Early tables hold a myriad of distortions, but the Premier League are disguising Blackburn Rovers' form as effectively as combat camouflage. This morning Mark Hughes' side lie in the bottom half, which is unflattering given the current upbeat mood at Ewood Park.
Blackburn face Manchester City this afternoon with an unbeaten record that comprisesfive wins and two draws, and they owe their unprepossessing position to the fact they have played two games fewer than most of their rivals. But Hughes points out that even that circumstantial evidence tells less than the full truth.
Only one Premier League match has been at home, they have won away and their two draws have been against teams who finished in the top six last season. "I'm sure we'll be in the mix this season," the manager said, almost purring.
This is in keeping with his statements this summer, which have shown a marked increase in bullishness. Where he spoke of survival on his arrival at Ewood Park less than three years ago, then potential, Hughes is now talking of something more.
"There are some good sides in this competition and more will arrive when they drop from the Champions' League," he said about Blackburn's Uefa Cup prospects. "But we are a top Premiership team so we shouldn't be fazed by anyone."
Certainly there will not be an inferiority complex this afternoon as they face a Manchester City side who have confoundedthe usual creed of stability and patience by throwing together a polyglot of players and were leading the League until Arsenalscored the first goal of the season against them last Saturday. Sven Goran Eriksson appears to have performed a minor miracleamid the pre-season chaos at Eastlands, but Hughes has also been finding wine where others have perceived water.
Where Eriksson has thrown Thaksin Shinawatra's money at the eternal City problem of trying to compete with neighbours United, Hughes did what he has always done and made the most of his limited circumstances. The result was the£3.5 million purchase of Roque Santa Cruz from BayernMunich, which, given theinflated market for strikers, is already beginning to look the Premier League's best piece of business this summer.
The Paraguayan rose like a latter-day Alan Shearer when he scored with his first touch in the win over Middlesbrough and his record stands at three goals in 300 minutes of football. Against Everton last Saturday there were signs, too, thathis partnership with Benni McCarthy – another cut-price striker at £2m who got 24 goals last season – could become one of England's most productive. "They caused problems," wasa matter of understatementfrom Hughes.
Given that Rovers also possess two flank men in Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Bentley who are arguably the best wing combination outside Old Trafford, Blackburn will be confident of flaking some of the lustre off Eriksson, who isalready a controversial figure among Rovers supporters after he made a U-turn a decade ago about becoming Blackburn's manager, preferring Lazio.
"I must say that in the early weeks of the campaign I have seen more than enough to suggest that there are many reasons for optimism," Hughes said. "But the results are only part of it – I have been particularly delightedby our performance levels."
Hughes, too, could have been in the opposite dug-out today if the rumours leaking out of the City of Manchester Stadium in the summer are to be believed, but you suspect the Blackburn manager is happy with his lot. He will be even happier this evening if Blackburn are closer to their true position.
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