2009-10 standing: 10th
Gaffer: Sam Allardyce (3rd season)
Best new signing: Phil Jones – Again, we’re going to have to go off the board (loving the dated 70s references in this series, aren’t you?) here because Blackburn really hasn’t signed anyone new as of yet. Jones, who won’t turn 19 until February, made seven starts for Rovers last season in defense, and is a rising English star. Of course, the last time Blackburn had one of those, he ended up banished to Greece.
Biggest loss: Franco Di Santo – The Argentinian came over from Chelsea on loan, but never truly produced for Blackburn, making only 22 appearances, scoring only a single goal and managing only a single assist, not even good enough to get a contract from striker-starved Blackburn. Back to the scrap heap to look for another striker for Rovers.
Key player: Christopher Samba – According to the official Premier League statistics, Samba won 98% of balls in the air last season. OK, I made that up, but he seemed to win everything and get stronger as the season progressed. He and Ryan Nelsen – who should also be bolstered by a solid World Cup – have to put in the conversation as back center back tandem in the league, and should only get better the more time they spend together. The combination is also extremely dangerous on set pieces, Nelsen and Samba each scored four goals last season, a number that might go up this season.
Random fact: Not only did Samba score four goals last season, but was second on the team in shots (47) and led Blackburn in shots on goal (19). Meanwhile, David Dunn somehow managed a team-high 9 goals (in only 23 appearances) with only 17 shots on goal, quite the strike rate.
To say Blackburn is lacking at striker would be a massive understatement, especially when it looks like Jason Roberts (5 goals last year, second on team) is on his way out. That leaves Dunn – who was outstanding last season, but not a natural striker – and little else. Croatian Niko Kalinic showed flashes last season, but at the end of the day, managed only two league goals and 17 starts in 2009-2010.
Squad depth is another huge dilemma. Kalinic and Samba have already faced minor injuries in the preseason, and any kind of an injury bug will result in a lot of unproven players and youngsters on the field. Blackburn is also lacking in creativity, but I don’t think they’re really looking for that, are they? Blackburn only managed 14 points away from Ewood Park last season.
The defense should be a year more experienced, and might be able to improve on the 55 goals they conceded last season, and get closer to the teams around them like Fulham (46), Birmingham (47), and Stoke (48). Yes, Blackburn managed only 41 goals last season, but sometimes getting goals doesn’t always have to come from strikers. Samba and Nelsen can get a few, Dunn will get his share, and Steven Nzonzi might be ready for a breakout season after signing a new contract.
Now in his third season at Blackburn, Allardyce has been able to build the team he wants to have on the field.
There are plenty of holes you can punch in the argument that Blackburn is going to finish in the top half of the table. They might currently have the worst strikers in the league, have little money to buy any players, and don’t have anyone that can even come close to holding the ball.
But, if Sam Allardyce has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes you just need some tough players and plenty of guts. When Bolton last went to Europe in 2007 (the last of four straight years Bolton finished in the top half of the table), they actually had a -5 goal differential, but found a way to grind out points, beating teams they were supposed to beat and grabbing points in other games despite being “outplayed”.
There’s a strong possibility I’ll be wrong, and I’m sure some of you will be quick to point that fact out. If I am, if Blackburn is fighting for relegation in the spring, then I will be the first to admit it.
The good Dr. Sam? Probably not.