It is quite easy to have a go at Blackburn manager Steve Kean, but it doesn’t matter if you replace him because there is a lack of cohesion to the squad.
It has been suggested the Venky’s don’t have as much money as was once suggested. Indeed, the Venky’s holding company in India has lost half of it’s value over the last year, dropping from a high of 985R last October to 410R as of yesterday. It has also been rumored that most of the money made on the Jones’ deal was needed to service their debt on the club and thus promises of a £50 million war chest were never realized. But they did spend: £17.5 million on Simon Vukcevic, Scott Dann, Yakubu, David Goodwillie, Radosav Petrovic and Jordan Slew. They also spend £8 million on Mauro Formica and Ruben Rochina in January. And they did openly chase the legendary Raul of Schalke 04 for much of the summer. While nearly £25 million spent on players doesn’t match the number the Venky’s threw around to the press, suggestions that they are putting nothing into the club and leeching it for publicity seem to be false. But broken promises are a worry for Blackburn supporters.
There has also been much has been made of their association with agent Jerome Anderson of Kentaro, who advised them on their purchase of the club. There have been suggestions that he has been behind all of their transfers. This was claimed after Sam Allardyce left and this was once again suggested when the Agent’s son was signed from Aberdeen last April. He was instrumental in getting Rochina, but there seems to be little proof that he is calling the shots. Formica and Dann were highly sought by manager Steve Kean. And it should be noted that none of the six players bought this summer are clients of Kentaro or Jerome Anderson. So conspiracy theories that he is using the club to line his pockets are not very solid. It is known that he is a club supporter, so there might be a more innocent purpose behind his involvement with the club; however, it is understandable why the Blackburn faithful remain weary of this relationship with the man behind the John Obi-Mikel fiasco.
But whether true or not, these worries for Blackburn fans don’t provide an answer to what is happening on the pitch. That is much simpler and goes back to their summer.
Looking at the seven players brought in during the summer, whoever was behind them, whether Keane or Kentaro or the Venky’s, has shown themselves to be shrewd and intelligent in the market. Yes losing Phil Jones was big, but they replaced him with the quite capable Scott Dann, who was in high demand. Emerton was an important player, but was aging. Their two Balkan midfielders, Petrovic and Vukcevic, look like potential gems and should make up for the loss of the Australian on the pitch. But Emerton brought leadership that the team desperately needed too, so their ability to hold onto Christopher Samba was very important. In fact, keeping him might have been the most important move of the summer. And the eventual return on captain Ryan Nelson will be a boost to their on-field presence. Their only other big loss was Kalinic, but he was a squad player, and they have brought in three forwards to boost their front line, but they did so for less than they sold Kalinic. That’s a good summer, but it’s top-heavy with attackers. And that’s the problem.
They bought talent but ignored roles, especially in the midfield. Another way to put it is they have good pieces but not a good unit.
They have plenty in attack, but little in protection. This is where the lack of cohesion seems to lie. This can be seen in the different formations deployed by Kean in the first four matches. He has tried a 4-4-2, a 4-5-1 and a 4-2-3-1. He has tried to play Hoilett both centrally and wide and he has played around with Goodwillie as a lone forward and with a partner.
But this is the wrong area to fix. He needs to fix his central midfield pairing.
With their dearth of attacking midfield talent, they seem build to play a 4-2-3-1. If they use Goodwillie or Roberts, then they will need to move one of their attackers into a false 10 role to play the linking role for these two. With Yakubu, they have no such limitations. But this system relies on a solid pair in the double pivot, and for more than one reason.
Their fullbacks are old, but more importantly they are exposed as they don’t have wingers that track back to help them. Part of that has been the focus on buying attackers, with only Dann and Petrovic being defense minded players. A talented squad can be rendered useless if even one piece is missing. And they are missing a massive one. They seem to be heavy on false 9/10’s and wing players (Rochina, Formica, Hoilette, Pederson, Vukcevic) but they lack a reliable defensive midfielder, deploying the more box-to-box N’Zonzi with the attack-minded David Dunn against Fulham. If Petrovic can be incorporated into the team, they can pair him with N’Zonzi as a protective pair in front of the back four, who can track wide, when necessary to help Salgado and Givet. Jason Lowe looks like another potential CM who can be used to solidify the midfield. What all three have in common is that they are young and can run, which is important for the tactical needs of this side. When Nelson comes back, they could even think about using Olsson or Samba in a holding role.
Shoring up their central pairing to provide protection, is only one part of the fix if this area is addressed correctly. They need to release their attacking options. Goodwillie’s movement has been very positive so far and all of their midfield attackers have had moments that make you think there is potential at Blackburn for some fun games. But this is where the double pivot is once again needed to help realize this potential. Right now they are relying too heavily on Robinson to hoof the ball, but they lack a target for him. New options need to be found. If they can use N’Zonzi or Howe to link the defense to these attackers they would be much more fluid. If they had a DM to push back and allow Samba to carry the ball out, which is a strength of his, then there is another potential way of linking play. Or if they can use one of the CM’s to push back and release the fullbacks, they have another option (although with the age of Salgado and Givet this isn’t as good as the other two options).
But in the long run, it all comes down to getting their CM pairing right. They didn’t address this key area enough in the summer, but there are options. Whether it is handing Lowe the reigns or getting Petrovic EPL-ready or getting Nelson healthy so they can use one of their solid ball-playing defender in the midfield, if they can fix this crucial area, Blackburn’s season can be turned around. Kean isn’t the problem. He seems to recognize the issue and has been tinkering to find an answer. The Venky’s can replace him, but the new boss would need to fix this just the same. If anyone can do this, Blackburn might not be the relegation fodder that is commonly thought.