Date: 4th August 2015 at 10:39am
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As the new season fast approaches, it’s time to look at some of the key players who possess the ability to turn an ordinary campaign into a promotion winning one.

By the time you read this there will be less than a week until the start of what we all hope will be a successful year. Pre-season has finished and with all new boots worn in, kits showcased and new formations tried, head coach Paul Clement will hopefully have his starting line-up in mind for the season’s opener at Bolton on Saturday. Although in a squad as big as our current outfit, all players will be important throughout the season, some players in particular will be pivotal to our success this term. Here are five players who could make the difference.

George Thorne

18 July 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly - Northampton Town v Derby County - George Thorne of Derby County - Photo: Marc Atkins / Offside.

Even after all the new signings this summer, George Thorne is still at the top of almost every Derby fan’s list of players they want to see stay fit and play a huge role this season. All Rams fans know his story by now, and but for some better fortune he could have been the difference last season. Anyone would struggle to remember the last time a player made such an impact at Derby the way George did in those 12 or 13 games at the end of the 2013/14 season, especially for a defensive midfielder, although he is a lot more than that. His quality on the ball and his range of passing is superb, and he has the exquisite quality of being able to dictate the pace of the game single handedly – our front line will be relishing the opportunity to feed off of that. A fully-fit George Thorne is one I can’t wait to see.

Will Hughes

At only 20 and with already over 100 first-team appearances under his belt, the England Under-21 international’s rise through the academy has been nothing short of astronomical. With a cultured left foot and that natural ability to dictate the pace of the game to suit him, a massive future awaits him. He looks a bit more filled out already in these warm-up games and is already playing as we the Rams faithful know he can do. This season is going to be a big one for him on a personal level. He’s no longer “young” Will Hughes, and this could be the season that we see just how good he really is. There’s no doubting he is Premier League bound, it just needs to be in a Rams shirt come the start of the 2016/17 campaign.

Andreas Weimann

18 July 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly - Northampton Town v Derby County - Andreas Weimann of Derby County - Photo: Marc Atkins / Offside.

The forgotten man at Aston Villa, Weimann had been largely in and out of favour with Paul Lambert and Tim Sherwood at the West Midlands club, but he is a quality player with pace to burn and a good eye for goal. Indeed, he has already impressed in pre-season, with some people labelling him as the “new, improved Jamie Ward”. I see him as one of three or four players who could chip in with 10-plus goals this season, if not more – achieve that and you’ve got a Championship winning team on your hands.

Jason Shackell

As with Thorne the previous season, the one name that almost everyone wanted at the club this summer was Jason Shackell and messieurs Morris and Rush got their man (eventually). Having been at Derby a couple of seasons ago, the fans know what a good defender he is, and the subsequent successful spell at Burnley just confirmed his credentials. After last season’s woeful defensive displays, we needed someone of his ability and leadership skills to shore up a leaky, and often comical, back four. Whether or not he gets the captain’s armband or not is still up for debate, but if he and whoever plays beside him can plug that ‘hole’ then we’re in for a good season.

Chris Baird

18 July 2015 - Pre-Season Friendly - Northampton Town v Derby County - Chris Baird of Derby County - Photo: Marc Atkins / Offside.

Of all the big names and record signings coming in this summer, the name Chris Baird did seem to raise a few eyebrows. How can a journeyman get into this team and make a difference? Well, with over 300 club and 72 international appearances behind him, he is exactly the type of player needed and he becomes that ‘old head’ that every club needs. Having seen him in a couple of pre-season games he’s certainly not here just to just make up the numbers. Come next May we may all be thinking just how vital a member of this squad he really has been. I personally think he could be Paul Clement’s most important signing yet.

So there you have it – the five players that I think will be crucial to our promotion charge next season. It was of course a difficult choice – my original shortlist included 10 players – so some hard decisions had to be made (I do not envy Paul Clement!). It’s now time for all the talking to stop and the action to start. I personally can’t wait, as it sure is fun being a Derby fan at the moment. Let’s enjoy the ride while it’s here, eh?

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