Steve McClaren likes The Rams to play a patient 4-3-3 system which will be similar to the one that destroyed Forest so efficiently in March. Most of their expected starting 11 were involved in that game, although we are fortunate that Jeff Hendrick and George Thorne are both out injured. Even if a little weaker, we know they will be motivated and nearly always put on a good performance in this fixture.
Derby are a possession hording team. They like to probe for space from their own half, patiently holding onto the ball until they spot an opportunity rather than taking risks going forward – this is in contrast to Forest, who have been more direct under Pearce.
Their defenders see a lot of possession. Derby’s centre-backs have touched the ball, on average, 23 times more in each game than their Forest counterparts so far this season, which reflects their patient, deliberate ethos; they are loath to pump hopeful balls forward.
That is not to say Forest play hopeful long balls - just that The Garibaldi get forward quicker than Derby - you could say more efficiently if putting the best possible spin on it. To illustrate the difference between the two sides further, Derby have touched the ball 747 times more than Forest this season (a massive difference - it's almost as if they have played an extra game) and played 162 more short passes. This could turn out to be a real clash of styles.
As Derby probe and pass, moving the ball and switching play, they like to push forward their full-backs into any space that appears down the flank. They attack quickly with pass and move football aimed at getting to the by-line, from where they make a lot of low crosses trying to catch out retreating defenders.
The wide areas are probably where this game will be won, and the attacking nature of full-backs Craig Forsyth and Cyrus Christie is key to Derby’s strength in this part of the pitch.
Christie in particular looks an exciting player – Forest will have to play close attention to his runs. He particularly likes to drift inside of the right-forward and make a nuisance of himself down the edge of the penalty area.
However, Pearce will have Forest well prepared, and has given presentations in the past on how he likes to nullify this kind of player, and also how to defend against the exact system Derby use. I won’t examine the tactics I therefore know Forest will use in this regard here, as I’m aware that Steve McClaren is an avid reader of Forest Boffin, but it will be interesting to pick apart how successful Pearce’s methods turn out to be in a future article.
It will be a game of cat and mouse between the Derby full-backs, who will be trying to get forward to link up with the wide forwards, and Forest’s wingers, who will be looking to continue putting in the crosses that have created the majority of Forest’s goals.
This battle in wide areas will be effected by whichever system Pearce decides upon: 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1. Speculation has centred on whether Forest should play two up front rather than one, but I think the most important effect of the system will be out wide, and whether it stops Derby’s wing-backs effecting the game.
One option would be to pin them back; Charlton did this effectively by playing a rigid 4-4-2 – an option Pearce will be considering. The positioning of Charlton’s wingers, plus having two men up front rather than one, gave Forsyth and Christie less space to run into, and made them anxious about getting forward – limiting Derby's choices while trying to play their way out of their own half.
Derby were, however, unfortunate to lose this game as they possess far more quality than The Addicks. But Charlton’s system restricted their options, and I'd suggest that Forest would do a much better job of penning Derby in given the same tactics.
However, in doing so Pearce would be eschewing the type of football that has propelled Forest to the top of the league. The Reds have focussed on attacking quickly and urgently, abandoning possession football in favour of creating a direct threat by cutting through teams as they leave space at the back (see charts, left; the difference in possession has been stark, Derby even have over 10% more away possession than Forest have enjoyed at home).
A question on the manager’s lips may be whether he wants to deny Derby possession and hem them in, or have a more open game and hit them on the break? By playing a 4-4-2 he will probably make Steve McClaren more cautious, and Forest might see more of the ball.
A 4-2-3-1 however, would give the Derby full-backs more licence to come forward, because the two central defenders will feel they can handle the lone striker without much assistance. And if the full-backs are bombing up the pitch, Forest's wingers will find it easier to cross the ball on the counter-attack, and will catch Derby out at some stage.
Another reason Pearce may be considering playing a 4-2-3-1, is the glut of talent he has at his disposal in central midfield. Henri Lansbury will be difficult to ignore when writing the team-sheet – but Reid and Cohen are virtually undroppable. Add David Vaughan and Robert Tesche into the equation and it equals a selection headache which would be so much easier to solve were there three places in the middle rather than two.
So the 2 up front vs 1 up front argument is never as simple as that – as the above considerations illustrate. But whichever system Forest use I would like to see Matty Fryatt take on the Derby defenders at some stage. I'm of the opinion that Keogh and Buxton sometimes fail to get tight enough to their man, Fryatt would thrive under these conditions.
For all the guessing and postulating about tactics, we must remember that this is a blood and thunder local derby – not a game of chess. Pride, passion and guts will play a massive part, and one battling run, inspired pass or defensive blunder, could make all the ruminations about 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 a mute point. The only thing for certain is that Pearce will have the Forest players fired up for this one.
As someone close to both clubs once said: “Players lose you games, not tactics. There’s so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes!”
I’m sure he was closer to the mark than I am!