When energetic defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones’ brief loan spell at Blackburn Rovers came to an end last summer, much-maligned manager Steve Kean was left to fill a gaping hole in the middle of the park. Tough-tackling Jones had become an integral part of Rovers’ spirited side as they battled to secure Premier League safety, but the Lancashire outfit were unable to make the United States international’s move permanent. Kean eventually found a much-needed replacement in the form of the younger Serbian player Radosav Petrovic. However, six months after his arrival, some supporters are still not convinced that the 22-year-old has what it takes to succeed in the tough scene of English football.
As was the case with dynamic Jones, it has taken former Partizan star Petrovic some time to adapt to the Premier League. His earliest performances in a Rovers shirt were below average. In fact, when Petrovic was handed his first opportunity to play at Ewood Park in the top-flight against Everton back in August, he failed to impress during an hour-long appearance. The one-time Tottenham Hotspur target completed just eight of his 14 passes that day, while stopping an opposition attack just four times.
It was a similar story in the games against Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers, Petrovic’s first full games for Rovers. Over the course of 180 minutes, the 6ft4 holding player completed just 69% of his passes. Rovers were hammered 4-0 by City and while they drew at QPR, Petrovic was outshined by midfield partner Steven Nzonzi, who made 10 successful tackles compared to the Serb’s three.
But the lanky ball-winner has shown some encouraging signs of improvement recently. His passing has become sharper, more adventurous and most importantly, quite accurate. At Goodison Park, Petrovic completed 87% of his attempted passes, including some glorious long-range balls out wide. While Nzonzi stroked the ball around more crisply and more often in that game, the effect of Petrovic’s improved passing should not be underestimated. Having two holding players getting the basics right allows Rovers to keep possession better and increases their chances of gaining a positive result.
Petrovic’s level of performance has risen in recent weeks, but he can still get better. While he is beginning to make more interceptions, the man who reportedly cost Rovers around £3m could still become more involved in games by attempting more tackles. And for a tall player, he has not been hugely convincing in aerial duels. But given that the Serb has been showing signs of improvement, does Kean still need to sign another ball-winner to provide a presence in midfield, as the fans have suggested?
This depends on the funds Rovers have available. If money is tight, then a competent full-back should be the priority. And if there is any cash available after that, then another back-up midfielder could be an option. But one thing is for sure, Petrovic is getting better week by week and as things stand, he is in the team on merit. Like Jones, it may have taken the 22-year-old time to adapt to the Premier League, but like Jones, the former Partizan star looks a decent prospect as he begins to settle. Only time will tell whether Petrovic, like Jones, can play a key role in saving Rovers from the drop.
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