Bolton Preview

Blackpool head to the Reebok  stadium for the first time, looking to match a Bolton side who are impressing people across the land with their performances over the past few weeks. Most are acknowledging that they aren’t the side of Allardyce or Megson any more and Owen Coyle has them passing the ball around in a more attractive, and on recent results, effective fashion.

Ian Holloway has a couple of choices to make from a selection point of view, namely who will play as the central striker and who will play at the head of the midfield triangle in the 4-2-1-3 or the 4-2-3-1, if the two wide forwards pull back a little. It’s likely that DJ Campbell will play in the central striker role and Elliot Grandin will return in midfield, although Gary Taylor-Fletcher may be an option for a deeper role than he normally plays.

Bolton are likely to come out in a 4-4-2 and will work hard to press Blackpool to put them under pressure. Muamba may have to drop to cover the movement of Grandin.

Bolton appear to line up in a 4-4-2, the full backs don’t push too far forward and Fabrice Muamba will hold a slightly deeper position than his midfield partner Stuart Holden, who will look to break forward to support the attack. On the wings, both Matthew Taylor and Chung-Yong Lee will push forward and will cross early and from deep for the target men in the forward line. Both forwards will drop deep to receive the ball and when out of possession will also drop back to add numbers to midfield to assist in breaking up the opposition play.

As with Wolves last week, this site discussed the theoretical issues of a 4-4-2 coming up against a 4-2-3-1 and again that could pose a problem for Bolton. Last week Wolves took steps to move away from that by setting out in a 4-5-1, however, there’s no precedent to suggest that Coyle will make a shift in formation and that may well play in to Ian Holloway’s hands. Coyle employs a style within his 4-4-2 that will help to level out the formation disadvantage. What is this style?

First of all, he may well have his side passing the ball with panache and style, but he is still fond of having his keeper and defenders skipping out midfield with long balls which will help them counter Blackpool’s potential midfield dominance given that Bolton will be outnumbered in that department by three to two. See the chalkboards below and how Jussi Jääskeläinen made just 3 of his 37 passes short, the rest sent long. On the other hand Richard Kingson went short on 19 of his 51 passes last week against Wolves.

Jussi Jääskeläinen hitting 8% of his passes short so Bolton still go long from the 'keeper, compared to Blackpool's Richard Kingson who plays out short from the back 38% of the time.

Also, out of possession Bolton will work hard to close down the Blackpool team and close out any space, every player has a remit to press the opposition and will not allow Blackpool any time to ponder on the ball. Blackpool will need to find their passing rhythm early and in tight spaces or face a tough battle to assert dominance in midfield. However, should they do this then the midfield two of Holden and Muamba might be easily bypassed leaving Grandin in plenty of space to operate. Given this, then Coyle may ask Muamba to drop deeper than normal to cover that space. However, this again is fraught with problems as it may leave either Adam or Vaughan with plenty of space to operate. Thus igniting the issue of playing 4-4-2 against 4-2-3-1. Coyle will surely start to rely more on the long ball this Saturday to bypass Blackpool’s midfield and Blackpool will face a similar challenge to that which they faced against Newcastle earlier in the season.

Bolton will hope to win the battle of the tackle as they did against Newcastle and Wolves in their last two games, in particular they are hard to dominate aerially (Zat Knight and Gary Cahill are very dominant in the air at the back) and Blackpool will be happy to concede defeat the air, if they pick up on the second balls and use them to construct thoughtful and patient attacks as they did up at Newcastle. Also, look at the following chalkboards and notice that Bolton (against Newcastle) made 21 interceptions and conceded 17 free-kicks in and around the midfield area, this will disrupt even the most fluent of passing teams and allow Bolton to assert themselves on the game. This doesn’t suggest for one minute that Bolton foul tactically in the midfield in order to reset themselves positionally, but the commitment of those fouls in and around such a key area can help to disrupt an attacking team. Bolton will be happy to give away fouls around the half way line and invite the long ball in to the box knowing that they will win most of the headers in that area. Andy Carroll only won half of his headers last week against Bolton’s back line and he is widely noted as being excellent in the air, so DJ Campbell will not be getting his head to too many high balls.

This shows how Bolton broke up Newcastle's midfield flow with 21 interceptions and conceding 17 free kicks.

Kevin Davies is the Bolton talisman and will seek to pull out wide to make passing plays or flick headers for willing runners. More impressive recently, has been the form of Johan Elmander, who since he has a new contract to win somewhere has suddenly found some superb form. He is both a threat in the air and on the ground and will also seek to take players on, beat them and take them out of the game in order to isolate opposing defenders and create numerical advantage. Look at this chalkboard from Newcastle and seek how many times Elmander took on and beat Newcastle players boosting both his team and their supporters.

Elmander taking on and beating Newcastle players, which takes players out of attacks and opens up space for Bolton.

This could be the start of a very tough period of games for Blackpool and points may well be very hard to come by, this will be a very difficult game against one of the form teams in the league and the favourites for this match. However, Blackpool fear no one and will attack. Something from the game at the Reebok will be a fantastic achievement for the Tangerines.

Wolves Preview

Both sides have been praised for their approaches to playing football this season. Blackpool will attack any team and Wolves for that matter too. Both sides like to pass the ball about and try and work the opposition out of position. This game could though, come down to the decisions that Mick McCarthy has to make.

Formations

If as the Bolton game McCarthy sends out his side in a 4-4-2 then this is how they may line up

With exception of Chelsea away Ian Holloway keeps his formation the same, whilst Mick McCarthy has over the past few weeks shown that he will adapt his formation for his opposition. McCarthy last week opted for a 4-4-2 against Bolton and a 4-5-1 against Arsenal in the previous game. Here’s where a critical decision lies, did McCarthy make the call for a five man midfield based on the perceived quality of opposition or did he do it from a counter formation point of view. For example, did he see the fact that Arsenal line up in a 4-2-3-1 and counter that by trying to crowd the midfield. Should Wolves form in to a 4-4-2 then that will be very interesting as either McCarthy doesn’t neccessarily counter the opposition formation or that he genuinely belives his 4-4-2 will overcome Holloway’s modfied 4-3-3. Theoretically, he would be playing in to the hands of Holloway should he go 4-4-2 as that leaves plenty of space for Blackpool to operate in in between the Wolves defence and midfield. This is illustrated below, as Blackpool triangulate their midfield three, with one player at the head (usually Grandin) which leaves Blackpool able to play through the Wolves midfield and for Grandin to float in to space.

The red box shows the space a 4-4-2 formation may well conceded to Blackpool's 4-3-3

The way to counter that would be to drop a central midfielder to cover, a centre back to step up or for pressure from Wolves’ two central midfielders on Adam and Vaughan in order to win the ball high up the pitch and set up attacks. The other way for a 4-4-2 to succeed against a 4-3-3 is the way that both Newcastle and Sunderland worked against Arsenal and Chelsea respectively. They pressed the opposition all over the pitch to deny them any space and the two forwards dropped deep to ensure all eleven men were goal side of the ball.

If McCarthy brings out his 4-5-1 then that will signal his intent to stifle the Blackpool midfield, who if given space have shown they can dominate teams at this level with metronomic and incisive passing. By packing the midfield with more men, McCarthy will hope to crowd out Blackpool and disrupt their rhythm. However, as with the opening 20 minutes against Arsenal the other week, playing a five man midfield requires an understanding of when to break out to support the forward player. Should the midfield remain static then that isolates the front man and ultimately invites pressure back on to them. Where Wolves got it right against Arsenal (given that they had enough chances to win the game) was that Milijas eventually realised he had to break out from midfield to support attacks and Jarvis and Hunt got forward superbly on the wings. See the image below and how that space that Blackpool had may well evaporate should McCarthy go with a 4-5-1.

With a 4-5-1 Wolves could cover the space normally allowed to Blackpool's midfield when they play against a 4-4-2.

This leads on to the final dynamic, what should happen if McCarthy calls for a 4-3-3 approach and match Blackpool, this could easily happen as he has the players at his disposal to do so. That would be fascinating, it might well see the likes of Adam, Vaughan, Henry, Mancienne (if selected) forced deeper to cover the central attacking midfielder leaving the most critical battle in the wide areas. Wolves could enjoy that factor given the form of Matt Jarvis and the precise delivery from Stephen Hunt. Holloway may well ask his full backs to site deeper should this happen and if so Blackpool will have to be very careful not to get dragged too deep as a unit and invite Wolves to attack them. Holloway would look to his own wide men for the same and given the pace of Varney and (if selected as most fans are crying out for) Matty Phillips then Wolves’ full backs may well be under pressure. Given the injuries that McCarthy has to deal with in defence then his full back choices may be the most critical. He’ll be aware of the pace Blackpool have in wide areas and will need good mobility from his full backs to nullify the threat.

The injuries that McCarthy is contending with may well be critical in this battle. His defensive selections should dictate how his defence plays. If he goes for the likes of Steven Mouyokolo as a centre back then his defence may play a normal to deep line to counter the pace and mobility of Blackpool’s forward line. Likewise Holloway may look at that and think that he needs more physicality against a strong defender and opt for Harewood to start. The problem for McCarthy comes back to the 4-4-2 problem. If he wants his defence to play deeper than normal to cover the pace that Blackpool have then that could open up more space between defence and midfield for Blackpool to exploit. In fact given his defensive options then McCarthy’s formation may be dictated from the back. A less mobile defensive back line that sits deeper might see McCarthy go for the 4-5-1 with one midfielder given the remit to drop in to the space and cover.

That was very heavy on theory, looking back at Wolves’ last two games there are a couple of interesting aspects to be aware of. Arsenal appeared to defend resolutely and of course they had an inspirational performance from Lukas Fabianski to thank, but also they defended Wolves’ crosses superbly. Look below and see the amount of unsuccessful crosses that Wolves’ had. Blackpool will need to do they basics well, cut out the inevitable crosses and clear their back line.

Arsenal defended Wolves' crossing very well. Blackpool will need to do the same to avoid being dominated.

Against Bolton, Wolves, who have a reputation for being tough in the tackle, were out fought in that area by a Bolton team perceived to have ‘gone soft’ under the stewardship of Owen Coyle. Look below at how Wolves were second best all over the park. In fact Gary Cahill and Zat Knight were dominant in the air. Cathcart and Evatt will need to look at emulating that for Blackpool to gain an advantage.

Bolton were dominant in the tackle especially in their own half, this is crucial against Wolves in breaking down their play.

So Blackpool will be hoping to win the battle of the tackle and stop the crosses hitting their targets and that may well go a long way to deciding the outcome of this game. Holloway and McCarthy will both enjoy this match up and this is surely what Holloway imagined his work would be like when he got Blackpool promoted. He will hope to counter the decisions that McCarthy makes in order to bring some more Premiership points to Blackpool’s already impressive tally.

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The Perfect Combination?

A review by Zonal Marking of the Manchester derby didn’t do much to heighten the enjoyment of a truly awful spectacle, however, it did inspire this article about Blackpool’s midfield. The review touched on the idea of the ideal combination of a midfield three, both examples on that night were far from ideal and were cited as being behind the drab stalemate. The ideal combinations offered by the article included the breakdown that a team playing three in midfield should have a ball winner, a passer and an attacking creator. Instantly the Championship midfield trio of Southern, Adam and Vaughan sprung to mind, that had everything last season; balance, grit, energy, precision, vision and creativity to name a few characteristics. This season two of that trio are still playing exceptionally, but due to injury the ball winner was unavailable and Elliot Grandin came in to become a part of the midfield. Grandin has many qualities and has excited the Blackpool fans with his performances so far. He of the three though is the one that Holloway tends to sacrifice when he feels changes are needed. Does this mean that Grandin isn’t offering the midfield balance that Holloway is looking for or is his role something else entirely.

Ian Holloway appears to have set roles for each player to perform within his system and this allows him to make changes such as the 10 he made against Villa, without changing the shape or style of the team. Each of the three must have a set role, and as Holloway has openly cited Spain as an influence on how he wants his team to play then maybe he’s looking for Blackpool to have their own Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta or as defined above a ball winner, a passer and an attacking creator. If this is the case how does Blackpool’s midfield measure up against that ideal combination.

Last Saturday the midfield trio lined up against West Ham, in the tackle David Vaughan won all of five of his challenges, Charlie Adam won two and Grandin none. Given that Vaughan tends to sit deeper than the other two and won the most tackles then on the day he was the ball winner.

Looking at the number and accuracy of passes should give an idea of who the passer in the team is. Grandin was only on the pitch till the 59th minute so the passes were only counted till then. Vaughan completed thirty out of thirty four passes, Adam twenty five from thirty one and Grandin sixteen from twenty. Vaughan comes out on top here as the passer and looking back on previous games, he tends to rack up the most passes out of the trio in the games that have been played this season. You can see the differences in Vaughan and Grandin’s pasing below. Vaughan’s passes covering box to box and generally much deeper than Grandin.

Finally, who stood out as the attacking creator? This is the most obvious selection, Adam gets involved in most of the plays that Blackpool have, he is the nearest thing there is to a playmaker in the midfield. There were no goals against West Ham which would have given a better indication of the ‘attacking creator’ based on assists, however, when looking at the goal scoring chances from open play then Adam was involved in five chances, Vaughan five and Grandin one. This backs up the assertion that Adam makes plays, but Vaughan is his equal. Over the season though Adam has created the most goals for the Tangerines and again that should see him fit in as the playmaker and it’s fair to say that Holloway does give him license to try the extra ball that carries a higher risk, such as the diagonal pass with the outside of his left foot that Campbell pounced on to score at St James’. You can see below a couple of passes that Adam has made this season to contribute to goals (Adam is circled in red).

What does this say about Blackpool’s midfield or even Blackpool’s tactics for that matter? Well first and foremost it shows just how important David Vaughan is to the midfield unit. He is a true all rounder and almost the midfield lynch-pin, Adam gets the plaudits and the media glare but Vaughan is equally as important. It shows that if Holloway has an approach to his midfield three similar to that as described above then there is a lack of balance with Vaughan seemingly playing two roles and Grandin none. It could indicate that this season Holloway has moved away from a midfield three and sees his midfield as Vaughan and Adam with Grandin as a forward, a second striker perhaps filling in behind Campbell. The match against Wolves should go some way to understanding where Blackpool’s midfield is right now, should Grandin drop to the bench to replaced by Southern or Sylvestre then perhaps Holloway is aiming for the ideal combination in midfield.

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A Strange Stalemate – West Ham Review

As stalemates go, this was perculiar in the fact that both teams wanted to the win the game and had more chances between them to win the game than any game in the Premier League this season. A stalemate is generally the result of two teams fearful of losing and denying space all over the pitch and not committing too many players in to attack in order to keep their defensive shape. However, a combination of poor composure in front of goal, resolute defending and a lack of patience ensured not one goal was scored (No mention of the onside disallowed goal here).

The line ups

Line up after Dyer was subbed for West Ham. Barrera cropped up on both flanks and Obinna tended to drop deep or roam around from his forward position. Taylor-Fletcher gravitated inside and played in that role once Matty Phillips came on.

Blackpool almost returned to the side that played Everton with Southern dropping to the bench to be replaced by Grandin, setting Blackpool out in their now usual 4-2-1-3 / 4-2-3-1. With the introduction of Phillips, Taylor-Fletcher dropped deeper and more central and Blackpool formed in to a 4-2-4 which has become very common this season. West Ham set up in a rough 4-4-2 with some interchanging of position and one the front two dropping deep at times to form a 5 in midfield. Blackpool’s four band formation usually competes well against a three band system as they can exploit the space between the opposition lines. However, West Ham sat Parker and Noble deep at times to make their system more like 4-2-2-2 which helped to nullify Blackpool. This move from a formation point of view helped to contribute to the stalemate that ensued with the most space being created when attacks broke down and counter attacks were made.

Middle of the field

In midfield West Ham worked hard to deny Charlie Adam space, for the first 20 minutes this appeared to throw him off his game and in fact until his booking in the 27th minute he didn’t really make any positive passes and was generally pushed deeper and deeper by excellent pressure from Mark Noble and Scott Parker. The booking seemed to sharpen his mind and from then on, his range and effectiveness of pass increased with two passes getting in to the opposition box.

Adam's passing up to his yellow card on 28 mins, compared to his passes after that when he appeared to settle in to the game.

Before the game Scott Parker was talked about as West Ham’s key man and he didn’t disappoint, turning in an action packed display. He differs from Adam in that he is a complete midfielder and performs many roles. In  fact Parker, in addition to his 33 successful passes (joint with Noble for the most West Ham completed passes) chipped in with 5 succesful tackles, 2 interceptions and 6 blocks. Mark Noble wasn’t too far behind him with with a superb all round performance as well. With Parker and Noble denying him space, Adam played much deeper than West Ham’s key midfield duo. You can see how much deeper Charlie’s passing was compared to Scott Parker in the chalkboard below.

Note how Adam's passing is from a much deeper position than Parker.
Notice how Parker in the upper heatmap has a great share of his passes in the opposition half.

What was another key factor for West Ham in attempting to control of this game is the fact they were so dominant in the tackle winning 47 and losing only 19. When you break this down even more you can see that aerially West Ham were in complete control winning 18 headers to Blackpool’s 6. This is partly explained by the lack of height in the Blackpool side, but even those taller players in the centre back positions only won 2 of those 6. This gave West Ham an outlet going forward and territorial advantage to construct attacks.

Desperate Defence

This game saw clean sheets for both sides, but neither was down to a highly organised back line, some of the defending was desperate at times with lunges in to the tackle and last ditch blocking of shots. This was demonstrated with the amount of blocks each side had (22 in the entire game). Yes, this game will go down as having the most attempts on goal without a goal, but only 4 shots forced ‘keepers to make saves, something that both teams will take away from this game and seek to improve their composure in front of goal.

While the defences were performing resoltutely both attacks made it easy for them. As mentioned above through lack of composure and poor decision making but also from lack of patience in attack. Yes there were more shots at goals than you can shake a stick at, however, 14 of Blackpool’s shots came from outside the area and West Ham had 8 which accounted for 46% of all attempts on goal. Perhaps this showed a little desperation, trying to get a goal and shooting at all costs rather than retaining possession and finding a better position to shoot from.

Moving on

Overall this was a difficult match to break down given the even spread of play, there were good passing moves and plenty of chances but composure and decision making were lacking at key times. Blackpool will be happiest with the draw and move on to tackling Wolves at Bloomfield Road next week. Ian Holloway will be hoping that if they carve out that many opportunities again added to some renewed composure (such as that seen again Wigan in week one) then Wolves will need to do some scoring of their own to take something from Bloomfield Road next Saturday.

Goalscoring by DJ Campbell

Previously the focus of this blog has turned on Elliot Grandin to ramble about his contribution to Blackpool’s Premier League campaign. This time the focus goes on to DJ Campbell. His goals at the end of last season were vital in the promotion and this season he has scored a further two times in the highest league.

Some of DJ’s key qualities are his movement off the ball to find space, his ability to peel off a defender and ghost to the back post to pick up on loose ball, his pace over the first five yards and the fact the his is genuinely two footed.

The Breakdown

Last season DJ scored 11 times in 18 games at strike ratio of one goal to each 1.6 games. This season that ratio stands at one goal per 4.5 games.

When looking at the basic facts people might question why DJ has failed to score more goals in the Premier League. Let’s try and see what might be behind that. Most of this might be obvious, but it never harms anyone to set down the details behind the stats.

The goals DJ scored in that wonderful spell in the Championship have been roughly plotted on the diagram below to demonstrate the range and position that his goals were scored from.

DJ Campbell's 11 goals mapped out above, showing approx position ball was struck and direction of going in to the goal

What is clear here is that he failed to score a goal from outside the penalty spot. Close range goals are the bread and butter for a goal poacher and DJ’s instincts allow him to hold his position in the box and pick up the pieces that are either fed from his team mates or given to him by defensive mistakes. When breaking his goals down even further you can see 6 of those goals came from a direct assist from a team mate and the other 5 came from picking up on rebounded shots or defensive errors. In the Premier League these ‘scraps’ are few and far between so if you take those out of the equation then he scored 6 in 18 games at a ratio of 3 games per goal. This is more like DJ’s return in the Premier League.

Added to the fact that defences make less mistakes in the Premier League is that space is more limited. Just a very rough view point of his goals last season you can see that around about 7 of those you could say he was unmarked. This is credit to DJ in losing his marker, but it can also be down to poor defending. The fact is that it is rare for you to find space in the box in a Premiership game and being left unmarked is equally as rare. Added to this the quality of ‘keeper is much higher in this league and some of those goals that came from rebounds last season simply will happen less often this year.

Premier Class

This season DJ has had 19 shots and hit the target 6 times, so this is something that he may well look to improve as the season goes on. However, Blackpool as a team need to try and work the ball in to his favourite positions as up to now they’ve struggled to do that. Look at these two chalkboards to see how DJ has struggled in front of goal at times.

These are the two games where DJ Campbell has had the most shots this season and illustrates the difficult job he has.

How does DJ measure up against someone like Didier Drogba? Drogba has had 45 attempts on goal finding the net on 6 occasions which is a conversion rate of 7.5 chances for every goal. DJ needs 9 chances to get each of his goals. Clearly if he gets more chances from his team and/or he creates more for himself then more goals will come.

Keep going

As the season goes on and if DJ stays fit, he will score goals. He has proved that, he will never get bundles of goals at this level, but who does? What he will do is serve the team well and continue at this rate and he could end up with at least 8 goals come May. Find more space and work harder to improve and he may well get to 12 or 13. If he does that then he’ll have worked his way to becoming one of the best strikers in the country and if Blackpool stay up, he will be one of the key reasons for that happening.

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West Ham Preview

Looking at the way that both defences have been broken down so many times this season then it might make for an open game. Both sides will be going out for the win and that approach will make sure that space is easy to come by. The manager who gets his team to exploit that space most effectively will see his team dominate the game.

Formations

Blackpool will likely return to a more familiar first eleven, however, Ian Holloway may consider some of the stand out players from the Villa game such as Ludo Sylvestre. He was efficient with his passing against Villa and adds a little extra dimension when taking set pieces.

West Ham have a slightly asymmetrical feel to it as Piquionne favours the right flank as well as the right winger.

Looking at West Ham’s last game then they lined up in a rough, slightly staggered 4-4-2 or perhaps even a 4-4-1-1. The key difference to this formation appears to be the role that Piquionne plays. He can either play as an out and out forward, or slightly deeper, with a bias towards the right side. This can be seen in the average positions from their last game below. Note the red circle, it highlights the bias towards the right with Dyer underlined in green higher up the pitch than the recognised attacker Piquionne underlined in pink.

The red circle highlights the bias towards the right wing with little balance on the left.

From the way that the two teams will set up then we can see that space in front of the defences is key once again. If Avram Grant selects Boa Morte then that hints at more progression in to attack, as the alternative Radoslav Kovac is likely to sit and contain the play more. Boa Morte may well be assigned to exploit that space and pass balls in to the box. If that proves to be the case then a Blackpool midfielder will need to drop to cover that space. For that reason and given his performance against Villa then Sylvestre may well be asked to carry out this role. As for West Ham, Scott Parker will drop in to that space as Blackpool enjoy breaking from midfield in to there. From a formation point of view, at times against Villa and again towards the end of the Everton game Blackpool’s front three dropped to a one almost and shaped the team in to a 4-2-3-1.

Hammers Heartbeat

Most people will know that Scott Parker is the West Ham heartbeat, you can see here that his passing is efficient and he holds together West Ham’s midfield and helps to set an attacking tempo. Added to that he isn’t afraid to shoot from midfield, which Blackpool must be fully aware of. However, if Blackpool can throw off Parker’s passing then it’s likely that West Ham will struggle to get a foothold in the game. It looked like West Brom did a good job of that as below you can see his passing performance against them, set off against a near flawless performance from the other week against Birmingham. Also note how much further his passes are from the opposition box.

Parker misplaced only one pass all game against Birmingham and got in to positions near their box. Note how more passes where misplaced against West Brom and that he isn't getting as near to their box.

Right Wing Hammering

Looking back at the performance against West Brom, then West Ham favoured the right wing for attacks, which is partly explained by the role that Piquionne plays, but also partly by the return to fitness of Kieron Dyer who’ll look to get forward regularly if selected.

West Ham favouring the right wing for attacks against West Brom

This will be an interesting aspect of the game, should West Ham stick to this biased approach and it’ll need Stephen Crainey being alert as well as Ian Evatt to cover should West Ham isolate Crainey in a two versus one situation. This bias may have been a ploy to attack perceived weaknesses of West Brom’s left side. They certainly had a much better attacking balance against Birmingham, but in their home game against Newcastle then the right wing again became the favoured route.

Fluency

West Ham have a tradition for playing good passing football and look to construct moves rather than the more direct approach employed by Stoke. Looking at the pass counts for each match West Ham have a decent number of passes each match (approx 300) and they complete 80% of them. However, the key to this passing as with any team is making the passes count. Generally, Scott Parker will see most of the ball in the middle of the pitch, but the penetration needs to come from somewhere else as well. Perhaps this is why West Ham have struggled this year. In their formation you’d expect that to come from some like Boa Morte, however, based on the West Brom game, it doesn’t appear to be the case. Piquionne appeared to be that person, but given he moves towards the flank he cannot be as dangerous as often as someone who hold the more central role.

Who is getting the ball in to the box apart from Scott Parker. Boa Morte in 54 mins didn't, but Piquionne from the right had more success.

Game on!

Both sides will look for a win here, West Ham need one and Blackpool will always look for one. Given the defences that will line up then there may well be plenty of goals. The focus will be on Ian Holloway selection, but should Blackpool win then the focus will turn to the manner of that victory and go some way to vindicating his midweek team selection.

Aston Villa Preview

Blackpool go to Villa Park after collecting an excellent point against Everton, while the hosts will come in to the game on the back of two draws. Villa are under new management and there are signs that Gerard Houllier is beginning to stamp his mark on this team. They are a little short on personnel cause of injuries in key central areas and this may well force Houllier to adapt his style somewhat.

Formations

It’s normally safe to say that Holloway will stick with his 4-3-3 which was more representative of those numbers on Saturday against Everton as opposed to the 4-2-1-3 that has been emerging in this campaign. However, this may may alter slightly given Holloway’s intimation that he may rest players. It will be hard to call the team for Blackpool, however, the same can be said of Villa given the injuries they have. Houllier tends to favour a 4-2-3-1 formation. However, the teams may well line up like this (note that the Blackpool team is based on nothing but gut instinct).

Taking a look at Villa’s previous home game versus Birmingham City then these were the average positions, roughly outlining their 4-2-3-1 approach.

This formation (defence in red, midfield in green and attack in pink) does bear a little resemblance to that which Blackpool have been playing this season.

What to expect?

On the face of it, both sides may line up very similar in formation, but the way that the formation is executed may differ somewhat. Blackpool like to push the full backs up high when in possession of the ball in order to strangle the territory in the final third whilst Houllier likes his full backs to sit more and leave a more defined line of four even when in possession. However, at Fulham over the weekend, Luke Young pushed up to add width and support in attack at times. Villa when they have either John Carew or Emile Heskey fit, can play with greater flexibility moving forward as they have focal points in the air and on the ground. However, given both those strikers are injured then they will need to adapt their approach due to their replacements (Nathan Delfouneso is a probable starter) not overtly being an aerial threat. Both sides utilise wide men to create width and in the case of Villa to deliver excellent crosses for conversion in the box. As has been noted already, Blackpool do like to get crosses in the box, however, they must be early crosses and to feet. However, should Harewood start then cross variation might be better given his height advantage over that which Campbell offers.

Given the injuries that Villa have, then predicting their style based on previous performances becomes tricky and that in itself presents Blackpool with a problem. Beware of the wounded animal as you don’t know how they’ll react. In their midfield Houllier will possibly be choosing from Ciaran Clark or Stephen Ireland (his other option of Steve Sidwell is apparently not fit either) to fill in for Reo-Coker. Whichever, starts will show Houllier’s hand, Clark should be more defensive and Ireland more progressive and attacking. However, what is clear is that should they line up like above then the space in front of the defence is crucial and the team that reduces that space or likewise exploits it should see the best outcomes. Villa may well ask Ciaran Clark to drop in to that space, whilst Holloway may expect his midfielders to rotate that duty or opt for Southern or Sylvestre to drop deeper to cover the threat of Ashley Young. Below you can see the role that Clark played against Fulham at the weekend, passing from deep and tackling to break up the play in the midfield area.

Defensive Strength

Defensively, Villa have a reputation for being miserly, resilient and strong. Brad Friedel is an excellent keeper and the defensive line is superbly lead by Richard Dunne, they’ve conceded 14 goals this season but note that 6 were in one game. They’ve only conceded two in their last four games (five since Houllier took charge against Wolves) and will be another stubborn defence for Blackpool to break down similar to Everton at the weekend.

Opportunity

Keeping the ball and then winning it when you don’t have it are key elements to any game. One thing to note from the game against Fulham is Friedel kicking long and it resulting in Aston Villa losing possession. Perhaps he is still kicking long as that is what they’ve done with a tall target man, however, Blackpool may wish to exploit this and ensure that they win as many of Friedel’s long balls as possible given that Villa’s aerial threat may have gone. However, don’t be surprised to see Friedel distributing along the ground come the match time.

The circled headers are the ones won by Fulham in the area you might expect Heskey or Carew to win them. Given they are both injured then Fulham were very successful in this area.

Better the devil you know

Barry Bannan will be familiar to all Blackpool fans, he has made a breakthrough at Villa this season and seems to be finding his confidence in the Premiership. Looking at this performance at Fulham at the weekend against one from earlier in the season you can almost see his confidence through his passing. Note the range of his passing and the assist in white for Mark Albrighton to score. Also note the variation in direction making him unpredictable and hard to read, which is a critical factor unlocking a defence. Finally, look at his balls in to the box. One to the left, one to the right and one through the middle just to keep everyone on their toes. Should be great to see him go up against Charlie Adam should Adam get a start.

Game on!

This could be one open game for both teams, however, given Houllier’s taste for defensive stability then perhaps he may set out to stifle the space that Blackpool like to play in, which is now becoming quite common for Blackpool to be faced with. However, should he give more freedom to attack to his midfielders then we should see plenty of action in and around both boxes. Ian Holloway will love this tactical battle and I suspect will have a couple of tricks up his sleeve to vary Blackpool’s style given a potential change of personnel.

Blackpool v Everton Match Review

A fair result given that tactically Everton shaded the first half and Blackpool the second. Moyes positioned his team in his usual fashion, Holloway on the other hand brought in Keith Southern with Elliot Grandin dropping to the bench. If anything this meant that Blackpool played a more flatter formation in midfield as they brought back the Championship midfield triumvirate.

Tactical Swings

Moyes’s usual formation of a lop sided 4-1-4-1 worked superbly to deny Blackpool space and create attacking space of their own. Firstly, John Heitinga strangled the space that Blackpool’s midfield like to operate in, (in front of the oppostition’s defence and behind the opposition midfield). Also, by playing a narrowed midfield four this squeezed the other midfield space that Blackpool like to try and pass through to dominate games. Added to this Everton retained possession excellently and broke sharply when they got the ball.

In the second half, Holloway made a point of getting Vaughan pushed higher up in to an advanced attacking midfield position which helped to occupy Heitinga and pressured the Everton defence more directly. The final tactical swing occurred through the substitions. Holloway’s changes saw Blackpool shift to a 4-2-3-1 verging on a 4-2-4 whilst Moyes’s substituions saw him move to a more conventional 4-4-2 which was crucial as Blackpool exploited the space between their lines and hence why they finished so strongly.

Vaughan was pushed higher up the field straight after half time to give Blackpool an attacking midfield focal point.

As Everton shifted to a 4-4-2 this gave Blackpool more space in front of the Everton defence and behind their midfield. This contributed to the dominance that Blackpool enjoyed in the final ten minutes.

Key Players

The impact of Keith Southern is superbly analysed here by Up The ‘Pool, efficiency in posession was the name of his game, however, his coverage of the pitch is testament to his ability to cover space. What is interesting is his failure to make a tackle, Southern himself admitted to feeling a difference in pace and perhaps his lack of speed to close down opponents meant he was never in position to make a tackle. The key to this whole game was John Heitinga, his withdrawl saw Moyes concede his solid balance of five defensive and five attacking players, but it was the space he occupied and subsequently freed up that played into Blackpool’s hands. Heitinga made his tackles and passed solidly, but his influence wasn’t overly measurable. It was more down to his occupancy of space, the vital space that Blackpool thrive upon. You can see in the diagrams above how little space there was and how much more space there was after his substitution. Both Birmingham and Blackburn played someone in a similar role and they both frustrated Blackpool to a similar extent.

Steven Pienaar was crucial in the game till his injury, floating in off the left wing he linked up well with his central midfielders and opened up space to create two v one against Neil Eardley. Eardley stood up reasonably well to this test and certainly didn’t get consistently over run in that department. What Pienaar also helped to do by drifting inside was to pull out Blackpool’s attacking shape as Taylor-Fletcher appeared to drop at times to try and cover him, note (on the chalkboard below) how a lot of his passes were deep after being dragged back.

Right hand balance

Before the game it was noted how these two sides favoured the left hand side for attacking, Everton played up to that perfectly as their first came through that avenue, whilst they struck a great balance to make their second down the right. Overall, they did favour the left and it was testament to Eardley as stated above that he stood up well to the test. Blackpool on the other hand were more balanced, however, Taylor Fletcher’s performance wasn’t one of this best and the right flank was more truly occupied when Matthew Phillips came on, look at the spaces he occupied below. You can see below how Phillips wasn’t dragged back in to the midfield and played most of his game on the right flank.

The difference between Taylor-Fletcher and Phillips. Notice how Taylor-Fletcher was dragged back in to a central midfield position thus cutting down the right flank as an option for Blackpool.

This balance of attack might also be explained by Luke Varney having a poor game. He was rarely invovlved in the play and never once beat Phil Neville to get a cross in. Look how much Varney was involved against Fulham as opposed to Saturday. He was virtually shut out of the game.

In fact Blackpool appeared to lack their usual width and it could be down to the fact that Everton dominated the midfield and dragged Blackpool out of their usual shape when off the ball. Look at Blackpool’s average positions below and see how bunched up the whole team is, virtually the whole of the midfield and attack are in the centre circle.

Defence is in red, midfield green and forwards in pink.

Duelling

Everton won the battle of the tackle, not necessarily on an overwhelming count, but more on the postion they won their tackles, high up the pitch, helping to apply pressure to the Blackpool defence. Everton won 26 tackles in Blackpool’s half whereas Blackpool won 7 in Everton’s. Another aspect of this was the position of their take ons that they won. They were beating Blackpool players high up the pitch. This is crucial in helping to break Blackpool’s lines and create chances. Note where Blackpool won their duels, deep and not so near to the goal as you need to in order to then create chances.

Here you can see that Everton were beating men higher up the pitch than Blackpool were. This can lead to more chances as you break the opponents lines.

Penetration

Blackpool have had plenty of posession this season but not really got a lot of ball in to the opposition box to present Campbell with the chances he needs. Compare this with the way that Everton worked their way in to the box. Blackpool sustained much of their passing deeper than Everton. On the evidence of this game, Blackpool are beginning to work the ball in to the box, however, the frequency and placement needs to improve in order to start breaking down such high quality defences. Only in the last ten minutes did Blackpool start getting the ball in the danger areas with more frequency. Interesting to note that Blackpool failed to complete one cross from open play, effective crossing is crucial to breaking down defences as the defensive line feel less than comfortable in having to move back towards their goal to defend balls in behind them.

Note how few passes got behind Everton's defensive line as Blackpool struggled to breakdown a solid defence.

The season gets better

Overall a draw is a superb result for Blackpool who in the first half were losing the midfield battle and being denied the space that they love to operate in. The withdrawal of Heitinga was a strange decision presumably to counter Holloway’s attacking subs, however, it very nearly cost Everton a point. Blackpool move on to Aston Villa which should be a superb tactical match up again and one that Ian Holloway will relish.

A closer look at Elliot Grandin

One of the best things about becoming a Premiership team (in my head anyway) is the amount of data we now have available to review our players. Imagine the articles that could have been written if we’d had this kind of data available in the past. Wonder how John Doolan would have measured up (no jokes about a 44 inch waist please) or how many tackles did Gary Briggs really win (maybe number of legs broken might have been more relevant). However, now we can look at our players performances in greater detail and start to get a better understanding of the peformances each week. To that end I will turn my attention to a different player from time to time to shed some light on what is happening on the pitch.

First up I want to look in detail at Elliot Grandin, the reason behind this as I feel that his inclusion in the side has seen our formation change somewhat from the fluid midfield three we saw last season. I wrote most of this before the West Brom game so I’ve had to make some running adjustments as arguably he had one of his best performances in a tangerine shirt.

If you were to write up what Eliot brings to the side, then you’d say, a good technique, a composed first touch, inventive flicks of the ball, the ability to beat a man with a turn of pace. However, I want to pick through that and see exactly what he has brought to the team.

Upon signing for the club and watching the oligatory YouTube videos that get bandied about I saw him as one of our wide players, potentially filling the void in the squad left by Hameur Bouazza (not a massive void I know). When it came to the first game against Wigan he setttled in to the midfield three, albeit at the head of what now appeared to be a more fixed midfield triangle in a more recognisable 4-2-1-3. This role may normally require a player to be good in possession of the ball, able to deliver incisive passes, beat men, strike dangerous shots and provide linkage between the deeper midfielders and the attacking three.

The tale of the tape

Eliot appears to be very secure in possession of the ball and passes very astutely and appears to be far from wasteful when passing. In his appearances so far (not including the West Brom game) he has a pass completion rate of 87% which is more than respectable. However, in his position it can be argued that it is the quality of the pass delivered which is more important, as it becomes about unlocking a defence as well as retaining possession. How can you measure the former? Well assists is one way of doing that and this is a part of Grandin’s game that lets him down. His first assist of the season came against West Brom in week 10 which isn’t a very good return for someone so far advanced up the pitch. If we break his passing down further to see if he is assisting Blackpool to break defences down then we need to look at his chalkboards and the direction of pass. It is here where more interesting trends come out. He rarely passes the ball in to the opposition box, only doing so six times in total this season, two against Wigan in the first game of the season and four against West Brom. None in the games in between. Again not quite the incisive passing you’d expect to see from a player who potentially holds the most important attacking position within the 4-2-1-3.

Grandin's passes from open play in to the opposition box are circled in red. Excludes Arsenal, Chelsea and Blackburn games.

If he’s not creating. How is he at providing a direct threat on goal? Prior to the West Brom game he had only had 4 attempts on goal, 2 on target, 1 off target and another blocked. In the West Brom game he had more attempts in one game than his whole season (1 on target, 3 off target and 1 blocked). Added to this he is yet to score in the Premiership. So if he’s not creating and not making the opposition defence aware of his goal scoring prowess – What has he brought to the Blackpool team?

Clearly he is comfortable in possession of the ball and this is vital for the way that Blackpool play in order to keep the ball moving around the pitch. This can buy the team time to ensure that Charlie Adam is positioned to recieve the ball in the areas where Adam can flourish and create the chances for Blackpool to score. This hints that Holloway doesn’t see the playmaker being at the head of the midfield triangle, but a deeper lying player which is Adam. So is Grandin’s role one of ….. keep the ball till the creator arrives to try and break the defence down??

Elliot may not have a set of stats to back up his individual effectiveness, however, sometimes you can’t measure impact within a team till that player is removed. The performance against Birmingham was the first time this season that Blackpool appeared flat and one dimensional and it was one game where Grandin failed to start, Blackburn being the other.

What he does appear to do is play a little too high up the pitch at times potentially occupying the space that DJ Campbell wants to occupy and perhaps a move out to the wing will play more to his strengths whilst freeing up more space for DJ to operate in. Perhaps this begins to explain the issues that DJ has faced in trying to bag goals. Last season the midfield rotated position more and Grandin does appear to hold a slightly higher position on the field so at times it looks like we play in a 4-2-4 formation.

What will happen as the season progresses remains to be seen, however, based on his Sky man of the match performance against West Brom then he is clearly improving in that position so he may well develop in to the role as time goes on. Or as has been mooted, he may gravitate out to the right wing to offer a greater attacking balance that was lacking against West Brom. However, keep delivering balls in to the box against Everton as he did the other night and we may well see the benefits of his role bringing great joy to everyone at Bloomfield Road.

Everton Preview

Everton head to Bloomfield Road more like the side that they are, rather than the team their results at the start of the season suggested. They played well at the start of the season but didn’t get the results, but now they have both. Blackpool on the other hand will hope that their bright start to the season will keep ticking along nicely.

Everton have a number of quality individuals, like Man City who came to Bloomfield Road recently, the difference with Everton is that those individuals are blended nicely in to an effective team. Their formation is a slightly lopsided 4-1-4-1 due to Steven Pienaar cutting in from the left flank. The formation is fluid in midfield, unlike the very static 4-1-4-1 that Blackburn play. The teams may well line up as below. Holloway does like to shuffle his team from time to time, however, this is based on the same line up as the West Brom game.

More left leaning bias for Bloomfield

Looking at Everton’s play this season, they appear to favour the left hand side when attacking, which is funny, ’cause so do Blackpool. Should both teams stick to this pattern then both right backs will have to be playing to the best of their ability.

Neil Eardley has been very solid since coming in to the side winning 13 out of 20 tackles this season, but this could well be his toughest test yet. Everton have Phil Neville in at right back and he is currently enjoying a great start to the season. He worked dillengently to shut out Gareth Bale the other week, so much so that Bale was put on to the right wing to avoid him.

Going against the grain

What could be the key is which team fights their instincts and gets a better balance to their attack as gaps should emerge down the right hand attacking side. Gary Taylor-Fletcher has been there for most of the season and Blackpool will look to him to exploit space should he start. However, the pace of Matthew Phillips might be more suited to getting the most out of such space especially as it appears that Taylor-Fletcher has a tendency to drift. Looking at the eight goals that Everton have conceded this season (second best defensive record in the league after Chelsea) you can see that at least three of them came from moves down the right hand side as you can see below.

Game on!

Everton have a fluid midfield who like to make runs from deep as Johnny Heitinga sits deep to provide defensive cover. Their team is roughly split in to 5 outfield defending players and 5 attacking players. Which is a great division of labour, whereas Holloway tends to favour a blend of 4 defensive to 6 attacking. Everton’s greater balance in this respect may well give them more defensive solidity and make it especially hard for Blackpool to break them down.

What is known is that if Blackpool should breakdown the Everton defence then they need to take their chances, time and space are more limited in the top flight and Blackpool’s strikers are beginning to find that to be the case.

It should be a good tactical match up, plenty of movement, good passing and good use of space (both creation and exploitation of) and the best side should be the one that strikes a greater balance to their attack whilst defending resolutely.