Derby County might have had a rocky start to their Championship season, but they’re certainly not a team to be underestimated. They have some great firepower upfront, all of whom are capable of scoring on their day.
But it’s their defence that lets them down; they leak goals almost as quickly as they score them, and it’s something that Phillip Cocu needs to fix as soon as possible.
As for Albion, their defence has been pretty robust so far this season, despite the fact it’s comprised mostly of new faces.
The attack, on the other hand, could do with some work; not enough goals are being scored at the moment and chances are being wasted. Bilic will be eager to resolve that issue in training before Saturday’s game.
The formation that I think would work best with a West Brom and Derby combined XI is 4-4-3, as it would allow the manager to make the most of the many attacking options at his disposal, whilst still providing enough cover for the defence.
Here’s the team that I’ve chosen:
GK - Sam Johnstone
Johnstone tends to get a great deal of flack for his performances, and sometimes it’s justified because he can go from playing superbly in one match to an absolute calamity in the next. You simply don’t know what you’re going to get.
Having said that, in terms of ability, he’s the best option for this position out of the ‘keepers available.
RB - Darnell Furlong
Darnell Furlong did well in the midweek game against Reading and is expected to feature in the game against Derby on Saturday, too – although Nathan Ferguson could also be an option as he’s fully rested. Out of the two, though, Furlong is arguably the better option at this stage because of his experience.
Jayden Bogle for Derby would also be a solid shout for this position, but he hasn’t been in their squad for the last couple of games. He began the season well, creating an assist in their 2-1 win over Huddersfield, but has dropped off since then.
CB - Semi Ajayi
This is likely to spark debate from other fans, but for me, Semi Ajayi is one of the best centre-backs in the league.
He’s shown in all four matches for the Baggies that he’s consistent and reliable, and can also keep the rest of the backline in check. Ajayi is a natural leader and an obvious choice for this XI.
CB - Krystian Bielik
Derby signed Bielik this summer from Arsenal for £10m, beating Albion to his signature. He’s featured in two games thus far for Derby and has done well in both.
As the season wears on, you can expect to see him develop and ultimately flourish as he realises his potential.
It’s a shame that West Brom missed out on him because he could become something special in the future.
LB - Kieran Gibbs
Gibbs could slot into any mid-table Premier League side, so makes an obvious choice for this position.
He’s linked up very well with the likes of Diangana and Edwards on the left flank. Gibbs also appears to have introduced a more attacking style of play to his game, which we haven’t really seen before, and makes him far more useful than a left-back who just sits and watches from afar.
CDM - Romaine Sawyers
Since returning to West Brom from Brentford after a six-year hiatus, Romaine Sawyers has been exceptional, dominating the centre of midfield and excelling both defensively and on the attack.
He’s an all-rounder who contributes a great deal to the Baggies, making them far better than they had been last season.
CM - Kieran Dowell
Kieran Dowell is in on-loan at Derby from Everton at the moment, and it’s clear to see just how important he is to their squad already.
Dowell has featured in four matches, all of which he’s started, and created an assist in the process. He could’ve easily have gotten more had his teammates been more clinical…
In this position, he’d likely operate as an attacking midfielder, rather than a holding one, as that’s what suits his style of play the best. The fact he also has a good eye for goal helps as well.
CM - Filip Krovinovic
The Croatian midfielder has been sublime for West Brom so far this season and is a worthy choice in this combined XI. Nobody really comes close to his ability in the Championship, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s with a Premier League team next season.
RW - Matt Phillips
I was thinking about putting Florian Josefzoon of Derby in this position, but he’s done very little as of late. Matt Phillips, therefore, replaces him and rightly so.
The 28-year-old has done very well for Albion and started all four matches, scoring a goal in the process – the fluke ‘cross/shot’ that went in against Nottingham Forest on the opening day.
His attacking presence is what separates him from the rest; you know that if he’s on the pitch, the right flank will be made his own.
LW - Tom Lawrence
Tom Lawrence was great under Frank Lampard last season, though some wondered if he would be able to continue that under a new manager – one who wouldn’t favour him as much.
But, sure enough, he’s proved that he can do the job regardless, scoring two in four games for the Rams and adding that extra threat to the attack from the left flank.
ST - Martyn Waghorn
Out of all the options for both teams, Waghorn looks to be the best in the forward role. Zohore and Austin have been inconsistent for the Albion, whilst Waghorn has remained a constant threat upfront for the Rams.
His two goals in four games are pretty impressive too, given the calibre of teams they’ve faced thus far (relatively speaking).
I think that he’d suit this position the best.