Anfield examination of Rovers' imagination

Mark Burton looks ahead to the weekend's action in the Premiership
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The Independent Online
As if it was not trying enough, given past performances, for Blackburn to have to expose themselves to a club rich in European experience in midweek, they find themselves facing another one today.

They travel to Anfield to take on a Liverpool side who, though extensively reshaped in recent seasons around relatively raw recruits, will run out in front of the Kop confident that they have, apparently, inherited at least some of the Continental cunning the club has accumulated over the years. They did, after all, win away on Tuesday against a Spartak Vladikavkaz side who are rated more highly at home in Russia at the moment than their Muscovite namesakes who proved too good for Blackburn the following night.

Kenny Dalglish, with all his old Liverpool know-how, may still need to persuade Rovers to dispense with the old-fashioned sort of European guide that offers no better advice than to pack toilet paper and not to drink the water, but he did apply the method to master the domestic game.

They were blighted last season by accusations that, though effective, they were boring. If today's match seems like more of the same for Rovers, their critics will merely expect more of the same from Ray Harford's men. Predictable is closer to the mark to describe them, and certainly the stuttering start Blackburn have made to their title defence seems to suggest that everyone was waiting for them this time.

The next step facing Dalglish, their director of football, and manager Harford, is evolution. Injuries have restricted their options, but introducing Mike Newell for Chris Sutton hardly smacks of the tactical adaptability they will need to put the train back on the rails, at least while Jason Wilcox is not fit and Stuart Ripley, their regular route to goal, is off form. Perhaps the arrival of Derek Fazackerly as first-team coach will alter all that.

Evolution is also on the agenda for another Anfield old boy, but early evidence indicates that Kevin Keegan, having flourished the chequebook while Blackburn kept theirs all but locked away, is making a better job of it at Newcastle. His, and the team's, resolve faces the first test of the season as the League leaders attempt a swift recovery from their set-back at Southampton last Saturday. On the face of it Manchester City are tailor-made visitors to St James's.

However bold the public face being put on City's sorry start, the competition must be developing in and around Maine Road between those favouring resolution and those seeking yet another revolution. City are stuck at the bottom of the table with only the point they picked up on the opening day by drawing at home with Tottenham, who are supposed to be in crisis themselves.

It is all a matter of degree, and in Tottenham's case their position could be worsened by Degryse, Marc of that ilk. The Belgian playmaker could prove to be the crucial factor in Sheffield Wednesday's attempt to give their manager, David Pleat, a satisfying victory at Hillsborough over the club he once managed. At least, in the same week that Terry Venables came off the White Hart Lane persona non grata list, Spurs have finally managed to get the defender-cum-midfielder Sol Campbell off their once lengthy injury list.

If the nature of "crisis" needed to be put further into perspective, it could not be done better than at Highbury. Unbeaten Arsenal's version centres on the failure of pounds 7m-plus Dennis Bergkamp to score. Their visitors, West Ham, like City, are still seeking their first victory of the season.

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