Derby County have started this season pretty much how they finished the last, unbeaten in all competitions and yet to concede a goal. Despite this, there has been much debate as to who should be included in their best XI. Midfield has been a particular area of dispute as the back five and striker all but pick themselves. The signing of loan star George Thorne over the summer was an indication that Derby would persist with the 4-5-1 formation that had given them so much success in the last campaign. Just 30 minutes into his debut, Thorne ruptured ligaments in his knee, ruling him out for the majority of the season. The most important decision now was who would replace Thorne in his ‘Anchor Man’ role.
Over the first three matches of the season, Will Hughes, despite being renowned as a more attacking central midfielder, adapted his game to fill this, the most important position in Derby’s system of play. Hughes has excelled in the role but there is always the potential that he may become frustrated in this role, rampaging forward into more familiar positions and leaving holes in the Derby midfield. So far this has not been an issue but the loan signing of young Spaniard Omar Mascarell from Real Madrid indicates that McClaren possibly intends this role to be filled by the 21 year old. Hughes losing this position in the team could potentially mean a spell sat on the substitutes bench due to the form of fellow midfielders Craig Bryson and Jeff Hendrick.
In the wide positions there has also been a lot of talk as to the best options McClaren has available. Johnny Russell and Jamie Ward were the options towards the end of last season and the general consensus coming from the terraces is that this is a winning formula. There have been grumblings about the commitment and work-rate of Simon Dawkins, despite him obviously providing creativity. Russell and Ward have made their names as forwards earlier in their careers so this would mean that they would provide serious attacking threats. Leon Best has also come into the squad, on loan from Championship rivals Blackburn, and is also providing competition for the wide positions as well as challenging Chris Martin as the team’s striking option.
The team below is what I feel Steve McClaren will go with at Charlton on Tuesday night. The team is a winning formula and once you find one of these in a league as tough as the Championship it is vital to stick with it. It could be the case that Derby rest key asset Hughes and go with the more experienced and steady John Eustace in these tight away matches but the evidence would suggest that Hughes has the upper hand right now. Whatever team McClaren goes with, it will be a tough match against a very stubborn and capable team.