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How Ben Brereton Diaz brings Blackburn Rovers so much more than goals
When you have a goalscorer, you have a chance, but in Ben Brereton, Rovers have so much more.
Indeed, so used have we become to not only his brilliance infront of goal, but the huge shift he puts in off the ball, that at times it can be taken for granted.
But you just had to marvel at Brereton’s contribution as he inspired Rovers to a fourth successive home win as they finally broke their win-lose sequence.
His 32nd minute goal, one out of nowhere as he arched round to whip his left foot around a shot from the right edge of the box that arrowed into the top corner, leaving goalkeeper Anthony Patterson with no chance, will take the headlines.
That was Rovers’ first shot on target of the game, and they would also find the net with their second, Scott Wharton getting a faint touch to Ryan Hedges’ free kick early in the second half to double their lead.
Rovers’ winning blend is a perfect mix of clinical finishing at one end, and resolute defending at the other.
It wasn’t quite a storm they weathered soon after going 2-0 up, but the momentum was certainly with the visitors, attacking the end that housed their 3,500 travelling supporters.
Once again Rovers relied on a key save from goalkeeper Thomas Kaminski and were aided by another impressive display captain-for-the-night Dom Hyam, to collect a sixth shut-out of the season.
Yet just as key to that defensive effort was the work of Brereton.
In the summer, Rovers lost two players, Joe Rothwell and Reda Khadra, who were able to carry the ball up the pitch. But Rovers’ No.22 showed he is just as capable of doing that with a host of lung-bursting breaks.
Sunderland couldn’t stop him. Even their fresh legs off the bench were no match for the running power of Brereton whose turned defence into attack within an instant.
Keeping the ball under such close control when running at speed is such an under-rated skill, and in the context of the game, it alleviated any hopes Sunderland had of finding a way back.
While there was a disappointment that Rovers couldn’t make more of those transition moments to put the game beyond doubt, it was a match-winning moment.
The watching scouts, and suitors, will want to see him tidy up on certain moments, when to release the ball, his judgement of offside and maintaining composure when running with the ball at full speed, to make it at the very top level, but he’s an undeniably huge asset for this team.
He is now up to eight goals for the season, the joint-most in the division, despite his expected goals tally sitting at 4.9.
Rovers have an impression shot to goal ratio, with 20 goals from 52 shots on target, giving them a conversion rate of 37.7 per cent. Brereton’s individual stat is 11.6 per cent, numbers not lost on former manager Tony Mowbray.
“If you look at the data at Blackburn, they’re not having many shots at goal, but just about every one is going on, and a lot of that is down to Brereton Diaz in my mind.”
Brereton’s highlight reel goal took the headlines, but his overall workrate summed up Rovers’ team display.
While in the end it turned out to be another routine home win, breaking free from the win-lose sequence that has dogged their progress in recent times was a big step in the right direction and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Nor too should Brereton’s contribution, once again fielding questions from Sky Sports about his future when receiving his man of the match award.
Given the lucrative nature of the Premier League, Rovers’ decision to stick to their valuation and turn down offers from top-flight sides could, in other circumstances, have lasting consequences.
Yet from the moment he reported for pre-season training, there have been no concerns over his professionalism, approach or performances, and everyone at the club is reaping the benefits.
For Mowbray, he was on the receiving end of a display from a player who he, and Rovers, invested so much in, and not just financially.
“He’s a fantastic human being and a great lad, I spent 10 minutes with him chatting to him,” Mowbray said.
“Whatever happens in his career, he’ll earn it and deserve it for the human qualities he brings, the hard work, the work ethic to improve and get better, the growth mindset.
“He took a lot of confidence from going away and playing international football, but we can all see his improvement.
“You look at him in the 85th minute and he’s still sprinting 70 yards and he’s got every attribute that any top striker can have, works hard, scoring goals, so much better than he was three years when he was a boy and arrived.
“His use of his body now, he can take the knocks and he’s a good player. What else do you want from a striker?”
There is of course the uncertainty of his long-term future, and it is unquestioned how much Brereton brings to this Rovers side.
Yet it doesn’t feel, as it did in 2020/21 with Adam Armstrong, that this side is quite built to bring out the best in one player. Armstrong scored 28 goals, yet elsewhere the balance didn’t feel right.
Brereton contributes so much and his skill-set as a wide forward are unrivalled in the division, but he is a huge part of this team, rather than the sole focus of it.
The three-man midfield, rather than a two and a false nine, seems to balance the side better elsewhere, and Jon Dahl Tomasson was again justified in what appeared initially to be a head-scratcher, with Callum Brittain and Ryan Hedges playing on the opposite side to their strongest foot.
That was done to deal with Sunderland’s wide threats, who too play on the opposite flanks, and while it limited Rovers’ attacking intent at times, their defensive work was strong.
How long Brereton can keep up his intense workrate for, remains to be seen.
He hasn’t had an extended break ever since he started his international commitments with Chile, and him getting injured after 15 consecutive starts to start the 2020/21 season and then again in February of this year, show how he isn’t super-human.
Not that you will find him asking for any time off, with Tomasson stating his youthful exuberance for the game shines through every day.
“He works hard for the team, and when you see him coming in every day, he’s like a young boy, five or six years old, he wants the ball, wants to play outside, that love for the game is brilliant to see,” said Tomasson.
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