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Three questions about Derby County

Just a few weeks ago, I was hoping a cup run could salvage a terrible season. Now, I think the team could challenge for the playoffs. Does that mean we should focus less on the cup?

Matthew Lewis

Cottagers Confidential: I'm not sure Derby's season could have started much better. Is this where you expected to be? Is there anything in the league that has surprised you thus far?

Rams Corner: I expected to be up there, in and around the top two or so. What may be surprising to outsiders is that Derby haven't really hit top form yet, apart from showing glimpses here and there. Nobody in the division has really set the world alight yet, which just emphasizes how tough and competitive the league is.

I don't think there have been too many surprises in the division so far and there is little that surprises me now in this division. However, I did expect Fulham to start much better and the settling down was always a real possibility after the managerial change. Also, I did expect Wigan to start better and be in the top six once again (it looks like they may have started their road to that with their victory over the Rams at the weekend), but, of course, it is still early days and the league is only just beginning to take its shape.

CC: Promotion is the goal for every team in the league. But for many teams, the goal isn't that realistic. Derby though has the best chance of anyone to finish in the top two. Give that, how much focus do you want them to place on a cup run?

RC: The league has to be a priority, the right ingredients are in the squad for promotion and I live in the hope that it will be delivered this season. The last piece of success in the League Cup came in the 2008/2009 season when the Rams ran Manchester United very close in the semi-finals. Since then, early exits have been routine.

I expect that while the club is in the competition for it be taken very seriously. Here there is a genuine prospect of reaching the last eight and then, from there, who knows where things will lead?

CC: What kind of squad rotation do you expect to see? Are there any players we didn't see last time who will show up? Any injury concerns?

RC: I'm sure there will be some squad rotation, especially given that the current squad has been the strongest for a long time at Pride Park.

The reliable goalkeeper Lee Grant, along with tenacious attacker Jamie Ward, are both out for some weeks. Jack Butland has been drafted in on loan to keep goal but he is cup-tied. Elsewhere, Steve McClaren has plenty of options to choose from and it is the midfield where most rotation will come. The manager faces a tough choice week-by-week with some quality midfielders on his books. Omar Mascarell, Real Madrid loanee, who hasn't featured as often as he may have hoped, could be given the nod.

Since the clubs' last meeting, Derby have signed Jordan Ibe and Ryan Shotton on loan.

CC: If you can, predict a scoreline and lineup.

RC: Line-up prediction
Roos; Christie, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Mascarell, Hughes, Hendrick; Dawkins, Martin, Russell.

Score prediction
I think this will be a tight one, both managers will now doubt see the great opportunity to progress to a stage when things start getting very serious in the competition. I'm going to go for a 2-1 away win.

Be sure to head on over to Rams Corner and check out the reverse.