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Blackburn’s Best Shot At Survival

Blackburn Rovers finally recorded their second win of the year, beating Swansea 4-2 at Ewood Park and moving up to 18th in the table.  Steve Kean’s side has now managed to record 4 goals in each of their two wins, with the infamous 4-3 scoreline over visiting Arsenal coming on the strength of two Arsenal own goals.  These two matches have accounted for 38% of their total offensive output in the English Premier League this term; Blackburn have scored 21 goals but just 13 in their combined 4 draws and 8 losses.

As the pressure on Steve Kean continues to mount, it appears that Blackburn’s only chance at survival may be to outscore their opponents with their defense conceding 32 goals through the 14 matches, second worst in the EPL behind only Bolton.  Additionally, Blackburn has yet to post a single clean sheet.  The addition of Scott Dann has obviously not had the intended effect, though his addition has been tempered by injuries. Injuries sustained by Dann and Chris Samba have limited the defensive pairing to 8 and 10 League matches, respectively. Regardless, their wins have come in matches where Yakubu Aiyegbeni has been in spectacular form for Rovers, having found the net 9 times this season.  Yakubu scored all four of the Rovers goals in last weekend’s win and two more in the victory over Arsenal.  With another result to the good in the bank, here we look back over the first fourteen to compare the six players with the most minutes in the attack this term.

While all of these players are certainly not earning starts in the attacking role each week – these six comprise the best of Kean’s attacking options.  We’ve highlighted statistics throughout these charts in Blue where we’ve addressed them in the text or one player has clearly excelled when compared against his peers.

It is remarkable that Yakubu has managed to score 9 times as he’s taken just 22 total shots.  His 78′ per goal is in fact the second best of any player with at least 9 goals.  Edin Dzeko has scored every 67′, teammate Aguero every 81′ and Robin van Persie is currently scoring every 84′. In fact, the other two players with 9 goals, Rooney and Ba, have scored every 122′ and 101′ this term.  Though scoring prolifically at he moment, Yakubu’s shooting accuracy is far too high to be considered anything besides an outlier.  As a comparison, earlier this season Wayne Rooney was converting shots into goals at a career best pace, and he is sitting at 52% accuracy and 20% chance conversion. This season’s breakout star, Demba Ba, is shooting 64% on 28 total shots, and has converted 32% of chances.

Unfortunately for Kean, Yakubu’s goal scoring prowess may also be artificially inflated not only by an unsustainable shooting accuracy and chance conversion, but may not be self-sustaining as illustrated by Yakubu’s inability to create his own chances.

In 706′ Yakubu has only managed to create 5 chances.  He has no assists. Certainly some of this is a function of his role in Kean’s tactics.  For comparison, Newcastle’s Ba has also created only 5 chances (1 assist) while Manchester United’s Rooney has created 22 (2 assists).  In the former case the player plays as an out and out striker, selling out on in the attacking half and sacrificing a bit of defensive coverage to successfully play the part of poacher.  Clearly Rooney occupies a different role and has lined up in the midfield as well.  With Hoilett and Formica leading the team in raw chances, and several players having managed to create more than a chance a match, Blackburn may be able to survive Yakubu’s low contribution to the build up.

The combination of Hoilett and Formica have played a large percentage of their time in midfield, with the duo completing the highest percentage of open play passes of any player included here. Formica’s 84% is comparable with the best passing midfielders in the Premier League some of whom were covered here. However, as we noted just a paragraph ago, Wayne Rooney has created twenty two chances already while no player for Rovers has managed to break 20.  In looking at the other teams to have scored a similar number of goals – Norwich, 20; Newcastle 19 – we can see that they’re creating chances at a better rate.  Norwich has created 139 total chances, leading to 13 assists. Newcastle has created just 118 chance, leading to 9 goal assists.  Blackburn has created 116 chances, leading to 15 assists. The combination of low chances and the high correlation between chances and assists, it is clear that Rovers need to increase their productivity in the final third.

As we mentioned at the start of this piece, Blackburn is having a difficult time scoring goals. In fact, they’re allowing so many that we questioned the forwards and attacking midfielders efforts tracking back and holding their marking assignments deeper into their own defensive half.  For Rovers to sustain the momentum created by this win they must continue to excel in one-half of the field. In examining the statistics we can see the roles for their players are either inconsistent or Rovers coaching staff need to work harder and have those players actually implement their tactics. Currently they have six players who are showing inconsistent flashes of brilliance in the attacking end and failing to contribute sufficiently in the defensive end.

None of these players are winning ground 50/50’s at an acceptable pace, with none of them winning even 50% of the ground challenges.  The aerial challenges are even worse, with only Yakubu winning ever a third of his aerial 50/50’s.  Unfortunately he has only made 9 aerial challenges all season.  Tackles are also lacking. This is showing a minimum of positive influence in the defensive half.  These six players have attempted 93 tackles all season.  The team as a whole has only 280 tackles.  This is further mitigated by allowing 41 dribbles pasts; as a whole Blackburn has allowed 105, with nearly 40% from these 6 players.

With a lack of commitment being shown on the defensive end, the only avenue currently open to Rovers is to continue to win games big.  This type of approach doesn’t have much track record of success in recent seasons. Blackburn are on pace to score 57 goals and allow 86.  Last season no team allowed more than 78, Blackpool, and of the three teams who allowed more than 70, two were relegated, Blackpool and West Ham.  The loan hope, aside from a massive overhaul of the squad and tactics, would appear to be throwing everything forward and hoping Rovers can emulate West Bromwich of a season ago.  The Baggies managed an improbable 12-11-15 record with 56 scored to 71 allowed. The -15 goals difference was the worst of any team in the top 15.  This seasons projected totals for Rovers of 57 goals for and 86 against would be a -29.  You only have to go back two seasons to find a worse difference staying up as Wigan netted just 37 while allowing 79, -42.  While these comparisons are grim for any Rovers supporter, they do offer a glimmer of hope.

Author’s Note: We’ve not included Morten Gamst Pedersen among the attacking options intentionally.  Our goal was only to include players who had lined-up in the forward role in the 14 EPL matches to date this season.

Cooper is the founder of - All the Info You Need to Win Your Fantasy EPL League. He also contributes to Backpage Football. Follow him on Twitter @FantasyGaffer.
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