Derby County face Leeds United at Elland Road this weekend and manager Phillip Cocu has an important decision to make.
The Rams come into the game winless in six Championship outings. Cocu has had to endure a difficult start as Derby’s new manager at Pride Park, and things could get worse yet.
Leeds are top of the Championship table. Marcelo Bielsa’s side have won five of their seven games, and there are plenty of goals around the team.
Derby must get it tactically right at Elland Road, and their current set-up simply won’t do.
Combined touch map for Lawrence, Holmes, Waghorn and Marriott from last night’s #dcfc v Cardiff game.
Note the distinct bias towards the right flank. pic.twitter.com/7sphpFHyqw
— Derby County Blog (@derbycountyblog) September 14, 2019
As shown by the touch heat map in the 1-1 draw against Cardiff City, the Rams overloaded the right side. Left-winger Tom Lawrence constantly cut inside, with the right-footed playmaker keen to find central areas.
While the tactic allowed left-back Scott Malone to gallop into the empty space ahead, it also left Derby extremely vulnerable to counterattacks down that side when they lose the ball.
As Derby haven’t clicked into gear quite yet, they run the risk of getting picked apart against Leeds.
Bielsa’s teams are renowned for their high pressing. Leeds are likely fitter than every other Championship side, and they top the way in possession stats. Moreover, only Hull City average more tackles than the Whites per league fixture.
Leeds have the tools to really hurt Derby, and in Pablo Hernandez they have a quality playmaker. The Spaniard, who already has two goals and two assists to his name this season, features out on the right – an area the Rams largely vacated against Cardiff.
Hernandez also likes to cut inside, allowing Stuart Dallas to roam forward. The 28-year-old right-back averages 1.7 shots and 1.4 successful dribbles per game, illustrating his desire to get forward.
Derby’s Tom Lawrence will sit out the game due to suspension after picking up five yellow cards. It could be a blessing in disguise, as the Rams can’t afford any passengers at Elland Road.
But regardless of who comes in, Cocu must instruct them to keep their width and track Hernandez. Affording the Spaniard time and space on the ball is only going to go one way.