Why this could be Derby’s year – at last

It’s been, as usual, a thoroughly entertaining start to the Championship season. There have been plenty of goals, excitement, drama and of course upsets, the latter being an ingredient without which no second-tier season would be anywhere like as exciting.

It has, in short, been as predictably unpredictable as last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, etc. However, one or two things have sprung out that will not surprise anyone so far. Bristol City have struggled to make their free-scoring game work in the much more defensively organised Championship, Burnley have been as solid and as hard to beat as ever, and Derby have looked very good indeed.

That last point should not be a surprise at all, bearing in mind the Rams have been up at the top end of the Championship for three or four seasons now, without ever having quite enough to go that next step and achieve promotion. After the impressive start they’ve made though, could this finally be their year?

The evidence to back up that statement is certainly strong. By the time the transfer window ended, on paper at least, Derby had managed to put together what definitely looked like one of the best squads in the league, full of all the attributes necessary to get out of the Championship. It had pace and flair in forward positions, experience and quality all along the backline, and above all it had goals – and lots of them.

Chris Martin, Johnny Russell, Andy Weimann, Tom Ince and others all have the capability to score at least 10/15 goals a season, and with this much firepower they will certainly overpower a fair few teams this year. Already some evidence of this has been shown by convincing victories against Wolves and Rotherham.

It is not just the strikeforce that is a formidable challenge for opponents to overcome, however. The defence is increasingly well-marshalled, only conceding 10 goals in 15 Championship matches so far this campaign. It is a defence well-marshalled by Richard Keogh and Lewis Buxton amongst others, and such is the competition for places that summer signing from Reading Alex Pearce can hardly get a game. On the flanks, Cyrus Christie and Craig Forsyth do an excellent job both shutting down opposition wingers and getting forward themselves.

It is incredibly hard to break this tight-knit unit down, and of course any team that leaves themselves too wide open trying to do so can leave themselves exposed to a typical deadly Rams counter attack, a major source of goals for Paul Clements side this year.

Clement himself must surely be praised as well for this impressive start to the season. Following an apprenticeship as assistant to Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid, during which he dealt with some of the world’s best players on a daily basis, Clement was approached by the Derby hierarchy in the summer to take over in the Pride Park hotseat, after Steve McClaren left for Newcastle.

Clement has clearly brought a calm, measured approach to Derby’s game, and will have plenty of experience from watching and training one of the best teams last season. He has a resolutely organised defence and midfield, and then a forward line which he has clearly given plenty of license and freedom to. At the moment at least, that license is paying off.

It’s been a few years now since Derby County were last in the Premier League, and frankly no one in the city really likes remembering that campaign. While it is by no means certain that they will go up this year, what is for sure is that with this current playing squad, they’d get much more than 11 points.