The closeness of the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off picture means the top six is far from decided. Derby County may have found wins hard to come by in 2019, so what do you make of their chances at this stage?
I think they’ve still got a good chance. They have recently dropped out of the top six having been there for quite some time and, over the past month or so, they’ve just been edged out in games. They have got a game in hand, though, and if they were to win that, they’d be right back in the mix. It’s really tightened up and while I’m sure Derby would have liked to have had a few more points on the board, they are certainly well within the race heading into the final month of the campaign.
Since taking over at Pride Park last summer, Frank Lampard seems to have made a seamless transition into management. How do you rate his first season in charge?
There was a big turnover of players; he brought a lot in and sold a couple to fund those arrivals because he had quite a tight budget to work within. They sold Matěj Vydra – who was Championship top scorer last season - to Burnley and they were always going to miss those goals, but he made some interesting signings and has tried to bring the average age of the team down, which he has done.
He’s used his contacts to recruit some good loan players and it’s been really interesting to see how they’ve done. It has been a bit up and down at times, but you’d expect that with a new team, new manager and new coaching staff. I say ups and downs, but they have had some really memorable fixtures, quite a lot of which have come in cup competitions: deservedly winning against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Carabao Cup and giving Chelsea a scare in the same competition before losing 3-2, and also knocking Southampton out of the FA Cup. There’s been some promising signs, but a bit of inconsistency as well.
Rams owner Mel Morris has recently revealed that he’d consider selling the club for £1 in a bid for fresh investment. What’s Derby’s current financial situation?
Interestingly enough, it’s a well-timed call because there was a fans’ forum last week, which was attended by Mel Morris, along with Frank Lampard and the chief executive, Stephen Pearce. There have been a lot of reports and speculation, but this was the first chance for a while for the fans to hear from the horse’s mouth. Mel Morris has confirmed that the club are in discussions with potential new investors; he’s looking for outside investment, whether that be someone to take over the club completely, or to offer part-investment with him remaining on-board. He’s open-minded about the options, but he has said previously that spending at the same level they have in the past few years, while remaining in the Championship, is unsustainable - they’ve been trying to cut back in that respect.
With regards to selling the club for £1, Mel addressed that specifically and said he might consider selling for that sum providing the person who came in showed they had a lot of money to invest in the club. They’ve obviously had a real go of getting into the Premier League over the past few years, but it hasn’t quite worked out and you can’t just keep doing that. They’ve got quite a few players out of contract in the summer and there’s a chance to bring the wage bill down significantly.
Who would you single out as the star performer this term?
The three loan signings have caught the eye at different times of the season in different ways. Mason Mount, who came in from Chelsea, started really well and actually earned a call-up to the senior England squad, which was pretty unusual; for a player who hasn’t played in the Premier League and is in his first season in the Championship, to get a call-up was quite something. But he’s been out injured for a significant period, though he may be fit to face Brentford, should all go to plan.
Harry Wilson from Liverpool has picked up the mantle from Mount and he’s caught the eye with some terrific goals, particularly from free-kicks, and he’s been a real creative, attacking spark for them.
Another one from Chelsea, Fikayo Tomori, has played nearly every game at centre-back. Derby had a very experienced centre-back pairing of Richard Keogh and Curtis Davies going into the season, but the latter struggles with injuries and he’s actually out for the season now. As a result, Tomori has pretty much had to come in and play every game and he’s done pretty well, I think.
It would be unfair just to single out the loan players, though, because some of Derby’s own talent has done pretty well. The young lad at right-back, Jayden Bogle, is only 18 and made his debut at the start of the season, but he’s played a lot of games and established himself as first-choice right-back. I mentioned Richard Keogh who has been captain in Davies’ absence and he’s been a massively consistent performer for Derby yet again, as he has been for the past few years. We were talking about potential players of the year and we ran a poll on our website asking fans during the international break; Keogh came out on top, followed by Tomori, so that gives you an indication of what the fans are thinking.
How is Lampard likely to set up his side for the trip to West London?
He’s mainly gone with a flat back four this season, though has experimented with a back three very occasionally and has suggested that’s something they could do if a particular game called for it. He’s mainly played a 4-3-3, essentially, with a holding midfielder, two in front a bit further forward and then a focal point up front, with two wide men. It has varied a little bit, but in recent weeks he’s played a 4-2-3-1 at times with two holding midfielders to try and shore things up a bit. However, his hand was forced by a few injuries at that time and he’s actually got a few coming back now, including the likes of Mason Mount, Craig Bryson, Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett, so he may have a few more options ahead of Saturday’s game.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
I think it’s going to be a really tough one for Derby, actually; it usually has been at Griffin Park in recent years and without having watched too many of Brentford’s games in great detail, the general feeling is that they have a decent home record. They seem to score quite a lot of goals at home so I think there could be goals in this one. I’ll go for a 2-2 draw.
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This weekend, we expect lots of families to join us at our Fan Zone from 12pm. Located at Watermans Park (TW8 0DS), it's free with many activities and the opportunity to meet players from our First and B Team.
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