EAST MIDLANDS rivals Derby and Forest lock horns on Monday night and EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) shares his best bets for this grudge match.
Derby v Nottingham Forest | Monday 17th December 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Derby County against Nottingham Forest is one of English football’s unique rivalries.
A clash that is always heated and passionate, yet one fuelled by similarities rather than differences; both clubs achieved historic success under the great Brian Clough.
This promises to be the best version of the East Midlands derby for some time, with the two clubs led by former trusted colleagues of Jose Mourinho in Frank Lampard and Aitor Karanka respectively.
Both teams have been in the same division for a decade but have rarely been challenging simultaneously.
Forest twice made the play-offs while Derby languished in the bottom half, then the Rams became the division’s nearly-men while their neighbours struggled for managerial consistency.
This year, it looks plausible that the two rivals not only have the right men in charge, they could both be gunning for promotion come Spring.
Lampard deserves immense credit for a smooth transition into his first job in management.
Last season, Gary Rowett built a side with an experienced, powerful spine which made them a real force in the first half of the campaign.
The football though revolved around early balls into selfless front-man David Nugent and it was only then that the slick, one-touch football flowed.
After January, more teams found ways of cutting out that initial forward pass, more nullified key forwards like Matej Vydra and Tom Lawrence, from which point the Rams struggled for alternative ideas.
This year, the team is showing more creativity from deep.
For a start, they only have one holding midfielder in Tom Huddlestone, rather than two, with Craig Bryson given licence to press into the opposing half.
Plus, the addition of full-backs Jayden Bogle, promoted from the academy and Scott Malone, a summer signing from Huddersfield, has given them far more attacking thrust, while Fiyako Tomori provides ball-playing qualities from centre-back.
Aitor Karanka gained a reputation at Middlesbrough for being a defensive-minded manager; his work at Nottingham Forest in the latter stages of last season did little to challenge that.
This year though, the Spaniard’s side play with a nice balance.
Of course, the tenacious Jack Colback and the physical Adlene Guedioura do focus predominantly on what they do without the ball, but both can contribute in possession.
Colback shifts the ball on quickly then makes runs to create space for others, while Guedioura has the passing range to switch play effectively.
Throw in the craft and creativity that Joao Carvalho can provide in that final third and you have one of the best midfields in the division.
In Lewis Grabban meanwhile, the Tricky Trees possess the Championship’s top goalscorer, who is also willing to graft hard and create for his teammates.
The Tactics Board
Forest and Derby possess similar midfields containing one muscular controller – Huddlestone and Guedioura – one gritty terrier – Bryson and Colback – plus one creator – Mount and Carvalho respectively.
The slight difference is, with Mount the emphasis is more on driving forward for shots, whereas Carvalho wants to get a feel for the play by exchanging multiple passes on the edge of the final third before taking decisive action.
The dilemma for Lampard and Karanka is whether to instruct Bryson and Colback to shackle Carvalho and Mount respectively, or whether to deploy their ball-winners in a more aggressive way in terms of supporting the press.
Lampard is likely to take the latter approach but Karanka, one suspects, might be the happier with a point.
Uncertainty over the fitness of Michael Dawson and Danny Fox could be seen to weaken Forest defensively, considering stand-in Jack Robinson is a left-back by trade and Michael Hefele is not particularly quick.
The other perspective though is that these possible absentees will tempt Karanka to adopt a conservative strategy; if he does not believe individual defenders will win their duels one-on-one, he will look to tighten gaps between the lines.
The prospective battle between Jack Marriott and Michael Hefele is much like a scrap between a shark and a bear; the outcome depends entirely on the nature of it.
If Hefele is asked to defend open spaces and take time over distribution, the mobile Marriott will fancy his chances; if, as we expect, Hefele has ample protection from Guedioura and Colback, with his remit limited to heading crosses away, he should have fewer concerns.
The Betting Angle
In the first half, it would be fair to back Aitor Karanka to devise a game plan that will keep Derby at bay.
In all four of Forest’s league trips to top half opposition, they have avoided conceding in the opening period.
In fact, the Reds have avoided shipping any first half goals in 14 of their last 15 league games.
We would not necessarily doubt in-form Derby’s capability of winning this match, because they can be a very exciting team.
However, a victory for Lampard’s troops is priced too close to evens considering that they are only three points above their opponents, hence the value is with backing a first half shut-out for the visitors.
Derby v Nottingham Forest – Derby to score Under 0.5 first half goals (10/11 Betfair)