Home > Football, Soccer, Sport, Transfers > Blackburn: a team in flux?

Blackburn: a team in flux?


 

Pre-season:

Blackburn’s pre-season consisted of trying to keep his well-moulded team together to try and reach the same heights as he had reached in the previous season. Sixth place was an impressive achievement the previous season, but Hughes had to face speculation about some of his bigger players straight away. Craig Bellamy had proven a revelation at Ewood Park, despite an injury-hit first season and his 13 goals in 27 appearances had been pivotal in Blackburn claiming a Uefa Cup place. However, before June was out, Bellamy was gone, the lure of Liverpool proving too great for the temperamental forward who had flourished under Hughes.

Hughes went straight on the offensive, literally, adding two strikers to his ranks within a  week in Jason Roberts from Wigan and Francis Jeffers from Charlton. More were to follow, Shabani Nonda arrived on loan from Roma (albeit at the end of August) but the potential signing of the season for any club arrived in the form of Benni McCarthy from Porto at the end of July. While many clubs were battling for McCarthy’s signature, Hughes got his man, and at £2.5 million he’d been signed for less than half of the figure recouped for Bellamy. This transfer may have been the defining moment in Hughes’ career, a moment that saw him go from being a former player turned manager, to a man who could potentially take on the biggest jobs around.

06-07 Recap:

Rovers started the season poorly and only earned their first win mid-way through September at home to Man. City. The Uefa cup campaign started brightly, but as is so often for relatively inexperienced sides in Europe, Blackburn’s domestic form suffered as a result. A shocking run between November and December saw Blackburn categorised as relegation strugglers. A 6-2 reverse at the hands of Arsenal at the Emirates proved to shock Rovers into action though and a Brad Friedel-inspired win over Liverpool started a run of four wins in a row to lift Blackburn from the doldrums of 2006.

Blackburn recovered to a mid-table position by the middle of February when Benni McCarthy wonder strike minutes from time earned them a 1-0 win over Arsenal in the FA Cup, revenge for their two defeats in the league at the hands of the Gunners. However, the following Thursday they exited the Uefa Cup at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen, going down 3-2 on aggregate at the last 32 stage. A win over Man. City set up an FA Cup semi-final meeting with Chelsea and Blackburn were unlucky not to reach the final, an extra-time 2-1 defeat unkind on Blackburn who arguably deserved victory against the reigning Premiership Champions. An unbeaten six-match run left Blackburn in tenth position at the end of the season, but with a wealth more experience under their belts. This season however, Hughes will be only too aware that he needs to breath fresh life into his team and attempt to re-make ground on those that moved above Blackburn last term.

Strengths:

In Mark Hughes, Blackburn have a manager who seems well able to get the most out of his players, regardless of their temperament. Bellamy was genuinely grateful for his time under Hughes, both with Wales and Blackburn, Robbie Savage has rejected moves elsewhere and he seems to have Tugay playing with as much enthusiasm as he was when Hughes arrived.

Benni Mccarthy weighed in with 24 goals and had an outstanding season at the head of Blackburn’s forward line. In replacing Bellamy, Hughes faced a monumental task but proved he was worthy of the challenge when recruiting the Champions League Winner to Ewood Park. Although a different type of player, McCarthy oozed class and his experience showed as Blackburn’s attacking strengths came to the fore.

In David Bentley and Matt Derbyshire, Hughes has unearthed two gems and given the chance, they can grow to be regular England internationals, with Bentley already called up to the senior squad for the first time this season.

Weaknesses:

Blackburn need to prioritise their defence, a goal difference of minus two reflecting their weaknesses at the back and a season in which just six teams conceded more goals. For a team with regular European aspirations that is simply not good enough. While Stephen Warnock fitted in well following his transfer from Liverpool, Andre Ooijer struggled at times, spectacularly on his debut against Chelsea, and with the likes of Michael Gray and Ryan Nelson pushing on in years, Hughes needs younger, stronger recruits to join this summer

An ageing and injury prone midfield also needs shaking up. While Blackburn will be grateful to have Robbie Savage and Steven Reid back after their lengthy lay-offs, Tugay will be an experienced bit-part player next season, and with David Dunn yet to prove he can become the player he once was, midfield will also need to be strengthened.

108 yellow cards and 7 yellow cards also doesn’t really help…..

Transfer Targets:

(1): While Hughes sung Jason Brown’s praises following his pre-season move from Gillingham last year, the deputy to Brad Friedel only made one appearance (albeit a penalty-saving appearance against Wigan) and Hughes could do with an experienced alternative to Friedel who had yet another impressive season and remains highly underrated. However, at 35, Friedel’s time is running out, and after making over 300 appearances for Blackburn, the time to find his long-term successor has arrived. Thomas Sorenson of Aston Villa may be an option.

(2): While chairman John Williams insists there is no need for wholesale changes at Ewood Park, Blackburn’s defence needs sorting out with a new central defender a priority. Sami Hyypia could provide experience and stability, although not pace, to the backline and could be signed reasonably cheaply. Wes Brown would be an excellent signing and Blackburn could offer a good locality, not far from Brown’s current residence.

(3) A new, dynamic central midfielder would be welcome to play alongside Savage with Dunn, Bentley and Reid all options in wider positions. Don’t be surprised if Hughes plays the European market here, or perhaps takes a look at Scott Parker of Newcastle or maybe even Kevin Nolan at Bolton, two players who may be ready to move on in their careers with new managers at the helm at their respective clubs.

(4): James Beattie is being heavily linked with a move to the club where he started his professional career and with David Moyes willing to listen to offers, coupled with Blackburn’s attempt to loan the player last season, this is one move that is more than likely to be completed in the coming weeks.

Next Season:?

Blackburn need to spend wisely this summer if they are to find the form of 05-06 which made them and their manager hot property. Benni McCarthy is being heavily linked with a move to Stamford Bridge to rejoin old manager Jose Mourinho and Blackburn will be furious if they lose their star striker for the second successive season. More worrying would be Hughes’ position, the manager unlikely to countenance another ‘big sale’ and as such, the future of manager and striker may be inexorably linked.

A Beattie/ McCarthy/ Derbyshire trio up front would be welcomed by Blackburn fans and with Bentley, Dunn, Reid and maybe a Ljungberg (?) style of winger backing the forwards up, Blackburn would have plenty of reason to be optimistic ahead of next season. However, the defence needs to stop leaking goals (and penalties!) and Hughes will be pre-occupied with getting the balance between defence and attack right. With no European football next season, expect Rovers to creep their way back up the Premiership table.


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Categories: Football, Soccer, Sport, Transfers
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