Spurs v Blackburn: Rovers rookie Jones getting his Phil of attention
Premier League preview Tottenham v Blackburn Rovers Saturday November 13, 3pm
BLACKBURN have struggled to hold onto their better players in recent years. As soon as the likes of Damien Duff, Stephen Warnock, Brad Friedel and Roque Santa Cruz make a splash in Lancashire, they are quickly poached.
Now the scouts are back at Ewood Park, casting their eye over an 18-year-old who was initially dubbed ‘the new John Terry’, and is quickly making a name for himself.
If this week’s reports are to be believed, Phil Jones could find himself lining up alongside Terry before too long, with Chelsea rumoured to be leading the chase for the youngster’s signature.
Jones first appeared in three cup ties last season before getting his league debut in March, when Rovers had virtually assured their Premier League status for another season.
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A centre-back by trade, Jones played the full 90 minutes as Carlo Ancelotti’s Blues were held to a 1-1 at Ewood Park on March 21, and since then he has played in every Blackburn match.
The 6ft defender won his first England Under-21 cap in August and has been ever-present in Sam Allardyce’s side this season, in his new role as a midfield anchorman.
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A strong tackler who is good in the air, Jones has added even more steel to Blackburn’s spine as he patrols in front of the notoriously dominant centre-back pairing of Chris Samba and Ryan Nelsen.
However, Jones has other strings to his bow, and his driving runs from the centre of the pitch have earned him further comparisons with another England international – Steven Gerrard.
With attractive suitors lining up for his signature, it seems only a matter of time until lowly, unglamorous Blackburn are forced to sell their rough diamond – a young spring chicken who is adding even more meat to an already robust Rovers outfit.
However, a take-over looks to be imminent as the Venky’s group – who specialise in poultry farming and pharmaceuticals – close in on a deal.
Rovers are on the verge of becoming the first Indian-owned Premier League club, and the take-over is expected to be completed this month.
That could certainly help Allardyce hold onto Jones, and give the former Bolton and Newcastle boss room to manouvre in the January transfer window. That would certainly be welcome because the Rovers manager had precious little to spend in the summer.
Benjani arrived from Manchester City on a free transfer and Mame Biram Diouf has been loaned from Manchester United. The new arrivals are now regulars for Rovers, but otherwise the visitors will have a familar look this weekend.
Blackburn are likely to line up 4-5-1, with Jones, Morten Gamst Pedersen and Brett Emerton in the centre of midfield, and the two Dioufs – Mame Biram and the perennially objectionable El Hadji – on the flanks.
Former Spurs goalkeeper Paul Robinson returns to the Lane, as does Pascal Chimbonda, who is being kept out of the team by full-backs Gael Givet and 35-year-old Michel Salgado.
JournalSport verdict: Despite his recent press, Gareth Bale hasn’t had it all his own way in the league.
Phil Neville, Rafael Da Silva and Gretar Steinsson have all kept him fairly quiet in recent games, while Sunderland’s Nedum Onuoha also did a decent job on Tuesday night.
That said, Allardyce will be desperate to avoid leaving Salgado exposed one on one against the Welshman, because his ex-Real Madrid veteran endured a torrid time on his last visit to N17, when his ageing legs and lack of pace were brutally exposed by Bale in a 3-1 Tottenham win.
This is certainly a battle where the players are massively mismatched – the tortoise against the hare. On paper, the stage is set for another thrilling Bale masterclass, but everyone said the same before Everton, Man United, Bolton and Sunderland.
The hare famously didn’t beat the tortoise in that well-known tale, and Allardyce is sure to have a plan to ensure that Bale doesn’t get into his stride this weekend.
Prediction: Spurs 2 Blackburn 1