Spurs 1 – 1 Blackpool – White van man

Neither side came in to this game in good form, but both sides put together a lively encounter which either team could have won. The game dynamic changed three times due to the deployment of Rafael van der Vaart with a final twist to the game coming as Blackpool tried to close out the game.

Van der right

Ian Holloway made one change from the Stoke game, dropping Matthew Phillips to the bench to be replaced by Sergei Kornilenko. Harry Redknapp made bold selections in his starting eleven, with Danny Rose coming in at left back so that he could keep Gareth Bale in the more advanced position down the left. Aaron Lennon was dropped to the bench and van der Vaart started on the right flank. The early passages of Spurs’ play tended to gravitate to the right and Younes Kaboul overlapped a number of times as van der Vaart drifted inside. The Dutchman didn’t play as an orthodox winger and seemed to have a free-ish role. However, only once play started to break for Spurs down their left did they genuinely seem to threaten Blackpool. Other than that Spurs appeared to try to catch out Blackpool’s high line with occasional through balls down the middle, but Blackpool anticipated well and they enjoyed little success.

Luka Modric  was at the heart of some good periods of play for Spurs by keeping the ball moving quickly and from flank to flank to avoid the centre where Spurs where outnumbered 3 v 2. As the half went on Blackpool’s midfield pressed hard (mainly through Keith Southern), passed better and tried to break at speed. However, the first touch of the Blackpool forward line, especially Kornilenko was poor and attacks broke down more often than not.

Van der middle

By bringing on Aaron Lennon in the second half  Spurs had fast and direct attacking options on both flanks and this meant that van der Vaart was pushed centrally. He started to go untracked through the middle and found himself in an excellent position only for his touch to let him down under pressure. Spurs found a good rhythm and created seven chances in the first fifteen minutes of the second half compared to the 10 in the whole of the first half. Modric started to break more from midfield as he had van der Vaart dropping back to cover. Modric dominated the game and was outstanding, not only with his passing but consistently found space and took men out of the game with deft flicks and dribbles. Added to this Lennon gave more incision down the right and the balance to Spurs’ attacks was excellent, giving them options and variety which Blackpool had to defend well in order to shut them out.

Playing out alongside this Ian Holloway had sought to resolve his side’s attacking problems by introducing Jason Puncheon at half time for Kornilenko and he appeared to have a better awareness on and off the ball. Added to this his first touch was more reliable and Blackpool’s attacks became more fluid.

Van der left

The injury that Gareth Bale sustained meant that Redknapp decided to move van der Vaart to the left whilst Peter Crouch came on as Spurs moulded back in to their 4-4-2. This appeared to stunt Spurs’ midfield play, there were left with more 2 v 3 situations in the centre as van der Vaart moved wide and he really struggled to assert any quality on the game from that position. Blackpool gained their own foothold in the game, again their midfield were working really hard to close Spurs’ down and trying to break at speed and as their forwards looked more cohesive off the ball and confident on it, they started to carve out more chances.

Parking the van

Once Blackpool had scored, the final part of the game played out with Spurs throwing everything at Blackpool and in doing so the game broke down in to a final scrap van der Vaart wasn’t involved in the game as much now as Spurs’ best chances came from Lennon and Modric creating or from Peter Crouch knock downs. Ian Holloway made a strange substitution in bringing on Craig Cathcart and moving Neil Eardley to right wing in to almost a 4-5-1, but once the Spurs’ goal went in and realising the aerial danger of Peter Crouch, he seemed to try to counter that by bringing James Beattie on for the sole purpose of marking Crouch at pieces and for high balls in to the box.

Moving on

Tottenham controlled a lot of this game and had Blackpool not defended well and broke as purposefully as they did then the pressure may have been too much for them. However, for Harry Redknapp the utilisation of van der Vaart appears to be strange given his quality through the centre of the pitch and keeping him there in this game may have proved to be decisive. At times Blackpool sparked in to life and fizzed the ball in their passing movements once again. Heading in to the Bolton game on Saturday they will hope to sustain the movement from the forwards in the second half in addition to good midfield combinations to push Bolton very hard. Should they do that then they may be within a point from safety come their final game at Old Trafford.

For an excellent review of this match then you must head over to the match review by Zonal Marking here >> Spurs 1 – 1 Blackpool

'Statting' the narrative

The tactical elements of this game were covered very succinctly over on Zonal Marking, so this post is a brief look at the passing stats of the game and using them to back up the narrative set down by Zonal Marking.

The Narrative

Blackpool started brightly without ever troubling Arsenal who went on to score two goals before half-time. After half time Blackpool came out fast and worked hard and troubled Arsenal. Blackpool scored, then Arsenal reasserted their dominance scoring a third goal to put the game out of reach.

If you look at the pass completions of both sides and plot them on a graph against the time of the match does this show up?

Blackpool (tangerine) v Arsenal (red)

Yes it does, is the simple answer. You can see for yourself that Arsenal dominate in the pass, completing more passes than Blackpool and at a higher completion rate, then half time comes along and the lines scramble as Arsenal fall apart and Blackpool come back in to the game. Then the pattern is restored.

Vaughan Free

The other observation from the game centres around the lack of David Vaughan in the Blackpool side. This is something that Blackpool will have to cope with again in the game this Saturday and possibly for longer. Keith Southern came in to the side, a more recognised defensive minded midfielder. However, a replacement for David Vaughan he was not. Admittedly, a game against a team like Arsenal isn’t the best comparator, but Blackpool lacked midfield bite in the form of tackles on the ground and the interceptions that Vaughan contributes so effectively.

Wait! The match stats show that Blackpool had 8 interceptions! That’s about par for the course you say (Blackpool have averaged 11 interceptions per game this season). The key here is how many occurred late on the game when the match was dead. Only 2 of those 8 occurred in the key period of the game. Arsenal in comparison intercepted Blackpool steadily throughout the game to record 24 in total. See the chalkboard below.

Of Blackpools 8 match interceptions, 6 of them occurred in the last 7 mins.

Also, looking at the tackle count, the team won 30 and lost 31 tackles, however, Vaughan’s replacement, Southern chipped in with only 1 won tackle (aerial) and Adam and Jason Puncheon who formed the rest of the midfield three chipped in with 2 and 2 respectively. Vaughan on average has won 4 tackles per match this season. A big gap in the Blackpool midfield that needs to be filled when Wigan take to the Bloomfield Road pitch on Saturday.

Finally, if the interceptions and tackles don’t wash, then a quick glance at the first Arsenal goal (and the second to an extent) shows the absence of a midfielder tracking a midfield runner. Vaughan is usually so well positioned and as mentioned in a previous post, will track back to cover runs from the opposition midfield.

Mind the gap

Charlie Adam may well be going to the PFA awards dinner on Sunday, but the man on the treatment table holds the key to Blackpool’s survival in the Premier League. His level of performance has been exceptional, should Ian Holloway be to replace his industry and quality in his starting eleven then maybe the loss of Vaughan will not rock the boat too much. Fail to replace Vaughan and Blackpool will lose him forever (he is out of contract in the summer) as they face the new season in the Championship.

*Credit to Graham MacAree from We Ain’t Got No History for his help on Tableau, check out his blog and follow him on Twitter.

Intercepting a chalkboard

This is what happens when you make too many interceptions

There are many aspects of football that fascinate, from wonder goals to the angled pass that opens up a seemingly impenetrable defence, however, very few people would say that the interception is something that stands out in 90 minutes of action. However, the humble interception is something that can be crucial, perfectly timed and treated with care can turn defence in to attack. With the availability of chalkboards, many writers have asserted the importance of interceptions as being a critical factor in the outcome of games. The location and frequency of them being the facets to hold in high regard. Intercept high up the pitch and the assumption is that the opposition is on the back foot and you have less distance to go to the opposition goal, keep on intercepting time after time and the opposition will struggle to get their rhythm going. What a chalkboard doesn’t tell you is the outcome of the interception. An interception that leads to a counter attack or retention of possession may possibly hold more weight than an interception that gives the ball back to the opposition, thus conceding any advantage you have just gained.

Definition

This post attempts to understand the outcome of the interceptions that you can see on the chalkboard below from the recent Fulham v Blackpool game. Why is this even important? It might be entirely erroneous, it might even be disregarded as irrelevant nonsense, however, it might just help to add that little bit of qualitative analysis to a graphic that can often tell a story that may or may not be apparent.

What is important to note is that this may not be the greatest example of how effective the interception is within a game, this is merely an illustration of trying to assign value to interceptions.

The interceptions in question

Video killed the interception

Looking at the video of the match each interception was viewed and assessed for its outcome, did the interceptor allow his team to retain possession and progress or was the ball given back to the opposition. The former was given a positive outcome and the latter, a negative outcome.

Location, location, location

What can be see immediately is that Fulham had more interceptions than Blackpool. You can see that they enjoyed one in the attacking third, but the majority occurred in the middle third and had 6 more in that third than Blackpool could muster. This was one factor cited in the match review which served to back up Fulham’s control of the central ground. Was that a hasty comment? An interception is what it is and they will have certainly disrupted Blackpool’s flow in the middle third, however, only 4 of those 10 had a positive outcome for Fulham. However, on the flip side, 6 of them were turned back over to Blackpool.

In the context of this game, those positive outcomes might be very important, however, outside of this game you would assume that the better a team and the better they perform then you might expect to see that ratio increase as defence turns to attack or possession once gained, becomes harder to surrender. What you can see below is the positive or negative outcomes assigned for each interceptions.

You could say that Blackpool’s inability to turn their interceptions to their advantage may well have an impact on their attempts to gain a foothold in the game. The majority of their interceptions were in the defensive third, so even though the chalkboard says they made an interception it really had less value than it might seem. In fact all 10 of their interceptions ended up back in the possession of Fulham without them gaining any advantage at all.

Making sense of it all

This might have proved nothing and been a waste of time, however, hopefully it sparks some interest and appreciation of the dimensions that chalkboards portray, but also of the nature of the interception within the game. The transistion phase is something mooted quite often in relation to football, the interception is one aspect of this and perhaps a team that uses the interceptions wisely may well enjoy more success. Obviously this example cannot prove that, but perhaps with the right inclination and time then this approach could be used across a wider sample involving teams of differing quality by someone with more intelligence. Whatever happens, Blackpool were wasteful when they intercepted in this game and lost the chance to catch Fulham out of position and gain an advantage.

Statuesque – Fulham 3 – 0 Blackpool

Bobby Zamora showed Blackpool’s forwards how to be incisive and decisive as Fulham controlled the key areas of the pitch and the game to record a deserved victory. For all the possession that Blackpool had, their forwards were too static, reducing their attacking options.

Setting Up

Arguably the initiative was handed to Mark Hughes through Ian Holloway’s team selection. The key decision seemed to centre on the inclusion of James Beattie in order to add extra height against a Fulham side whom he thought possessed great height and aerial ability. This was a strange move as Holloway normally tends to veer towards the positive selection based on his team’s strengths instead of countering the opposition.

Fulham set up in a standard 4-4-2 but their work within that framework closed out any space Blackpool might have normally found against a 4-4-2.

Controlling the middle

Fulham controlled the space in midfield superbly to gain control of the game. Their midfield four sat narrow and applied pressure to the Blackpool midfield to disrupt their flow. You can see from the picture below how the midfield sat narrow out of possession with Dickson Etuhu and Danny Murphy closing the space in the centre and Clint Dempsey and Damien Duff moving in off their wings.

Fulham sat narrow off the ball in midfield bringing in their wingers to support their two central midfielders.

Etuhu had a particularly good game working hard in the tackle especially in the first half. In total he made 9 tackles winning 7 of them with 5 of those coming in the first half.

Stuck in the mud

The picture above serves to illustrate the second key point of the game, the static nature of the Blackpool’s statuesque forwards. Arguably the key points of Blackpool’s game are good possession of the ball, linking up with effervescent movement up front, leading to excellent passing opportunities and subsequently chances at goal. The picture above shows the three Blackpool forwards all but stood still, two of them out of the game and the one offering to receive the pass is doing so whilst strolling away from the goal.

Arguably Blackpool’s forwards only made two runs of great note and they both led to chances. Both runs were usual fayre for Blackpool but such a rarity in this game that they deserve to be picked out as illustrations of  good movement. Firstly, Brett Ormerod runs across the pitch in behind the defence, before curving his run as he reads the pass from Craig Cathcart. You can see his run tracked below.

Ormerod making a rare insightful run.

The second run was made by James Beattie, presumably fresh from half-time instructions from his manager to make runs in to space instead of standing still. Here he pulls off in to the right wing before heading down the line and then inside the box to narrowly miss the target.

Resembling the Jacko statue outside Craven Cottage Beattie rarely moved intelligently, when he did he nearly scored.

Great movement, but two examples in a game which Blackpool comprehensively dominated in the passing game is a poor return. Of Blackpool’s passes, 56% of the successful passes were in the middle third and 27% in the defensive third leaving only 17% of total completed passes in the final third. A whopping 442 passes were in the defensive and middle thirds and Fulham was more than happy in letting them dominate.

Got to be starting something? Yes. But not creating or finishing.

Combination

A combination of good possession and lack of  options in attack was all too familiar in this game. The chalkboard below was the story of Blackpool’s afternoon. You can see that a nice passing move commences in the 5th minute along the back line, in to midfield before a hopeful punt up field from Stephen Crainey conceded possession.

Pass and move. Tiki-taka. Boof-hoof!

Home straight

Blackpool now have four home games on the spin and these games will most probably decide their Premier League fate. Holloway came back from Spain this week full of ideas and in time it will be seen whether he has learned anything from that experience. However, he will now be focusing on ensuring that his statues from Craven Cottage don’t pop up again next week at Bloomfield Road against Arsenal.

Blackburn 2 – 2 Blackpool

As a coach Steve Kean may well have had aspirations to manage at the highest level, perhaps he had ideas of his own that one day he’d weave in to his own team unit, or as has happened, he’d be thrust in to the managerial hot seat, not really understanding what his philosophy was and revert to the team’s default settings as applied by his former boss.

On the day it became too much for Blackpool to withstand for a full match as a 2-0 lead resolved itself to a 2-2 draw. Both sides will be happy with the outcome, especially given the peculiar performances of the referee and one of his assistants. However, as much as Blackburn are repeating their play under Allardyce, Blackpool are failing to covert an advantage in to three points and (according to Opta) have now conceded 20 goals in the last 15 minutes of games this season.

The match up

The movement of Junior Hoilett gave Blackburn added dimension upfront.

During the week Ian Holloway talked about changing his approach, however, going in to this game, he set his team up in the same way as usual, however, there was a more cautious approach off the ball as his 4-2-3-1 shaped in to more of a 4-5-1 getting 10 men behind the ball when defending. Steve Kean had his side mapped out in an approximate 4-3-3. However, out of possession they reverted to a 4-1-4-1 with Steven N’Zonzi holding a deeper position than Brett Emerton and Jermaine Jones, and the wide forwards tucking in deeper than their more advanced position when their side had the ball.

Game plans

Both game plans were uncomplicated and easy to spot. Kean’s game plan appeared to be two fold, firstly, get the ball to Junior Hoillet’s feet allowing him to run at the Blackpool defence. Secondly, to deliver high ball from back to front to gain territorial advantage, aiming to win the ball high up the pitch either on the first, or subsequent attempts. Holloway set his team up to be more solid out of possession to ensure that they were defensively more robust and looked to counter Blackburn quickly through short sharp passing and fast off the ball running.

Back to front

Paul Robinson’s distribution is the main observation from the game. The chalkboard below shows his passes for the game. It’s plainly clear that he (as under Allardyce) is still under instruction to hit the ball long at every attempt. It’s fair to say that he is well drilled and control’s his distance well, rarely did he go to long and after plenty of practice he started to put it just beyond the Blackpool defence, who couldn’t help but drop deeper to try and deal with the ball.

Direct passing of Paul Robinson from back to front.

Testing times

As Blackburn went direct with their aerial bombardment Blackpool had to deal with and try to win their aerial duels. They ended up losing 16 of their 30 aerial duels, however, the key here is that for the first 70 minutes they didn’t lose one in that key area, the penalty box. However, as they either tired, lost concentration, lost organisation or a combination of all three they served to lose 3 duels in the box as Blackburn’s bombardment took its took toll.

The top half of this image shows that while Blackpool lost aerial duels, none occurred in the box. In the last 20 mins as shown in the lower half, they did, 3 times. Tired?

Just for the record

As Blackpool conceded another late goal, the recriminations centred on Kingson and his defence. However, Blackburn knew what they were doing and the ball from Robinson at the death was in the perfect area to cause doubt for Blackpool’s defensive unit.

As an illustration of the problem Blackburn caused Blackpool then look at the image below from earlier in the bombardment. The ball isn’t as deep (as the next example), the defensive line doesn’t drop and Kingson can stay back in case Blackburn win the duel.

The line holds firm, Adam clears.

Then take a look at the image from the lead up to the final goal below.

Crowd and confuse!

The ball is deeper, the defence then drops. Here the communication between the defensive unit is called in to question. It appears that Kingson feels it’s his ball to collect, perhaps he shouts, if so the defence must stop and let him collect; dropping too deep crowds his space. He should win the duel and should there be any contact then the benefit of the doubt would go for Kingson. If Kingson hasn’t called then he has made an error in coming for the ball and should trust his players to do what they had been doing all game. It’s interesting to note with these two examples, is that the person who made the first clearance (Charlie Adam) wasn’t on the pitch when the second example took place.

Moving on

As noted earlier, both teams will be happy with a point from the fixture. Blackburn should be safe in the Premier League, they know what they’re good at, but teams will sting them regularly on the break and they’ll get some beatings before the season is over. Blackpool on the other hand had some great moments on the break, but the main concern remains focused on their defensive unit. If they can keep a clean sheet or two between now and the end of the season then they may well be a part of the elite division next season.

Three’s a crowd!

Blackpool have attacked this season and it’s easy to look at the drive and incisive passing of Charlie Adam or the goals of DJ Campbell as explanations behind that. However, Blackpool’s attacking is more sophisticated than to rely on two players and it is far removed from the Tony Pulis description of roulette football. Only when things fail can you gain an understanding of why they work so well.

Admission

Already 1-0 down to Wolves, Ian Holloway looked to his bench after twenty minutes of the game and decided enough was enough, he had made the wrong decision and by the 28th minute of the game Sergei Kornilenko touched hands with Luke Varney as the latter replaced him on the field of play. Post match Ian Holloway said;

“I took him off for tactical reasons. I didn’t think my centre forwards were in the right place, both James Beattie and Sergei,”

The purpose of this post is to illustrate the point that Holloway made. The focus of the post will be the role of Kornilenko and is by no way a criticism of him. Holloway admits the mistake himself and that Kornilenko and Beattie are both new to the Blackpool system and by the evidence of this game are still learning.

Fish out of water

The period of focus here is the first 20 minutes of the game and in that period Kornilenko made 7 passes and 4 of them found the opposition. As he became involved in play it is easy to see why he had to come off. Take his involvement in the 4th minute. As the ball was played forward he drifted inside to a central position. You can see from the picture below he has drifted inside and offers Blackpool no width. The zone you can see is exactly where he should be taking up his position.

The tangerine zone highlighted is where Korni should be. The white dot indicates the location of the ball.

Repeat to fade

Almost straight after his first positional error it crops up again. In the 5th minute he takes up a wide position upon receipt of the ball, again though, his instincts mean he doesn’t make the right movement. As illustrated below, he should follow the line to exploit the space.

Much better position for Korni, he must move along that line to help Blackpool's system function.

As he lays the ball off he then makes the move inside taking away the forward width that helps to stretch the opposition defence, as he goes inside he offers no passing option and the move breaks down. You can see where he moved to below, right beside DJ Campbell in the centre forward position.

He's there again, the man with the centre in his eye.

Winging it

Once Kornilenko realises that he’s drifting inside he starts holding a wider position across the width of the pitch, however, his position has another reference point, the length of the pitch. Below you can see he is almost in a winger position and not the forward position that Blackpool’s system needs. DJ Campbell is too far away for a link up and Kornilenko ends up hitting a hopeful long ball to the opposition. Both Southern and Vaughan are ahead of him at this point and this shows the overall impact of getting the forward play wrong. It might seem insignificant, but it impacts the whole team from front to back.

Korni is in a wing position and two midfielders (white) advance ahead of Korni where they should support him in an advanced position.

Getting there

By the 13th minute Kornilenko takes up good wide position off the ball, when the ball eventually breaks, he is able to support the attack and set up Eardley to deliver a (poor) cross in to the box. At this stage Holloway’s pitch side communication must be working, the positioning is getting better and supporting the team’s play as a consequence.

The forwards highlighted are spaced better and at the top Korni is where he should be. Finally.

Ordem e Progresso

On the quarter game mark, again the forwards start in good positions (below) and you can see how, as the midfield breaks Blackpool’s 4-3-3 becomes apparent. Earlier in the game the poor forward positioning meant that Blackpool’s formation was poor and Wolves exploited this. Here, the ball moves across to Kornilenko at the top of the picture, however, his instinct as a central striker dominant and he stops to hold up the ball with his back to goal, he becomes isolated and ends up playing a hopeful ball similar to the one played in the 7th minute.

Starting position is good. Move comes to nothing.

Gravity Issues

As the game progresses in to the 18th minute, Kornilenko’s instincts are way too dominant, not only as seen in the previous move where he held the ball up, by this time the forward line has lost any shape it had, and Blackpool end up in  a mess. The forwards starting positions have been lost. This isn’t necessarily bad. A feature of Blackpool’s forward play is the movement. From here the forward could cross run in to the flanks and get behind the defence or even make direct lateral runs to the wings.

Clustered up.

The problem here is the both Beattie and Kornilenko want to play through the middle and neither is supposed to be there. The central striker in the formation at this stage of the game was DJ Campbell, who as you will see below drops deep to receive the ball. This is a common move for Campbell; usually he can drop deep, receive the ball, give it and make a run through the central area. In this instance he is obstructed by his fellow forwards, the move breaks down and so does Holloway’s patience. The picture below demonstrates perfectly why the poor movement up front bring’s Blackpool’s system to a halt. The system is attacking, all the players want to push forward and the forward set the tone. If they move and occupy the flanks the team can structure themselves around them and inter play with them. However, Kornilenko goes and clusters the centre and it makes it easy for Wolves to defend.

Beattie and Korni want to stay in the centre and renders Blackpool's forward line static.

Back to the drawing board

Holloway knew he made mistakes here and two recent additions to the Blackpool squad show that it’s far from easy to adapt to his system and three forwards can be a crowd. Blackpool went in to their next game versus Chelsea with DJ Campbell suspended and fielded a lone striker in Beattie. Perhaps this shows where Holloway will look to focus and as the 4-3-3 comes out again Blackburn next week perhaps the key selection dilemma will centre on the other forwards. Will Kornilenko have learnt the role over by then or will players such as Luke Varney and Gary Taylor-Fletcher come back in as tried as tested components of the system that has worked so well this season and last? Or will Kornilenko prove to be the man for the central role?

Blackpool v Chelsea – Deep & Counter

“We are going to try to keep our defence a little deeper, bring the midfield a little deeper, and then hopefully counter-attack them”. Ian Holloway.

Ian Holloway had made no secret of his plan prior to the game and for the most part it worked well, however, individual errors in defence and poor movement from his forwards ensured that chances created weren’t clear cut as Chelsea controlled large parts of the match and deserved their comfortable win.

Setting Up

Blackpool had a selection dilemma ahead of the game with Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell both suspended. Holloway chose an unfamiliar line-up with David Carney, Jason Puncheon and Andy Reid slotting in to the midfield and Stephen Crainey coming in at left back. With the ball Blackpool shaped up in a 4-2-3-1, however, out of possession the team sat deep and the forwards dropped back leaving James Beattie as a lone forward and Blackpool shaped in to a 4-5-1. It was Holloway’s intention to sit deep and try to hit Chelsea on the counter, the selection of David Carney on the left wing hinted at giving extra defensive protection down that flank. As a part of this defensive approach Keith Southern and David Vaughan both sat deep out of possession, but with the ball both broke forward with David Vaughan often becoming the spare man in midfield and more advanced than Southern.

Chelsea set up in a 4-4-2 but they applied it with very aggressive positioning so it was different to a regular 4-4-2, however, this may have been due to the fact that Blackpool were happy to let Chelsea have the ball and invited them on to them. Chelsea’s midfield four sat very narrow with Ramires on the right and Zhirkov on the left tucking in tight and the width was provided by both full backs pushing up high in to midfield making almost a six in midfield. As Chelsea advanced in to the attacking third it appeared as if Michael Essien’s brief was to drop deep to cover defence. However, Chelsea in the pass were very one paced and they lacked any dynamism which wasn’t helped by Torres and Drogba being very static and flat up front. The introduction of Solomon Kalou injected the right amount of movement and change in pace of pass to provide the difference between the two teams.

On the left Blackpool sit deep and Chelsea's 4-4-2 takes up an aggressive position. On the right, how Blackpool would normally set up when defending.

First half

Chelsea enjoyed good spells of sustained possession, however, rarely threatened to open Blackpool up, it was poor marking from a corner that notched their first goal. After that Blackpool enjoyed their best period of the game with both Southern and Vaughan finding their rhythm in the pass and in breaking up the opposition. However, Blackpool were very static in their forward movement and James Beattie struggled to ascertain any dominance in the air which could have given them a platform to build on winning 3 of his 7 duels.

Second half

The second half again saw Chelsea control the possession for large parts, but it was the enforced substitution of Salomon Kalou for Didier Drogba which changed the game. Kalou dropped deeper, made direct forward runs, gave short passes and moved which essentially lead to much more dynamism in attack from Chelsea which caused Blackpool’s defence to be pulled out of position leaving them exposed to error.

Kalou came on and was safe in possession and penetrating completing 17 passes in his 35 mins on the pitch. Drogba had 9 successful passes in the previous 55 mins.

Blackpool’s late flurry came from a double substitution which saw Holloway revert to three forwards giving a more varied point of attack which really started to cause Chelsea problems. Stephen Crainey also started to step up in to attack as Blackpool finished this game as they start and play most.

Applying the press

A key observation of both teams is how they differed in the pressing of their opponents. Blackpool normally press all over the pitch and their defending starts with the forwards. In this match they let Chelsea have the ball and only pressed hard when Chelsea advanced to within 35 yards of the goal. Whilst Chelsea pressed from the front, almost hunting in packs to expose Blackpool’s players on the ball and a perfect example of this came in the build up to the penalty. Both Ashley Cole and Yuri Zhirkov pressed Jason Puncheon, forcing the error in possession.

When Blackpool found their rhythm after the opening goal they started to break up Chelsea, all but 2 of their 8 interceptions came in the 25 mins up to half time. Apart from that Blackpool let Chelsea dominate on the ball. You can see the difference in the two teams pressing in the Chalkboards below.

 

 

On top Blackpool pressed only when Chelsea came close and that is where they intercepted. However, on the bottom Chelsea pressed all over with great success.

 

Nine to go!

It should be clear to most observers of the Premier League that Blackpool have a first eleven that is worthy of staying in this league, however, the real question marks hang over their strength in depth. Ian Holloway will be pleased with some performances in this match, particularly from Jason Puncheon who appears to listen to his manager and adapt to game situations. Blackpool will be near full strength for the away trip to Blackburn later in the month and should provide a stern test for their Lancashire rivals. Chelsea on the other hand are a side who can and will beat anyone on their day and may still have a large influence on how this Premier League turns out by game week 38.

Have a read of a Chelsea fan perspective on www.weaintgotnohistory.com: Here

The Improbable Dream? Part Two

Ian Holloway loves the referencing the Barclays bit of the Premier League name!

Part one of this two-part post touched on the good things that Blackpool have sustained over their twenty-eight games this season and those are things that will help to ensure that Blackpool give as good as they get through to the season end. However, out of the original ten ways for Blackpool to stay in the Premier League, there are four critical elements that Blackpool are struggling with. This post will touch upon those and their impact on the chances of Blackpool achieving the improbable dream.

Defensive basics

The original article was written at the time that Blackpool were starting to find some resolve in defence; a solid performance against Wolves and a good 70 minutes against Bolton was followed up with two back to back clean sheets against Stoke and Sunderland. However, since then Blackpool have really struggled to get their basics right and this has constantly dragged down otherwise strong performances. This was covered at length in a recent article called dissecting the defence. Intended to uncover how Blackpool’s defence worked, it appropriately defined what the opposition are doing to Blackpool. A combination of poor basics and poor positioning has been under pinned by injuries to key personnel and Ian Holloway has struggled to keep a regular back four together. Stephen Crainey has missed the last six games and it would be no surprise should he return, and Blackpool recover their composure. He may lack pace over short distance to recover position, but he makes up for that with assurance in possession of the ball, strength in the tackle and adventure on the break.

In fact since the original article was written goals are being conceded at a rate exceeding the earlier part of the season rising from 1.93 to a nice and round 2.00 goals per game. A point of interest to note is that in the period of Crainey’s absence the goals conceded per game jumped to almost another goal per game at 2.83.

Passing trend

Again this has been rolled out on the blog quite a few times recently and none more so when it was defined that there had been a noticeable drop in Blackpool’s pass completion rate. The impact of this means that opposition teams are now seeing more of the ball and Blackpool are keeping it less and consequently losing their grip on games. Since the original post, pass completion has dropped from 75% to 72% for total passes. In number of pass terms this equates to Blackpool conceding on average a total of 34 less completed passes per game.

Dropping off, oh but look, it that a sign of recovery?

One observation though; note how it has picked up recently. The signs of a recovery? Monday’s game against Chelsea will be an interesting benchmark!

Points not drying up

Well they did finally and it is now important for Blackpool to find their rhythm in collecting points again. A repeat of the recent five consecutive defeats at this stage of the season would be potentially catastrophic. Look at the table below to see how Blackpool had been progressing in points mapped against Hull’s progress from their first season in the Premier League. Notice the flat line on Hull’s tally, if Blackpool can avoid stringing multiple defeats together then that tally line will keep climbing and they’ll get closer to safety.

Blackpool 'doing a Hull'? Whatever that means.....

Stay alert for 90 minutes

This is clearly a huge weakness for Blackpool and one that hasn’t gone away. Speculation can go on all day long about fitness levels, experience and ability however, Blackpool are vulnerable as the game skips on to the final quarter. The chart below shows that Blackpool have conceded 17 goals in the final quarter which accounts for 31% of the total goals they’ve conceded. Prior to the last article Blackpool had conceded 9 goals in the last quarter and the last thirteen games they’ve done the same, leaking a further 8 goals, so no improvement there; and as a result games have been lost from leading positions in that period. Most notably against Manchester United and Everton.

Crumbling like a crumbly thing in the final stages of games.

Can it be done?

These are very critical factors and quite clearly should Blackpool get stuck in a rut again, it will be due to defensive frailties, poor ball retention leading to intolerable opposition pressure in the final quarter of games. Just getting some defensive solidity and better passing for a handful of the last ten games will surely be enough (in tandem with those aspects from part one) to keep Blackpool where some people doubted they could be for a second season.

The Improbable Dream? Part One.

Not a chance of lifting this, but oh to be a part of it all again next season!

Back in December this blog put together ten ways for Blackpool to stay in the Barclays Premier League. With ten games of the season remaining it is time to look back at those ten ways to see how Blackpool measure up against them and what that might mean for their quest towards the improbable dream.

Recent woes

The original article picked out the aforementioned ten ways by highlighting the things that had given Blackpool a good start to the season ranging from their attacking approach to the lack of consideration by other teams to the way that Blackpool approach the game. After running through each aspect it appears that Blackpool are still doing a lot of the right things even though their recent form has been poor.

Since the article was written, Blackpool has played a total of thirteen games and it’s these games that will be scrutinised in order to give us a progress report. A quick glance at those games shows that Blackpool; won four, drew one and lost eight. Their previous fifteen games (prior to the last article) saw them win five, draw four and lose six.

Should Blackpool not lose any of their next two games then their records in the two halves of the thirty games played this season will look remarkably similar and belie any suggestions that Blackpool are slipping to relegation. When looking at the ten ways, it appears that Blackpool are still successfully plodding their way through six of them and this helps to account for the positive results of the last thirteen games, whilst the negative aspects of Blackpool recent play can be largely catered for with the other four.

Attack Minded Approach

Anyone who has seen Blackpool this year will testify to their attacking commitment and this has certainly not dwindled. From attacking for the (never to be) fourth goal at Goodison Park against Everton, to the pressing Manchester United up against the wall for 60 minutes and robbing them of two goals. In fact, in the last thirteen games Blackpool have scored at a rate of 1.46 goals a game which is only marginally down on their 1.53 goals from the previous fifteen games. See below for a comparison against Blackpool’s oft favoured comparators Hull and Burnley and see how their goal scoring compared in their inaugural Premier League campaigns.

Feast or famine. Hull and Burnley starved whilst Blackpool have been feasting quite well all season long.

Formation

Part of what Ian Holloway has brought to the Premier League with his Blackpool side is his tried and tested 4-3-3. He hasn’t swayed much from this formation and hasn’t tried to drop more numbers in to defence or midfield to close out the space. In fact only when protecting leads (most notably versus Liverpool & Everton) and against Spurs from the start of the match has this been adjusted. In the main it works for his players and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Long Diagonals

These are still an active piece of Blackpool’s approach, if a little over used, they still help to stretch the play and set up attacks for Blackpool and help in unsettling the opposition. However, if anything they can be over played and lead to Blackpool’s heading up the list of long balls played as detailed recently in the BBC tactics blog. If you want to read more about these then Up The Pool covered them and their impact in vast detail.

DJ Campbell’s goals

It was speculated earlier in the season that should DJ Campbell get the ball at his feet in the space between penalty spot and goal line then he will start scoring. In the first fifteen games of the season Campbell had netted twice and endured a couple of hardworking if fruitless games, the match against Bolton springs to mind. However, since then he has amassed 7 goals in the last 13 games to vastly exceed all expectations of him. At this rate he might get close to 13 goals this season which would have a huge impact on Blackpool’s attempts at staying up. See below for the Chalkboards from the goals that he’s scored in the last thirteen games and if you read the original article, note how all of them are in his favoured zone (but arguably any striker’s favourite zone).

As all strikers would aim for, finishing their chances when getting sniff of the goal from close range.

Counter Intelligence & Plan B

One aspect that many Blackpool fans were concerned with earlier in the season centred on ‘being found out’ that teams will know how to play against us and counter it. In the earlier part of the season, teams who played with a holding midfielder generally had greater success against Blackpool whilst Birmingham were the only team to make match specific changes to their approach to counter Blackpool. In the last thirteen games it could be said that Birmingham are still the only team to actively counter Blackpool by changing their shape as they brought their diamond from the St Andrews game to Bloomfield Road and secure the three points. One thing this has meant is that Ian Holloway has still not had a reason to come up with a Plan B, he can continue instilling his tactics in to his side without having to vary too much and potentially distort the qualities of his side.

Six Steps On

This post has now ascertained that out of those original ten ways, six of them are still pertinent. This might have led to quite a dry post, however, in the second part as the negative aspects of recent performances come to light then this should lead to a few interesting insights. Check back on the blog in the next couple of days to read the second and final part of this post.

You can read the second part now – Part Two

Blackpool 3 – 1 Spurs

Spurs came to Bloomfield Road fresh from their Champions League excellence, whilst Ian Holloway had ten days to work with his squad since the draw with Aston Villa. Both managers faced selection dilemmas due to injuries to key personnel. However, it was the in-game changes that held the key to this game as Blackpool rode their luck to secure the three points.

Setting up

Blackpool set up as a 4-1-2-3 v 4-4-2 from Spurs.

Had Blackpool set up in their more familiar 4-2-3-1 system then they may well have enjoyed the kind of success they’ve had against other teams who play 4-4-2, playing between their lines as highlighted in previous articles. However, this wasn’t the case as Holloway chose to replace Elliot Grandin with Ludovic Sylvestre in the midfield and accommodated him by inverting the midfield triangle. This meant that Sylvestre acted more like an anchor man whilst Adam and Vaughan matched up Spurs’ two central midfielders. This made Blackpool’s 4-3-3 resemble something more like a 4-1-2-3. The forward three for Blackpool saw Sergei Kornilenko make his debut and link up with DJ Campbell and James Beattie.

Harry Redknapp opted for a 4-4-2 and chose to go with Stephen Pienaar on the left of midfield in the continued absence of Gareth Bale, in combination with a central midfield pairing of Wilson Palacios and Luka Modric. Pienaar performed the role that he played when at Everton, drifting inside to close out the extra space in midfield and cutting on to his right foot when in advanced positions. Spurs’ front two were ever so slightly staggered as Pavlyuchenko dropped a little deeper than Defoe, but in reality he didn’t create or link up play that much as Modric dictated the game through his excellent use of the ball from the deep.

Countering a dangerous threat

Blackpool had the better of the first half in terms of goals, however, Spurs looked very composed on the ball and worked themselves in to some good positions in the attacking third although their final ball often let them down. This may have been down to the change in Blackpool’s shape. Ian Holloway used Sylvestre as a more recognised anchor man and helped in stifling Spurs as they advanced on the Blackpool defence. This left Blackpool short of the more advanced option that Grandin offers, however, when DJ Campbell dropped deep to receive the ball he helped to link the midfield and attack. The first goal was brought about by a clumsy challenge from Sebastien Bassong resulting in a penalty. Whilst the second goal was a classic counter attack, Campbell received ball from deep, linked the play and eventually finished off the move. However, a combination of excellent defence from Blackpool and poor shooting ensured that Spurs’ best chances went without reward.

Swinging on the subs

Jermaine Jenas was introduced for Palacios at half time and appeared to have a brief to increase Spurs’ passing tempo and whilst he didn’t have the drive of Palacios’ work rate and pressure, his partnership with Modric saw Spurs move the ball around the pitch much quicker. This helped to pull Blackpool from one side of the pitch to the other and cranked open gaps in their back line which they exploited at times, but failed to convert the chances.

At this stage that Spurs were in complete control of possession and in the ascendancy until the 73rd minute when Redknapp brought on Peter Crouch moving Jermaine Jenas back to right back. This saw Spurs switch to a 4-2-4 but they began to become more direct in their approach and ultimately this move lost any impetus that Spurs had. It was the Blackpool substitute Keith Southern who worked hard to pressurise the Spurs midfield and after he won the ball in the midfield a combination of poor defending and instinctive finishing saw Blackpool put the outcome beyond doubt.

Getting it right

At Goodison Park recently Ian Holloway admitted to making poor decision for his substitutions whilst in the lead, that time he tried to change his system and got it very wrong. Here he freshened up his side and deserves great credit for utilising Keith Southern to stop Spurs’ flowing football. In fact Southern won all four of his tackles and was safe in possession, misplacing two of his thirteen passes. The third goal involved all three substitutes as Brett Ormerod poked home for his landmark goal.

Jenas Impact

In the first half Spurs held good possession of the ball, but failed to move Blackpool’s defence out of shape. Jenas was introduced and helped to move the ball around quickly and efficiently as you can see by how many passes he had in half an hour misplacing only one. When Crouch was introduced Jenas was pushed to right back, he was solid, but Spurs seemed to lose their tempo a little and his central replacement (Kranjcar) was wasteful, shooting when a pass would’ve been a better option.

Top half - Jenas in the centre helping in dictate the tempo, misplacing just 1 pass. Bottom half - He was moved to right back and Spurs lost some momentum.

Inviting Pressure

Blackpool struggled to play out from the back and distribution from the keeper proved to be just another pass to a Spurs player which only helped them to dominate in the passing battle. Richard Kingson was successful with only 16/48 passes. In the previous article the goal kicking had been highlighted as an issue as Blackpool’s pass completion had dropped recently. In this match Blackpool’s outfield players were much better on the ball and pass completion picked up to the 70% mark, however, it would’ve been higher and Blackpool more controlled if Kingson had been more efficient in his distribution.

Streaks of red across this chalkboard as Kingson gave the ball away to Spurs.

Clear it!

As Spurs applied wave after wave of pressure Blackpool were forced to clear time after time which they did exceptionally well 32 times out of 46 with 10 of those being made by Craig Cathcart alone who excelled at the heart of the Blackpool defence.

32 out of 46 times Blackpool cleared their lines relieving the pressure from Spurs.

Moving upwards

In their passing and build up play Spurs dominated, however Blackpool were clinical in front of goal, defended strongly and attacked with greater composure. Spurs will recover and go on to bigger and better things, and Blackpool take another step closer to safety.

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