With the East Midlands derby fast approaching us, there is one key battle that will emerge during the game that may very well decide the outcome of the historic fixture.
The two sides have actually already met this season in the Carabao Cup. Like Saturday’s fixture will be, it was played at the City Ground. It is one, though, Derby County will want to forget or at least make amends for as they were battered 3-0 to Nottingham Forest on their travels in August.
Granted, that was under very different circumstances, with manager Philip Cocu handing full debuts to four players and bringing on two more youth players as substitutes. Forest and Sabri Lamouchi approached the game very differently and it paid dividends, with the Reds recording their biggest victory over their rivals in nearly nine years.
December 2010 was the last time the side managed to beat the Rams by three goals and that again came at the City Ground in a 5-2 thumping. Since 1904, there has only been one other occasion in which either side has scored five over the other and that came at Pride Park in a 5-0 victory for the home side back in 2014.
But what about today? If we’ve learned anything about derby day its that you can never trust or go off what has happened between the two previously. So, that being said, what is this key battle that the game could depend so heavily on.
Derby County’s top scorer this season is Tom Lawrence with five. Arguably, Nottingham Forest’s most consistent performer so far this season has been Ben Watson. You might think that a battle between the two is unlikely given that Lawrence is a winger, right?
Wrong. As seen in Derby’s last game, Cocu has switched to a narrow 4-1-2-1-2 formation, with the Welshman maintaining the role at the top of the diamond. This system was implemented for the first time against Middlesbrough and in that game, Lawrence grabbed a brace.
Heading into the game, him and Chris Martin are Derby’s most in-form players which is why Watson will have a job to do against the 25-year-old attacker. And quite a job it will be too, after Lawrence was able to pick out pockets of space between defenders and shoot on sight in his new position.
Watson, though, is about as professional and experienced as they come in the Championship. He will recognise his defensive duties and stick to them, meaning he may very well be given instructions under Lamouchi to man-mark the attacker. If this is the case, Derby lose 80% of their attacking flair and creativity.
Watson has already shown he is capable of doing that job this season. Against Swansea City, it was his job, as the only defensive midfielder, to snuff out Bersant Celina which is exactly what happened, as Forest won the game 1-0. He had the same job to do on Tom Cairney against Fulham and, once again, Forest won the game and Cairney was left frustrated.
Lawrence will have to be clever to avoid the same fate as other attacking midfielders have this season. If he is able to do it, Derby have a great chance of winning their first Championship fixture at the City Ground since September 2012.
If not, their torrid away record will more than likely continue and will lose to their most bitter rivals for the third time in a row… something that hasn’t happened since 1990.