Three games into the season it is clear that Paul Clement is still experimenting with his squad, learning about the players and pondering what’s best.
Jamie Hanson was a surprise name in the starting eleven against Charlton and Clement reverted to Derby’s tried and trusted 4-3-3 from the McClaren days. It worked under McClaren to an extent, without the right players in the right position it struggled.
Part of the problem with the 4-3-3 came without a controlling, holding midfielder (Thorne) and, with a panicky defence lacking confidence, it left results like 4-4 at Huddersfield, 3-3 at Millwall and 3-0 against Reading (Warnock in the ‘Thorne’ role anybody?!).
The 4-3-3 generally needs Chris Martin performing to function effectively. Darren Bent, however, does not suit it and it is difficult to see where his place lies this season. As others have alluded to, he is best at being an impact substitute for Derby, he and Martin don’t seem to fit together, so will he be content spending much of the season on the bench?
Bent is not quite a complete alternative to Martin, a change of system would have to accommodate Bent if Martin were to become unavailable. There must be plans in place for a potential Martin absence, Derby were simply poor without him during his absence last season and it cost the Rams a top six spot.
Another player that the team really can’t do without is, of course, Will Hughes. Let’s see what the club’s recruitment team can come up with. Last season the recruitment team didn’t really deliver (Best, Christie, Shotton) spectacularly, although the loan recruits of Ibe, Ince and Bent worked out.
One of the interesting parts to the manager still deliberating over his squad is the bench. Cyrus Christie hadn’t made the subs in the opening two fixtures but then he came on as a sub against Charlton. Alex Pearce didn’t even make the bench after starting against Portsmouth.
All in all, it’s not an electric start to the season by Derby but it is a steady one to build on with work to do still in the transfer market.
So, as fans we should have really prepared ourselves more for a period of adaption. The team is full of some excellent players at this level, things should get going, everything is in place for the club to have a great season. It could have all slotted into place straight away with 4-0 victories but it was never really likely.