Date:Monday August 6 2007
The 2007-2008 Season kicks off at 3pm on Saturday (11th August 2007) with Rovers travelling to Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium for the opening Premiership fixture. But what does the coming season have in store for Blackburn Rovers?
One thing Rovers Manager Mark Hughes, Chairman John Williams (and other members of the board), not to mention the fans will certainly demand ONCE again will be the continued improvement (even though in terms of League position last season we did slip back a touch on 2005-2006) made under Hughes` guidance so far. As with the 2006-2007 season this time (as well as the Premiership) Rovers have the added competition of the UEFA Cup (provided they come through the Second Qualifying Round against MyPa, as they should!!!) to add to the FA and League Cup competitions, which they will hope to challenge in on ALL fronts not just a couple (as they did last term.)
The Semi Final of the FA Cup, could and probably should not have been the end of the road for Rovers last season, but losing to the eventual winners Chelsea means Rovers can claim ONLY this side stood between them and possibly glory?!?! The FA Cup has been good to Rovers in the last few seasons and another good run would be the expectation again, especially with Hughes having such a pedigree in this tournament.
On the face of it last season League Cup campaign was slightly disappointing but again when you view it from the perspective that ONLY the eventual winners (again Chelsea) beat Rovers, maybe League Cup success could have been there as well, but for a little more fortune on the night we were eliminated. Losing to Chelsea was no disgrace though, however, we would hope for better this time round as the League Cup has also proved pretty successful this decade thus far for Rovers, with it of course won under it's Worthington Cup guise in 2002.
Rovers' most successful season in Europe EVER was achieved last season as the last 32 were made, and but for better finishing, and even a little more luck Bayer Leverkusen would not have proved the end of the line last term? However, with players returning from injury, a few new arrivals and players MUCH better equipped this time round this would be the MINIMUM aim again, although this is still my personal tip for success this season!!!
People said that the sixth place finish in the 2005-2006 season saw Rovers punching WELL above their weight, and from the point of view that we finished tenth last season (arguably luckily scraping into the Intertoto Cup due to Reading and Portsmouth's reluctance to take part) we did, but we were still a better side than our 10th place finish suggested, but as they say the table doesn't lie, and over 38 games it doesn't, but it was still a little misleading!!! Injuries played a MAJOR part in Rovers' season last term, and but for these we probably would have finished in the top seven at least, as it was we were still not a long way away from this, so a position closer to the top six this term WOULD be the aim.
Going into the season (unless any new players arrive between now and Saturday, which is unlikely) only Goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen, and strikers Maceo Rigters and Roque Santa Cruz have arrived, but players like Andre Ooijer, Robbie Savage and Steven Reid (who missed virtually the whole of last season) will return, so will be like new signings. However, and MOST IMPORTANTLY people like David Bentley, Morten Gamst Pedersen and Benni McCarthy HAVE stayed, which is probably better than any signings could be!!!
Many other clubs have spent money this summer, with almost all of them bringing in great talent so the battle for the UEFA Cup places will be even tougher than ever, but the ADVANTAGE Rovers have over most of these sides is they HAVE been in and around these places for the last couple of seasons AND have a very settled squad of players that know each other inside out, and have gelled into a well oiled unit that SHOULD be even stronger this season, which gives them the slight advantage for a top six finish. If Rovers REALLY fire like they can, and start the season well (instead of the usual couple of months napping before they kick on!!!) then although outsiders scoff at such a suggestion then a Champions League finish IS NOT out of reach. The Intertoto Cup fixtures meant that our competitive season really started before everyone else's, so in theory we should be running sooner than others. People may think Rovers will tire, but they are ALWAYS strong at the end of the season, and this season will be no different as under Sparky fitness levels are remarkably high.
Brad Friedel is STILL one of the very best in the business, and with a back four led by Ryan Nelsen (which is looking strong anyway) a midfield that is full of goals and creates MORE than enough for others and FIVE top-class strikers who could EASILY chip in with ten goals (MINIMUM!!!) apiece, with some probably closer to twenty we are well set up for the new season.
So in summary ANYTHING less than a top ten finish will be an absolute failure for the club and WILL almost certainly see the star names leave (possibly depending on how the Cup competitions go?!?!) This will be the minimum aim but the top six STILL has to be the target, and something that I think personally will be achieved. Quarter Final places should be the MINIMUM aims in the FA and League Cup's with the last 32 the MINIMUIM aim for the UEFA Cup, again something that will be achieved and more!!!
The time for talking a good game is almost finished, it is nearly time for the football on the pitch do the talking now.
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Date:Monday August 6 2007
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