With a 100% record on the road so far this season, Slaven Bilić takes his side to Pride Park full of optimism for the Saturday lunchtime kick-off.
It may only have been the last day of the regular season in May when this fixture last took place, but both clubs have undergone significant changes over the close season. Both have new managers and both have lost players that played a huge part in earning their respective play-off places last term.
For the Rams, former Dutch international midfielder, Phillip Cocu, is the new man in charge. He was an influential member of the Dutch side that finished fourth in the World Cup in 1998 earning him a transfer to Spanish giants, Barcelona, where he spent six years and won the La Liga title.
He moved into coaching in 2008 and, after four years as assistant manager of the Netherlands national side, he spent a hugely successful five years in charge of PSV winning three league titles. He moved to Fenerbahçe in the summer of 2018 but lasted just 15 games and Derby is his first job since.
After winning their opening game away to Huddersfield Town, Derby drew their next two matches at home to Swansea City and away to Stoke City, before losing for the first time in midweek at home to Bristol City.
Like Bilić, Cocu will still consider his team to be a work in progress with two permanent transfers and four loan signings having come in during the summer. He will be hoping that one or more could have an impact similar to that made by Mason Mount and Harry Wilson last term, although that may be wishful thinking.
Their biggest signing was for 21-year-old Polish centre-back, Krystian Bielik, who was signed from Arsenal for a fee rumoured to be in the region of £9m, while defensive midfielder, Graham Shinnie, joined on a free transfer from Aberdeen. From the Premier League, defender Matt Clarke has come in on loan from Brighton, while attacking midfielder Kieran Dowell has joined on loan from Everton. Jamie Paterson is their other loan signing, a striker from Bristol City.
Derby were involved in two of the most surprising transfers of the summer. The headlines, of course, were made by the audacious signing of Wayne Rooney as a player-coach although he won’t join up with the Rams until January while one that went under the radar was that former Albion ‘keeper, Scott Carson, has gone on loan to Premier League champions, Manchester City. I’m still trying to work that one out!
The team will be full of the familiar names, of course, including Martyn Waghorn, Tom Lawrence and Jack Marriott who all found the net against Albion last season.
Derby has never been a happy hunting ground for the Baggies and it has been some 16 years since they last won at Pride Park, although to be fair, they have only played there on three occasions since then.
After making changes to his league starting line up for the first time in midweek, Slav must decide who deserves, or has the fitness for, a start this weekend.
To me, Charlie Austin didn’t look match fit on Wednesday and faded badly in the second half. I would be tempted to leave his as an option from the bench again on Saturday, and give KenZo the chance to use his new found confidence having scored against Reading.
Did Diangana do enough to keep his place in the starting line-up, or does Pereira deserve a spot from the starting having impressed in both his substitute appearances in the last two games? Kyle Edwards certainly did nothing wrong either before being dropped to the bench for the Reading match, so maybe it will be Matt Phillips’ turn to get a rest.
There are plenty of options at the front end of the pitch, but the midfield three have remained consistent for every league game. Assuming they are fit, Sawyers, Livermore and Krovinović are likely to keep their places as they seem to complement each other extremely well.
The only other change the Croat has made to his staring line up is at right back. Nathan Ferguson has been hugely impressive this season, but Darnell Furlong came in for Wednesday’s game and played well, giving the head coach a genuine dilemma.
Personally, I feel that Ferguson has looked to be the better defender, but that Furlong is perhaps a little more effective going forward, and I would bring the 18-year-old back into the fold for the trip to Derby.
As for the rest of the back four, only injury to one of them or the return of Ahmed Hegazi is likely to break that up, while Johnstone remains a fixture in goal despite what I feel is unfair criticism from some sections of the fan base.
Ultimately, I feel that whatever team Bilić selects will have the quality to trouble Derby but the concentration and decision making in both boxes needs tightening up a little – do that, and Albion could make it three successive away wins from the start of the season for the first time in more than 60 years.
For this dip into the archives, I take you back to the first season after the Great War which saw, of course, Albion win the league for the only time (to date!).
Given that knowledge, it is no surprise to learn that, when the Throstles travelled to the Baseball Ground on the Saturday before Christmas 1919, they were on top of the Division One table, a point clear of Burnley, having already scored 50 goals in their 18 games that season. County, meanwhile, were languishing in the bottom half.
The match itself drew a crowd of around 12,000 and the hosts started well with plenty of the ball in the Albion half. “Peerless” Pennington, Albion’s legendary full back, was able to repel most that the Rams could muster, with Hubert Pearson on hand in goal when required. Despite the hosts having slightly the better of the first period, it was the visitors who took the lead on 35 minutes. A neat move involving Jack Crisp and Tommy Magee was finished off by former Derby County centre-forward, Alf Bentley.
After the break, the Rams once again pressed the Albion goal but a combination of poor finishing from debutant centre-forward, George Needham, and the Throstles strong defence kept the score at 0-1. Twenty minutes after the break, Albion doubled their lead through Fred Morris whose 15-yard daisy cutter just avoided George Lawrence in the Derby goal.
Two minutes later, Morris grabbed his second and Albion’s third, running through on goal and firing into the corner of the net. That finished the game as a contest although Derby did strike a post through Harry Walker before the visitors made it four. Bentley’s shot struck the cross bar and bounce down onto the line, only for outside left, Howard Gregory, to poke it home.
4-0 was perhaps harsh on Derby, but it kept Albion top of the league and they completed the double over the Rams a week later with a 3-0 victory at the Hawthorns.
The Baggies went on to win the title by a clear nine points, while the Rams needed a 1-0 final day victory over Newcastle United to ensure that they remained two points clear of the relegation zone.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
5 May 2019 – League Championship
Derby County 3 (Waghorn, Bennett, Wilson (pen))
West Brom 1 (Johansen)
27 Feb 2010 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Brunt (2), Cox)
Derby County 1 (Porter)
Last win at Derby County
30 Aug 2003 – League Division 1
Derby County 0
West Brom 1 (Hulse)
Albion’s Record against Derby County