Liverpool travel to the iPro Stadium on Tuesday night, to face Derby County in a League Cup third round clash. We spoke to BBC Radio Derby’s Owen Bradley to get the lowdown on the Reds’ opponents.
What can travelling fans expect from the city of Derby?
It’s a nice place to come, though I guess with the timing of the kick off fans won’t have time to see too much of it. Should you get chance, Markeaton Park is a nice place to spend the afternoon — weather permitting. The Intu Centre, formerly Westfields, has loads of shops and restaurants etc.
The Derbyshire countryside is the best thing to see but, like I said, you probably won’t have much time to see it. The iPro Stadium, itself, is a great Championship stadium and a great place to come. Hopefully there’s a lot there to keep fans busy before the football.
— MerPol Liverpool FC (@MerPolLFC) September 19, 2016
The Rams have picked up just one win from their first eight league games, have the team been as bad as that form suggests?
For the first few matches, yes, they weren’t great. A point at home to Brighton on the opening day wasn’t too bad. But Derby are, very much, a team in transition at the moment. They are a team that’s played 4-3-3 and a particular style of football for the last few years, now Nigel Pearson has come in and is trying to change things. Change takes time, a bit like Liverpool with Jürgen Klopp, when you have a new manager who wants to play in a certain way. That’s what Derby are going through at the moment.
They didn’t deserve to lose to Ipswich a week ago, when they lost 1-0 at home. They deserved to win on Saturday away at Bristol City, where they were only denied by a last minute equaliser. Those performances were much better and the chances created were much more plentiful. Things are definitely getting better, but it is going to take time.
What is the feeling like among the fans currently?
The feeling is split, there is lots of frustration around about the fact that Pearson is trying to change a lot. I think he’s right to because things needed to change, Derby were getting so far doing things one way but sometimes you have to say “well this has been successful but clearly, if we want to get to the next level, we’re going to have to do something differently”.
There’s lots of supporters that understand that, and there’s a few that are becoming increasingly frustrated with what’s happened. They let their top scorer from the last few seasons, Chris Martin, go to Fulham. That was a decision that some found very confusing. They have brought in Matej Vydra to play up front, though he won’t be able to play against Liverpool as he’s cup tied, and he’s a very successful striker himself.
Supporters, on the whole, are still on side. I think there is always one or two who are calling for a change, even at this early stage of the season. For me, that is nonsense as Derby can’t become a club that are constantly chopping and changing managers. I’ve not been in this job too long, but I’ve worked with far too many already. So they certainly need to stick with Pearson, I think the signs are already there that he’s starting to get it right. For the most part, the fans would agree with that.
And how are the majority of fans taking to Pearson, in his first season at the club?
As I touched on before, it is pretty split. He has a certain reputation, particularly the way he comes across in the media, and in some respects he lives up to that reputation. I’ve had people message me, after dealing with him, where they say “he was a bit spiky there” or “he was short with you there”, and he may sound that way but he’s not really. He seems to enjoy that jousting in an interview and I have a lot of fun interviewing him. So there is no issue, with him as a person, as far as I’m concerned.
If he’d won all eight games so far, then I think the fans would like him — this is a results business. But he is a man of integrity, he’s definitely very honest and, from my point of view, that is what I’d be looking for in a manager of a football club. So the fans are taking to him, but a few more wins would certainly not do his stock any harm.
Who will likely be the danger man for Derby?
It’s a man who is actually a Liverpool fan, and a player that has been linked with Liverpool in the past, and that’s Will Hughes. He’s still one of the best young players in the Championship, even though he has been around for years now. In some respects, I am surprised that he hasn’t already made the move to the Premier League.
But he’s an England Under-21 international, he’s played alongside Jordan Henderson — he made his Under-21 debut coming on next to Henderson. He spoke today about Steven Gerrard being his hero and going to Anfield to watch the Gerrard side, with Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres, when he was in his prime.
He’s a great young player, playing in a slightly different role this season but he’s still magnificent on the ball. I have no doubt, against the team that he supports he’s going to be desperate to impress. Whenever I am asked this question I always give his name as the answer, I think he’s a really special talent and Derby fans just hope that he can kick on now.
Jürgen Klopp is likely to go relatively strong, given how he approached the game against Burton Albion, who is the Reds’ biggest danger man?
There’s a question. I was at the Burton game, as they’re another one of the clubs we cover, and Liverpool were excellent. I’m a big fan of Klopp and the way he behaves, the way he puts his team together, and the way he sets them up, and just his general demeanour. In some senses he’s the biggest danger as he’s such a fantastic manager.
In terms of individuals, though, I wouldn’t look past Daniel Sturridge. Dean Sturridge, his uncle, is a man who Derby fans are very familiar with from his time at the club. On his day, Sturridge is still the best striker England have got. He’s a fantastic technical player. He scored a brilliant goal at Burton, with a quick release taking one touch and firing it past the ‘keeper. So, with all the talent Liverpool have got, I would always look at him because he’s a fantastic striker.
What do you make of Liverpool under Klopp?
They’re brilliant. I think they’ll be challenging this season. Klopp, himself, is fantastic. He’s a breath of fresh air and, by all accounts, he’s brilliant to deal with. He’s certainly interesting to interview, as a reporter all that I ask is that things aren’t boring and it seems things never are with Klopp. I love his ethos, I love the way he sets his teams up, I love the energy, I love the Gegenpress and I think it’s fantastic to see. So I’m a big fan of what he’s trying to do there. The more teams that are competing for the Premier League title, the more interesting it is and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets Liverpool there, or thereabouts.
Where do you expect the Reds to finish in the Premier League?
I’m not one for predictions, Derby fans will tell you that, but I do think they’ll be up there. I’d be very surprised if they’re not top four. Manchester City have almost already won it with how they have come out of the gate, they look fantastic. But Manchester United are not as impressive. Chelsea are not as impressive. Tottenham not as impressive, so far. Liverpool don’t have the distractions of Europe, and will be hoping they can stay clear of injuries, as that’s been an issue in the past.
I know Klopp has made signings, but he’s not spent stupid money, or Paul Pogba money, or Manchester City money, or even Arsenal or Tottenham money, for that matter. He’s brought in a couple of frees, cheap players and younger players, and I like that. So I think they will be top four, I’d be amazed if they weren’t, and looking at it right now I’d say second or third isn’t beyond them. If there is going to be one team that is going to push City all the way it may well be Liverpool.
And what is the expectation, among the fans, for Derby this season?
At the start of the season, it was promotion after finishing in the top eight for the last few seasons, and reaching play-off finals and semi-finals. So the target would have been promotion, if not automatic then top six. Now, with the start they have had, I think you’re looking at something different. I still think they’ll be top 10 by Christmas, and with some more additions in January, I’d expect them to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.
For your average Derby fan, their expectations are changing, and they have to based on the start, it depends who you talk to. But I would expect them to be top half, pushing top six if not better.
Finally, what is your prediction for the game?
As I said, I’m not much of a man for predictions. One prediction that I can make is that it will be an emotional affair. Gordon Guthrie, a club legend, died late on Sunday night and there will be a minute’s silence for him ahead of the game. It will be emotional, this is a guy that’s been at Derby for 60 years as the kitman, as a physio and as player liaison before that was even a thing.
In terms of a result, I’d love to predict that Derby will give Liverpool a run for their money. Any sane person would predict a Liverpool win, but I certainly hope Derby can cause an upset. I’ll predict that there will be a penalty, the last round went to penalties so whether it’s a penalty shootout or not, I think there might be a penalty in the game.