The arrival of Philip Cocu in the dugout at Pride Park heralded a marquee moment for the Rams. Not only had they attracted one of European football’s big names but they had also appointed their first ever foreign manager.
This is quite impressive given the era we a now live in. Cocu has a difficult job to do at Derby for a number of reasons, namely the fact that he has to take over after a very successful campaign under the, now, Chelsea boss Frank Lampard who guided the Rams to the play-off final in his first season in charge.
This will have left quite an impression on the fans but they are a loyal set of supporters at Pride Park who will be right behind the Dutchman as he looks to go one better than his predecessor. However, despite losing a manager and several key players there are reasons to be positive for County. Here are three reasons why we think Phillip Cocu’s Derby can surprise the Championship in 2019-20:
Step forward Tom Lawrence
Last season Tom Lawrence made a very good start to the campaign and has been just as inspirational on the opening weekend of the new one. His performance against Huddersfield was sensational with two goals of the highest quality.
Everyone knows how talented he is and with Mason Mount heading back to parent club Chelsea he will not have to pick up the slack and drive this team forward for the entire campaign. It would be good if Cocu was able to sign some new players before the transfer window shuts and that is a distinct possibility, but at this stage he is the leading light in this squad in an attacking sense. The 25-year-old should certainly improve on his six goals in 2018-19.
Martyn Waghorn and Jack Marriott will need to find the net and contribute which is far from beyond them but this could be the season that Tom Lawrence shows exactly why he has been rated so highly for so long.
Shrewd transfer business
Cocu may have been late to the show but the transfer business conducted so far has been extremely promising.
To those who didn’t watch a lot of League One football last season the loan signing of Matt Clarke is a stunning deal for the Rams. He is a Premier League ready defender and should really be plying his trade at the highest level this season but getting regular minutes at Derby will be a brilliant trade-off for both the defender and Brighton.
Playing in the Championship will see the already impressive Clarke develop his game further and test him against a far better quality of striker this season. He is utterly dominant in the air but, like Harry Maguire, is surprisingly good with the ball at his feet for a big man. He will become a key player for the Rams right from the off and his performance against Huddersfield has done nothing to suggest that this opinion is in anyway incorrect.
The other League One star to sign, this time on a permanent deal, is Krystian Bielik. He was outstanding for Charlton last season and arrives from Arsenal for a fee reportedly in the region of £9.5 million on a five-year-deal. That may sound a lot but, in truth, it will turn out to be a bargain. Arsenal’s loss is definitely Derby’s gain with this deal and the Polish international should become another key addition, not only for this season but for many years to come.
Cocu is looking to add more players before the window shuts and if the transfer business already conducted is anything to go by, then Derby fans could be in for a treat.
Cocu arrives in England with zero experience of the Championship which, with his record, may not seem that important but it is one of the hardest divisions to crack given the competitive nature and the Dutchman will need to call upon the experienced heads in the dressing room to help him bed his ideas into the side.
Richard Keogh will, therefore, have a big part to play. The Derby captain has his detractors but you’ll find no criticism of him in this column. The Irishman does an excellent job and is a very good defender. His performance and leadership against Huddersfield were evident and Matt Clarke will learn a lot from playing alongside the 32-year-old.
In midfield, the Rams also have Tom Huddlestone who has played at the very highest level. The former Spurs man will be an important voice especially during those times during the season, and there will be a few, where thing are not going well. His presence in the team and Wayne Rooney’s decision to join the club will add yet more top-class experience in the dressing room.
England’s record goal scorer has said the move is not just about coming home as he hopes to extend his playing career while starting his coaching one. These players will be vital to the Ram’s success but given the early signs, this could be a surprisingly good season for Derby County.