EFL Player In Focus: Tom Lawrence and the importance of being the ‘main man’

Tom Lawrence starts the season with a brace

Tom Lawrence bagged an impressive brace in Derby County’s 2-1 win at Huddersfield on Monday night, so who better to make our first EFL Player in Focus of the season?

His ability is undeniable: the Wrexham-born wizard loves to cut inside from the left and create; he has a keen eye for a first-time base and an even keener eye for a curler.

And yet, Lawrence has had a mixed career to date, so we look at his track record, what makes him tick and what this season could have in store for him.

Starred at Ipswich

After being unable to make the break-through at Manchester United – like so many before and after him – he made a real name for himself at Championship level with Ipswich Town.

In theory, Ipswich should have been a real struggle for him, much like his challenging early stints under Steve Evans at Rotherham, Gary Bowyer at Blackburn and Russell Slade at Cardiff.

As an enigmatic wide forward, Lawrence was playing in a team lacking quality, under a strict 4-4-2 disciple in Mick McCarthy.

In fact, Lawrence shone at Portman Road; he scored 11 goals in 2016-17 and most of them either came from wonderful solo runs or delightful strikes from distances, some a mixture of the two.

Because Lawrence was by far the most technically gifted player in that Town team, he was made to feel special and empowered while all the play went through him.

It was a similar situation under Gary Rowett at Derby County, where Matej Vydra played as effectively a second striker in a 4-2-3-1 while Andreas Weimann was disciplined on the right flank, so Lawrence had the freedom to cut inside from the left and cause havoc – there was nobody in that team trying to do a similar thing.

Mount and Wilson took Derby limelight

The following season, though, much of those central areas between the centre-circle and the 18-yard box were taken up by Mason Mount, who joined on loan from Chelsea and Harry Wilson, on loan from Liverpool.

A lot of Derby’s play under Frank Lampard went through Mount while Wilson was trusted to drift inside from the right and hit delightful first-time strikes.

With two other technicians in the same XI, Lawrence was somewhat overshadowed and had an inconsistent individual campaign, even though the Rams reached the Play-Off Final, losing to Aston Villa.

Cocu’s arrival

This year, Derby have an attacking midfielder slightly less indulgent in possession than Mount in Kieran Dowell; Florian Jozefzoon on the right of the attacking quartet will stretch play with his runs, rather than come inside to shoot as Wilson did.

The whole dynamic of this Derby side under Phillipe Cocu seems to work for Lawrence, who bagged a delightful three-minute double-salvo at Huddersfield, producing an eye-catching first half performance in which he looked full of confidence.

In the second half, the 25-year-old put in a strong defensive shift, which shows Cocu has been able to work on other aspects of his game.

Derby will bring in Wayne Rooney in a player/coach role in January, but they have to be careful not to overuse the 33-year-old, who would undoubtedly bring top level quality and nous but could alter the synergy of the team in a way that might not necessarily suit their star man.

To improve

The 2018-19 season showed Lawrence needs to improve: rather than too often looking to produce that Hollywood moment whenever he gets the ball, he must start thinking about how to hold onto the ball and support attacks, only try to produce those moments of individual brilliance when the time is right.

However, we have known for a long time that Lawrence has tremendous ability – this could be the season he shows it to maximum effect.

By Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab)

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