Can Derby County's young trio help them gain a playoff spot?
After taking over as Derby County manager in May of last year Frank Lampard, was quoted in an interview with The Guardian's Paul Wilson when being asked about making certain managerial decisions 'I understand young players dont always see the bigger picture, I have the strength to make decisions that are right for the team'. True to his word Lampard has had to make some difficult playing personnel choices this season.
Mason Mount and Harry Wilson both joined Derby on season long loans in July of last year with 21 year old Wilson joining a week after signing a new deal at parent club Liverpool and 20 year old Mount, who has previously won the 2017 UEFA Under 19 Championships with England, coming from Lampard's former employees Chelsea.
Wilson of course has dipped his toes in the choppy waters of the Championship before having played 13 games whilst on loan at Hull City in the 2017-18 season scoring 7 goals in the process whilst Mount was, like many before him, sent out on loan to Vitesse Arnhem last season gaining valuable experience in playing 38 times for the Dutch side.
Lampard inherited a side with an avergae age of 27.5, fairly average for a Championship side its fair to say and Welsh international Tom Lawrence is another young player who Lampard said would be a key part of his plans to create and breed a young, energetic side.
Joining the Manchester United academy at just eight years old Lawrence subsequently had loan spells at Yeovil and Carlisle United before signing for Leicester City where again several loan spells followed at Rotherham, and Blackburn where he made 21 appearances, Cardiff City and Ipswich Town (34 appearances scoring 9 goals his best season to date). Lawrence then joined Derby in 2017 with so far having made 60 appearances for The Rams as well as having played 18 times for Wales. Lawrence has struggled at times to find some kind of form with just 4 goals scored and no assists but his manager obviously likes him given he has started 17 games coming on as a substitute in another 5 and even at 25 Lawrence brings experience to the Derby side especially having played at international level.
The reason for the back ground on these three players is that Lampard publicly stated his desire to add energy and youthfullness to the Derby County squad. He recruited Wilson and Mount to add to the likes of players he already had at his disposal and to bring the average age of the squad down of which he has stayed true to his word with the average age now at 26.4, a marginal decrease but a decrease nonetheless.
So has it paid off? Having signed Wilson and Mount Lampard has at times thought long and hard about trying to fit all three players mentioned into his starting eleven and into a system that gets the best out of the three. Before Wilson's arrival former Derby manager Gary Rowett favoured playing a great deal through Lawrence down the left flank and with Wilson's arrival some wondered whether this would continue.
Derby's shape and style of play
Lampard prefers a 4-3-3 shape and this has become evident as of the 29 games played Derby have set up this way 20 times. With there quick turnovers of possession and the desire to get the ball out quickly to Lawrence, Wilson and Mount to enable their creativity to shine in defense to attacking transitions. Derby wouldnt be classed as a high pressing side more a team that doesnt mind letting teams come on to them knowing they have the pace at full back and in the attacking midfield areas on the turnovers.
To date both Wilson and Lawrence have each played 4 times each in the AML position and when it comes to pushing both further forward on the left of a front three Lawrence is the clear Lampard favourite playing 13 times to Wilson's 2 so this is clear indication in the way Lampard is thinking in terms of Lawrence. But what about Wilson ,where does Lampard see the Liverpool loanee fitting in to his starting eleven? Well we pretty much have an answer.
So far this season Wilson has played in 5 different positions for Derby across midfield and in attack which gives us a sense of his early uncertaincy over Wilson's position. Wilson has played in the centre of the midfield (1), in a central attacking midfield position (1), in an attacking winger on the left of a midfield (4), 6 times on the right of a front three, and twice on the left of the front three. When Lampard has set The Rams up in a 4-2-3-1 shape Wilson has been deployed on the left of an attacking midfield three. So it seems Wilson's position is soley dependent on the team shape and he fits in somewhere come what may, a great player to have in your squad indeed. Wilson, as previously stated, has been used in the most part on the right of a front three and with relatively great success racking up 10 goals and 2 assists making him Derby's top scorer this season and with his non penalty goal per 90 ratio at 0.46 and an xG per 90 of just 0.19 Wilson is having a good season there is no question about it. This season, in terms of goals anyway, eclipse's the season he had with Hull when he chipped in with 7 goals and 3 assists in 11 appearances, still an excellent return of course. It should be noted of that although Wilson has played in multiple positions he has still managed to have a very good season.
So its pretty safe to say Lampard likes Wilson on the right of that front three which enable's him to cut inside and use that excellent left foot of his especially at set pieces.
Mason Mount having played 26 games for Derby has had a consistent and steady season and has only misssed games due to injury. Mount is a box to box, dynamic midfielder and is most comfortable on the left of a midfield trio. Lampard deserves some kudos as he recognises Mount's playing style by having the security of two out of either George Evans, the relieable passing machine that is Tom Huddlestone, or Craig Bryson all defensive midfielders in some shape or form. Mount is keen to get involved in the attacking phases of Derby's play and this means Derby's attacking shape often resembles a 4-2-3-1 with Mount supporting Wilson, Lawrence and Jack Marriott by bursting into central attacking areas in the final third. As previously mentioned Lampard has set Derby up in this shape (4-2-3-1) on 9 occasions with Mount filling the number 10 role just behind a central striker where he is more effective in my opinion but Lampard clearly sees his energies more in that box to box role. I referred to Derby's 4-2-3-1 earlier, food for thought maybe?.
Mount came to Derby on the back of an incredible season for a 19 year old in the Eredivisie having score 13 league goals and 7 assists (0.53 xG+xA per 90) when playing on the left of a midfield three in a 4-3-3 formation. These are impressive numbers for a player not having played at this level of football before this 2017-18 season.
Is 4-2-3-1 the way to a final push?
In a word no. There is clearly a reason Lampard has stuck with the 4-3-3 for this many games and in trying Mount in the number 10 position he clearly felt his position on the left of the midfield three was where his future lies. Lawrence is clearly a wide left attacking forward and Wilson quite obviously has the ability to play either side of a central striker and after evaluating the qualities of the three players we can now see Lampard has got it spot on. When we view the radars side by side it again shows us what each of the trio bring to Derby County's attack.
Frank Lampard has recruited very well and has also re-invigorated the players who were at the club when he arrived and make no mistake Derby may not be title contenders but sitting in 7th and level on points with Bristol City in 6th on 47 points a playoff spot is most certainly within reach and they currently exceed there xG total of 33 by 7 goals having scored 40 goals and currently match there xGA of 35, the signs are very good indeed.
Can they find some consistent form that is needed? The trio of talent may well help them do so.