Derby are one of several sides who are dreaming of playing in the Premier League next summer, but a lot of their future may well depend on how their current transfer window goes.
The Rams have threatened to return to the Premier League for several seasons now, but this season looks like it could be their best chances in many years to get back to playing at grounds like Old Trafford and Anfield.
As ever, the Championship is wonderfully unpredictable and anything could turn Derby’s season upside down, but a few clever additions in this winter window and they are guaranteed to have a good crack at automatic promotion.
The longer they linger in the Championship, the harder attracting players becomes and it might be a while until Derby get another chance at promotion if they fail to make it this season.
With the increased TV deal, the pot of gold for promotion is bigger than ever and this January is key.
Here is an ideal XI for Derby come the end of the month…
Premier League experience will be vital if County are to get into the top flight and Pantilimon has plenty of it.
During his time at Sunderland, the giant keeper has been no stranger to a relegation battle and is used to having to deal with a barrage of shots per game. Pantilimon might just fancy the move this month as his club look set for the drop.
An upgrade at right-back might be in order come the summer, but the Rams will probably make do with Christie throughout the winter.
Christie is one of their highest rated players with WhoScored.Com and it looks as though he could be in contention for their player of the season.
With Villa sliding towards the Championship abyss, many of their players must be considering jumping ship in this January window.
Richards has not had exactly the desired impact since he joined in the summer, but his power and experience would be invaluable to a Championship club.
Shackell has been solid at the heart of Derby’s defence throughout this season and it would be a huge surprise if the Rams opted to replace this centre back.
The club may look to strengthen their defence in the summer, but consistency is key as we move into the business end of the campaign.
Warnock has had a turbulent career, but he seems to have finally found his feet at Derby.
The ex-Villa man might be on the way to replacing his former club in the Premiership and it looks as though his experience will be vital towards the end of the season.
Fer was in the middle of a bit of a transfer saga when he eventually signed for QPR a few seasons ago, but he has failed to really show his worth.
The Dutch international would be an ideal signing for many Premier League clubs and he would surely be tempted by Derby’s strong Premier League prospects. Competition for places in the Derby midfield is high, but Fer’s international experience could really make the difference.
Thorne has been a crucial player for the Rams this season and the youngster clearly has a bright future ahead.
Of all of the County squad, Thorne is probably the most likely to retain his place if the side are promoted and he would be touted for an England appearance if he can begin to impress in the top flight.
Johnson leaving Norwich for Derby was one of the oddest transfers of the summer.
The ex-Canary could be on course to join his former club in the Premiership next season and he was a very shrewd addition by Derby. His energy in the centre of the park has been hugely beneficial and allowed Thorne to control from deeper.
Tom Ince, much like several other players, has had to take a step backwards to help his career move forwards.
From days of attracting interest from all over Europe, Ince has become a crucial player for Derby and has contributed with 8 goals during the first half of this season.
It would be unfair to criticise the job that Martin is currently doing, but Rhodes would certainly be a step up for the Rams.
The Blackburn striker is continuing to impress and it is surely a matter of time before he makes his move to the top flight. Derby should hope they can steal the Rovers’ man before a Premier League club come calling.
The wide areas have been a position of relative strength for the Rams this season and Russell’s pace is crucial to how his side plays.
The standard system for Derby has seen Chris Martin centrally, but Russell has been important to stretch the game and is the club’s leading assist maker, with five.