Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Premiership Preview--10. Blackburn Rovers

10. Blackburn's 2006-2007 campaign was the perfect reflection of mediocrity: They finished with 15 wins, 16 losses, and 7 ties, scoring 52 goals while conceding 54 in the process. That was good enough for 10th place and an Intertoto Cup spot as the two teams ahead of them (Reading and Portsmouth) opted to not take part and thus Blackburn's application was granted. Blackburn have taken full advantage of that so far as they've progressed to the UEFA Cup second qualifying round along with the 10 other teams from across Europe who advanced out of the Intertoto Cup.

Manager Mark Hughes has only brought in three players this summer, but each of those moves was fairly questionable. Goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen is a promising talent at 20 years of age, but he becomes the 5th goalkeeper on a roster of 32 as he transferred in from BK Frem Copenhagen. Brad Friedel doesn't have many years left as he's already 36, but he'll be the starter for the forseeable future. The emergence of striker Matt Derbyshire was a revelation last year, and with 9 goals in 30 appearances (all competitions; 14 starts and 16 substitute appearances), Blackburn looked to have three solid strikers in Jason Roberts, Benni McCarthy, and Derbyshire. As already stated, the team scored 52 goals in the Premiership last year, which was tied for 6th most in the league, and so one wouldn't think the striking corps needed much in the way of reinforcements this summer. Not so, said Mark Hughes, and he went out and got two more. Maceo Rigters is just 23 years old and played for the Dutch U-21 team in the European U-21 Football Championship this summer. Rigters scored 6 goals in 9 appearances for his country at that level and moved to Blackburn from NAC Breda, where he scored only 5 goals in 61 league games. The biggest move occurred just this week when Roque Santa Cruz came to Lancashire after playing for German giant Bayern Munich since 1999. He's still only 25 years of age but has an abundance of experience on the international level with Paraguay (14 goals in 49 appearances for his country since 1999) and in the Champions League with Bayern Munich. Blackburn are now overloaded at the striker position as they've got five legitimate options who will want to play. Mark Hughes is in the unenviable position of keeping each of these players happy, and I think Blackburn would've been better suited to go out and spend the money they invested on Santa Cruz and Rigters on a defender or two, though former DC United star Ryan Nelsen will be returning this season from injury.

A second consecutive top 10 finish for Blackburn won't be out of the cards with their schedule. November and April are the only two months that bring multiple games against the "Big Four" as Blackburn will play Liverpool and Manchester United in each of those months. April is by far the most difficult month with a road game at Portsmouth and a home match against Tottenham as well as the games with Liverpool and Manchester United, but the last two games of the season in May (at home against Derby County, away to Birmingham) should mean 6 points to end the year.

Bottom Line: Scoring goals certainly shouldn't be a problem for Blackburn this season, but it wasn't a problem last season either. Mark Hughes should've went out and spent money elsewhere, but the return of Ryan Nelsen is as good as a new signing. There is a good mix of established veteran players (Tugay, Robbie Savage, Friedel, André Ooijer, etc.) and talented young players (David Bentley, Derbyshire, Rigters, and Christopher Samba) on this team. Higher than 10th won't be out of the question, but any lower would be a disappointment.

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