As far as big games in the National League go they don't get much bigger than this.
Notts make the short trip to North Derbyshire on Saturday for a 1st vs 4th top of the table derby that promises to be a brutal clash, one that will be played out in front of the BT Sport camera's and a game that Spireites Boss Paul Cook will have to watch from the stands.
In a game that will likely be decided by the narrowest of margins we take a closer look at Cook's Chesterfield, their playing styles and threats, and analyse the data to try and identify the areas of weakness Luke Williams and his players can look to exploit and take advantage of.
The Spireites last 6 games have mostly been about cup ties. A swashbuckling draw at home to West Brom the pick of their 3 cup games, the others a defeat to Coalville in the Trophy (been there, done that), and last time out being put to the sword in the replay at the Hawthornes.
That said their league form currently sees them second in the last 6 form table with 15 points from 18, a point less than Wrexham and a point more than Notts.
The only blot on that copybook was a 1-0 defeat at a resurgent Halifax.
Notts go into this game having had a minor wobble with 2 draws in the last 3 league games. However, The Magpies go into Saturdays clash unbeaten in the league in 18 games and will equal a 92 year record if they avoid defeat at the Technique Stadium.
Looking at the playing styles it's interesting to see that Chesterfield score highly in the possession stats and deep circulation confirming they are a team who are very comfortable on the ball.
Their pressing (PPDA) and challenge intensity is better than most but you would expect them to be a bit higher for territory.
The radar below provides an overlay of the two playing styles combined.
Earlier in the season Cook had used a midfield 3 to great effect. Veteran Mike Jones would sit at the base of that 3, with more progressive midfielders Darren Oldaker and Ollie Banks either side of him. It was a change to his usual style, but a change that worked. Jones’ inclusion provided some balance, the defensive screen in front of the back 4 that not only allowed the other midfielders to flourish, but also unlocked right back Jeff King from his defensive shackles.
It was somewhat of a surprise therefore when Cook switched to a 4-2-3-1 system, abandoning his midfield 3 in search of a more attacking approach.
Jones hasn’t lost his place in the side, with the 35 year old in undroppable form, but it’s meant that one of Oldaker and Banks had to sit out, with the latter consigned to the bench.
Chances have been even more limited for Banks, with the emergence of Arsenal loanee Tim Akinola. The youngster has been imperious in his limited opportunities, his energy and drive bringing something different to Cook’s midfield. Like the others Akinola is comfortable in possession too; his 91.54% pass success is the highest of any Chesterfield player.
The 4-2-3-1 sees the wide players, Armando Dobra and Liam Mandeville, push slightly higher up, and it also sees the inclusion of Akwasi Asante as a 10 or second forward, playing off target man Scott Quigley.
Asante is a direct attacker, one who runs at defenders with pace, and also one who isn’t afraid to shoot. We saw this at Meadow Lane, with Asante turning Brindley inside out before smashing the ball home, a wonderful goal. His inclusion in a supporting attacking role certainly makes them more threatening going forward, but conversely they lose some control in midfield, so it’s a fine balance.
While Dobra and Mandeville may be slightly higher up the pitch in the 4-2-3-1, they also have to do slightly more defensive work, as without Jones in his anchoring role Chesterfield are slightly more exposed. Something Notts Boss Williams will look to exploit.
In recent weeks 21 year old Armando Dobra has been grabbing plaudits, both for his performances in the league, but more notably for his efforts in Chesterfield’s 3-3 draw with WBA in the cup. Dobra made it into the FA Cup team of the round, such was the high level of his display. These performances have come off the left flank, where he is afforded time and space, allowing his technical ability to show.
Cook now has a selection dilemma on his hands though, as recent acquisition Ryan Colclough joins the club from Altrincham, with the attacker’s strongest position also being out on that left side.
The important tactical decision for Cook therefore will be whether to stick with the 4-2-3-1 which has brought success in recent weeks, or whether to temper their attacking output by reverting to the midfield 3 and what was Cook's preferred 4-1-4-1 formation, one he still utilises away from home.
With the addition of Colclough Cook has plenty of options in that midfield, and he may feel it’s best to try and control the middle of the park, an area Notts are normally dominant in. He may decide that the extra bodies in the middle will help combat Notts’ passing style, and give the Spireites more control on Saturday evening. Equally, he may view the 4-2-3-1 as the perfect counter attacking system and one that maybe offers options for the inclusion of Colclough. Notts have shown some vulnerability on the break, and the man who operates in the 10, Asante, was terrific at Meadow Lane, terrorising the Magpies’ defence.
The uncertainty is certainly an advantage for Chesterfield. Despite experimenting with different formations in the Trophy game with Maidstone, Notts have a set way of playing, and a system they rarely deviate from. The fact it remains unknown which formation Cook will use can only make life hard for Luke Williams, potentially giving Cook's men an early edge. However, the margin for error is miniscule and starts with decisions being made prior to kick off and could have a significant baring on the outcome of the match, putting huge pressure on the tactical decisions. It may be that this game is won or lost before a ball is even kicked.
When it comes to action on the field there are a number of key areas within the Chesterfield set up that need consideration. We have analysed the data from their last 6 league games to help us identify some key events.
Firstly, Chesterfield's strength is in their organisation at the back, especially in the build up. Dobra and Mandeville are the two advanced outlets with King and Clements offering further support down each flank.
Despite Dobra's good form in recent weeks it is their right side that offers their biggest threat with the link up play of Mandeville and King, something Adam Chicksen and Kyle Cameron will need to be wary of.
Down the left Dobra offers a real threat but this is more down to his own excellent individual play than anything else and a change in set up to accommodate Colclough could hamper this. Of the two left backs with minutes this season Clements has been the more progressive and offers a threat with early crosses from that left side. Horton however is less inclined to push up and prefers to to err on the side of caution, playing a little deeper and focusing on his defensive duties.
Looking at the data left sided centre back Grimes along with both Clements and Horton have recorded the highest number of losses in their own half during the last 6 games suggesting this could be an area for Notts to exploit with their high press.
In the middle of the pitch we have already mentioned Mike Jones and he is key to protecting the back four as well as being a conduit for ball progression in the build up. In a 4-1-4-1 formation he becomes the pivot behind the two advanced central midfielders, a role he plays extremely well. However, in a 4-2-3-1 he will likely be partnered by Darren Oldaker with the pair of them tasked with winning and retaining possession in the middle of the pitch.
In attack Quigley has been favoured to some degree over Tshimanga, a player who continues to seem a little out of sorts following his recovery from injury and the whole transfer fiasco with Birmingham City, yet is still the clubs joint leading scorer in the league.
When Chesterfield do mange to get the ball forward and into the box its Quigley, Dobra and Mandeville who get the most touches. Dobra is very much a player whose touches in the box come from his own ingenuity and ability to drive into the opponents area. Mandeville looks to come inside more, looking to link up with team mates rather than the more direct approach of Dobra's.
The one weapon Notts do have at their disposal is their pressing. We've discussed how certain Chesterfield players suffer relatively high losses of ball in their own half and with the likes of Langstaff, Scott and Rodrigues presing high this could present opportunities for the Magpies.
Equally, Jones and Oldaker will want to try and control things in the middle. An option for Notts would be to start with a midfield 3 of Bostock, Palmer and O'Brien.
There has been some concern within the Notts fanbase of how Luke Williams can make a midfield pair of Bostock and Palmer work, however we feel this is a game where Bostock can excel, playing in a 'Quarter Back' position if you like, with Palmer and O'Brien ahead of him.
This would provide Bostock some protection and time to control matters from deep and start, restart and recycle the ball in build up as required.
Ultimately there is not much that these two clubs don't know about each other. Notts, who like to play a high line are vulnerable on the counterattack, but other than individual mistakes this is probably the Magpies only achilles heel. Chesterfield are slightly more direct and if Notts are allowed to play their possession based game they will no doubt frustrate the Chesterfield players and force unnecessary errors.
The data suggests Notts will likely gain more of an advantage down their right, however, with the wingbacks playing such a high line they will need to be wary of being caught out and affording Dobra & Co any space in behind.
Chesterfield currently sit in 4th place on 49 points, 13 points behind Notts but with 4 games in hand.
On points per game Chesterfield sit just above Notts but behind Wrexham when it comes to home form, currently averaging 2.50 PPG.
The Spireites have managed to convert 49 goals in 23 games averaging 2.13 goals per game compared to an xG of 1.74 suggesting that they are being slightly more clinical in front of goal with the chances created.
Interestingly with 27 goals conceded in the league so far they are shipping just 1.17 goals per game. However, their xCG is only 1.02 which suggests they have maybe conceded a couple more goals than expected.
By comparison Notts top the away table by a considerable distance with 31 points from 14 games. Additionally they have scored 42 goals on the road, that's double the amount of any other team.
Chesterfield Home Form:
P 12 | W 10 | D 0 | L 2 | F 28 | A 13 | GD +15 | PTS 30
Notts Away Form:
P 14 | W 9 | D 4 | L 1 | F 42 | A 19 | GD +23 | PTS 31
Macaulay Langstaff - 22 (xG 20.81)
Kabongo Tshimanga - 7 (xG 4.12)
Jeff King - 7 (xG 2.51)
Jeff King's 7 goals are quite remarkable considering the xG value of the chances he has had.
Notts currently appear to be close favourites for the away win with Ladbrokes currently offering 6/5 for a Magpies victory.
BetUK are offering 11/5 for the home win and you can get 133/50 for the draw from a number of outlets.
Ultimately this will be a game the neutrals will enjoy. Both teams will play this game with a level of intensity that literally anything could happen. It won't be a game for the feint hearted, especially for the fans of the teams involved.
As always thanks for reading.
For Notts County Stats:
Richard Ogando - @notts_stats
Tom Williams - @tomhwilliams23
Colin Sisson - @colin_sisson
The Terrace - @theterracelife - The home for Notts County official retro and fan culture merchandise
Data & tactical images - Wyscout.
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