If folklore is anything to go by, right now is about the time when Derby County start to bottle it. So I thought I’d have a look at where we’re up to with the dreaded February ahead… This is the first instalment of a two-parter.
Turns out Frank wasn’t bluffing. There was no money to spend in the January transfer window and Derby County will finish the season with what they had, plus Andy King – whom Leicester “helped us to get”, according to Lampard – Ashley Cole, on mates’ rates, helping his old Chelsea buddy out until the end of the season and, hopefully, a free agent centre back, with the Nigeria international Efe Ambrose revealed as a possible new signing on Thursday. Andre Wisdom is currently the only recognised senior cover for the centre backs and although a couple of personae non grata were shifted out on deadline day, the squad remains imbalanced – the word ‘transition’ seems to crop up more and more on my Twitter feed these days, as fans adjust to the reality that this time, it really will take multiple transfer windows for the Rams to recalibrate.
And yet, Derby remain in contention for promotion, just as they have been for the last five seasons.
A lot of fans seem to be looking ahead to next season already, excited about the fact that a raft of players will be out of contract and presumably released. It’s certainly the end of the road at Derby for Marcus Olsson, Bradley Johnson, Jacob Butterfield, David Nugent and Nick Blackman (Butterfield and Johnson’s departures at least give closure to what is now widely recognised as the most ill-conceived transfer splurge in the club’s modern history). Craig Bryson and Tom Huddlestone are also out of contract and seem more likely to leave than to stay.
So the wage bill, which had ballooned to the point of representing 120% of turnover by June 2017, can finally be subjected to a little control. It’s impossible to think too much about what might happen next season though, because we still don’t know what division we will be in. If it’s the Premier League, then the club will have far more leeway to spend, without having to worry about incurring the wrath of the EFL.
That said, for anybody who suffered through the rather fortunate 0-0 draw at Preston North End last Friday night, the Championship will have felt the more likely outcome, because the side which Lampard lined up at Deepdale did not, in all honesty, look like promotion contenders.
The magical left boot of Harry Wilson aside, there was zero goal threat for the entire 90 minutes, with David Nugent toiling inadequately up-front and a midfield duo of Craig Bryson and George Evans providing little in the way of either defensive screening or creative prompting. Tom Lawrence and Martyn Waghorn had almost no impact from wide areas, in what was a disjointed, unimpressive team performance (admittedly on a dreadful pitch and with the unpleasant Ben Pearson lucky to have stayed on the pitch).
In the circumstances, the point was a bonus. The overall display highlighted how heavily dependent Derby have been on certain key players to magic up the goals for them this season. Two of those players were missing at Deepdale – Mason Mount has been the chief source of creativity and Jack Marriott the only reliable penalty box predator. Without them, Derby looked nothing like as threatening a side.
Indeed, the standard to which Lampard’s two young loanees have played is basically above the rest of the squad, with the possible exception of Marriott. In total, Mount and Wilson have taken a third of Derby’s total shots for the season and also created a third of all of the Rams’ chances:-
1. Mount 54 (2.1 per 90 minutes)
2. Wilson 36 (1.8)
3. Lawrence 21 (1.2)
4. Bogle 20 (0.9)
5. Bennett 18 (2.4)
6. Bryson 16 (0.8)
1. Mount 66 (2.6 per 90 minutes)
2. Wilson 65 (3.2)
3. Lawrence 56 (3.1)
4. Marriott 47 (3)
5. Nugent 25 (2.3)
6. Bryson 18 (1)
7. Waghorn 17 (1.5)
Wilson and Mount are much better players than the club, or any Championship club for that matter, could possibly buy and without them, the “transitional” nature of the Derby squad would be much more obvious – the league position probably considerably lower.
Of course, any Championship club is dependent on certain star players, but the clubs at the very top of the table seem to have that bit more attacking depth to call upon – and that gives them a clear advantage as they look to sustain their promotion bids.
I double-checked the shot total for Waghorn and it really is that low. When you consider this is a player who had an excellent goal involvement record at Ipswich last season – 16 league goals, plus 11 assists – it’s fair to say that we are not getting anything like the best out of him. Perhaps he has not been entirely comfortable in the wide role he’s been asked to play and maybe the stop-start nature of his involvement has hindered him, too.
When Marriott has been absent, Lampard has thus far persisted with Nugent as the second choice striker, but the Nuge has failed to score since 22 September and barely touched the ball at Deepdale, let alone causing the home side any problems. Age is catching up with the 33 year-old and Derby at least looked a bit more lively at Preston when Mason Bennett came on to put himself about a bit.
Wilson’s remarkable goalscoring record has rightly attracted plenty of attention and he leads the Championship for goals from outside of the box. He is already one up on where Rúben Neves was last season in terms of goals from range and you wouldn’t bet against him reaching double figures purely in worldies, at this rate. I have written before about the issue that Derby take too many of their shots from distance and not enough from locations where you could realistically expect them to score. But Harry is not interested in your puny human limitations:-
Goals from outside of the penalty area, Championship 2018/9
1. Harry Wilson 7
2. Joe Lolley (Forest) 5
3. Six players 4
(I wrote a bit more in depth about Harry for The Liverpool Way recently)
However, we need a lot more than just the Welsh Wizard’s tremendous finishing if we are going to collect enough goals and points to finish in the top six. When we refine the list of Derby’s top shooters down to shots taken from within the box, we get:-
1. Marriott 38
2. Mount 29
3. Lawrence 17
4= Nugent / Wilson 16
No other player is yet into double figures for the season and by way of comparison, 11 Norwich and Leeds players have at least ten shots from within the box this season, with Sheffield United and West Brom both on nine players, Boro on eight.
Interestingly, the two Derby centre backs have managed considerably less attempts than many others from the leading teams, which says something about their comparative lack of aerial dominance. Blades defender John Egan, for example, has had as many efforts at goal this season as Nugent:-
Total attempts on goal (centre backs only)
1. Jake Cooper (Millwall) 42
2. Aden Flint (Boro) 36
3. Daniel Ayala (Boro) 28
4. Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn) / Semi Ajayi (Rotherham) 27
6. John Egan (Sheff U) 25
36. Richard Keogh 10
57= Fikayo Tomori 5
Defenders’ shots, of course, tend to come from within the box, or even the six-yard box, as they’re nearly all generated from set plays. In recent games, Derby have created barely anything inside the box, as the shot count since the defeat at Sheffield United demonstrates.
(This is the first half of a two-part blogpost. Part two to follow…)