Derby County head into their game at home high-flying Preston North End on Saturday looking to recover from the 1-0 defeat they suffered at rivals Nottingham Forest, ahead of the international break.
The Rams’ defeat at Nottingham Forest left them in 16th place in the Championship table, seven points adrift of Bristol City who currently occupy the final play-off place, and eight points clear of the relegation zone, which suggests that the next few matches will help to determine which direction the Rams are heading in this term.
Phillip Cocu’s side will be hoping to continue their fine recent home form having won their last four Championship matches on home soil, which has seen them keep three clean sheets in a row at home, but that will not be an easy task against a in-form Preston side who have lost just three matches so far this term.
Here then we take a look at THREE dilemmas that Cocu will be faced with ahead of Saturday’s clash against Preston…
Finding the right balance in attack
So far this season the Rams have struggled to find their full flow in the attacking third of the pitch, with Derby only scoring 18 goals in their opening 16 Championship matches, with only Birmingham City scoring fewer than that out of the teams above them in the table heading into the weekend.
Against Nottingham Forest last time out, Derby failed to score for the third time in their last five matches, with Cocu electing to stick with Chris Martin, Tom Lawrence, Jack Marriott and Duane Holmes in attack following their 2-0 win at home to Middlesbrough, but the Rams lacked enough creativity in the final third to create any real chances.
Cocu must now decide whether to stick with those four and give them a run to build relationships going forwards, or whether to bring in the likes of Jamie Paterson and Martyn Waghorn – and it is a decision which could prove vital as to whether Derby manage to pick up a result.
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One of the main reasons why Preston have got off to such a strong start to the season, with the Lilywhites sitting in second place having taken 31 points from their opening 16 games, has been their prolific form in front of goal which has seen Alex Neil’s side register the most goals in the league so far with 31.Stopping Preston’s prolific attack
In contrast to Derby’s forward line, Preston have plenty of creativity with the likes of Daniel Johnson, Alan Browne and Sean Maguire all capable of creating chances for their team-mates in the last third, while the dead ball delivery of midfielder Paul Gallagher always makes them a threat from set pieces.
Derby can take confidence from the fact they gave kept three successive clean sheets at home, but they were all against teams bellow them in the table, and Preston will represent a real test as to whether Cocu’s side have really improved enough in defence over the last few weeks.
Cutting out individual errors
Derby produced a largely solid performance against Nottingham Forest and showed a vast improvement defensively from recent away defeats at Charlton Athletic and Hull City, but the Rams still suffered a defeat thanks to a lapse of concentration from defender Jayden Bogle, who lost the ball in dangerous position allowing Lewis Grabban to put the hosts ahead.
That has been symptomatic of Derby’s inconsistent start to the campaign, with the Rams having too many players who have been guilty of switching off during vital moments in matches, which has cost them the chance to earn some more points which could have pushed them higher up the table.
In many ways this is a problem that is not really in Cocu’s control, but the Dutchman could help by tweaking his tactics to allow his players to go direct at times when they are being put under pressure, rather than playing out from the back and putting themselves at risk of individual errors.