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Derby County: Steve McClaren not worried about start to the season

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: August 21, 2014

By Steve Nicholson

THE JURY'S OUT ... Derby County's Will Hughes has yet to seize the role of midfield controller.

THE JURY'S OUT ... Derby County's Will Hughes has yet to seize the role of midfield controller.

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STEVE McClaren says he is not worried by Derby County's faltering start to the season and believes they will regain the rhythm of last term.

In order for a team to gain rhythm, to hit the right notes, it needs a conductor on the pitch.

John Eustace filled the role for much of last season before George Thorne took up the baton impressively in the final dozen matches.

McClaren has spoken of the importance of the midfield "controller", the baton-waver, the conductor. It is a key position in Derby's system and allows others to flourish, notably fellow midfielders Craig Bryson, Jeff Hendrick and Will Hughes.

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Eustace and Thorne offered unbroken consistency in the role last season. This season is a different story.

Although not his natural position, Hughes played 90 minutes in the Capital One Cup victory at Carlisle.

He has also started all three league games in the holding role but has yet to last beyond an hour.

The 19-year-old played 54 minutes against Rotherham, 60 minutes in the goalless draw at Sheffield Wednesday and 45 in Tuesday's defeat by Charlton at the Valley.

New loan signing Omar Mascarell has replaced Hughes on each occasion.

In total, Hughes has held the baton for 159 of the 270 minutes of league action; Mascarell for 111 minutes.

McClaren has spoken of Derby's early-season inconsistency within games.

"There's no consistency of performance, but that's normal at this time," he says.

The head coach is right.

It is normal for teams to stutter in August. We saw this at the weekend when some of the leading teams in the country scratched their way to wins, Liverpool and Arsenal particularly, although Chelsea's high-quality first-half display against Burnley rather diluted the argument.

Consistency in the holding role is a must for Derby and matters have not been helped by starting one "conductor" and already thinking of changing to another before half time, as the Rams have done in the past two games.

Mascarell has been warming up on the pitch at the interval and receiving instructions within minutes of the players reaching the dressing room.

Derby have been surprised by how quickly Mascarell has settled following his loan move from Real Madrid.

"Omar has adapted. He knows the position, he has played it many times for Madrid. He knows what we are asking of him," said first-team coach Paul Simpson.

Such comments suggest the 21-year-old Spaniard is ready to take the baton, and so eyebrows were raised when the Rams named an unchanged team to face Charlton.

The Rams started the Sheffield Wednesday game with Hughes in the holding role.

They obviously felt things were not working because they moved Hendrick back there for 15 minutes and then introduced Mascarell.

He helped to shape Derby's display.

There is a danger of the midfield issue becoming a nagging dilemma.

Decision time appears to be on us. McClaren must decide who will lead Derby's orchestra. Is it to be Hughes? Is it to be Mascarell? And what about Eustace?

He appears to have gone from a "key" figure to somebody who has yet to set foot on the pitch.

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