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Blackburn: Fix The Issue and Save the Season

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.

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  1. Dimitri

    December 20, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    Good article, cheers.

  2. James

    September 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    @ DoublePivot

    It’s been a rough start, but I’m cautiously optimistic that things will improve if Kean sorts things out in short order. Nice to see a balanced write up from an outsiders view! Thanks.

  3. DoublePivot

    September 14, 2011 at 11:31 am


    I always felt like Spurs deployed the long ball too much with Robinson, much in the same way Blackburn seem to be doing. I think he is a good kicker, so when he had someone like Berbatov at Spurs, it was a useful outlet. But right now, with the players being used at Blackburn, it seems a likely way to lose the ball.

    And having done some research for this, I’ve learned a lot more about the club and I am really hopeful (and quite positive that you will) that Blackburn stay up. I think they have some terrific supporters and the core of a team that could be quite enjoyable if things are modified. Love N’Zonzi.

    • Vinod

      September 14, 2011 at 6:23 pm

      Blackburn must use the touch ball technique. Every time Robinson got the ball, he gave the possession of the ball to the opponents!

  4. James

    September 14, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Nice article.

    Losing Emerton hurt because of his versatility. If he stuck around he could’ve and probably should’ve played RB until January when someone more suitable could be brought in. Lacking that, when he played RM he could help Salgado quite a bit. He was a better rounded player, though not nearly as ferocious in attack as other options.

    Also, regarding the hoofball, I think that’s sometimes a panic move that’s held over from Big Sam days.

  5. jeff

    September 14, 2011 at 8:17 am

    What’s happening with Blackburn this year is not the result of lack of transfers activity, but its more the delay in the signings (they bought 4 players during the last 2 days?) thus instead of having a month or two of pre-season to integrate the players and experiment with the formation in the friendly games, Kean had to do this in the PL encounters.
    Maybe the reason behind this delay is the inexperience of Kean which is why he was targeting unrealistic transfers and when they eventually refused, he had to go out and buy whatever available players. However, he managed to get some decent players but now the task of creating the ideal formation is vital.
    The analysis presented by Double Pivot is pretty good and i agree with what you said regarding the sacking of Kean. He isn’t the best coach around, and for sure sacking Big Sam was a mistake but i believe they should keep him for now and give him enough time to justify his appointment (maybe until Christmas?).
    As for the formation, i believe the 4-2-3-1 suits Blackburn the most. In the defense, I would prefer if Olsson is used as a left back since Givet’s natural position is a center back (he might be useful as a backup/rotation left back/center back since he’s a reliable player). As for the right back, I’m really surprised the team didn’t buy a new right back, since Luke young and Alan Hutton were available and also they let Emerton go, who for many games deputized as a right back. Probably this position is their biggest problem from now until January and they’re going to have to settle with Salgado and hope that Ribeiro would do well. In the center of the defense, they have Nelsen, Samba, Dann, Givet and Hanley which are all good but mostly it will be a combination of the 1st three.
    The 2 central midfielders are obviously Petrovic and N’Zonzi with Grella providing back-up once he’s fit (if he’s ever going to be) and this is another position where the team needs to invest in. On the left wing, Pedersen remains the best option with Hoilett on the right wing. In the central attacking midfield, Kean has several options with Dunn, Formica and Vukcevic. Dunn is the most experienced but he’s injry prone, he wasn’t at his best lately and he’s 32 years old. In my opinion Vukcevic should be given the chance more and more, since he’s an established player who has International and European experience.
    In the lone striker role, the team has Yakubu, Rochina, Goodwillie and Roberts. Goodwillie sounds like the best option, Rochina sounds like a good prospect as well. The signing of Yakubu baffled me since his form and goal scoring record with Everton were going downhill, but he can still be used in several games with his experience and his headers presenting his main asset.

  6. DoublePivot

    September 14, 2011 at 7:21 am

    This is another graphic from 442’s statszone that shows how ineffective long passes are in general for Blackburn. 3/4s of them are failed passes

  7. DoublePivot

    September 14, 2011 at 6:59 am

    1) I know this is crap and should never have been written
    2) I know there is one grammatical error somewhere in here that invalidates my existence

    But for the rest of you

    I did a chalkboard at the Guardian that compare the success of Nzonzi’s distribution to that of Robbo’s. It shows why they need to rely less on the hoof.

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