The Baggies may have got themselves back on track in the last two games, but they now face one of the form teams in the Championship, one that includes England’s record international goalscorer.
Wayne Rooney’s impact on Derby County has been remarkable. Only Brentford have won more points than the Rams since Rooney made his debut and he has dragged them from a forgettable lower mid-table position to the verge of the play-offs.
Last season, of course, Frank Lampard’s Derby County made the play-off final only to lose to Aston Villa and Lampard’s replacement, Philip Cocu, struggled to build on that relative success in the early part of this campaign having been appointed very late in the summer. Given that last season’s success was in significantly helped by loan players such as Mason Mount, Harry Wilson and Fikayo Tomori, it is perhaps no surprise that this season initially proved tough for the former Dutch international. Rooney’s arrival has proved to be a massive boost, which is as much down to who he is as it is to what he can do at this stage of his career.
County have also been boosted by the emergence of Louie Sibley in recent weeks. The 18-year-old midfielder only earned his first start for Derby in the match immediately before the suspension of football, and then exploded onto the scene with a hat trick on the first game after the restart in the win over Blackburn Rovers. He has started every game since albeit without such a dramatic impact.
The Rams have proved to be a troublesome opponent of late. They destroyed Darren Moore’s Baggies at the Hawthorns last season and have lost to Albion just once since that fateful meeting at Wembley in 2007.
However, Slaven Bilić’s team will be buoyed by the fact that Martin Waghorn is suspended having been sent off in the local derby with Nottingham Forest at the weekend. Waghorn scored in the previous two meetings with Albion, although he did see a penalty saved by Sam Johnstone at Pride Park in August having opened the scoring from the spot earlier in the game. He remains Derby’s top scorer this campaign with 12, one more than former Norwich striker, Chris Martin,
While the Sky TV pundits will probably be focussing on Wayne Rooney, it is Albion who have the better attacking options at this level. Matheus Pereira proved on Sunday what an excellent player he is while Grady Diangana and Kamil Grosicki will trouble any Championship defence. If the Baggies can produce something close to their best in attacking areas, they should not fear Derby County.
Nonetheless, the Baggies’ defensive performance on Sunday was less than convincing. Gibbs and Hegazi will not be available Wednesday evening but their best defensive performer, Dara O’Shea, will be. I neglected to mention what an excellent performance the Irishman produced in my match report on Sunday. He was superb and put in one or two key challenges against Hull. Semi Ajayi will come back in against Derby and, while Townsend is a little susceptible under the high ball, I am fairly comfortable in the defensive options that Slav has at his disposal.
Once again, however, Bilić’s key decisions will be ahead of the defence. Chris Brunt’s performance off the bench on Sunday could have put him in Slav’s thoughts for a start. He looked imperious in possession and the whole team seemed to gain confidence from his presence. He may not be able to last 90 minutes at this level, but he still has so much to offer.
In forward positions, Matt Phillips has become the forgotten man having missed out on the last two squads and, given his below par performances in the first two post-restart matches, it is not a surprise. Having said that, none of the forward players impressed in those games, so he can, perhaps, consider himself a little unlucky.
Pereira would appear to be undroppable in his current form, but he can play either wide right or in the number ten position depending on whether Krovinivić is in the side. Slav has a myriad of quality options at his disposal, all of whom are capable of putting Derby to the sword should they play somewhere close to their best.
One decision that Bilić will need to make is whether to do anything specific to deal with Rooney. Forest had some success at the weekend by crowding Derby’s key playmaker to prevent him from spraying the ball around with impunity. It certainly helped to keep the Rams contained and they needed a 97th minute equaliser to snatch a point.
If Albion were to attempt to repeat that tactic, it would perhaps lead to both Krov and Harper playing in the middle of the park – they have the most energy of the Baggies’ central midfielders. Livermore hasn’t looked as mobile post-restart as he had been earlier in the season, but his experience could be valuable. Sawyers acts as Albion’s quarterback and, if he doesn’t play, it could significantly impact the way they play.
Bilić hasn’t made too many obvious tactical changes to cater for the opposition’s strengths so far this season and, when you have a squad as strong as Albion’s, it should be the opposition head coach who should be more worried. Rooney’s undoubted ability does, perhaps, make him an exception and I’m sure the Croat and his coaching team will have carefully watched Sabri Lamouchi’s approach at the weekend.
It will certainly be an interesting tactical battle and there is no doubt that Derby are a dangerous side. However, the Baggies are more dangerous at their best and, with a sparkling attacking performance against Hull behind them, they will be full of confidence.
Albion’s record victory over Derby County was recorded on the very first time that the Rams ventured into our little part of the Black Country. In the first season of the Football League, the Baggies beat Derby 5-0 at Stoney Lane with the 19th century Albion legend, Tom Pearson, grabbing a hat trick.
45 years later, it was another Baggies legend, W. G. Richardson, that was on scoring form. He netted four of the five that Albion scored in September 1933 to record their best result over the Rams at the Hawthorns, a 5-1 victory with Tommy Glidden scoring the other goal for the hosts.
There haven’t been too many positive results for the Baggies in this fixture of late, although the latest was largely down to one Albion legend that may still make the field on Wednesday evening. In February 2010, Robert di Matteo’s team recorded a 3-1 victory at the Hawthorns with Chris Brunt netting twice before Simon Cox secured the points after Christ Porter had given the visitors the lead just after half time.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
24 Aug 2019 – League Championship
Derby County 1 (Waghorn (pen))
West Brom 1 (Zohore (pen))
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
24 Oct 2018 – League Championship
West Brom 1 (Rodriguez)
Derby County 4 (Marriott, Lawrence, Wilson, Malone)
27 Feb 2010 – League Championship
West Brom 3 (Brunt (2), Cox)
Derby County 1 (Porter)
Albion’s Record against Derby County