Koeman was full of praise for Blackburn’s players at the pre-match press conference Wednesday. One of them is keeper Brad Friedel, who the Feyenoord coach was highly impressed with when Blackburn beat Basel 3-0 at Ewood Park early in the month. ‘It could have easily been 0-2 for Basel at the break and Blackburn would have had nothing to complain about. Friedel prevented that with a fine display and the English eventually won by a wide margin.’
That match said a lot about the unpredictability of Rovers at the moment. ‘There are similarities with my team,’ says Koeman, who finds it hard to say what he expects from Mark Hughes’ team. ‘You usually get the room to play from English teams. But they were very defensive as well against Basel. What’s more, a draw is enough for them; that’s another factor.’
Koeman will have Jonathan de Guzman and Danny Buijs available for selection again Thursday. De Guzman is expected to start on the bench with Buijs and Greene and Hofs populating the midfield. ‘Jonathan hasn’t played for three weeks and he’s lacking match fitness. Also, there’s another game on the fixture list this Sunday that I don’t have Buijs for. I’ll have to decide what the wise option is,’ says Koeman.
Blackburn Rovers qualified for the Uefa Cup last term after a fantastic sixth-place Premiership finish. The club is the only one outside of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea to win the Premiership in the fourteen full seasons of the competition, taking the title in the 94-95 season, but the financial gulf between Rovers and those three clubs plus perennial underachievers Liverpool and Spurs is vast. That has been shown this season as Blackburn languish sixth bottom with just 13 points from as many games.
The side actually experienced a shocking start, picking up no more than a point in the opening three matches. Manager Mark Hughes had been hit by injuries, missing the enthusiastic Welshman Robbie Savage for weeks, while former Feyenoorder and honorary Rotterdammers Brett Emerton has be ruled out of three of the last five in the league. Elsewhere, new striking duo Benni McCarthy and Shabani Nonda have failed to set Blackburn alight either, notching just five in the league between them, although McCarthy has three in the Uefa Cup.
The competition has served as a bit of a safe haven for the team all told. The first Group E match in Krakow saw Rovers bear Wisla 2-1, followed by that 3-0 victory against FC Basel, which leaves them on the cusp of qualification for the knockout stages.
UEFA CUP GROUP E
Thursday 23 November, 20:45 at De Kuip
Feyenoord: Timmer; Tiendalli, Lucius, Bahia, Drenthe; Buijs, Greene, Hofs; Kolkka, Charisteas, Huysegems
Blackburn Rovers: Friedel; Emerton, Henchoz, Ooijer, Gray; Savage, Tugay, Pederson, Bentley; Nonda, McCarthy