Nigel Clough has been experimenting with his formation, but appears to have settled on a 4-3-3 system for away matches, which has been proving very successful. Their game-plan is based around winning the ball before their opponents can develop an attack, and exploiting the space left by positive opponents. Bryson, Hughes and the front three hunt down the ball with great energy and determination, forcing opposition players to hoof it long or risk losing the ball. At home, Derby have struggled because away teams have been getting men behind the ball and have thus ran out of ideas, but away from Pride Park they have been winning the ball as home teams have come forward, running into the space in front of a defence and shooting from range.
Nobody can accuse Nigel Clough of not being intelligent, and he has proven himself capable of coming up with solutions to his teams problems. Last season Derby were poor away from home, he has worked on this during the summer, playing to their strengths by dragging home teams into Derby's kind of game. They forced Brighton and Millwall in particular into playing long balls, which their defenders prefer to play against. Derby struggle when the ball is on the ground in their penalty area - they will attempt to force Forest to play direct, and then exploit space left in front of our defence as they win the ball when we press forward.
This is Derby's speciality, and it should worry Billy Davies because it has also been Forest's weakness since the departure of Adlene Guedioura. This is the most positive Forest team I have seen for many years - it's great to see The Garibaldi getting men in their opponent's half of the pitch, and pushing forward the full-backs, but at the moment there is no balance to this and we are being punished for our all-out-attack ethos. Forest got the balance perfect in the Watford game, but without Guedioura they have been sent back to the drawing board, and are struggling to reassign defensive duties to their midfielders - who have not been as diligent defensively. The Doncaster game is full of examples of Forest's defenders becoming over-run because the midfield were not helping them out.
The manner of the goals conceded against Donny will give Nigel Clough a lot of hope. In both instances, as well as on other occasions (see the above precursor - all images on Forest Boffin are expandable when clicked), Forest lose the ball when most of their players are in attacking positions - exactly what Derby look to do. This is not fatal alone, however if the midfield don't track back to at least put pressure on the ball, it becomes a bigger problem, and this has been the case with Forest recently. Doncaster's first goal is a case in point, as Forest lose the ball on the half way line, and fail to track Macheda's run (see left).
Doncaster's second goal is even worse defensively, because there were more players involved. Forest had pushed forward Lichaj and Cohen - but when we lose the ball there are midfielders in a position to cover their duties, and who should have been switched on enough to realise there were big gaps either side of our defence. Initially Theo Robinson gets the ball and runs at Hobbs and Halford, who do their job in holding him up. However they are pinned in position and become overrun because Macheda and Wellens make runs to either side.
With no cover where the full-backs should be, the Donny players are able to run into this space and have plenty of time to punish Forest. The particularly disappointing part of this goal is the role of Richie Wellens. Never known for his pace, he is now 33 but was able to comfortably outsprint Forest's midfielders - the closest of which was Nathan Chalobah, 15 years Wellens' junior. When Wellens gets the ball, he is able to play a totally unharried, almost lazy ball to Macheda who had made another untracked run on the other side of the Forest defence. The Manchester United loanee could not miss.
This is relevant for the Derby game, because of our opponents. They have been shown to struggle when confronted with an entrenched defence. At home teams have frustrated them - being less positive causes Derby to run out of ideas. However if Forest continue in their positive style, pushing forward their full-backs as they do, and if the midfield fail to fill in for them, the Derby players are geared up to exploit the space they will inevitably find as Forest lose the ball.
Craig Bryson and Will Hughes are Derby's most threatening players - Hughes in particular is a very promising player. Last season we saw how to deal with the youngster, as Simon Gillett expertly denied him space causing Hughes to struggle to get in the game. At just 18 Hughes is still learning the game, and is still reliant on finding a little room in which to operate - he deliberately avoids busy areas of the pitch, instead using his intelligence to find the space he needs. If Forest are too open, he will have no problems finding space and he is good enough to punish us. However if Forest keep it tight in their own half of the pitch Hughes will go further and further away from dangerous areas in search of space.
The key battle of this game will indeed be in Forest's half of the pitch - but when The Reds have the ball. I think it's inevitable that Forest will leave gaps at the back - they are just too positive not to and to be fair they have been at their best as Lichaj, and Cohen in particular, have pushed forward. Forest are not a direct team, instead building up their possession through the midfield - it will be essential for them to be able to keep the ball in their own half as the Derby players close them down. Barnsley, Middlesbrough and Doncaster all had success in hunting down Forest players with the ball, the other midfielders need to make themselves more available than they have been doing. If Forest can keep the ball and build their attack without having to resort to long balls, they will cut Derby to pieces when they get into the Derby half.
With the ability for Forest's midfield to keep the ball under pressure key, I would like to see Raddy Majewski keep his place, with Lansbury moving back to his usual position. It is a fact that Forest keep the ball significantly better with the little Pole in the side, Derby will be hunting down the ball and we need our players to be able to move it efficiently under pressure - Majewski specialises in this. Also, with Lansbury further back, Forest would be better without the ball. The midfielders will nee to track back better than they have been doing - Djamel Abdoun is perhaps a better option when this isn't as much of a worry, or even when we're chasing the game.
Having Darius Henderson on the pitch would help too - every time he comes on he causes defenders problems through sheer presence, he deserves a chance in my opinion. We will be stronger in defence if Kelvin Wilson has recovered, however Forest rate him only to have a 40% chance of returning - Greg Halford will be more than adequate as long as the defence gets help from the midfield.
You can throw out the form-book for local derbys - but it would not help you choose a winner in this case in any event - Forest are strong at home, Derby are strong away. In my opinion Forest have the better quality throughout their squad, however I see the loss of Adlene Guedioura as key - he has been replaced adequately, but the problem has been that this change in personnel has sent Billy Davies back to the drawing board, as Forest have been forced to re-learn their roles in midfield. They have not been defending as well in this area since the Algerian's departure and seem unsure of their defensive responsibilities. When on top Forest have looked several levels above all of Barnsley, Middlesbrough and Doncaster - but in my opinion they haven't been on top for long enough.
Derby have had time to perfect their system away from home - not only does it work, but it is ideal for exposing Forest's positive endeavour and defensive uncertainty - I would not want Forest to play any other way, they look fantastic when coming forward, but when they lose the ball Derby will cause us problems - I predict a busy day for Karl Darlow as Derby exploit space and shoot from range - they prefer to do this rather than threading balls through a defence.
The deciding factor will be whether Forest's midfielders can operate and pass their way under pressure, and get back when they give the ball away. They are good enough, but will they play to their potential under pressure from an energetic and motivated Derby team?
Thanks for reading, if you want to discuss you can here on City Ground Faithful forum - would be great to hear your views, and COYR!