Derby County take a break from action this week thanks to the international calendar again intervening.
You could argue that these breaks never really come at a good time unless you have an injury crisis; if you’re winning you want to keep the momentum going and if you’ve just lost, you don’t want to be dwelling on it for long and are keen to get out there and put it right.
Nevertheless, that latter scenario is what faces Frank Lampard and his men following the 3-0 loss to Aston Villa.
The fact Derby had enjoyed a fruitful few weeks beforehand may be their saving grace, because it’s perhaps more likely to be looked upon as a one-off in the grand scheme of things and given how well the Rams had done against the likes of Sheffield United, West Brom, Middlesbrough and even Chelsea.
Time will tell, but you’d expect Lampard’s men to go to Hillsborough next week as favourites and that they’ll right the wrongs of the Villa game.
But for now, with 17 league games played and just over a third of the season having passed, perhaps it’s a good time to take stock and reflect on just how things have gone for Lampard and his men.
After the fanfare surrounding his arrival had died down a little, Lampard immediately earned his ‘win a game without playing well’ badge in the opening day success at Reading, achieved thanks to a 94th minute winner following an overall iffy display.
The sobering 4-1 loss at home to Leeds and then a 2-1 defeat at Millwall left a few questions being asked but patience was always key and before long the Rams clicked firmly into gear, with only surprising blips at Rotherham and Bolton having tripped them up since.
What are the chances of them remaining in the top six? Very strong, I’d say, as things have really gelled together in recent weeks, the Villa game aside, and as long as injuries don’t become a problem in terms of continuity and rhythm, there aren’t too many sides who will beat the Rams if they’re at their best.
Top performers, for me, have included Jack Marriott, whose patience paid off with a regular starting berth and his goals have showed his ability to turn League One form into becoming a top striker in the league above was correctly identified by Lampard as being worth taking a chance on. He scored against Manchester United and Chelsea too, just to add a great deal more glean to his excellent record.
Jayden Bogle started very well and remains a great prospect as long as the number of games he’s playing don’t take their toll on his young body. He is by far the best option at right-back in my opinion.
Craig Bryson has been outstanding while Fikayo Tomori, Harry Wilson and Mason Mount have of course been inspired acquisitions on loan.
A more consistent Tom Lawrence could prove to be another real asset, while Craig Forsyth and Scott Malone have both impressed at left back.
On the negative side, I still have a few concerns over Richard Keogh, who can go from being a colossus one minute to calamitous the next with a bit too much regularity, while I’malso keen to see a few more quality options in wide areas as Martyn Waghorn (albeit not playing in his strongest position) and Florient Jozefzoon, who perhaps hasn’t had enough minutes to really hit some form, don’t complement the work of Lawrence and/or Wilson well enough much of the time and a bit more balance may be the answer for when Wilson himself isn’t used on the flanks.
But overall, if we’re looking at marks out of ten so far, I’d say it’s a solid eight from Lampard and his men and in a very tight Championship table, I struggle to see why they can’t be real contenders one way or another for a promotion spot come May.