SBW Monthly: ‘Flexible Frank’ bounces through August

Frank Lampard’s Derby County© have hit the ground running. Four wins and 12 points from six games represents the Rams’ best start to a campaign since 2011/12.

Lampard’s six wins in all competitions by early September are all the more impressive for a rookie manager’s first month – even more so when compared to the eight wins in 29 for a certain Mr Karanka down the road.

Derby are keeping up with the Championships pace-setters, thanks to Frank Lampard’s flexibility, both in tactics and selection.

Flexible Frank’s identity

Under Lampard, the Rams are trying to build their latest new identity. The shorter, quicker, more creative passing game has been well received so far and is a far cry from the direct, mundane, possession-lite ‘Rowettball’.

Derby’s 54.6% share of possession is the joint second best in the division, bettered only by table-topping Leeds.

Reading v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - Madejski Stadium
Off to a flyer: Tom Lawrence celebrates the last-gasp winner at Reading.
Derby County v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park Stadium
Finding his feet: Lampard has had to adapt to the rigours of the Championship.

We’ve always shown defensive frailty at some point in recent seasons, and after the 4-1 home drubbing by Leeds, followed by a chaotic first half at Millwall which cost Derby the game, there were fears that Lampard’s determination to play out from the back would do more harm than good.

However, Derby’s new boss adapted his 4-3-3 formation to include two deeper midfielders, bringing a more solid structure.

It’s no coincidence there have been four wins since and only one conceded in more than six hours. Recognising weaknesses and a willingness to act upon on them deserves plaudits.

Sandwiched between the two last-gasp away wins were home victories over Ipswich and Preston. Sending Ipswich packing was a huge relief and got a particularly annoying monkey off Derby’s back, having not beaten the Tractor Boys at Pride Park in more than a decade.

Derby County v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship
Richard Keogh nodded in the crucial second goal against Preston.

Preston will probably finish highest from those four sides – three of whom are surely bottom-half fodder – but picking up points with several key players absent, with a side which still hasn’t gelled, is hugely promising.

Derby have found different ways to win, a desirable trait to say the least.

Striking the balance

Lampard has embraced and taken full advantage of his big squad. Eight different players have scored already this season and substitutes have had a clear impact – last-minute winners at Reading and Hull both came from Mason Bennett cameos.

As well as embedding academy products Bennett and Jayden Bogle into the team, Lampard hasn’t been afraid to raise eyebrows with team selection. Jack Marriott’s recent omission from the match day 18 was met with bemusement, but shows Lampard will make decisions for the good of the team.

With a fully fit Tom Huddlestone and the return of Curtis Davies and Harry Wilson still to come, Lampard’s weekly selection headaches will only get more intense.

A chance to set a statement

Admittedly, Derby’s first six league games threw up a favourable run of fixtures, but the unforgiving Championship punishes teams who underestimate anyone.

September provides two home fixtures and two winnable away games at Bolton and Rotherham, meaning that the next four games presents a great opportunity for the Rams to make a promotion statement.

Derby County v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park
Breakthrough: Mason Bennett and Florian Jozefzoon have impressed in August.
Hull City v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - KCOM Stadium
All smiles: Bryson and Nugent celebrate the league win at Hull.

The Championship is a long slog, paved with twists and turns, but we head into the first international break with momentum.

No-one should care about the league table at this stage, but after six games there are signs that Frank Lampard isn’t just starting the bounce, but planning a promotion push too.

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