STEVE McClaren has not ruled out handing Derby County’s talented young midfielder Will Hughes a breather.
Hughes has started 28 of 30 games this season and made 38 appearances last season – a taxing volume of matches for an 18-year-old in a physically demanding environment such as the Championship.
He found it difficult to make an impact in Saturday’s hard-fought home victory over Brighton & Hove Albion and was substituted after an hour.
This followed tough games against Wigan Athletic and Leicester City in the league and Chelsea in the FA Cup.
McClaren says it is all part of the learning process for a young player who he believes is destined for the top.
“Will has been fantastic us – what a player for the future,” said the Rams’ head coach.
“He has played almost every game. He runs and runs – he does more running than anybody apart from Craig Bryson.
“You look at Will and sometimes after about 60 minutes you want to take him off and protect him but he keeps running and running even more and gets a second and third wind.
“To play the number of games he has at this level, and to the standard he has performed, is very difficult.
“His standards are so high, we expect such a lot week in, week out but you cannot play at that level for 46 games at 18, you are bound to dip. He did against Brighton, and he knows that.
“We have got to look after him.
“We need to make sure towards the end of the season he is at his most effective.
“Will was one of the players when I came here that a lot of people were talking, and now I know why. He is heading for the top.”