When Blackburn ended the 2009/10 campaign in the quietly impressive 10th place, everything seemed to be going swimmingly for Big Sam and co. He prepared for last season as any other coach did – snapping up a few, letting others go – and Blackburn were in great shape come the new season. Little did we know that halfway through the campaign, Big Sam would be relieved of his duties, having lost three of the last five games. It was a shock sacking, and it prompted several of Allardyce’s compatriots to jump to his defence. Sir Alex Ferguson led the way, labeling the decision as “absolutely ridiculous” and the decision was even a shock to the Rovers players. Steve Kean was appointed as Allardyce’s successor, and after a run of only one win in three matches, signed a contract extension at Ewood Park prolonging his stay until June 2013. Kean’s mismanagement – which saw them go through February, March and most of April without a win – slowly lured Rovers into the relegation scrap as the season drew to a close and they only managed to escape the possibility of the Championship on the last day thanks to a close-fought 3-2 win against fellow strugglers Wolves. By the end of the season, Kean’s record read P23 W6 D7 L10 with a lowly win % of 26.09.
Last Season: 15th
Manager: Steve Kean
In: Myles Anderson (Aberdeen, undisclosed fee)
Out: Frank Fielding (Derby County, £400,000), Zurab Khizanishvili (Kayseispor, free), Phil Jones, (£16.5m – £20m plus add-ons), Michael Potts (York City, free), Maceo Rigters (released), Jordan Bowen (released), Damilola Ajagbe (released), Andy Parry (released), Toni Vastic (Bayern Munich, minimal fee), Benjani (released), Aaron Doran (Inverness Caledonian Thistle, undisclosed fee)
Keys to the season
The big note of change this summer is that 19-year-old Phil Jones has left Ewood Park for the glossier life at Old Trafford, having impressed last season with a string of consistent performances. Throughout the season, Jones was employed as a holding midfielder – he played in the central of defence too, the latest being for England at the U-21 European Championships in June – often protecting the back four. His ball winning skills, tackling and aerial prowess are just some of the strengths that he possess and now that he’s gone Blackburn look like they may have a serious problem on their hands.
However, Rovers have added to the squad this summer, with the sole signing of Aberdeen defender Myles Anderson. Formerly at Leyton Orient, Anderson struggled to break the Aberdeen first team – making only one appearance since January – but he is a versatile choice as he can play at either left-back or centre-half.
Beginning the season with the same manager as they ended the previous campaign, it’s fair to say, not a lot will change, bar the selling of Jones. Last season Blackburn often varied it up, switching from 4-3-3 to 4-4-1-1 to the mostly used 4-1-4-1. Paul Robinson will stay in between the sticks, the back four will remain roughly the same (barring any transfer changes), and 22-year-old Steven N’Zonzi will battle it out with Keith Andrews to take over Phil Jones’ previous role as defensive midfielder.
Due to the differentiating formations its hard to call who will be where come this season. In the last game of the season against Wolves, Steve N’Zonzi partnered Jermaine Jones – who had been on season-long loan at Ewood Park – in the heart of midfield, with Brett Emerton and Martin Olsson on the right and left-wings respectively. However, with Jones returning to Shalke, Blackburn could very well replace him with the strong-tackling David Dunn in the centre of the midfield, who’s defensive contribution would be of huge benefit to the Ryan Nelson and Co.
Up front – again its been varied – we saw a lot of Nikola Kalinic as well as Jason Roberts, who managed only ten Premier League goals between them last term. The loan move for Manchester United reserve Mame Biram Diouf breathed some new life into Blackburn’s offence, as he netted three times in 17 appearances (10 as a sub) with Benjani also contributing with 3 goals in 12 games as substitute.
By a long shot, captain Ryan Nelson. His tough tackling mentality has shaped Blackburn’s approach in the League, which has also seen them merit several red cards over the last few seasons. A cool head at the back, he’s been one of Blackburn’s most reliable and consistent performers over the past few years.
Wolves (H), Aston Villa (A), Everton (H), Fulham (A), Arsenal (H).
Blackburn begin their 2011/12 campaign with a considerably easy home tie against Wolves, followed by a visit to Villa Park, then back to Ewood at the end of August to entertain Everton. Following the international break at the start of September, Rovers will travel to Craven Cottage and then the subsequent week they’ll have their hardest test to date, as they host Arsenal.
Where will they finish?
Well if they continue under Steve Kean, probably somewhere near the bottom. Kean proved last season that he doesn’t have the credentials or the experience to run the club and that was proven by their disastrous run towards the end of the season. With a decent defence and an always-able midfield, their lack of firepower up front will continue to lessen their chances of a decent finish and so I predict they’ll finish a very lowly 16th.