Derby's squad is in dire straits. As of August 2nd, only nine senior first team players are currently registered at the East Midlands club, two of whom being goalkeepers. This means that academy players will have to fill the gaps in the squad, but if any academy can do it, it'll be Derby's.
The status of the current squad
When you think of Derby's academy, most people will instantly think towards players such as Will Hughes and Jeff Hendrick, two players who broke into the first team and excelled at Championship level. Fast forward ten years and Derby have an entire new generation attempting to reach those heights.
In a recent pre-season friendly with Notts County, Derby did not involve any of the trialists who had featured in recent friendlies. Instead, only players contracted to the club played, with seven academy players starting the game.
Of course, there were senior players on the bench, but with Derby's current squad it'll require them to name at least four academy players in their starting XI at all times. This is until the return of Krystian Bielik, with the Polish midfielder expected to return from injury in late October.
This raises a real problem, as the only senior player on the bench will be the substitute goalkeeper, with every senior outfield player being on the pitch. In a 46 game Championship season, this lack of squad depth could cause huge issues due to inevitible injury and suspension.
How the academy could keep Derby in the Championship
In the last two years, young players such as Jason Knight, Lee Buchanan, Max Bird and Louie Sibley have been regular members of Derby's starting lineup. Despite all four being under the age of 21, they've gained enough experience to help the less experienced members of the squad.
Against Notts County, the defensive duo of Eiran Cashin and Festy Ebosele were superb. Their desire to win the ball and work hard both defensively and offensively made them a joy to watch. It's important not to get ahead of ourselves, as they'll face much tougher tests in the Championship, but it is a promising sign that two of Derby's brightest talents are stepping up when they're needed most.
The two central midfielders of Liam Thompson and Isaac Hutchinson looked composed and classy against Notts County, proving that the pair are adequate deputies to likely starting pairing of Graeme Shinnie and Bird. Hutchinson has over 40 career appearances, and that experience could prove vital if he is needed on the pitch.
In the forward areas, options are a little more sparse. Jack Stretton, a Scotland U19 international who scored three goals in five games in the National League last season, is Derby's only out-and-out attacker aside from Colin Kazim-Richards. Stretton is a poacher, and has proven he can score goals in non-league and the Premier League 2. He clearly has the ability to score goals at any level, and Derby will need that if they are to remain in the Championship.
Whilst lacking experience in the first team, Derby have a large pool of talented youngsters who have the ability to make a difference at Championship level. If managed correctly, there's definitely potential for Derby to stay in the division.
Derby's likely lineup vs Huddersfield
With Buchanan and Kornell McDonald missing through injury, with their current squad Derby are likely to setup in a 4-2-3-1 formation containing:
Marshall, Byrne, Cashin, Forsyth, Williams, Bird, Shinnie, Jozwiak, Sibley, Lawrence, Kazim-Richards
Subs: Roos, Ebosele, Solomon, Hutchinson, Thompson, Watson, Stretton
Alan Hanson once said "you'll never win anything with kids". Derby fans will be hoping that he is proven wrong once again.