Derby County determined to ram way into the Premier League
As Marouane Fellaini connected with Diogo Dalot’s cross to squeeze the ball past Scott Carson for Manchester United's equalizer, every Derby County fan must have feared the worst. Juan Mata's third-minute sucker punch had not left the Rams gasping for air, rather motivated them to step on the gas. But all their efforts had seemingly gone up in smoke.
When Carson dived to his left to save Phil Jones’ excuse for a penalty, they were back under cloud nine. After the shootout, one thing was clear: Derby deserved the win.
The previous season had not gone to plan at Pride Park. A sixth-place finish meant the Rams faced Fulham in the Championship playoffs. The home first leg was positive, winning 1-0. Losing 2-0 in the decider, they missed out on Premier League promotion. To add further insult, manager Gary Rowett decided to jump ship, joining relegated Stoke City. He believed the Potters stood a better chance of going up.
Many were surprised when Derby owner Melvyn Morris settled on Frank Lampard as Rowett’s replacement. The Chelsea legend’s only managerial experience was within his former side's youth set-up. Considering his team currently sit only four points off first place with nine games played, it's safe to think the gamble is slowly paying off.
Success looked unlikely after an erratic summer transfer window, in which the Rams lost some very experienced players. Darren Bent was released from his contract. Cameron Jerome was sold to Turkish side Goztepe. To further blunt their attack, 20-goal striker Matej Vydra left for Burnley and Andreas Weimann joined Bristol City.
However, Derby's new signings have implemented the style demanded. Lampard was clever in recruiting former teammate Jody Morris, who has collected a lot of coaching experience in the past five seasons, winning both national and continental trophies at various age groups. as his number two. Together they brought in Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount on loan from Chelsea. Florian Jozefzoon and Old Trafford hero Jack Marriot also arrived from Brentford and Peterborough United respectively. All are technical players, comfortable with the ball at feet. Such has been the hallmark of Lampard's tenure.
Mount has been superb. Of Derby's 13 league goals, 38% have come from set-piece situations. This tally includes a division-high three free kicks from the Chelsea loanee. Along with his attacking playing style, Lampard expects him, as well as teammates, to show aggression when not in possession. The Rams have received 24 yellow cards already. Only Nottingham Forrest sit lower on the Championship's fair play table.
Another tactical piece of genius was Lampard’s insistence on not playing with inverted wingers. In his preferred 4-2-3-1 system, Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson takes up position on the left while Mason Bennet occupies the right. This leaves the pitch's centre unclogged, enabling space for Mount and the two midfield pivots to work intricate short passes. With world-renowned stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Arjen Robben having made cutting in from the opposite side a trend, it's refreshing to see a team allow wide men to deliver crosses from the byline.
What Lampard lacks in experience he compensates for in man management. His players genuinely admire him. They listen when he talks. Critics were out for blood when Derby lost two of the season's first three matches. They were defeated 4-1 by Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United and then 2-1 away at Millwall. The Rams' response was four consecutive wins. They have shown resilience, like when going 1-0 down at Old Trafford, to earn six points from losing positions this campaign. Only Aston Villa can better that, with eight. Lampard's men have also won all matches when scoring the opening goal. Their manager seems to appreciate the dirty as much as the pretty side of football.
With games coming thick and fast, Lampard hopes his side has what it takes to push for automatic promotion. Derby have sights on going one better than last season by achieving Premier League status.