Derby County midfielder Krystian Bielik faces a potentially difficult period as competition for places increases following three Rams victories in succession.
Bielik joined Derby from Arsenal in the summer for a projected £10 million fee.
The Poland international has struggled with fitness since his arrival. But when selected, he has often looked Derby’s most assured player despite the team’s poor form.
Bielik has started 19 Championship games this season. His presence last month was even more important following the injury to fellow midfielder Graeme Shinnie.
But, after just 15 minutes into the game at home to Charlton Athletic with Derby leading 1-0, Bielik was dismissed for a reckless challenge. What ensued has been quite telling.
The Rams defeated the Addicks 2-1. They put in a fantastic battling display, with academy player Max Bird stepping up and confirming he can mix it at senior level.
Bird continued to impress as Derby beat Barnsley 2-1 last week. The 19-year-old played alongside Wayne Rooney, who made his highly anticipated Rams debut.
Manager Phillip Cocu rang the changes at Crystal Palace in the FA Cup. Tom Huddlestone returned from injury, and the 33-year-old was excellent alongside Rooney. Derby deservedly beat the Eagles 1-0, and those who came in will now give Cocu a selection headache.
The Rams have quickly gone from having a weak midfield to a side with options.
Rooney will likely keep his place. Huddlestone and Bird, meanwhile, may feel they deserve to be Rooney’s midfield partner. Shinnie will add further competition on his return from injury.
So, where does that leave Bielik? The former Arsenal man is in danger of slipping down the pecking order. His three-game suspension has been seized upon by his teammates.
Cocu has a difficult decision on his hands. Derby must surely look to protect their investment, but the case to reinstate Bielik into the first team eleven isn’t strong right now.