Tom Ince – The Low-down

Tom Ince (20) signed for Blackpool from Liverpool in the summer of 2011 and in just over a year he has grown with each game he has played and is now one of Blackpool’s key attacking weapons. In his first season he scored 8 goals and made 8 assists in 41 appearances. This season he already has 13 goals, 9 assists in 20 league appearances.

Goal & Assist Analysis

The following two diagrams chart Ince’s goals and assists from this season and the location they occurred in relation to the opposition goal.

Tom Ince - Goals
Tom Ince – Goals 2012/13

From the diagram you can see that only two of his goals have been scored from outside the box, with the majority of the goals being struck from central areas (please note that he has three penalties in his tally). All but one of his goals were scored with his left foot.

Tom Ince - Assists
Tom Ince – Assists 2012/13

What is interesting here is that he tends to start games lined up on the wide right of Blackpool’s forward line, however, 36%  of his goals and assists come from the left hand side. This is partly due to him being left footed, but also potentially down to him being rotated from the right to left in games. It’s perhaps the dynamic of a switch that catches defenders cold and not picking him up as he switches sides as much as it is natural for him to play on the left hand side.

Starting out

Upon joining the club the first impressions of Ince were of a young player with pace and a trick, but often prone to running with his head down, narrowing his field of vision. He takes his place in Blackpool’s 4-3-3 as one of the two wide forwards, normally as an inverted winger on the right. His first touch was initially an issue, but he has clearly worked hard on this and he is only prone to the odd error. His passing lacks a little consistency, both in range and execution however, his game isn’t necessarily based on his passing ability.

Tricky Customer?

He has good acceleration and sustains his pace well to beat men. His tricks can be a little readable and he could do with adding more subtlety and disguise to elevate his one v one play. However, he clearly enjoys to engage his direct opponent in order to beat him. He seeks to drift off the right flank across the edge of the box looking either for short combinations with team mates or to get away early shots, normally curling left to right. On the evidence of his goals he can hit powerful shots as well as placing the ball with control and accuracy. This is allied to reliable delivery from wide free kicks, corners and crossing from open play. He could, however, do with developing more variety to his delivery. Perhaps developing his pace of delivery and craft to move the ball with more bias towards the end of its flight.

It appears that he is mentally strong and doesn’t tend to lose his composure the closer he gets to the opposition goal. Generally speaking he is a team player, willing to track back and support in defence. However, his work back towards his own goal could be sharper and smarter. He could also do with increasing his field of vision to appreciate his options earlier which will also help with his decision-making. In addition to settling in to either wide forward position and has even dropped deeper and centrally at times and realistically he could also be deployed as a very effective attacking left back.

Holding back

One area of his game that had been detrimental to his development and the flow of the team is the upon receiving the ball. He had a habit of turning back away from goal in order to protect the ball from the opponent. On the face of it this isn’t necessarily a bad move, however, it appeared totally instinctive. What made it worse is that he did it even when not being marked, leading to attacks slowing down and removing his vision from his attacking space. This may well be a consequence of being deployed as an inverted winger and not being comfortable letting the ball run across his body onto his weaker right foot. However, this season he has tended to do this less often and in doing so, he is becoming a little more direct in his attacking play and causing even more stress for the opposition.

What now?

He has now represented the England Under 21 squad and he was touted for a move last summer with one club submitting a formal offer for him. However, his father is his mentor and had been working with Ian Holloway to exploit his son’s potential. Now Holloway has moved on, it’s likely that he’ll also leave. Overall, his development is on a rapidly ascending trajectory and arguably he has outgrown this Blackpool side. He needs to be playing in the Premier League to aid his development and if the touted move to Liverpool comes off that may well be excellent for both parties (the player and the buying club), especially given the price that is being mentioned. However, wherever he goes it’s important that he gets game time. Any length of time on a bench will only serve to hold him back.

If indeed he is embarking on his final games for Blackpool then it truly has been a pleasure to see such a young talent develop so rapidly and TD can only wish him the best for the future.

Appleton’s Task

This article may have been more appropriate in the first few days of Appleton’s regime, however, there’s still value in establishing a few of the questions that Appleton himself may have posed himself as he starts to tackle his new job. This will effectively place a line in the sand which can be revisited in a couple of months time to try to assess where changes have been made.

Q: Why is Barry Ferguson at Fleetwood? Is he likely to return and why should he return?

Provided Ferguson hasn’t breached club conduct in any way then there’s a potential way back in to the set up for him. He left under the proviso that he was going to Fleetwoodto get games as he wasn’t happy about squad rotation plans. It might be that Appleton can guarantee him games and he may return. Appleton appears to be looking for better defensive shape and at the end of last season Ferguson and Ángel Martínez were very much a solid defensive midfield platform with the latter adding some real dynamism.

Q: What is the best defensive combination?

This was a question that hung over Holloway’s tenure which was never resolved. Ultimately the solution is decided by the defensive strategy, with Appleton looking like he wants Blackpool to sit narrower and a little deeper then he may build around that. Kirk Broadfoot appears to be the preferred first choice right back and whilst he can be a little clumsy he has been surprisingly dynamic going forward initiating goals as well as combining with Tom Ince. At centre back Ian Evatt may be out for sometime so that might make Craig Cathcart and Alex Baptiste first picks in the centre.

Q: What is the best midfield combination?

The supporter held view is that in a midfield three it would be Isaiah Osbourne, Ángel Martínez and Tiago Gomes. It’s likely that given Chris Basham’s suspension that this might be the midfield against Crystal Palace in the next game. However, it remains to be seen if that indeed is the best combination. Getting the combination right in midfield is ultimately the key to Blackpool’s season. Osbourne is a good runner, but in recent weeks has shown an eye for goal and a through ball. However, his first touch is inconsistent and in a tightly packed midfield that’s very limiting. Martínez is an outstanding footballer and it has been surprising for him not to start. His strong substitute appearance at Peterborough should see him start again Palace. Gomes is a lively attacking midfielder, who arguably only needs to add goals to make the position behind the striker his own. Appleton has had a chance to weigh up both Ludovic Sylvestre and Elliot Grandin with only the former looking like he might break in to the midfield trio.

Q: What is the best system to use?

Holloway recruited his players to fit a 4-3-3 scheme and in the main those players remain. Appleton appears to be continuing this approach, however, that may be a product of his inheritance. There is a little more emphasis towards a 4-2-3-1 with four attacking and six defending. His work in the next two transfer windows will give a greater insight in to how he wants his teams to shape up.

Q: Should Kevin Phillips be starting games?

This is more critical than it may appear. Phillips is an anachronism in the modern game and especially so in a 4-3-3. He plays on the line of the defence and does little to seek out combinations with his team mates. He often turns his back on play in order to get in to the box which is highly detrimental to good team play. He arguably hasn’t adapted his game to flourish in Blackpool’s system (even given his goals) and it’s unlikely at such an age that he has time to adapt. Appleton may well start to see him as an option to come off the bench rather than starting with Nathan Delfouneso starting centrally.

Q: How does he whittle his huge squad down?

Appleton has remarked about the size of squad he has inherited and that he wants to work with a squad of between 18-20 players. He is lucky in this respect in that the vast majority of his players are either out of contract in the summer or have options that the club can take up. He may base his decisions around those players that make his initial cut with the rest being assessed in any ‘reserve’ games that are likely to be held between now and the end of the season. It would appear that a few players may already have been taken out of the equation with Neal Eardley being replaced by Broadfoot and not through injury, whilst Elliot Grandin was substituted after 30 minutes of the game against Watford. One fringe player has already left and he tried to get several players out on loan before the deadline.

Q: Who will he bring to the club in January?

This may be dictated by who leaves in January. It would appear that at his rate of progress Tom Ince will need to leave the club. He’s good enough to be playing at a much higher level and it’s hard to see how much more he can learn at the club. Added to that, should Matt Phillips leave too then Appleton will certainly be looking to recruit in the wide forward areas. Outside of that, he will make a decision on loanee Wesley Thomas and perhaps another forward or two may be brought in. January will also be a test of if he believes that there’s enough defensive quality. It would be a gamble not to add any further defensive options given current injuries and general lack of genuine defensive talent at the club. Allied to this, there is a huge dependency on Matt Gilks’ fitness, Mark Halstead lacks playing experience and remains a bench filler. Again, it would be a gamble if no goalkeeper was brought in as back up.

Moving On

Appleton will no doubt be looking for answers to some of these questions between now and the end of January. At that point in time it might be useful to revisit this article and assess the answers should they have become clear by then. If Blackpool have strengthened their position in the league, it would be safe to assume that the answers have been a little more forthcoming than they are right now.