There was a change at the helm in the summer as ex-Barcelona midfielder Phillip Cocu replaced Chelsea-bound Frank Lampard. How has the first month of the season gone under the Dutchman?
It’s been an interesting start; going into last Tuesday’s game against Bristol City, they were actually unbeaten in all competitions, albeit only in the first four games. They drew with Swansea City but would probably have hoped to have beaten them as they missed a penalty and it ended up 0-0. It was an encouraging start and the manager said before the Bristol City game that if they could beat them, they could say it had been a pretty good, satisfying start. Unfortunately, they lost and then, all of a sudden, the start doesn’t look quite as good. They haven’t scored at home yet and you can do anything with stats; sometimes it looks good, other times it doesn’t. I think Bristol City deserved to win and even though Derby pegged them back in the second half and had a go, they defended pretty well and deserved the three points. It’s definitely given the manager and the players something to think about.
Every time you speak to BEES, we discuss whether or not this will be the campaign that sees Derby return to the Premier League for the first time since 2007/08. It's too early to make predictions, but are there signs they'll be in the reckoning?
That’s the aim at the start of every season. In recent years they’ve been aiming for that top six, which seems to be increasingly difficult and, to be fair to them, they’ve had a decent record as they’ve been challenging for quite some time now, but just haven’t quite finished the job. When Lampard went, I think there were a few concerns it might be difficult season because the owner was making noises that there perhaps might not be a lot of money to spend as they were trying to cut costs a little bit. They lost three loan players who were massive figures for them last season: Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount and Harry Wilson. They’d have loved to have any of those players back but Mount and Tomori are in the Chelsea First Team squad now and Wilson has gone on loan to AFC Bournemouth.
There were concerns that Derby’s squad would be weakened, however, Mel Morris the Owner has pulled it out of the bag: He’s recruited a Manager in Phillip Cocu, who has got a very good pedigree from managing PSV as well as having played for PSV and Barcelona, and then he’s also made some quite interesting signings. They forked out quite a lot of money to sign Krystian Bielik from Arsenal, who had a good season on loan at Charlton Athletic last term. He’s only 21 and they’ve paid £7m for him - it could rise to about £10m, which would be a club record. That was quite a statement, given they weren’t necessarily expecting much money to be spent. That raised the hopes that they can challenge for a top-six spot, but there’s not a lot of talk of the top two. Last season they snuck into the top six and I think they are hoping that they can get there again.
Wayne Rooney has agreed to join in January - the fans must be bubbling with excitement…
That was an extraordinary signing, really. Derby fans have suddenly become accustomed to big names coming in like Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and now Wayne Rooney. The fans couldn’t believe it and I think there’s a real hope he can make a difference. From everything we are seeing and hearing, he’s still performing at a pretty good level in the MLS and I’m sure he’ll be able to perform at Championship level as he’s such a quality player. Derby, in past years, have had a little dip around the New Year and I think they are hoping his signing will give them a real boost going into the second half of the season - it’ll be fascinating to see what he can bring. It will be interesting to see where they play him because he’s so versatile; he can still play up front, he could play as a number ten, or he could even play in a defensive midfield role.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye out for?
Jack Marriott, who signed last summer from Peterborough United after he scored a shedload of goals in League One. He scored 13 goals last season, which was a really good return considering he had time out injured. His actual goals-to-games ratio last season was very good - he is someone who just scores goals. It was a talking point that Lampard didn’t start him in the Play-Off Final – he left him on the bench and then he came on and scored a consolation goal. He missed a bit of pre-season due to injury so he’s been on the bench and played in the Carabao Cup win over Scunthorpe United but there’s been a clamour for him to start. Derby fans will probably say he’s the one to watch, but he could well be on the bench. I know we are looking ahead a little bit, but speaking to Phillip Cocu recently, he suggested Marriott was still not ready to start games. You’d hope, by the day of the Brentford game, he might be in there. It’s a left-field choice as he hasn’t been playing, but Jack Marriott is certainly a goal threat if he’s in the team.
How are Derby likely to set up on Saturday?
Over the last couple of weeks, he’s changed the formation at half-time. At Stoke City and against Bristol City, he started with a 4-2-3-1 and then switched to three at the back at half-time for various reasons. Against Bristol City, they just needed to get back into the game. Cocu has said his preferred formation is 4-3-3 but he has different variations on that and has been playing with two holding midfielders just to give them more stability at the back. He’s talking about coming in as a new manager, starting off by shoring things up at the back, giving them a solid base and then working on the attack. As yet, he hasn’t started a game with three at the back, so for safety’s safe, I’d say a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 is generally how he’s been lining up.
What's your score prediction?
I’ll go for a 2-2 draw.