As the opening match of the season looms boss Nigel Clough faces a selection dilemma as competition for places is at quite a peak. He has quietly assembled a strong squad with better depth than recent years.
Often, in recent years, the first eleven, has almost picked itself in some aspects – this year that won’t be the case.
The goalkeeper position does, however, almost pick itself with Lee Grant being brought in and Clough firmly pointing out he is the man to wear the number one jersey. The defence, again, is quite easy to predict because Shaun Barker isn’t yet ready to return to the side. New loan signing Adam Smith seems to have been brought in to be first choice and as a replacement of John Brayford. I suspect Lee Grant will have Adam Smith, Richard Keogh, Jake Buxton and Craig Forsyth in front of him, should Derby opt for a back four.
It’s the midfield that is the area likely to cause Clough the most headaches, a plethora of options are available to the manager. Craig Bryson, Will Hughes, Jeff Hendrick, Paul Coutts, John Eustace, Ben Davies and Michael Jacobs are the frontrunners vying for possibly four positions (assuming there’s a four-man midfield). You can add Jamie Ward to that list too should Clough opt to use him as a wide-man rather than a striker, the ex-Blade did say himself “I do not expect to play up front much”.
Different players suit different match situations, Eustace is aware that he isn’t due to be a week-in week-out regular but he offers a different dimension with his experience. I certainly think he is a good acquisition and could be the missing part to improving the away results.
In the striking department, Chris Martin, Conor Sammon, Johnny Russell and possibly even Jamie Ward are the main contenders. Again, different opponents can mean the team acquire a different man.
My strongest XI (with the current options available) would be this (see image below). Leaving Jeff Hendrick out was extremely hard, which is the nature of the dilemma, but Bryson, Hendrick and Hughes all look out of place on the right wing and Coutts is the most capable there. 4-4-2 seems to be an ageing formation but, with Derby’s current crop, it probably suites most of them the best. Even with this line-up, I’m not sure it’s right – it’s quite tough to make a selection from the players available. (Please be aware that this XI is as of 29/07/13 and may not reflect my strongest XI should there be any more signings.)
I’m eager to hear your thoughts on who’d make your strongest overall eleven and who you suspect Nigel Clough will go for on Sunday. Comment below in the comments section and continue the talk.
Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for the second part of Coundown To Kick-Off.