The final day of the summer transfer window saw Blackburn Rovers conclude deals for three new signings, Scott Dann, Yakubu and Jordan Slew, as they became one of the most active Premier League sides on transfer deadline day. The arrival of Premier League experience in the form of Dann and Yakubu coupled with the retention of captain Chris Samba gives cause for optimism for Steve Kean after what has been a dismal start to the season.
As discussed earlier in the summer, keeping Samba at the club following Phil Jones’ departure and bolstering the forward line were essential for Blackburn to avoid becoming embroiled in another relegation battle this season. Yakubu and Slew join David Goodwillie to form a triumvirate of new strikers at Ewood Park, while Dann comes in from Birmingham City to join Samba in defence rather than to replace him.
The acquisition of Dann is something of a coup for Blackburn amid rumours of interest from sides aiming for the upper echelons of the table including Arsenal and Liverpool. However, with Samba staying at Rovers there is a case for arguing that the money received from the sale of Phil Jones could have been better spent strengthening other areas of the side as opposed to reinforcing what is perhaps the most dependable area of the Blackburn line up.
Dann joins an already strong centre back quartet of Samba, Ryan Nelsen, Gaël Givet and the emerging Grant Hanley so securing a place in the starting eleven may not prove a formality. Nelsen though, a month shy of entering his 35th year, has yet to feature this season due to a knee injury and is succumbing to injury more regularly than he once did, while rumours of Samba’s departure will no doubt resurface as January approaches. Comparison of Dann, Samba, Nelsen and Givet since Dann first featured in the Premier League two years ago sheds more light on what he will bring to Blackburn.
When looking at the above statistics, the first thing that stands out is the defensive quality of Samba. Retaining the Congolese centre half this summer was vital for Blackburn as he topped six of the 12 comparisons drawn and only finishes with the weakest performance in frequency of passes made. Conversely, new signing Dann has a mixed set of statistics across the two years, finishing top of four categories but also bottom of four categories. This appears to suggest inconsistencies in his game, however a closer inspection reveals that Dann offers a different option at the back to those at the club already.
The style of Samba, Nelsen and Givet is comparatively similar in that they are all fully committed and dominant when playing in central defence. Each of the existing trio is more comfortable attacking the ball and it is not uncommon to see them hurling themselves in front of shots. The statistics suggest that Dann does not fit the same mould and acts more as a covering centre back, performing the sweeping role to a greater extent. His former defensive partner at the heart of the Birmingham defence, Roger Johnson, was certainly the dominant half of their pairing.
Dann made fewer interceptions per minute than the three Blackburn defenders, completing an interception on average every 48 minutes, compared to Nelsen and Givet’s 29 minutes and Samba’s 38 minutes. Despite making fewer interceptions, Dann attempted a tackle every 36 minutes, more regularly than Nelsen, Samba and Givet who averaged a tackle every 48, 50 and 60 minutes respectively over the two years, showing that Dann doesn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities but adopts a different approach to the art of defending.
Evidently, rather than committing himself early, risking conceding a foul or allowing the striker to turn him and have a free run at goal, Dann’s more measured style enables him to position himself before making the tackle. In his short time in the Premier League Dann boasts an impressive record of only conceding a goal every 70 minutes. This is better than the rate of the three Rovers players and is also superior to the goal conceded every 65 minutes that Birmingham averaged while in the Premier League without Dann in the team. The importance of Dann to the West Midlands side was undeniable and their improved defensive performance with him in the eleven adds weight to his less aggressive approach to defending.
Another key observation drawn from the statistics is Dann’s ability on the ball. Dann played a pass every 179 seconds, while Nelsen, Samba and Givet passed the ball every 202, 233 and 183 seconds respectively. Dann’s pass completion percentage of 71% tops those of the Blackburn centre halves, with Nelsen fairing best yet still coming up 5% short of Dann at 66%. Dann will clearly bring a composure on the ball to the back line that has been lacking at Ewood Park in recent years.
Dann’s assurance on the ball is matched by his self-assurance off it as Rovers’ latest defensive acquisition harbours ambitions of following in the footsteps of their most recent defensive departure. On the back of Phil Jones’ call up to the senior England squad, Dann outlined his desire to follow suit in an interview with the Lancashire Telegraph, adding “hopefully coming to a club like Blackburn can help me do that.” Thankfully Dann had not been listening too closely to England coach Fabio Capello before making the decision to move up the M6 to Blackburn.
Speaking about Jones just days before the close of the transfer window, Capello’s reference was glowing. “His talent is incredible. When you find this kind of talent you have to use it… He has played one game. Potentially he is fantastic but he needs to play more games with United.” Those who have been following Jones’ progress since his emergence at Blackburn could have told Capello of his qualities a long time ago having seen him star in far more than just “one game”. Sadly for Dann, and for those at other clubs of Blackburn’s standing, it seems that the passage to international recognition is hastened by involvement at one of the leading Premier League sides.
Still, a lack of international recognition will enable Dann to focus all his energies on helping Blackburn to retain their Premier League status. Dann will be hoping to take the first steps on this path with three points at Fulham this weekend should he make his debut at Craven Cottage. While a direct statistical comparison of Dann with either of the current first choice defensive duo of Samba and Nelsen would not necessarily make a compelling case for his inclusion at centre half at either’s expense, Dann’s contrasting style seems well suited to forming a partnership with either player.