Preview: Blackburn Rovers

Coventry City got exactly what they needed on Saturday, in beating Queens Park Rangers to set up a game against 6th-placed Blackburn Rovers where, if they win, they will move into the play-off positions. In a incredibly congested battle for those top six positions where the picture seems to change drastically each week, to be presented with an opportunity with such a clear outcome is something the Sky Blues can’t really afford to let pass them by.

While failing to win this game would not mean that the season is over for Coventry City, this is the chance to turn play-off hopes into something tangible that can be held onto. It would dramatically change what this season would be about for the Sky Blues. Opportunities like this don’t come often, it is up to this team to take it.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-5-2): Wilson; McNally, McFadzean, Doyle; Norton-Cuffy, Eccles, Sheaf, Hamer, Bidwell; Godden, Gyokeres.

After looking to have settled on his preferred starting line-up for the rest of the campaign, Mark Robins threw something of a curveball at the weekend in making one change – Jake Bidwell in for Josh Wilson-Esbrand at left wing-back. The manager probably did so in search of additional defensive security in a pressure game, and with the pressure increasing for this match, it is a change that is likely to stay in place.

Elsewhere, there is now hope that Jamie Allen will be able to be involved with the first-team at some point between now and the end of the season. Given that the midfielder suffered a set-back immediately after his last return to the starting XI, it would be surprising to see him go from not making the squad at the weekend to breaking up a winning team for this game, but he will provide Mark Robins with a potentially all-important option to change things up at some point down the final stretch.

Otherwise, it is hard to see any reason to change the team right now.

Last Time We Met

With Coventry City having passed up a few good opportunities in the matches before their last clash with Blackburn Rovers to move out of the relegation zone after a poor start to the season, confidence looked to have taken a dip. Without Kyle McFadzean to call upon in central defence, the Sky Blues took on a high-flying Blackburn side who looked very dangerous going forward, especially with balls played over the top to Ben Brereton Diaz.

However, Blackburn Rovers were every bit as open at the back as the were threatening moving forward, with Coventry City eventually taking advantage of that when Jamie Allen tapped home a Josh Eccles cross to give the home side an all-important lead just before the break. Following that, Blackburn had very little response, even against a McFadzean-less Sky Blues defence and the home team held on for an important win at the CBS Arena to finally get out of the bottom three.

The Opposition

The Manager – Jon Dahl Tomasson

The Dane walked into what was potentially quite a difficult job at Ewood Park over the summer after the departure of Tony Mowbray and a number of key players at either the end of loans or on free transfers but has kept quite a young Blackburn Rovers team in the top six places for almost the entirety of the campaign. Playing an attractive brand of possession football, Blackburn can be scintillating when at their very best but have occasionally been undermined by a brittleness at the back and a bad habit of struggling to salvage games from losing positions.

Having looked well on course to make the top six regardless of those flaws, a recent run of four games without a win seems to have sent the jitters into the stands at Ewood Park. While Blackburn Rovers have been genuinely unlucky over quite a few of those recent games not to have won, and comfortably so, they have picked a bad time of the season not to get the rub of the green. However, a win in this game would go a long way to calming things down and allowing Blackburn to ease into a play-off berth.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-3-3): Pears; Rankin-Costello, Hyam, Carter, Pickering; Adam Wharton, Morton, Travis; Brereton Diaz, Dolan, Gallagher.

Ben Brereton Diaz remains the headline name for this Blackburn Rovers team, after a breakout year last season after discovering that he actually an exciting South American forward and not a middling Championship striker from Stoke-on-Trent, while he hasn’t been quite as sensational this season, Brereton Diaz’s unique combination of searing pace and physical edge makes him a terrifying sight for any second-tier defender. Looking set to leave the club on a free transfer this summer, Brereton Diaz is at his best in a wide-forward position, where he can exploit the space between centre-back and full-back – or, in Coventry City’s case, behind the wide centre-backs.

Blackburn Rovers also have another big striker who can play out wide, in Sam Gallagher. While he more of a traditional target-man in his style of play, it is supremely awkward to deal with big players in wide areas when they can be harnessed correctly. There are two reasons why Blackburn can do so, the first is by deploying a ‘false nine’ in Tyrhys Dolan, who will drop deep from a central striking position to receive the ball, before turning and twisting opposing defenders to open up space for Gallagher and Brereton Diaz to run into. The other reason is that Blackburn have two very good attacking full-backs, in Joe Rankin-Costello and Harry Pickering, who boast excellent delivery to pick out those big men in the box.

In central midfield, Blackburn Rovers have some very good ball-players, with Tyler Morton, on loan from Liverpool, looking to conduct things from the centre, to allow the more energetic Lewis Travis and Sammie Szmodics to push on towards the opposing penalty area. In addition, Adam Wharton provides another option in the middle of the pitch for Blackburn who is supremely confident, maybe even standout, in taking care of the ball and helping create some of those dangerous overlaps in wide areas.

At the back, Dominic ‘pitch money’ Hyam has had a very solid season upon arriving at Ewood Park in what has been a defensive line that has had its ups and downs as it has looked to balance out the team’s attack-minded style. In addition, academy graduate, Hayden Carter, has started to make the other centre-back position in the team his own after being on the verge for the past few seasons. In goal, Aynsley Pears is keeping out Belgian international, Thomas Kaminski, with some good shot-stopping performances in recent months.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

With Blackburn Rovers likely to play an open and attack-minded game, that will allow Coventry City the platform to play in the quick, counter-attacking manner that they are best at – with the latest evidence coming from all three of the goals scored against Queens Park Rangers at the weekend. It sets up an interesting clash between two teams who will allow the other to play the game they want in order to play the game that they themselves want.

The Queens Park Rangers game was especially promising for Coventry City’s hopes of devastating Blackburn Rovers on the counter-attack as it demonstrated that Gustavo Hamer can make up the ground between midfield and attack that has often been missing in the absence of Callum O’Hare, Kasey Palmer and Jamie Allen. Hamer looked to have been tasked with joining the attack as soon as the team moved into transition, playing closer to an auxiliary forward at times, rather than the deep, conducting midfield role that he is often best at. With Ben Sheaf able to play those passes to get the team forward quickly, getting Hamer and Viktor Gyokeres in good areas against Blackburn’s defence quickly will remain the priority in this game.

The concern about Blackburn Rovers’ threat is twofold, the first is how Coventry City look to slow down their possession play, especially when playing Matt Godden in attack can leave the team short of a man in midfield. If the Sky Blues don’tt, Blackburn’s full-backs will be able to get into advanced areas in order to play crosses for Ben Brereton Diaz and Sam Gallagher to attack. Coventry City’s 5-3-2 defensive shape could provide a lot of space for Joe Rankin-Costello and Harry Pickering to get into crossing areas, and they are players who could really punish teams who allow them time to pick out their final ball. Another concern is Kyle McFadzean potentially being dragged out of position by Blackburn’s mobile and skilful false nine, Tyrhys Dolan.

This really is a game where both teams feel that both their biggest strengths and weaknesses will be put under the spotlight.

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