John Eustace and Will Hughes are vying for the controlling position in midfield as Derby County consider how to move on from the blow of losing George Thorne to injury.
Thorne is recovering from knee surgery and faces up to nine months out.
He was seen as a key piece in the jigsaw this season following his move from West Bromwich Albion.
Hughes and Eustace played 45 minutes each against Burton Albion on Tuesday after which first-team coach Paul Simpson said: “It is between those two, at the moment.
“We feel we have some good midfield players with Jeff Hendrick, Craig Bryson, John Eustace and Will Hughes.
“We have got four good players, it is getting them into the right shape.”
Derby have not ruled out dipping into the transfer market to replace Thorne but Simpson added: “We are willing to give these lads a go while we consider whether or not we need to look at bringing somebody else in.”
Given the financial outlay to bring in Thorne it is likely any new additions will be on loan.
Thorne impressed during a loan spell at Derby last season and landing the 21-year-old topped the list of priorities.
Simpson says Thorne is a tough act to follow.
“We knew what George could do and he grew into the position last season,” Simpson added.
“It is a tough act to follow but we have got players like Eustace, who played the role for long periods of the season, and Will Hughes came in and did very well in midfield.
“It is very early to say which one is going to get the nod but we will keep working with them and hopefully we will choose the right midfield players and forward players to go and win the game for us.”