In the previous meeting between Newcastle United and Derby County earlier this season, the Magpies ran out as comfortable 2-0 winners against a Rams outfit that looked rather toothless upfront. However, this has all changed since former United boss McClaren has reclaimed the Pride Park hot-seat.

Derby look like a new side that have had fresh life breathed into them by the former England boss, returning for his second managerial spell with the club following his ill-fated stint on Tyneside.

The Rams’ drastic upturn in form begs the question, what exactly has changed during the last few months to instigate such a dramatic change of fortunes? The answer would be that McClaren has made certain players feel important, convincing them they are good enough to get promoted, just like they almost did two seasons ago.

Below I will look at four Derby stars that Newcastle should be wary of this weekend.

Richard Keogh

Keogh has been a rock at the back for Derby this season and McClaren has been signing his praises for most of January. He also claimed that he wanted to sign him when Newcastle manager, however, he wasn’t allowed (thank goodness). However, Keogh averages 6.6 clearances this season and has made 0 defensive errors which have led to goals being conceded.

Keogh is a good leader who organises his defence and keeps his teammates solid at the back. The Republic of Ireland international has made 33 tackles this season and has won 69 separate aerial duels against opponents. These statistics highlight that Newcastle’s current go to man, Daryl Murphy, could be in for a very physical and testing afternoon on Saturday, which might actually play to strengths, as he can assert his strength and hold off defenders. A physical battle such as this should help enable Benitez’s nimble forward players, Ritchie, Gouffran and Perez, to get in behind the Derby defence with greater regularity and threaten Scott Carson’s goal.

Jacob Butterfield

Butterfield is one of the lesser known names in the Derby County XI. This, however, doesn’t mean he isn’t a valuable player for The Rams. Butterfield is seen as an influential player for Derby whenever they play, as shown by the two losses they have suffered during the three games in which he hasn’t played this season.

The 26-year-old may be viewed as a Shelvey-esque midfielder due to his expansive passing ability (obviously nowhere near as good as our very own Jonjo) with his eye for a killer ball aiding his side’s attacking forays – he has created 25 chances for his teammates.

Butterfield’s understated creative talents are something that Newcastle need to keep an eye out for as the Rams’ midfielder could come from nowhere in the middle of the park and play a delightful ball in for their danger men up-front. The midfielder could be a player that Newcastle don’t focus on as much as maybe Ince or Bent which may backfire because ,with space, he has the ability to carve open the Magpies’ back line.

Tom Ince

The most obvious threat to Newcastle United on Saturday is Tom Ince. The well-travelled forward is full of confidence under McClaren and Derby’s recent surge up the table is largely down to his new found form. He is a player that is willing to run at a defender and take them on, which could be an issue when coming up against either Yedlin or Dummett. Whilst relatively raw defensively, Yedlin would be able to keep up with Ince‘s pace and his breakneck speed gets him out of a lot of trouble on numerous occasions. However, Dummett is an old school defender who will time his tackles and stay back to help his CBs in case of a counter attack, potentially giving the 25-year-old time and space to cause damage in possession.

Ince has scored nine league goals this campaign for Derby making him their current top goal scorer. These goals have come from playing wide right most of the time, although he can operate anywhere across the frontline. Ince has made 39 key passes this to date also made 4 assists for his teammates this season.

Ince is one of those classic wingers, they can cut inside and shoot, whilst also being able to run a fullback to the byline and whip in a dangerous cross, making him very difficult to subdue. This is something that Newcastle struggled with against QPR, when Lualua came off the bench to play a key role in his side’s last-gasp equaliser. This is something that Rafa will have his fullbacks working on and also Hayden and Shelvey as they need to be dropping back and covering if Ince decides to cut inside.

The former Crystal Palace star is a player that really needs to be doubled up on whenever he gets the ball.

Darren Bent

Darren bent is one of those players that you don’t know what you are going to get from them (in the same bracket as Berbatov, just not as lazy). It is obvious that Bent has the talent to be an excellent striker, especially in the Championship. The former Sunderland man is clinical in the box and that is what he has built his career upon.

In the Championship, defenders know what he is capable of so they don’t want to leave him alone for a minute, otherwise he will more than likely punish them. However, this hasn’t been his most prolific season in football, with just five goals in his last 24 appearances for Derby

In fairness, Bent has only completed 90 minutes once this season and 10 of his appearances have came from the bench. Therefore, from 14 starts he has scored 5 goals and registered no assists. From these stats he doesn’t seem a threat and with a 44% shot accuracy , Newcastle defenders could be laughing at the prospect of facing the former Premier League hotshot, right? I wouldn’t bet on it!

Bent is an ex-Sunderland player and will be eager to right the wrongs of that 5-1 defeat he suffered at St James Park several years ago. Also, it is likely that McClaren will pinpoint Lascelles, who is the obvious weak link at the heart of the Magpies’ back four, potentially causing problems. Bent will run and hassle our defenders all game which won’t allow us to lpay out from the back, which we love to do, as this allows Shelvey time and space on the ball.