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Derby sign Chelsea, Liverpool starlets on loan

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 By PA Sport

Derby's Gary Rowett vows side will be 'very competitive' at Man United

Alexis Nunes and Craig Burley square off in predicting the FA Cup's most notable third-round fixtures.

Derby boss Gary Rowett sees his side's trip to Manchester United in the FA Cup as the ideal yardstick for their Premier League aspirations.

It is almost a decade since the Rams were relegated from the top flight amid the acute embarrassment of a record low tally of just 11 points. But following many false dawns, there is increasing optimism around Derby that this season could be their year to return.

Rowett has steered the club to second place in the Championship on the back of seven wins from 10 matches, and when Derby face United at Old Trafford in the third round on Friday night he is looking forward to seeing which of his players can handle the situation.

"It's a great challenge for the players -- one we are going to learn an awful lot from about the players and whether they can step up and take the responsibility in a game of that magnitude," Rowett told the club's official website.

"It's a great tool to see which of our players can handle it. We're aspiring to play against teams like Manchester United every week so if we go fearful and show we can't handle that type of game then that's a bit of a worry when it comes to what we are trying to achieve this season.

"I'm not going to be too bravo about the game because it is a daunting task to face a team like that away from home.

"We are going to be very competitive. There's no pressure of picking up three points and, if anything, I think it means that we will go there more relaxed and allow us to play with a little more freedom. We will go there to try and play and show no fear.

"These are the games that we aspire to be facing week in, week out. As a player and a manager, you have to embrace these challenges. Who wouldn't want to pit their wits in this type of game?

"Hopefully, it will be a snapshot of what this club is going to be doing in the future."

Former United forward Tom Lawrence (hip) and midfielder Joe Ledley (back) are injury concerns for Derby while Rowett is also monitoring the fitness of Bradley Johnson following his recent back problem.

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