Derby County travel to Barnsley in what is shaping up to be a potentially vital afternoon for the Rams as they aim to get themselves back on track following on from the 3-0 defeat at Rotherham United on Wednesday.
Wayne Rooney had seemingly got Derby on a role following from his permanent appointment as the successor to Phillip Cocu. The Rams secured three consecutive 1-0 wins against Bournemouth, QPR and Bristol City to give themselves a bit of a cushion to the bottom three. However, two losses to Rotherham in the last five games have prevented them from pulling away from danger.
The second-half collapse against Rotherham in midweek will be a major concern for Rooney’s side, who had built their recent good run on the back of very solid defensive foundations. Against Barnsley, the Rams will need to get back to that and show that what happened on Wednesday was just a blip.
Here, we take a look at some of the dilemmas facing Rooney ahead of this important clash with Barnsley…
How to fit the new signings into the team
One of the main dilemmas facing Rooney is how he is going to integrate the late deadline day arrivals into his starting line-up. On a hectic final day of the winter window all of Lee Gregory, Teden Mengi, George Edmondsson, Beni Baningime, and Patrick Roberts arrived at the club to bolster the numbers for the rest of the campaign.
Against Rotherham, Rooney handed debuts off the bench to Gregory, Baningime, and Roberts in the second period. Of those three it seems Gregory might have the best chance of starting straight away, with the Rams short on goals in the final third and needing to change things up you feel. The Stoke loanee though missed a brilliant headed chance at 0-0 against the Millers.
The dilemma will be whether Rooney decides to start Gregory and maybe give Colin Kazim-Richards a rest, or whether he might look to have them both on the pitch at the same time to give Barnsley’s defence more to worry about. It will be interesting to see what he does and he integrates the other arrivals in the coming weeks.
How to get the Rams scoring more frequently
Derby’s obvious and glaring issue all season has been their inability to covert and take chances in the final third. Just 17 goals have been scored in the Championship by the Rams in their 27 matches, the fewest in the entire division. As mentioned, Gregory could come into the side and perhaps add more of a threat, but he only has one league goal to his name this term with Stoke.
Roberts could also be thrown into the side to add more creative spark to proceedings in the final third. However, he failed to score a goal or register an assist in nine appearances on loan at Middlesbrough in the first half of the campaign (Sofascore). That suggests he can not be solely relied on to change things up.
Rooney must find a way of getting more from Kamil Jóźwiak, who has shown glimpses of his creative talent but has just one goal and two assists in 23 appearances (Sofascore). Barnsley have shipped 34 league goals so far this season, the most of any top-half side and only four teams have shipped more in the division. That has to give the Rams some belief they can find the net against them.
How to avoid being caught out on the counter again against Barnsley
In the reverse fixture back in November at Derby, Barnsley delivered an excellent performance from a tactical point of view. The Tykes sat back for large parts of the game and allowed the Rams to dominate possession, with them only seeing 29% of the ball to Derby’s 71% on the day. However, despite that, it was the away side that always looked the most threatening going forwards.
Barnsley racked up 17 attempts compared with Derby’s nine on that occasion, which shows how much better and more precise their build-up play was on the counter compared with the Rams’ slow build up in front of their well organised defence. It would be no surprise to see similar tactics be deployed again here.
Derby fell victim to the counter-attack as well in the 3-0 loss at Rotherham, with the Rams left exposed chasing the game at 1-0 down and leaving the back door open for the Millers to round off the win in style in the closing stages. Rooney will need to show he has learned from that and be more prepared for the counter-attack against Barnsley.