SL Benfica 4 Derby County 0 – Plenty to ponder for Pearson

Arranging articles into fun, bite-sized, ‘five reasons why…’ chunks is all the rage these days, so here you go – a bumper crop of NINE bullet points, after the first friendly game of the Nigel Pearson era ended in comprehensive defeat at the hands of the mighty Benfica.  

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The game was too early in pre-season – It was a mismatch.  The first half-hour was embarrassingly one-sided and the second half, after a promising start, soon petered out into a procession.  For Derby, too many good players were missing, but Benfica were never a suitable opponent for a ‘mix and match’ game with two separate XIs anyway.  It was a strange fixture to take on at this stage, but hopefully, the players benefited from the warm weather training camp, the fans who made the trip enjoyed the break and Pearson now has a clearer idea of what changes he needs to make to the squad.

The squad is light in some areas – Derby have a large squad, but it is not balanced.  There is no depth at right back, or in defensive midfield, for example.  OK, the absent Chris Baird or Jamie Hanson can ‘do a job’ in either slot, but nevertheless….

Reinforcements are coming – Things may have been quiet in the market so far, but expect to see signings and departures before the start of the season.  Pearson was very clear in his post-match interview with Colin Gibson that he expects better and wants better quality than we currently have.  He said:-

“What is important for us is that, very quickly, we can affect some change…

“I knew we were going to be up against a very talented side and a very deep squad – which we haven’t got at the moment…  If we are going to make a serious challenge this season, I want to see some qualities that run right through the squad and we’ll get that.”

Will Hughes is our best player – As someone dreams wistfully of seeing Derby County compete in Europe, it was chastening to witness the technical chasm between the current squad and a Champions League club – with the exception of Hughes.  Although he was rarely given the ball, whenever he was, he threatened to make things happen. His beautifully flighted chip across the box for Darren Bent should surely have resulted in the most undeserved of equalisers for the first-half XI.  It was a moment of vision to match anything that the fleet-footed Benfica players produced.  The team must be built around this man.

Andi Weimann is super-fit – While everybody else did their standard 45 minutes, Weimann stayed out there for 85…

Andi Weimann is not a wing back – Although he certainly has the stamina, Weimann doesn’t have the defensive mindset to play as a wing back.  I think this was just a ‘needs-must’ move from Pearson and would be extremely surprised to see replicated in a competitive game.

Back four is best – The back three resonates strongly with Derby fans, because of Ígor.  If you have a player as good as the sainted Štimac to play sweeper, fine – but we don’t.  Based on the personnel currently at his disposal, I would be surprised to see Pearson field a back three again.

Chris Martin is a continental-class diver – The Wardrobe’s ability to confect a free kick is truly up there with the best in Europe.  The outraged howls he provoked from the Benfica fans were hilarious – perhaps the chat in the Faro bars afterwards was about these dastardly foreigners, coming here to cheat…

The kids are all right, but not ready – What a great experience against high-calibre opposition this was for the academy prospects who got a run-out.  Rawson, Lowe, Elsnik, Santos and Cover all showed promising signs and will hopefully develop into fine players. That said, all of them will need loan spells to get matches under their belt before they can be considered potential first-team squad members.

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