Derby County were many people’s tip as the side that had the best January transfer window in the Championship after seeing Stephen Warnock, Raul Albentosa, Darren Bent, Tom Ince and Jesse Lingard all join the club either on a permanent basis or until the end of the season.
Warnock and Bent were the first two signings through the door and gave an early indication that the Rams were in the market to boost their push for promotion. Raul Albentosa, who was named in La Liga’s Team of the Month for December, confirmed that by signing a deal that will see him contracted to the club until 2017.
Last but not least, Ince and Lingard came through the iPro Stadium entrance within hours of each other to pledge their short-term future to the East Midlands side as they both committed to helping Steve McClaren try and achieve promotion this season.
The signings, while impressive, have left a huge question as to who would start if McClaren had everyone available. We take a look and analyse who we believe should get the nod in the Rams' strongest line-up and why.
Full First-team squad: Lee Grant, Kelle Roos; Cyrus Christie, Ryan Shotton, Richard Keogh, Jake Buxton, Raul Albentosa, Craig Forsyth, Stephen Warnock; George Thorne, John Eustace, Omar Mascarell, Will Hughes, Craig Bryson, Jeff Hendrick; Tom Ince, Jesse Lingard, Jamie Ward, Johnny Russell, Simon Dawkins, Darren Bent and Chris Martin
HITC's best starting XI:
Cyrus Christie, Raul Albentosa, Jake Buxton, Craig Forsyth
Will Hughes, Craig Bryson
Johnny Russell Tom Ince
The selection process is extremely difficult due to many players having similar ability in the same position. Lee Grant and Will Hughes have their places nailed down, while others face tough competition for the shirt.
Defence: Although Cyrus Christie hasn’t been at his best recently, he has shown for the majority of the season that he can rightfully be named one of the best right-backs in the division. Craig Forysth and Jake Buxton have been two of the Rams' most consistent performers for the past 17 months and Raul Albentosa comes over from Spain with an outstanding reputation.
Midfield: Although Mascarell and Eustace have been in good form this season, Thorne proved in the last campaign that he can be the catalyst behind McClaren’s men hitting fifth gear – something they have rarely done this season. Jeff Hendrick and Craig Bryson are neck-and-neck in terms of ability but based on his goalscoring record last season, Bryson has proven he can be more prolific at this level.
Attack: Ince and Lingard offer an interesting alternative and both are worthy of a place but Johnny Russell has his position sewn up. Ince, based on his Blackpool form, is more proven at this level. However, with 18 games left, it will go to who can make the biggest impact before the end of the season. Leading the line, despite Bent’s start, Martin has proved over the past 17 months that he is a force in the Championship and is integral to McClaren's side.