It’s fair to say that 2021 has been a rather difficult year for Derby County.
Having only avoided relegation from the Championship on the final day of last season, financial issues and subsequent entry into administration have left the club facing an uncertain future off the pitch.
Meanwhile, the 21-point deductions that the Rams have been hit with due to those issues, mean Wayne Rooney’s side are now rooted to the bottom of the Championship table, and are almost certain to be playing League One football in 2022.
Even so, there have still been a number of players who have managed to impress for the club over the course of the past 12 months.
So with that in mind, we’ve taken a look at who we think are Derby’s five best players of 2021, right here.
5. Phil Jagielka
Having been brought in as a free agent in the summer to give Derby’s squad some much needed reinforcement, there may have been some question as to whether the 39-year-old still had enough in the legs to make an impact at this level.
The answer to that question has been an emphatic yes, with the centre back completing the full 90 minutes in 18 of the Rams’ 22 league games so far, highlighting the level of fitness he still possesses.
His experience and presence has also played a big part in helping a young Derby side to some impressive results in the circumstances, meaning this has been a very smart piece of business for the Rams.
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4. Lee Buchanan
One player at the opposite end of his career to Jagielka who has also made an impact for Derby over the past 12 months, is Lee Buchanan.
The 20-year-old has established himself as something of a regular figure for Derby at left-back over the course of the past 12 months, featuring 35 times in the league since the start of the year, and earning himself plenty of praise in the process.
Indeed, reports linking him with the likes of local rivals Nottingham Forest and Scottish giants Celtic do seem to highlight how good he has been for Derby, and mean that keeping him beyond next month’s transfer window, could be a big coup for the Rams.
3. Curtis Davies
Curtis Davies’ first game of 2021 for Derby came on the final day of last season, when he made a late substitute appearance to help the Rams secure the draw with Sheffield Wednesday that kept them in the Championship for this season.
Given that saw the centre back put his body on the line to make a premature return from what had looked to be a season-ending injury, there can be no doubting the centre back’s passion and commitment to the club.
That is something that has continued into this season, with the 36-year-old remaining an integral figure in defence for Derby, starting every league game for the Rams so far.
2. Jason Knight
Switching focus back to Derby’s young players again, and another up and coming talent to have excelled for the Rams in recent months, is Jason Knight.
The 20-year-old has continued to be a key figure for the Rams in the centre of midfield, helping to control play in that middle area, while also continuing to earn senior international honours with the Republic of Ireland.
Indeed, with a club the size of West Ham now said to be taking an interest in Knight, it seems clear that the young midfielder has been plenty right at Pride Park over the past year or so.
1. Tom Lawrence
Having found the net eight times over the last 12 months, no player has scored more for Derby than Lawrence in 2021.
The attacker, now seemingly thriving in the leadership role he took on when handed the captain’s armband in the summer by Wayne Rooney, showed just how good he is with his recent matchwinning double in the stunning win over Bournemouth, and thumping strike against QPR.
Indeed, with Lawrence one of those who, at the age of 27, is in the peak years of his career, and playing to that level, you feel keeping him beyond January will be key to any slim hopes Derby have of avoiding relegation this season.