12) BLACKBURN ROVERS
Pts: 25 (7-10-4)
Preseason Prediction: 8th
Accuracy: Closer than most
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.
As you can tell, I might have been the only person outside of Blackburn upset that Allardyce was canned, but I always found it fun to watch other teams try to deal with Blackburn. Now it’s Steve Kean’s show, and it doesn’t look like Blackburn knows what they want to do with themselves. Yes, they want to play more attractive soccer, but they really don’t have the players to do it right now, and they’re not so far out of the drop zone that they can’t be in a relegation fight by season’s end. I think it might be closer than people think, especially if they try to play like West Brom or Blackpool.
Preseason best new signing:
Phil Jones – Blackburn really didn’t sign anyone, so I went with Jones, who has started 17 times in a defensive midfield role, and has been adequate. He hasn’t shown as a breakout star or anything, but he’s done enough to keep his place in the team. It will be interesting to see how the manager change affects him, if Christopher Samba leaves, he may be headed to center back.
Preseason key player:
Christopher Samba – Other than an unfortunate red card, he’s been among the best center backs in the league, dominant in the air, and one of the main reasons Blackburn were in the top half of the table a month ago. But he’s already said he might want out under Kean, and he certainly doesn’t fit with Blackburn’s new vision of attractive football, but without him on the field, they are a different team right now, there’s no doubt about it.
Key player now:
Morten Gamst Pedersen – He’s had a big resurgence this season, scoring 4 times and adding 4 assists (both team highs), and his long throws have been more effective than Rory Delap’s. His set pieces are almost always precise, allowing their big guys to attack. But where does he fit in under the new regime? He’s not exactly going to beat you with passing and individual skill, either.
They already look lost without Allardyce, and I can’t see that getting much better in the upcoming months, especially if Samba leaves. But they should have enough of a cushion to stay up.