rowett’s “Plan B” from the bench (while he’s not busy producing podcasts for the BBC).

The godlike Jack Marriott has outscored all of those big name high-earners, despite only having started seven league games – less than half as many as Afobe.

In short, Stoke are not performing to expectation, or anywhere near it.  As the Stoke Sentinel’s Martin Spinks put it after the 2-2 draw with Steve McClaren’s QPR: 



“The sad truth is – and much as some of us are desperately trying to convince ourselves otherwise – there is a mid-table look about a Stoke team that just can’t hit the floor with the throttle.  We have rarely seen the ruthlessness required of a team able to sustain a top-six challenge, or even kickstart one, and it seems an awfully long time since anyone in and around Stoke City was heard uttering the phrase top two, at least without an expletive either side.”


Supporters, meanwhile, lined up to criticise Rowett for his “slow negative football with strange tactics and substitutes, no creativity in attack, very few shots on target and the inevitable draw at the final whistle.”



Stoke fan and football writer James Whittaker summed up the local dissatisfaction with Rowett in a series of agonised tweets after the QPR draw:



“Reflecting on our season so far, I’ve got to admit I’m starting to lose faith in Rowett.  Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s walked into a club riddled with disease on and off the pitch and nothing was going to change overnight or even in a few months.  My main issue is the fact that when I watch us, there is no apparent plan on the pitch whatsoever…



“I was expecting there to be some kind of identity shining through or at least a style or approach to recognise, but alas we are sitting here in 13th place with 5 wins from 18 games with no idea what to expect week to week.  There’s no way of predicting a game or forecasting what might happen logically other than you know it will be disjointed.  We’re getting results by luck rather than design at times and that’s not scalable over a season or, God forbid, the entire length of his contract.

“No, we had no right to remain in the Premier League indefinitely but the manner of our demise and the complete and utter ineptitude of managing it puts my blood pressure through the roof.  We won’t go up this year and I’ve seen nothing to suggest there’s even any hope beyond that.”



The sense of utter despair engendered by watching a Rowett team regularly is one which rings bells….   At least last season, I was only in a position to pronounce Derby’s season as dead in the water in March.

Regardless of the result of this particular game, you can’t help but wonder if Rowett has been rumbled.  Granted, he probably felt that he was leaving Derby before he was inevitably pushed out, but in gambling on a jump to Stoke, he looks to have bitten off more than he could chew.  As it stands, a dismissal and brief furlough, followed by a newly circumscribed career firefighting for smaller Championship clubs battling to stave off relegation and not too fussy about how that looks seems to beckon. 


As for Derby, they come into this game on the back of a win at Sheffield Wednesday which in truth came from a fairly uninspiring performance. Mason Mount, missing from the Villa defeat, was back, but only managed an hour of the game, in which he was far from his influential best. 

 Lining up alongside Mount in midfield was the tiny, lightweight Duane Holmes, a player capable of wriggling away from a tackle like an eel, but not of winning the ball.  He is learning at the deep end, having played well in the second half against Birmingham, struggled to impact the game against Villa and revealing moments of exciting quality and serious naivety in equal measure at Hillsborough.


Immediately before the opening goal, look at the way Holmes loses the ball and then compounds the error by leaving his man to press the defender:

Yes, pressing is a key part of Lampard’s game, but decision-making is also key at this level and Holmes went for a ball he was never going to win, probably goaded by his own sloppiness in conceding possession and looking to make amends.  He might have got away with it while playing League One football for Scunthorpe, but the player he was leaving unmarked was Barry Bannan, who had the quality to take advantage with an accurate long pass.  The goal was an extremely poor one to concede and the defenders certainly could have done better in dealing with the ball in, but the original situation came from Holmes’ rash decision.

Another example was the sitter which Fernando Forestieri missed in the second half.  With Derby 2-1 up, Holmes won a throw-in on the right, which Andre Wisdom trundled up to take – only to be befuddled to suddenly find that Holmes had sprinted to collect the ball and thrown it neatly to his feet.  Wisdom, who is frankly not a player you would want to be put in that position, manifestly wasn’t ready, miscontrolled it and was robbed.  Seconds later, Forestieri was clean through and really should have scored.
  


The point of this is not to rag on Holmes, who, at 24, has his best years ahead of him and will hopefully learn from his early mistakes at Championship level.  I just wonder whether Lampard will be keen to reinstate Craig Bryson to the side, following his return from the bench on Saturday.  Bryson was a key figure until sustaining an injury against Sheffield United and when it comes to “doing it on a cold Wednesday night in Stoke”, perhaps it’s time to go for the more experienced option in midfield.

The goals against column for Derby remains low, but a bothersome stat is the Rams’ ongoing lack of clean sheets.  Adam Reach’s goal meant that they have now only kept one clean sheet in their last 13 games – thanks to an exasperating habit of conceding once every time (Villa aside) – and in those circumstances, I imagine Curtis Davies must feel extremely frustrated not to be named in the side.  This was an issue I first wrote about a while ago, when Fikayo Tomori emerged as a popular, speedy option in defence – the Chelsea loanee is clearly a player Lampard believes in.  But he had a bit of a nightmare at Wednesday and forced the manager into subbing him at half-time.

Tomori’s virtues are his pace and relative composure on the ball – these attributes mean he is naturally suited to the game Lampard ideally wants to play – but he also has a fiery temperament and a young man’s impetuous desire to ‘nick’ the ball, meaning that he can get himself into trouble against canny centre forwards.  He never did enough to merit being sent off at Hillsborough, despite the howls of the home players and fans, but having got himself booked, he then got involved in a tangle of legs while on the attack in the Wednesday half and from that point on, his (yellow) card was marked.  The slightest indiscretion after that would have forced the referee’s hand and there was little option for Lampard but to make the change.

With a powerful, experienced unit to face in Stoke and with that failure to keep clean sheets in mind, surely Lampard must at least be considering making a change and bringing the club captain back into the team.  In Bryson and Davies, Lampard can call upon two seasoned campaigners who will not be fazed by the atmosphere in the Potteries and for this game, I’d be tempted to give them the nod over the promising but green Holmes and Tomori.  

That said, Lampard has consistently shown that he is not afraid to trust young players and if he decides to stick to his guns and show faith in youth, then so be it.  Derby have gained enough results and points to justify the manager’s approach and with what was threatening to become something of an injury crisis now abating, hopefully he has enough depth in his squad to cope with the exacting Championship winter.

****

Rowett would love it, love it, if his team beat Derby, while Rams fans would be howling with laughter if they condemned him to another defeat and the boos of the disaffected supporters.  But whatever happens in this game, one stat I did notice, which Rowett really wouldn’t like, sums up the difference in approach between the two managers and why Derby are in better hands now than they were under the Villa-supporting Brummie. 

At Sheffield Wednesday, Derby recorded nine shots in the game.  This was interesting because it was the first time all season Lampard’s Rams had failed to hit double figures for their shot tally.  Rowett’s Derby mustered less than ten shots in a match 13 times last season – getting on for once every three games.  

I was so appalled by Brentford away (three shots) that I was moved to write a two-part blog on what the hell was going on, but it got even worse when the team, spooked by their hideous humbling at the hands of Sunderland, had two shots in the entire game at Preston.  Two!  OK, they won the game 1-0 thanks to Tom Lawrence’s drive (the less said about his celebration, the better), but the beautiful game, it was not.  

And it wasn’t exactly a one-off – it was a regular tactical choice of Rowett’s to sit back, let the opposition have the ball and negate them.  Whereas Lampard demands something very different, which is that his side attacks the opposition and actually tries to win – not just not to lose.

Lampard does not spin the facts and snipe about trivial stats to prove a point, he’s not insecure enough to need to do that.  His understanding of football is infinitely richer, he has more personality, more stature and much, much more of a future as a manager than Rowett.   We will lose Lampard one day – but it will not be to Stoke.

Whatever happens in this game, it’s clear that Rowett did Derby County a massive favour by walking out on the club.  And should a legion of inflatable snakes be launched into the Potteries sky as the home fans jeer in their droves and Lampard starts the bounce, then if I’m being really honest, the reality is that I would absolutely love it.  

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Derby County BlogCast #4 – October reviewed

The latest BlogCast is, unsurprisingly, the most positive yet, given the exciting way that Derby played in October and the start they’ve made to November.  

This month, Chris and I were joined by BBC Radio Derby’s Blake Fallows to enjoy talking about a fantastic run of form in the league, the spirited cup defeat at Chelsea, the emergence of Jack Marriott, Frank Lampard’s defensive options (dilemma?  What dilemma?) and identifying the key moment in the month, when the blue touch paper was lit.  

Thanks to Blake and Chris for taking the time.  Can’t wait for December’s instalment….

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Derby County v Sheffield United preview, with Blades Analytics

I have a sneaky, horrible feeling about how the season has gone so far.

I don’t like to be a pessimist and my glass isn’t always half empty, but the four defeats and the nature of them have left me with some nagging doubts about how well-equipped this team is to win enough games to get promoted.

That is not to say that there aren’t serious positives, because clearly, there are.  Loaning Mason Mount and Harry Wilson was for sure a double coup, made possible almost entirely by the fabled (and very real) Frank Lampard Effect.  Jayden Bogle’s surge into the first-team reckoning has been heartening.  Fikayo Tomori has proved a popular and welcome addition to the squad.  The youthful exuberance these players have brought has been a breath of fresh air – look at the way they flourished fearlessly at Old Trafford – and the defence has, overall, been much more solid than we might have expected, given that Curtis Davies has been absent for effectively the whole season with a hamstring problem.  Bradley Johnson is threatening to resemble a player again.  Craig Bryson is back.  Jack Marriott is a promising addition up front…

Gary Rowett has gone.

But when we look at the league table, a quirk of the fixture list becomes clear.  Derby have only played one of the current top six – Leeds United at home – and, as you know, they were painfully walloped in that game.  

When we look at seventh – twelfth, it’s slightly better – the Rams beat Brentford in fine style at home and drew with Norwich and Blackburn, again, both at home.  But then you have to look down to 16th in the table to find anybody else that the Rams have played yet.

So far, Derby have played eight of the current bottom nine, emerging from those games with 13 points from a possible 24 (won 4 drawn 1 lost 3 – two at home, six away).  

Curiously, four of the Rams’ five wins this season have come against the current bottom four (Reading, Preston, Ipswich, Hull).  Away from home, they haven’t faced anybody higher up the table than 16th-placed Bolton yet.

In other words, while Derby have done OK so far, it’s mostly been against the dross – they haven’t really seen the best of the Championship yet.  With that in mind, I can’t help but wonder if they’re a few points short of where they really should be, if they are going to be a genuine contender.  As I mentioned in the latest BlogCast, losing at Bolton, Rotherham and Millwall just doesn’t feel like the kind of thing that a promotion team does.  

The big wins against Brentford and Man United eased those fears temporarily – which is why the loss at Bolton was so gutting.  For every encouraging step forward so far in Lampard’s debut season, there has been an instant wobble backwards.

There is an argument that Derby have struggled to create enough because they have come up against a lot of teams whose only ambition was to defend against them and that’s certainly a fair point to make.  We will find out plenty about this team’s genuine calibre in the next few days though, because they are about to test themselves against three of the top four.

The early leaders Sheffield United at home is just the start – after that come second-placed West Bromwich Albion, the top scorers in the league by a street (that one will doubtless be billed as Mount versus Harvey Barnes), then it’s Middlesbrough, managed by the infamous Tony Pulis and as miserly a side as you will ever face in the second division (six goals conceded in 12 matches).

Of the three games, the one I fancy our chances in most is tomorrow’s.  We’re at home, of course, but also, the Blades will come to take us on rather than stifle and that will give our attacking players the opportunity to counter at speed.   

The good news when it comes to assessing how we might do in what is undoubtedly a massive game against Sheffield United is that a new blogger, Jay Socik, came to my attention this season, tweeting as @blades_analytic.  He has been using data to assess not only the Blades, but also the whole Championship and as a result, is currently my “go-to guy” for evidence-based insights on how this season is panning out.

Derby County Blog: What are the strengths which have propelled SUFC to the top of league?

BA: Our tactical setup is well known to anyone who has seen us play – 3-4-1-2, with very attacking wing backs and two wide centre backs who also join the attack.  The biggest feature of our play is our ability to work the ball in wide areas, create overloads and extra men to make 2 v 1 situations and play the ball around the opposition defence.

We are an excellent passing team with some very good technical players and we tend to dominate the territory, playing much of our football in the opposition final third.  This is demonstrated by the fact that we have had the most touches in the opposition box and the most completed passes in the opposition final third in the league.  We don’t waste our possession on long shots either, we are patient and look to create high-quality chances in the penalty area, as our strikers suit those opportunities with the runs they make.

DCB: Does the underlying evidence say SUFC could sustain a real push this time?

BA: Yes. SUFC rank highly in most of the various metrics and stats anyone could use to look at a team’s performance.  Anyone who follows me on social media knows my best source of performance data is my own expected goals metric.  With xG, we can assess a team’s ability to create chances and how many chances they concede to the opposition.

In terms of xG, SUFC rank as the joint best team in the league.  For chances conceded, we are fourth best in the league.  We’re creating lots of high-quality chances at the moment and don’t give away many at all – although with the caveat that our next run of games looks on paper to be much more difficult, starting with our trip to Pride Park.

Although we don’t average many shots per game (17th ranking in the league overall), our conversion rate on the shots we do take is the fourth best in the league and again, this points to the fact that most of our efforts come from the penalty box [Amen – DCB].  12% of all our shots come from within the six-yard box, the second highest number in the league and we are also second highest in the league forshots within the penalty area [for comparison Derby have managed a grand total of four shots inside the six-yard box all season – worse than anyone except for Hull – DCB].  We’re dead last in the league for shots outside the area, so expect a team that pass and probe and look for the right time to take an effort at your goal, rather than shooting from distance! 

DCB: Hallelujah… I’ve been banging the drum about shots from downtown being a waste of possession, territory and time for ages now.  It annoys me that our current team are so prone to taking them (direct free kicks excepted…)

Which players are the key men who make your team tick?

BA: We play such a bespoke system that certain players are imperative to make it work.  Without doubt, one of the key men and our best piece of summer transfer business, has been Oli Norwood in a deep lying playmaking role.  Norwood has been an absolute revelation for us.  We lost Paul Coutts at a similar time last season (when we were also top of the league!) and he had been our best player to that point, which might be a weird one for Derby fans to hear.  To be honest, we never really recovered from that.  Norwood has added outstanding passing range, set-piece quality delivery, effective forward passing from deep and generally ensured we have complete balance in our play.  

Norwood has three assists (joint third highest in the league), is fourth in expected assists per 90 minutes and third for key passes (passes that setup a shot) per 90.  I could go on, but I think another player worth highlighting is Mark Duffy, quite simply our creative fulcrum at number ten.  

Normally, if we score a goal or create a good chance, Duffy has been involved in the passing sequence before it and without Duffy we have struggled.  He’s so good that he’s keeping highly-rated Liverpool youngster Ben Woodburn out of the team.  

The final key man worth mentioning is the manager – he’s absolutely outstanding and with him, we always have a chance.

DCB: Any weaknesses about SUFC which are bothering you at the moment?

BA: The fact we seem to concede goals on a regular basis.  We are such an attacking unit that, even though we have good defenders, we seem to concede regularly.  We’ve only kept four clean sheets this season, despite having a defence doesn’t concede many chances (we only allow on average 11 shots per game, which is the third best rate in the league).

The only other thing that comes to mind is that we tend to score first in a game, but when we don’t, our win ratio isn’t good at coming from behind. The way we play will always leave us open, especially when chasing a game and this season, although we have only been behind in three games, we’ve lost two of those.

DCB: In terms of Derby, in your reading of the numbers, how decent are we at the minute and do you think we’ll do ok this year?

BA: More than decent, especially defensively.  My expected goals data has Derby as the best defensive team in the league in terms of chances conceded.  Derby also hold the sixth best record in the league at allowing opposition shots per game (only 11.7 per game).  I feel there is a strong defensive base there, with a good blend of experienced heads and younger, more athletic players filling a void I felt Derby had last year in terms of energy and dynamism.

Offensively though, the data suggests a different story.  15 goals scored with an xG of 14.1 shows Derby are performing slightly above expectations in terms of finishing ability, but their xG is only 18th best in the league, which shows a lack of high-quality chance creation.

No doubt there is some outstanding talent at Derby – Mount the pick obviously, but Wilson, Lawrence, Nugent, Waghorn and Marriott are clearly all capable on their day – perhaps it hasn’t clicked as a unit so far, but this is the main weakness I see with Derby at the moment.

One particular metric that does reflect well on the Rams is their pressing stats – the second highest in the league behind Leeds.

From personal views of watching Derby, I see a highly organised, motivated and focussed team who are set up well and clearly have quality but are yet to find their creative freedom within the system, hopefully it doesn’t present itself on Saturday!

DCB: Based on the stats, are there any Derby players who worry you on Saturday?

BA: Yes!  Mason Mount!  Overall this year, Mount has created the highest number of chances in the league (27), just ahead of the Blades’ Norwood. Mount also has the ninth highest expected assist tally in the league.  Clearly someone who is dangerous in the final third.  Mount’s three goals are also the joint second highest tally for a midfielder in the league.  The kid can clearly do it all!

The only other worry (and this is not data-based) is Martyn Waghorn.  For much of the summer, we Blades thought Waghorn was coming our way, until Derby got involved and blew us out of the water.  This meant that we went and got Waghorn’s team mate at Ipswich, David McGoldrick – which has turned out to be a masterstroke, actually – but I have a sneaky feeling Waghorn might show us what we missed out on.

DCB: He’ll need to be picked, first…  
Care to hazard a guess at the result?


BA: Heart saying one thing, head another!  We have the best away record in the league and confidence is high being top of the league; however, I really rate this Derby side and feel it has potential moving forward.  A 1-1 draw just like last season is my prediction.

DCB: I also have this game down as a potential draw, on paper, though I expect it will be a much more entertaining encounter than last year’s, which was a bit of a dog.   

While we’re talking Championship numbers, some of my readers might be interested in your take on our auld enemy Nottingham Forest.  Unfortunately, they are gradually creeping up the table, but does the data suggests that they will stay in the top six?

BA: I actually have Forest’s expected position based on performance as 11th.  They have scored 17 goals, but have an xG of 13.1 (fourth worst in the league).  This either shows they have some quality finishers over there, which could be the case, or that shots are flying in that will eventually start to fly wide.  They’ve conceded 13 goals, but with a conceded xG of 16.1, which means that their attack and defence are both over-performing relative to expectation at the minute.  At the minute, I’m not sure a Forest play-off challenge is sustainable and they look more like a 10-12th type of team – although it’s still early doors, Derby currently project slightly better.

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Frank Lampard’s defensive dilemma

Derby County’s unexpectedly busy summer transfer window has left Frank Lampard with selection decisions to make all over the pitch, so long as everyone is fit.  He is certainly not short of forwards, to the extent that after the 1-1 draw with Norwich, he was able to change both wingers and his striker for the 1-1 draw with QPR.

Lampard also brought in Craig Forsyth in place of Scott Malone at left back for the trip to Loftus Road.  At right back, however, despite having the option of Andre Wisdom, Lampard has seemingly settled on the exciting talent of Jayden Bogle as first choice.  The 18 year-old is much less physically imposing than the ex-Liverpool man, but is far closer to the template of a modern Premier League full back – swift, agile, technically competent, keen to get on the ball and motor forward.   These are the attributes which give him a real chance of a big future.

On the opening day of the season, Lampard’s centre back pairing was, as expected, the hugely experienced duo of Richard Keogh and Curtis Davies.  Lampard described the men as his “two captains” before the start of the season, although in the end, he favoured Davies with the formality of the armband.  

Keogh and Davies’ jitters on the ball in the first half of that game caused  a few hearts to flutter, but the Rams eventually settled down and won that match – only for news to then break that Davies was injured and would miss the next game, against Leeds United at Pride Park.

Davies started every league game last season and was rightly hailed by fans as the team’s natural leader.  The statisticians at whoscored.com ranked him as the second best player in the Championship for 2017/8, behind only Adama Traoré.  Other than Scott Carson, he was the last player in this Derby squad I wanted to see injured.  

You don’t need me to remind you about the outcome of the Leeds game.  But surprisingly, given the four-goal thrashing the Rams took from one of their auldest enemies, the young man who stepped into Davies’ boots on debut earned some good reviews for his all-action defending.  

20 year-old Fikayo Tomori is a member of the vast, possibly soon to be regulated out of existence, Chelsea loan army and this is already his third temporary spell in the Championship.  The first was at a promotion-bound Brighton, where Tomori was mostly used as a substitute.  He featured much more regularly at Hull City last season, as they battled successfully to stay in the division, where he was chiefly deployed as a right back.  

Tomori’s pace is his stand-out attribute and, having watched older defenders like Keogh, Davies, Alex Pearce and Jason Shackell in recent seasons, is something of a breath of fresh air for Derby fans.  His ability to catch up to attackers means that he can recover from mistakes – either his own, or those of colleagues – and even get away with the occasional lapse of concentration.  Naturally then, in a pairing with Keogh, Tomori is the defender who makes more tackles and interceptions on the ground.  

However, Tomori has proved to be less effective in the air than Keogh and has lost more than half of his aerial duels.  One of the attributes which made Davies one of the Championship’s stand-out players last season was his aerial prowess:-

Aerial duels contested and won, per 90 minutes
Defenders (Championship 2017/8)

  1. Sean Morrison (Cardiff)  Contested 11 Won 7.5 (68%)
  2. Harlee Dean (Birmingham) Contested 8.7 Won 6.4 (74%)
  3. Shaun Hutchinson (Millwall) Contested 9 Won 6.1 (68%)
  4. Curtis Davies (Derby) Contested 9.1 Won 6.1 (67%)
  5. Adam Webster (Ipswich) Contested 9.1 Won 5.9 (65%)

To compare, here are this season’s numbers for Keogh and Tomori, again, per 90 minutes played:-

Keogh Contested 6.4 Won 3.8 (59%)
Tomori Contested 5.1 Won 2.5 (49%)

The Rams are having more of the ball this season and coming under less sustained pressure, but when we do, Tomori is marginally losing more headers than he is winning.  For a centre back, that is clearly not ideal.

Davies also led the league for interceptions per 90 minute last season:-

Interceptions per 90 minutes
Championship (2017/8)

1= Curtis Davies (Derby) 2.7
1= Sol Bamba (Cardiff) 2.7
3. Bruno Ecuele Manga (Cardiff) 2.4
4= Joey van den Berg (Reading) / Jack O’Connell (Sheffield United) 2.3

In terms of passing from the back, which is a key part of Lampard’s playing style, Keogh and Tomori have a very similar and respectable passing accuracy rates of more than 80 per cent (Keogh 83.8%, Tomori 81.4%).  Both are a bit better on this measure than Davies (78.3% last season).

Like Bogle, Tomori has the pace to get himself or his team-mates out of trouble, but I feel that he occasionally lacks the positional sense required by a top defender.  This is not to criticise him, as he is clearly only going to develop this through experience and get better.

 When he’s in full flow, Jayden Bogle’s flying runs into the penalty area cause havoc and get you off your seat.  His passing accuracy of more than 80% is good and in terms of chances created, Bogle shows up very well, which emphasises both his technical ability and attacking instinct:-

Key passes (Chances created) per 90 minutes
Championship full backs, 2018/9

1. Barry Douglas (Leeds) 1.7, 11 appearances
2. Cuco Martina (Stoke) 1.6, 8 apps
3. Reece James (Wigan) 1.2, 11 apps
4. Jayden Bogle (Derby) 1.2, 9 apps
5. Darnell Fisher (Preston) 1.1, 11 apps

Bogle has a reasonably good tackling success rate, but in terms of interceptions, he ranks 43rd out of the 44 Championship full backs who have made five or more appearances: –

Interceptions per 90 minutes
Championship full backs (2018/9)

1. Kristian Pedersen (Birmingham) 3.7
2. Henrik Dalsgaard (Brentford) 2.3
3. Luke Ayling (Leeds) 2.0

26. Craig Forsyth (Derby) 1.1

42. Mahlon Romeo (Millwall) 0.6
43. Jayden Bogle (Derby) 0.5
44. Martin Olsson (Blackburn) 0.4

A big part of the game is decision-making and at the moment, Bogle is very much still learning the ropes.  In the last couple of games, I can think of a wild shot from a crazy distance when a pass was the better option against Norwich and an easy overlap pass to Florian Jozefzoon at Loftus Road, overlooked in favour of a more difficult ball into a congested central area.  From a defensive perspective, the way he was caught so far out of position by Anthony Martial at Old Trafford for Juan Mata’s goal sticks in the mind as an example of the young man switching off, for a fatal split-second.

***

Lampard chose to leave Davies on the bench at Loftus Road, but tougher tests than QPR are coming.  Derby’s next three games are against teams in the top four – league leaders Sheffield United at home, followed by two of the most difficult away trips of the season, back-to-back – West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough.  I don’t think that Lampard will want to go into these games with his best defender on the bench.  But incorporating Davies would unfortunately mean dropping somebody else.

Lampard has referred to Keogh as one of his two captains and although it is the fervent wish of a vocal minority, he is unlikely to be benched.  Keogh is the only player to have played every minute of every game this season, so it would be a shock if Lampard was to suddenly jettison a player who has been perfectly solid as the senior member of a defence which has conceded a respectable 13 goals in 12 games.  Keogh’s highest-profile gaffe this season was at Old Trafford, when he stumbled and presented Romelu Lukaku with a one-on-one chance on goal.  Fortunately, the gods were smiling on him on that occasion.

Bogle has praised Keogh’s role in his development, saying:

“He’s been a massive, massive help for me.  Even last season, just in training, he was always talking to me and we’d go through some clips sometimes.  So he’s been a big part in my development, I think, especially defensively.  He’s really helped me and I’m grateful for that.”

Tomori has been very good and is deservedly popular – touch wood, maybe there will be a chance for the Rams to sign him permanently after this season – but I would question whether he is as defensively switched on and positionally aware as Davies at this early stage in his development.  Certainly, he is not as commanding in the air.

One possibility – although it was heavily shelled when I unwisely floated it as ‘the obvious thing to do’ on Twitter recently – would be to move Tomori across to right back, if only for the coming few matches.  My thinking was roughly along these lines – Tomori is already experienced in that position, has pace and is a stronger defender than Bogle.  

Speaking to the Hull Daily Mail last season, Tomori explained that he would be happy to play anywhere across the back line – even at left back – and wasn’t sure what his best position was:-

“I’ve been asked the question a lot really and different parts of my game are suited to different positions.  I’m quite quick so that suits me at right-back but at centre-back that’s good as well. I can link up play and cover, which comes through at centre back as well.

“At the moment I don’t really see myself in one position. I’m happy to play in a variety of positions. As I play more games and develop, that one position that I play will become clearer to me. I don’t know it yet.”

However, from speaking to folks at the Hull end, I’m told that he is more one who ‘does a job’ at right back than one who looks natural in that position.

Peter Johnson, editor of the Hull City fanzine Tigerlink, said: “Tomori had a patchy but at times impressive time at Hull, typical of many loanees.  He played in around 25 league games and spent a lot of time on the bench.  He appeared to be in direct competition with [fellow Chelsea loanee] Ola Aina for the right back berth, but also covered at left back, centre back and even in midfield.  Plus he played in a variety of formations as Leonid Slutsky and later Nigel Adkins searched for success from a struggling side.

“On occasions, he linked up well as an attacking threat, this included work down the flanks with Harry Wilson, who had a very successful loan spell at the KCOM last season.

“One vital point is that he only played as a centre back in the early part of 2017/18 under Slutsky.  The rest of his time was largely at right back.  So a return to that berth might be a natural move for him.  But perhaps Tomori himself might prefer the centre back role, or it may be too early in his career, to decide with certainty where his best position is.  He’s worth a try at right back, but Lampard may be aware he never really made the position his own during his stint at Hull City.

“Certainly Tomori has potential and it will do Curtis Davies and Derby no harm at all to have a promising youngster to make Curtis look over his shoulder a bit.  Davies is the finished article and Tomori the young up and coming player looking to establish himself.

“In conclusion, Tomori’s worth a go at right back. Like any young player he needs a long run in the side to prove consistency and at Hull, he played in a defence with constant changes in formation and personnel. It may take a while to find the best fit for him. The jury is still out, but he never let us down and if he has a successful career at Derby or elsewhere, it would be no surprise.

“Many Hull fans will watch Tomori’s progress with interest and of course, Davies probably had his best days at Hull and few fans would have anything but high praise for him.”

Another maverick suggestion from a good friend of mine was to move Tomori to a holding midfield role – but his comparative lack of experience there would make that a real gamble, particularly when a seemingly reborn Bradley Johnson and Tom Huddlestone are both available.

Another idea (and certainly one which is regularly brought up on Twitter) would be to change to a back three and wing backs.  Bogle and Scott Malone certainly fit the profile for a more advanced full back-cum-wide midfielder and Tomori’s speed across the ground could in theory help to fill the spaces left by having three at the back.

But such a change would be a radical shift from the default shape which the team have worked on since pre-season.  Gary Rowett only changed to a back three because he was forced to when the arse fell out of his season.  Derby’s form and performances under Lampard have not been bad enough that you would necessarily suggest that a different system is required – and naming three centre backs would only intensify the selection squeeze in the already over-subscribed forward areas, forcing Lampard to leave out a Harry Wilson, or Tom Lawrence.  As it stands, Derby’s attacking record has been no better than so-so this season (perhaps this should be the topic of my next post) and so reducing our attacking fire-power would not be ideal at this point.

For a defence containing a 20 year-old and an 18 year-old to have been as basically sound as Derby’s this season is huge credit to Tomori and Bogle (and Keogh, as the defensive leader).  It would be extremely harsh to drop one of the youngsters – but does Lampard really want to go to the Hawthorns and the Riverside with Davies on the bench?   

I don’t claim to have the answer to Lampard’s defensive dilemma, but I do feel strongly that, particularly for the challenge of the forthcoming games, we need our best defenders out there – and Davies is our best defender.

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