Previews: Blackburn, Bolton, Burnley
Premier League Preview 4: Blackburn Rovers
Sam Allardyce successfully steadied the rocking boat last season as he steered Blackburn clear of relegation, leading them to a 15th place finish. Paul Ince’s reign at Ewood lasted less than four months as he suffered the chop, with Blackburn leaking goals at an alarming rate during his term.
Allardyce provided the defensive nous to make Rovers a difficult outfit to break down, moulding his team to play in the same fashion as his former Bolton Wanderers squad.
Worryingly though, Rovers have lost their Paraguayan target man Roque Santa Cruz to Manchester City. ‘Big Sam’ has moved to replace him with Nikola Kalinic for £6 million from Hadjuk Split. The 21-year-old Croatian international has an impressive record in Croatia (32 goals in 59 appearances). Whether he can recreate such fine goal scoring form in the Premier League remains to be seen.
Christopher Samba was a revelation in the 2007-08 season as former Rovers boss, Mark Hughes, plucked the giant from Hertha Berlin where he had struggled to make any impact. Yet since the Welshman’s departure he has failed to reach the high standards he set in his first season in England. Allardyce will be looking for the French player to once again become a towering and imposing presence at the back.
He will be joined by new additions Lars Jacobson and Gael Givet in defence. Danish first choice right back Jacobson arrives after a short spell at Everton and will be looking to make more of an impact than he did in Merseyside. Gael Givet possesses a Champions League runners-up medal and will provide vital experience to the Rovers back four despite his decline in form since the heights he reached at Monaco.
Blackburn will look to cement a mid-table spot in this league campaign. A solid start and more consistent performances should see them avoid being dragged into a relegation battle. Allardyce will be looking for a good cup run to help steer Rovers possibly into the Europa League.
In: Lars Jacobsen (Everton, free), Steven N’Zonzi (Amiens, undisclosed), GaÃƒÂ«l Givet (Marseille, £3.5m), Nikos Giannakopoulos (Asteras, £5,000), Elrio van Heerden (Bruges, free), Franco Di Santo (Chelsea, loan), Nikola Kalinic (Hajduk Split, £6m)
Out: Roque Santa Cruz (Manchester City, £17.5m), Matt Derbyshire (Olympiakos, £3m), Aaron Mokoena (Portsmouth, free), Dean Winnard (Accrington, free), Andreas Arestidou (Shrewsbury, free), Jamie Clarke (Lincoln, free), Tony Kane (Carlisle, free), Keith Treacy (Sheffield United, loan)
TSR Writers’ Prediction: 15th
Premier League Preview 5: Bolton
It’s fair to say that Gary Megson wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms by fans at the Reebok Stadium, but despite failing to win over many of the supporters, he has brought in some quality this summer meaning that Bolton should be capable of steering clear of the relegation dogfight.
Megson joined bottom-of-the-table Bolton in October 2007, taking over from Sammy Lee who had only been able to collect five points from a possible 30. He successfully steered the club to Premier League survival, beating league-leaders Manchester United in the process.
Despite a shaky start to the 2008-09 season, Megson was given the luxury of time by his Chairman, and managed to steer his side back on track, eventually securing a solid 13th place finish and avoiding the relegation scrap that many had expected.
During his time at the Reebok, Megson’s transfer business has proved influential. He brought in attacking midfielder Matt Taylor from Portsmouth in January 2008 for £4 million – an excellent deal for a proven Premier League midfielder. To date, Taylor has scored 13 goals from 50 appearances and Megson will be hoping that he can contribute further this year.
Zat Knight’s transfer from Aston Villa this summer looks to be solid, and the experienced Sean Davis will help to bolster Bolton’s midfield. Megson has also moved to add experience to his defence in the form of 30-year-old left-back Paul Robinson, and 27-year-old Hull City full-back Sam Ricketts
Much like Blackburn, Bolton will look to secure a mid-table finish, but if they can continue to progress gradually under Megson as they have done during his tenure, there is no reason why they cannot better their 13th place finish last season, with a European spot a faint possibility.
In: Zat Knight (Aston Villa, £4m), Sam Ricketts (Hull City, undisclosed), Sean Davis (Portsmouth, free), Paul Robinson (West Brom, loan)
Out: Blerim Dzemaili (Torino, undisclosed), James Sinclair (released), Robert Sissons (released), Nathan Woolfe (released)
TSR Writers’ Prediction: 13th
Premier League Preview 6: Burnley
Burnley produced sufficient evidence last season against Premier League opposition in the Carling Cup that they won’t be the whipping boys of the league.
They were the surprise package of the Championship last season producing a good run towards the end of the campaign to seal a play-off spot. Owen Coyle’s side overcame Reading in the semi-finals and defeated Sheffield United 1-0 in the final to secure top-flight football for the first time in 33 years.
The twice top-flight champions will undoubtedly be en route to a relegation battle. Owen Coyle has proven he is dedicated to the cause after he turned down his dream role as manager of Celtic. Coyle obviously wants to continue this extraordinary journey he has taken Burnley on, with Premier League survival the ultimate goal.
Coyle sets out his team to play fast, high tempo football, putting the opposition under immense pressure. This tactic proved successful in Burnley’s League Cup run which saw them eventually lose to Tottenham but dispose of Fulham, Chelsea and Arsenal. They certainly have the ability, but do they have the consistency to survive?
Burnley were one of the Championship’s top scoring teams with Martin Paterson bagging 22 goals in the campaign. He will have to make the step up to the Premiership, but he will be helped by his compatriot Steven Fletcher who brings a big reputation from the SPL. The 22-year-old scored 43 times in 156 appearances for Hibs.
Tyrone Mears returns after a year abroad in France. He will be looking to impress after a mixed year with Marseille. Former Newcastle United defender David Edgar will certainly be looking to forget the misery of last season and has the chance to be part of something special at Turf Moor.
Burnley will be favourites for the drop come the start of the season. However they could be the surprise package of the league, much like Hull City were in the first half of 2008-09. If Coyle can maintain the team ethic he has instilled in his players then they have a fighting chance of survival.
In: Tyrone Mears (Derby, £500,000), Steven Fletcher (Hibs, £3m), David Edgar (Newcastle, undisclosed), Richard Eckersely (Manchester Utd, undisclosed), Brian Easton (Hamilton, £350,000)
Out: Alan Mahon (Tranmere, free), Steve Jones (Walsall, free)
TSR Writers’ Prediction: 20th