Derby County travel to Barnsley this evening with the Rams aiming to pick up a vital victory that could potentially put some real distance between themselves and the relegation zone.
The Rams are without a win in any of their last three Championship matches and have suffered back-to-back defeats against Cardiff City and Coventry City in their last two games. Wayne Rooney was frustrated with the performance in the loss at Coventry on Saturday, but he insisted his side will be able to stay clear of the relegation battle come the end of the campaign.
Barnsley represents a very tough challenge for the Rams to get their season back on track. The Tykes of won seven matches in a row in the league and are absolutely flying. This game will be a huge chance for them to cement their play-off place. Therefore, Rooney needs to set his side up perfectly for Derby to come away with the three points.
Here, we take a look at some of the player dilemmas that are facing Rooney ahead of the trip to Oakwell this evening…
Whether to hand Louie Sibley the chance to start
Rooney has already hinted that he believes the time might well be right to bring Sibley into the starting line-up for the trip to Barnsley. The talented 19-year-old has so far not been able to perform as consistently as he would have wanted to this season after making a really positive impression with five goals and two assists in just 11 league appearances last term (Sofascore).
The attacking midfielder has been limited to just six starts in the Championship this season so far, playing an average of 35 minutes per appearance (Sofascore). That is not enough time to expect him to make a massive influence on proceedings and as a result, he has failed to score or provide a single assist in his 20 matches.
Considering Derby have failed to score a goal in their last two matches and lacked any sort of creative spark at Coventry, Rooney should be considering bringing Sibley into the fold. The 19-year-old has been impressing of late with the Rams’ under23s.
Dropping Martyn Waghorn with Lee Gregory an option to replace him
Rooney started Waghorn upfront alongside Colin Kazim-Richards on Saturday on a 4-4-2 setup and it did not really work for the Rams with the forward not really looking suited to that kind of role in the side. The 31-year-old failed to muster a single effort on goal at St Andrews and also had just 21 touches of the ball (Sofascore).
Lee Gregory therefore might be considered as a potential option to come into the side, if Rooney wants to persist with the 4-4-2 setup. The Stoke City loanee has not yet been able to fully convince for the Rams, and he did not really do that much to impress when he started the recent 4-0 thrashing away at Cardiff.
However, the experienced forward is more suited to holding the ball up and bringing other players into the game. That might be important for the Rams and his physical presence is likely to cause something different for Barnsley’s defenders to think about.
Is the time right to throw Louie Watson into the side from the start
Rooney has also hinted that Louie Watson is now pushing to be included in the starting line-up for the first time in the Championship. The 19-year-old came off the bench against Coventry City and the Derby manager labelled him as their best performing player on the day. The Rams boss said that he had made a difference for the Rams in the closing stages.
Watson is the sort of player that might be able to come into the side and play with freedom and confidence. That is something that we saw with Sibley last term when he burst onto the scene in excellent fashion. The midfielder’s energy might well be crucial against a Barnsley team who relentlessly press their opponents high up the field.
Starting Watson here would be a gamble, but one that could pay off if he can perform as he did in his cameo from the bench against Coventry.