Dawning of a new era

Anyone who has watched Blackpool since Ian Holloway took charge will know what to expect. Attacking football is what he wants and that is what he has been getting from his players. Everyone should expect more of the same this season, but before speculating about how Blackpool’s play may shape up this season let’s take a look at the players he has brought. The following observations are made from brief viewing in pre-season and what is known about the player from previous clubs.

On the defensive

In defence, there have been three new additions. Paul Bignot will act as cover at right back, he appears to be comfortable moving forward both on and off the ball, but at this stage it is unclear just how many starts he might be given or what his defensive ability is like. Matt Hill brings experience and versatility, covering both left and centre backs. He has been given some playing time in pre-season at left centre back partnering Ian Evatt. It has been speculated on this blog previously that perhaps Holloway was looking for a left-sided centre back to given better balance and smoother circulation of the ball along the back line. However, it appears that Hill has been utilised centrally because another summer recruit, Bob Harris is likely to be cover at left back. Hill seems competent enough to handle both positions and his height should only be an issue should a team see that as a target to exploit. However, only time will tell if that really is a weakness or not.

Bob Harris may well not get a lot of game time this season, but he will be asked to place as much pressure on Stephen Crainey as he can. At first he was possibly Holloway’s first choice to replace Crainey if he had left the club as expected. However, now Crainey remains Harris will have to use his limited opportunities to make it impossible for him to be dropped. He should get his chance when Crainey picks up an injury and when he does he will be advancing forward comfortably and will provide quality ball in to the ball and may well pack a decent shot.

The day before the season kicks off Miguel Llera was brought in, a left footed centre back of similar stature and build to Ian Evatt, perhaps without his aerial ability, but appears competent enough on the ball and comfortable moving forward.

Critical area

Midfield sees the greatest changes and given that gaining control of the centre is so crucial in football then this is where Holloway has made his critical moves. Barry Ferguson has come in to the club and he will be expected to sit in deep midfield as two midfielders move in front of him. It is likely that he will hold and not rotate in a three man midfield as Blackpool tended to do when Adam, Vaughan and Southern lined up. Ferguson has most probably been bought for more than his footballing ability, but to also bring experience, knowledge of the game and leadership on the pitch. It’s likely that he’ll take the captain’s armband and lead the team out. Also in midfield is Angel Martinez, who from a brief stint in pre-season against Sheffield United is competent on the ball and likes to sit centrally. He may well act as cover for Ferguson in that holding role. Bojan Djordic may well play as a wide forward when the season starts, however, judging his preseason games, he appears to suit the central and deeper areas of the pitch which might lend him to backing up Elliot Grandin when Blackpool hold two midfielders deeper and allow one to push high up the pitch.

Back of the net

Up front Kevin Phillips is likely to start the season as the central striker, whether he adapts to this system at this stage of his career will be interesting. He seems comfortable playing on the shoulder of defenders and less about dropping deeper and linking up with the midfielders. He’ll also be expected to switch with the left and right forwards during the game and this might push him out of his comfort zone. Strangely for a striker with so many career goals, this season might be his biggest challenge.

Craig Sutherland has come back to the UK after playing college ‘soccer’ in the United States and he has impressed in pre-season. He appears to understand where is supposed to run from his wide forward position as his goal against Sheffield United confirms as well as being composed and accurate when shooting. Whether he can play centrally and hold the ball up and link play remains to be seen.

Coming in from Liverpool is Gerard Bruna, who has stated his preferred position is as a ‘Number 10’, given that it’s rare that Blackpool fill this position it will be interesting to see how he handles the possibility of fitting in to the system as a wide forward. However, should Blackpool lack creativity in central areas, then he may well drop deeper and sit at the head of a midfield triangle in a 4-2-3-1. Also, coming in from Liverpool is Tom Ince, who appears to favour the wide left forward role, however, he will be expected to rotate centrally and to the right in the system. Upon rather brief inspection, he may well have good pace if shown the space, however, he passing, crossing and decision making will be under scrutiny if he wants to break in to the first eleven.

Shaping up

Given the recruitment that has gone on, how does that reflect on the way that Blackpool will shape up when they take to the field against Hull tonight. It would appear that Barry Ferguson is a guaranteed starter and will captain the side. What about the other new recruits?

Could this line up be the way that Ian Holloway will start off his season?

It’s likely that only Kevin Phillips from the other new arrivals will start the game again Hull, however, a few may come in to the game from the bench. Perhaps Tom Ince or Gerado Bruna might get on late in the game out wide left to show what they can do regardless of the game situation as could Craig Sutherland. It’s unlikely that either Matt Hill or Miguel Llera will play a part in defence.

The role of Barry Ferguson might well be very interesting. As the full backs will keep pushing up, it’s likely that he’ll ensure that cover is provided at the back. Last season it could be a regular occurrence to see all three midfielders caught high up the pitch. Therefore, this might be the biggest change to witness when the Tangerine take to the field again Hull. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Holloway rotates him in a three man midfield, with either Ludo Sylvestre or Keith Southern sitting deeper and trying to use Ferguson’s skills at ball retention higher up the field to build pressure in the final third. Should Sylvestre be selected it will be intriguing to see how he takes to the midfield now that Charlie Adam has departed. The last time those two started a game (Manchester City away) there was a sense that they were taking each others space and tripping each other up. If selected, Sylvestre may well have the main playmaking duties bestowed upon him. He clearly has an eye for a pass and could get Championship defences on the turn with consistency making him a danger in any game.

Alternate

Ian Holloway may decide that he wants to move from the standard 4-3-3 that he re-found towards the end of last season and ask Elliot Grandin to start much further up the pitch in something resembling a 4-2-1-3 shape as you can see below.  Should that be the case then it’s likely that Sylvestre will make way and Blackpool’s play will revolve around Grandin and his composure in possession trying to link play with the forwards. However, Grandin struggles to receive and turn with the ball at times meaning he can be nullified if you force him away from goal. However, if teams let him turn and run directly then he could enjoy some great success in this league.

Subtle changes in midfield perhaps? Sylvestre for Grandin?

What new players?

As is stands it appears that there is little potential impact on the first eleven from the new recruits. In truth this might be the case, however, it will be down to them to take their chances when they get them. There is still continuity to the Premier League team now Crainey and Gilks are back on board. Should any of the other new players get a chance against Hull, it will because of either late injuries or impressing with performances on the training pitch.

Kick off

What should be expected from the trip to Hull? Nigel Pearson will most probably try to jam the midfield with numbers and seek to spoil any rhythm that Blackpool try to build up. Expect Barry Ferguson to be pressured from the first whistle and for Hull to break at speed to catch Blackpool on the counter. It will be interesting to see how Blackpool create and score goals this season and this match will give some great indications as to what will happen. Gary Taylor-Fletcher may well be the key player this season and Hull will need to track his movement and pass on marking duties from defence to midfield as he goes in search of the ball from his wide right position. Pearson will hope that Robert Koren sees as much of the ball as possible whilst Blackpool will need to be vigilant and deny him time and space on the ball to pick a pass or release a shot on goal.

Whatever happens tonight this season will certainly be entertaining and full of attacking football again.

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.

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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Blackpool v Aston Villa Review

This game turned out to be a fair result as both teams had chances to score more than the one goal a piece. Both managers threw very few surprises in to the mix as tactically this was a very plain game.

Equals

Villa more defintion between defence and attack. Blackpool more of a blended approach.

From a formation point of view this was 4-2-3-1 v 4-2-3-1, however, they were applied slightly differently as Gerard Houllier prefers to have his two midfielders sit deeper and hold their positions. On the other hand Ian Holloway likes a balance of defence and attack from his two with David Vaughan more likely to sit and hold. A flex in the Aston Villa side was the movement of Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor, which sometimes gave them the look of a 4-4-1-1. The latter was deployed out left, but would make runs wide and inside and Young would often move to support Darren Bent in attack. Finally, Kyle Walker was given permission to attack and he did so at speed, however, at times his runs would be on the inside and he ran in to the more congested central areas.

Start up

The first half saw both team have chances, Villa looking to counter and using Stuart Downing to great effect on the right cutting in on to his left. However, the Villa goal was a familiar sight for Blackpool fans as the Blackpool defence was caught out of position whilst the game was in transition. A good link up between Bent and Agbonlahor exploited the vacant right back area after Alex Baptiste had been high up the pitch involved in an attack.

David Vaughan found a lot of space at times, especially if Ashley Young didn’t track back and as Houllier persisted with two deep midfielders Vaughan started to take control of Blackpool’s passing and played some good balls in to the channels, he only misplaced 4 passes from 48. The  Blackpool goal came from what is also becoming a familiar sight for both teams, a goal from a corner. According to Opta before this match Blackpool had scored the most goals from corners in the Premier League, whilst Aston Villa had conceded the most.

Seconds out

The second half saw both teams get in to good attacking positions, however, Blackpool were the team that retained the better possession and created the most chances. Blackpool seemed to hesitate in making decisions in the final third and often looked unsure of what to do and their shooting seemed to reflect that (the goal being the only time they hit the target). After a red card saw Jean Makoun depart Villa switch to a 4-4-1 looking to hit Blackpool on the break, but in truth, both centre back partnerships looked very solid indeed.

Grandin then out

Whilst Blackpool had Elliot Grandin on the pitch they looked more fluid going forward, this in part may have been something to do with his efficiency with the ball, misplacing only one pass before his injury. Jason Puncheon came on to play that role before Andy Reid came on and in to the role on 72 minutes. The chalkboards below show how Grandin performed in the role much better than Puncheon.

Puncheon in the midfield, before being moved wide left.

Stubborn

Gerard Houllier persisted in playing to holding midfielders, however, the chalkboard below showed how only one of them (Reo-Coker) was effective, leaving questions over having Jean Makoun on the field at the same time, where a more attack minded midfielder might have given Villa more options in the final third. You can see how Makoun only won 4 of his 15 duels whilst Reo-Coker won 10 of his 15.

Two holding midfielders really necessary?

All about the centre backs

After both goals were scored the game was characterised by Ian Evatt and Richard Dunne dominating the game and helping to snuff out the attacks. See their chalkboards below. Evatt lost only one duel all afternoon, whilst Dunne lost only 2 of 9 and those that he lost were outside of any danger zone.

Big strong centre backs gave the strikers little change.

Moving on

The result was fair for both teams, Houllier might look at changing his approach in making one of his holding midfielders more progressive and the substition of Michael Bradley might offer him that in the coming weeks. Ian Holloway will be happy to move on to the next game with plenty of time to train up his side and get them motivated for the Spurs game on the 22nd February.

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Dissecting the defence

Blackpool’s first season has been characterised by attacking football as the Tangerines have found goals relatively easy to come by. However, it is their defence that regularly comes under scrutiny and more so since their run of five defeats after the Liverpool victory. This post will look at the Blackpool defence and explore as many facets of it as possible in order to establish what is behind Blackpool’s defence and where have things been going wrong?

Facts & Figures

Blackpool have conceded 49 goals at an average of 1.96 per game. It has been well publicised that Blackpool tend to concede late in games and the following table breaks down the time periods in which Blackpool concede goals (up to and including the Everton game).

Notice how Blackpool have conceded 14 goals in the final quarter of games.

The reasons for late concessions can be speculated upon and none more so than in the recent post about the Everton game. In this game Holloway tried to shut down the defence and reverted to a five man defence which back fired mainly through a combination of positive attacking from Everton, but poor defensive organisation. A multitude of other reasons can be examined; however, this would involve a lot of conjecture about fitness levels, quality of the opposition, experience and the like.

Personnel

Blackpool play with a back four  and it would be fair to say that (based on the most appearances) that Blackpool`s first choice back four, from left back to right back would be; Stephen Crainey, Ian Evatt, Craig Cathcart and Neil Eardley. Alex Baptiste covers at right and centre back and David Carney covers the left back spot. Dekel Keinan had been acting as back up for the centre back position before his recent move to Cardiff City. It is also important to understand that Holloway has used Matthew Phillips at right back at times this season, which underlines something about his defensive philosophy as Phillips is primarily a forward. This was covered in December through an extensive focus on the Blackpool full backs. where it was established that Holloway uses his full backs to attack as the best form of defence and by pushing up his full backs he exerts great pressure on the opposition in their own half and the final third of the pitch.

Blackpool haven’t been able to select a consistent defensive line up for many reasons, injuries being the key one. This instability in selection cannot help the overall performance especially from a unit that needs time to gel and build up communications.

Evo-Lution!

Ian Evatt joined Blackpool under Simon Grayson, a traditional ‘big’ English centre-back that wasn’t afraid to get stuck in. Since Holloway took over, Evatt has evolved and progressed in to a centre back that passes accurately, steps out of defence and where possible attempts to trigger attacks. He personifies so much about where Ian Holloway has brought Blackpool. Before his tenure, a ball running towards the touch line and out of play may well have been left to go out for a throw in. Now Evatt will control the ball, roll his foot over it, move with it and distribute it safely as Blackpool build their play with considered passing from the back line. Let’s take a look at Evatt’s statistics this season.

He does his stuff he does!

The stand out figures here are his pass completion of 76%, which is good for a centre back and forms a key part of the passing game that Holloway has brought to Blackpool. Other stand out stats to focus on are his tackle success of 63% and within that his aerial duels win percentage of 61%. What isn’t shown here is the volume of tackles that he has lost this season, in total he has lost 46 duels this season at a rate of 2 per match. Here lies the crux of any defenders work, it not always the tackles you win that help the team, but the consequences of what happens when you lose a duel? Does your opponent punish you or not?

To sum up Ian Evatt’s development under Holloway, look not to the superb performances he has put in this season, but look to the goal he scored against Coventry at Bloomfield Road last season. Solid technique, breaking out from defence, good passing ability and the ability and awareness to curl a shot in to the goal.

Shaping up

The media have criticised Blackpool’s defence at times this season and Ian Holloway stated that he wanted to attack and not defend in the Premier League. However, Blackpool can defend and the following sequence sheds some light on the way they organise their back line when coming under attack. Firstly, a sequence from the Liverpool game, showing attacks from the left, and right. Clearly when you freeze the action you can see that they set themselves very well and in these instances they fended off danger.

As Liverpool advance down their left, note how Blackpool's back line is spaced and cover in a line across the field of play.

What is also key here and is a common when Blackpool is under attack is how David Vaughan (white dots) tracks back to support the right back. This also happened for Everton’s first goal in last weeks match. Likewise as you’ll see below, when the attack comes from the other side, Charlie Adam tracks back to support the left back.

Here Stephen Crainey closes out the space out wide whilst Ian Evatt tracks his runner in to the corner area.

Pick any match and Blackpool’s defensive shape can be impressive, here’s another example to back this up from the Wolves game. As a long ball is hit from deep in the Wolves half, the defence coped perfectly well to see off the danger. Note that the four defenders are relatively evenly spread across the pitch.

This time the attack comes aerially against Wolves in to the Blackpool right back area. Eardley get's positioned in order to make a challenge should be required to.

An observation from a few games this season is that Neil Eardley stands off his man and gives him too much space as can be seen from the Everton game. However, given the examples above, it can’t be ascertained if this is the fault of one person given that above you can see that Ian Evatt covers one runner in behind whilst Adam and Vaughan work hard to track back. When Blackpool fail to defend, it is purely a case of failing to defend as a team or as we will see below, being punished by excellent opposition.

Coping in transition

When looking at Blackpool’s defensive shape, the biggest question hangs over their ability to cope with a side that is counter attacking them. In such transition phases sides either have a basic shape in place at all times to counter that or have plans for getting back in to shape; mainly requiring a lot of energy, pace and discipline in order to recover. However, quick counters and unexpected passes from deep can catch Blackpool out. Look at the following shots below from the Liverpool game. The back line is retreating, no offside trap can be sprung, they are responding to the fact the Torres has crept in behind Stephen Crainey and space has opened up on the left.

Liverpool break quickly and the intelligent movement of Torres is too much for Blackpool.

Against Manchester United they were undone twice by balls from Paul Scholes played from deep. This caught them off guard, on one occasion playing a dangerous offside trap against Javier Hernandez who has excellent pace and movement to escape many top quality defences. Anticipation of the pass and covering the runner may have ensured a more composed response to what was an early warning of the Manchester United comeback.

Realising that an unexpected ball in being played from deep, Blackpool try to play offside and the poor organisation causes a chance for Man Utd.
Look how Craig Cathcart loses his spacing from his right back and the two defenders leave space for Man Utd to attack.

Above you can see how the spacing in the defence has been lost as an early pass from deep has been lofted over the defence. Where Hernandez (black) is, is exactly where Cathcart needs to position himself instead of being dragged in to the right back area.

It’s fair to say that in predictable situations Blackpool can and do defend well, the biggest problem they face is the unpredictable and in the Premier League there is so much more of that due to the quality of the opposition. Anticipation of danger goes up a level, reactions, pace of response; all of these become so much more important at this higher level. It may be no coincidence that the five clean sheets have come against three teams who had poor attacks on the day (Wigan, West Ham and Sunderland) and two teams who had one game plan based on direct approaches to target men (Newcastle and Stoke).

Added to this is that unpredictable factor has been heightened by the fact that 4 goals have been conceded whilst the team had a player off for treatment. Defensive positions weren’t covered adequately, caused issues and goals were lost.

Not what you do, it’s what you don’t do

It would be easy to try and show the duels that Blackpool make on a chalkboard, it will show duels being won all over the pitch in the main with many players contributing to that effort. However, a quick look at the chalkboards from the Stoke game (clean sheet) and the Everton game (five goals against) give a little illustration of where defence can go wrong. The chalkboard here is of the duels that Blackpool lost in both games. The key factor here is to note where they are lost. In the Stoke game, only two tackles were lost in the final third, against Everton that number rises to seven.

Note where the tackles are lost in the lower chalkboard as Blackpool's defence concede five goals.

This factor of where you lose your tackles (not necessarily where you win them) can be crucial. Lose too many tackles too close to the goal and the attackers may have to do less in order to score. It also gives you less space and possibly time to recover. Fail in the tackle further from the goal and the danger is further away, simple.

Attack is the best form of defence

As mentioned in the post on Blackpool’s full backs and in other posts, Blackpool build their game on passing and Holloway sees that attacking teams as his best way of defending. As Blackpool have hit five defeats on the trot it is interesting to note that their pass count has dropped as well as completion rate. Quite simply they were keeping the ball better, for longer earlier in the season and now they are not. Teams appear to be working harder now to close down the space and specifically to stop the ‘keeper distributing from the back. In the games since the Liverpool match Blackpool’s average match pass count stands at 441 with a completion of 70%. Prior to that game it stood at 475 with a completion rate of 75%.

Consistency

One factor above centered on the selection of a consistent back line and this hasn’t been helped by injuries to all three goal keepers. Matthew Gilks started the season the first choice playing 12 games, conceding 23 and making 48 saves in the process. Since being injured at half time at West Ham Richard Kingson has come in playing 12, conceding 21 and making 61 saves. Both have performed well, but the latter, recently making mistakes leading to goals against West Brom and West Ham.

Tightening up

Blackpool will concede more goals as this season progresses, but should Blackpool get back to winning ways, it may be due to improvement in ball retention. Defenders make mistakes, they all do, however, Blackpool will be hoping that they aren’t making them in the danger areas and if they do that they either recover from them or they aren’t punished. When the opposition is predictable Blackpool look assured; they’ll be looking to improve and find that assurance when unpredictability strikes.

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You can discuss this article with Blackpool fans over at Vital Blackpool

Clinical Deficiencies – Everton v Blackpool

Louis Saha gave a masterclass in clinical finishing either side of Blackpool clinically punishing two mistakes made by Everton players. However, it was a double defensive substitution by Ian Holloway that failed to snuff out Everton’s attacks that swung the game back in David Moyes’ favour.

Setting Up

The opening play saw Holloway pitting his 4-3-3 against the 4-1-4-1 of David Moyes, who had Marouane Fellaini in the holding role in a system that had stifled Blackpool earlier in the season at Bloomfield Road. James Beattie started in the front three, alongside Jason Puncheon and DJ Campbell who dropped deep from the centre to receive the ball.

Moyes has watched Blackpool a lot this season and knows he needs to block the space with a holding midfielder and lined up 4-1-4-1 against Holloway's 4-3-3.

In effect there appeared to be three key dynamics that lead to Everton’s win which are discussed below.

Right back to where we started

Prior to this game starting Blackpool had conceded 16 goals in their last 5 games since beating Liverpool. 13 of them have germinated in the right back area as teams appear to have spotted and exploited a real weakness in the Blackpool defence.

This season Everton have been exceptional down their left hand side, so this match had the potent combination of Blackpool’s weakness matching up with Everton’s strength and this was key in this game with all 5 of Everton’s goals coming via this channel.

Taking Everton’s first goal step by step you can see how their defence is drawn out of shape by some simple Everton passing and movement.

Neil Eardley shows Bilyaletdinov plenty of space to turn and run.
David Vaughan has to track the Everton runner who has exploited the space that Eardley leaves behind him.
Eardley does recover his ground, but commits to the challenge and is beaten easily by Bilyaletdinov and the Blackpool defence has conceded 20 yards of space for him to attack.
Blackpool's centre backs are unable to doing anything to stop the cut back cross ball.

Everton focused their passing down their left hand side and completed 60% of their passes in open play down the left hand side.

This blog recently discussed the importance of Blackpool’s full backs in their open sense of adventure, however, it appears that teams understand this to be as much of a weakness too. As the full backs attack they leave space behind and recently it appears the space isn’t being covered effectively. Should Blackpool stay in the Premier League then Holloway will have worked hard with his full backs to sustain their attacking potency whilst ensuring defensive stability.

Keeping it tight till switching it off

Without doubt Everton controlled the space on the pitch very effectively for the most part, however, after going 2-1 up the appeared to push for a third to kill the game off. In doing so they started to lose a little of their shape and Blackpool exploited this very well in transition and capitalised on mistakes.

As a result of Marouane Fellaini sitting in a 4-1-4-1 Blackpool were strangled and even on the rare occasion when Elliot Grandin was able to get goal side of Fellaini, he ended up not being able to find a team-mate.

Here you can see that Grandin has escaped Fellaini in a very rare first half occurrence, but fails to make it pay.

Fellaini closed out Charlie Adam effectively in the first half, even when he was in the deep. Look at the shot below as Fellaini makes up several yards to close Adam down which forces Adam in to an error and leads to Everton’s build up for their first goal.

Fellaini is aware of Adam dropping deep, sensing danger he steps out of position to close Adam down in the space marked by the red dot.
Fellaini has closed out Adam and he hits a wayward pass handing possession to Everton who go on to score.

In fact Charlie Adam was stifled in the first half and had a pass completion of only 48%. As he was gradually afforded more space in the second half it increased to 67%. As further demonstration of how Everton disrupted Blackpool’s passing their completion was 64% in the first half and in the second it was 68%. It is interesting to note that for Blackpool’s period of goal scoring (between 61 and 65) it increased to 78%.

The Chalkboard below shows how Fellaini contested 11 duels and won 10 in the whole match, however, 8 of those were in the first half and he and won 7 of those as he dominated the midfield. As Fellaini stopped being dominant in his duels Blackpool enjoyed their success. Was this just a coincidence?

Fellaini had a great game in the tackle, however, in the second half as the game swung towards Blackpool he failed to win duels. As he started to win them again on the 73 minute mark Everton started to control again.

Concession of the advantage!

At 3-2 Blackpool appeared to have Everton exposed to the counter and it was at this point Holloway tried to change the dynamic, seemingly to shut the game out. In his post match interview he likened his move to the one made against Liverpool to shut out the result. However, the two moves were completely different, against Liverpool his switch came with 5 minutes remaining, whilst he had a full 20 minutes to control here. Also, he went to a 4-1-4-1 against Liverpool whilst against Everton he went to a very unfamiliar looking 5-4-1. In doing so, he conceded his small advantage in favour of asking Everton to try to break them down. Everton did, through a combination of defensive mistakes, dis-organisation and naivety. The shots below show how Blackpool struggled to organise themselves in to a coherent 5 man defence. Firstly, the centre backs are drawn narrow and inside the Everton attackers and secondly in the run up to the Everton fourth goal, as the third centre back (Rob Edwards) is out of position with Neil Eardley behind him.

Blackpool struggle to space their 3 centre backs allowing themselves to be drawn inside the Everton attackers leaving plenty of space either side of the three.
From another angle Blackpool's defence is totally out of shape as Beckford puts Everton ahead.

As further evidence of how the defensive move didn’t pay off, see the chalkboard below and notice how Blackpool fail to win any duels as Everton pick off three unanswered goals. 

Above, even when Blackpool went defensive, it never paid off, losing 1 tackles in a 10 minute period. Prior and before that they worked hard in the tackle even though they lost 24 of their 53 challenges.

Ding Dong

This was a battle launched firmly on a robust Everton side shutting out Blackpool’s attacking space, before stinging them down their flawed right hand area. However, after handing Blackpool space on the counter Ian Holloway will move on to the next game knowing that his team are still potent, and will hope to find a better way of controlling the game against Aston Villa should he find his team holding the advantage.

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The lost fluency – Blackpool v West Ham

West Ham outworked Blackpool in the central area of the pitch to record a deserved victory as Ian Holloway shuffled his team selection which ultimately appeared to disrupt the fluency that they have found at many stages this season.

Setting up 

4-3-3 v 4-4-2, West Ham’s Obinna being the player who drifted the most from either side.

This was a clear 4-3-3 v 4-4-2 battle and for the first time this season Blackpool were undone by a flat and very plain 4-4-2 with few defining features. There was two clear reasons for this.

1. Mark Noble and Scott Parker worked hard to deny Blackpool’s midfield enough space to operate and when they won the ball they were economical with it. The consequence of this was that Blackpool’s pass completion dropped to 71%. Between Noble and Parker they attempted 100 passes completing 77% compared to Vaughan and Adam who attempted 123 passes completing 69% of them.

2. When David Vaughan and Charlie Adam found space; Andy Reid was struggling early on to understand his role in a new team and was often too static. This appeared to be backed up as Ian Holloway appeared to have a lengthy discussion with him around the 20 minute mark. After about half an hour he was swapped with Gary Taylor-Fletcher. Assuming Reid was told to play a central winger role as defined by Zonal Marking the other month, then by looking at the chalkboard below you can see how Reid stayed in central area more opposed to the way that Grandin drifted to the flanks in the previous game against Man Utd. Added to this Reid misplaced 8 of his 19 passes in open play.

Assuming both Reid and Grandin are assigned the same role then you can see the difference from the opening 30 mins of the last two games. Reid appears to stick in middle as Grandin drifts to the wing.

A final point on Blackpool’s formation, as is becoming normal when chasing a game, Blackpool moved more in to a 4-2-4 as Holloway made his usual aggressive substitutions.

Back line changes

Ian Holloway made his first call of the night by picking a defensive line that had never played together before. David Carney came back from the Asian Cup Final (where he went for a jog instead of marking Tadanari Lee, who scored the winning goal) and in to the left back spot with Alex Baptiste moving in to centre back as Ian Evatt was dropped to the bench. The back line didn’t settle and Holloway brought on Evatt on at the break to replace Craig Cathcart. The impact of these changes saw Carney sit back more than Stephen Crainey would have done, whilst West Ham (as previous clubs have done) appeared to target an apparent weakness in Blackpool’s right back area.

In previous games both Sunderland and Manchester United have opened up Blackpool down their right side, this isn’t to say that it’s the right back who is causing the issue as the right-sided centre back has a duty of cover as well. It appears that there is a lack of cohesion at times down that flank and West Ham were the latest side to benefit. What causes this appears to be three things. Firstly, the right back (Eardley in this case) misses tackles. Secondly the right back loses position and doesn’t recover quick enough. Finally, the centre back not anticipating danger and being able to cover adequately enough.

With Carney not having the sense of adventure that Crainey brings to the team it appeared to reduce Blackpool’s attacking dynamic down the left and Blackpool enjoyed more success from the right flank. You can see from the Chalkboard below where Blackpool lacked some balance in their passing.

Blackpool struggled all game to get in to good positions in the final third. Here you can see how few passes were completed in the final third on the left flank. Possibly Carney lacked the adventure that Crainey brings??

Moving on

Mistakes were all too common for Blackpool in this match, but West Ham showed up like a team who are used to working hard to battle against relegation and duly got their reward along with a mercurial performance from Victor Obinna. Ian Holloway will have a think about his strategy for integrating his new players in to his side and work hard towards an invigorated Blackpool performance to push Everton all the way this Saturday.

Picturing Defeat – Away to West Brom

By now everyone knows how this match panned out. Both sides made errors that were punished and West Brom claimed the 3 points. However, what went on from a formation point of view and how did that affect the match as the 90 minutes unfolded?

Setting up

Roberto Di Matteo uses a 4-1-4-1 which sometimes evolves into a 4-3-3 depending on the progressive approach of Jerome Thomas and Chris Brunt, whereas Ian Holloway favours his variant 4-3-3 that evolves in to a 4-2-3-1 or sometimes a 4-2-1-3.

First Half Hour

Blackpool with a deep defensive line, a tight and narrow midfield.

Blackpool lead after 30 mins and as you can see above, the defensive line is sitting deep and the team in midfield are bunched close together closing out the space affording to the West Brom midfield. Whilst below you can see how West Brom played marginally higher up the pitch and resembled something more like a flat 4-4-2.

WBA looking like a flat-ish 4-4-2 as Blackpool find space between their lines and create chances.

Drawing Level – 40 mins

Blackpool starting to spread and Vaughan being left behind as midfield moves up.

As West Brom drew level Blackpool’s formation had started to spread wider than before and Taylor-Fletcher (number 12) has dropped back in to midfield. On the other hand West Brom have got marginally more adventurous with Marek Cech (4) pushing higher up. However, in midfield Youssuf Mulumbu (21) has started to move deeper and Chris Brunt has moved inside more, presumably to assist his colleagues in midfield.

11 sitting in narrow to add to midfield as 14 begins to stretch the play and 21 starts to drift deeper as a 4-1-3-2 emerges.

Half time deadlock

Blackpool formed compact, but again with a gap between defence and midfield.

At half time Blackpool are the more compact of the two team whilst West Brom have their defence playing slightly higher and the whole team almost spread box to box. The compact nature of Blackpool’s formation might be a reflection of the fact that after initially having some joy in the game, they started to soak up some pressure and reverted to using the counter attack to break down West Brom.

WBA stretched almost box to box, but leaving space between midfield and defence.

On the hour

Blackpool at this point had fallen behind and Matty Phillips (23) had been introduced for Elliot Grandin (14). Given that Grandin was the further player forward when he departed might have been a reason for his withdrawal from the game as well as his fitness level. Perhaps he was instructed to push higher up, but you’d have expected DJ Campbell to have been in his position. Perhaps DJ was dropping too deep at times? Below West Brom are starting to look more consistent as Mulumbu forms a line with his full backs, he sits as the rest of the team progress. Di Matteo has a clear definition of his team, 5 players with defensive duties and 5 with attacking duties which strikes a good balance on the pitch.

WBA start to have a nice separation between defence and attack as Mulumbu sits to cover his defence.

Getting back on level terms

By this point Ian Holloway had gone searching for the game and made brave attacking substitutions. David Vaughan (11) started to drop deep to afford the side some cover, Charlie Adam (26) now standing alone in midfield as DJ Campbell (39) and Taylor-Fletcher start to advance forward in search of the goal. Below West Brom are very orderly, which was important in the scheme of things as they haven’t necessarily been drawn in to Ian Holloway’s plan to throw attackers on the pitch to open the game up. Their defensive 5 have barely moved in all the second half.

Last Gasp

More of the same as Blackpool advance forward playing their attacking football, however, what is interesting to note between this shot and the opening shot on 31 mins is the defensive line. Check back and notice how Craig Cathcart (20) and Ian Evatt (6) are higher up the pitch. Look at the half time positions and see how Cathcart was on the ‘D’ of the penalty box. Would Cathcart have been caught out by Scharner’s clog had he been sitting deeper as earlier? Below West Brom remain steadfast in defence whilst all around them is attacking chaos. The key here is Mulumbu again, who has maintained his positional discipline since his opening half hour digression.

Closing out and signing off

Yes this was a great game for entertainment, Ian Holloway certainly did everything he could to win this. Blackpool did superbly to get back on level terms, but after making attacking substitutions it is hard to try to alter a teams mentality so late in the game. West Brom kept tight and kept their shape and saw off the best that Blackpool could throw at them and fittingly Peter Odemwingie kept his composure to close out the match.

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Liverpool Match Review

Blackpool beat a sluggish, negative and stagnant Liverpool at Anfield back in October and with the return of Kenny Dalglish to the Liverpool hot seat, this match could’ve got away from Blackpool as Fernando Torres scored an early opener. It was a credit to Blackpool as they never panicked or broke from their game plan to get back in to the match.

The set up

Blackpool they lined up in their 4-2-3-1 with what could be described as their first choice eleven, although Elliot Grandin did sit a little deeper than usual at times making a flatter three in midfield. Whilst Dalglish picked a team who set up in a similar fashion to Blackpool, but had Glen Johnson in at left back after he was tipped for a midfield start.

For Blackpool Elliot Grandin played slightly deeper than usual whilst Poulsen sat in front of the Liverpool back four.

The effects of the formations made space very tight in the midfield with Raul Meireles playing in the three behind Torres with Lucas and Christian Poulsen holding deeper. If anything this restricted Blackpool, who at times this season have really struggled against teams who sit a midfielder deep and in front of the back four. A consequence of the midfield set up was that Meireles sat very close to Charlie Adam. At times it appeared that he was almost man marking Adam but it was more likely a consequence of positioning than anything else.

For arguments sake Liverpool’s formation at times could be described as a 4-1-4-1 as much as a 4-2-3-1, as Lucas tended to push higher up. As all the midfielders tried to find space they tended to shuffle with Meireles dropping deeper at times, Adam the same, Vaughan stepping up and Lucas the same. The only midfielder who failed to progress from his position was Poulsen, presumably under instruction. This meant that Blackpool could outnumber Lucas and Meireles in the centre as Grandin dropped deeper and Poulsen was out of the game.

At times Martin Kelly got forward from right back for Liverpool as did Glen Johnson on the left. Blackpool as usual pushed both full backs up when the times were right, but not in as sustained manner as in other matches this season. Both centre forwards worked hard, Torres in particular moved to close down both centre backs when out of possession and when breaking forward he was peeling off to the right and left to escape the centre backs.

First Hour

The game was very even for the first hour, as above, the space was restricted, mistakes were plenty in terms of conceding possession. Chances (goals apart) weren’t clean-cut. However, both sides were trying to pass the ball from the back, Blackpool moving it quicker on occasion in an attempt to either get Luke Varney winning headers against Martin Kelly or to catch Liverpool’s back four flat-footed.

Passing fad

Liverpool had more of the pass, with a pass total of 517 to Blackpool’s 445 with a completion rate of 73% to Blackpool’s 72%. However, as the game progressed Liverpool’s pass completion dropped off with the last 15 minutes of the game seeing it drop as low as 62% whilst Blackpool’s hit 72%. The chart below shows how, as the match progressed Liverpool’s passing disintegrated.

The pass comp % for both teams has been broken down in to 15 minute segments. You can see how as the match progressed from left to right then Liverpool's passing got worse.

Another observation about Liverpool was that their game against Blackburn Liverpool saw them make 598 passes at a completion rate of 74%, however, their passing lacked balance with 64% of their passes coming down the right. In this game they had much better balance with a 49/51 split between left and right.

Pressing matter

Points that stood out for Liverpool was their pressing of the ball higher up the pitch. This is illustrated in the chalkboard below as Liverpool won 65% of their 17 interceptions in the Blackpool half.

Liverpool pressing high up the pitch intercepting Blackpool's passes in their half.

However, very few occurred in front of the Liverpool area and it was this that exposed Liverpool’s back line. Poulsen was presumably asked to sit, screen and break up Blackpool play that threatened the Liverpool defence. However, all his interceptions occurred in the Blackpool half and none in that key area. It wasn’t as though Blackpool were bypassing that zone either, as you can see from the Chalkboard below. Blackpool consistently took on and beat Liverpool players in front of the back line. Poulsen won only 1 of his 5 tackles and effectively offered little or no cover to his defence. With Poulsen being so inert and positioned away from the heart of the action and Meireles being tied up with Adam, this left Lucas having to do the majority of the midfield work attempting 14 tackles winning 10 of them.

Blackpool taking Liverpool players on and beating them.

Parting to the end

In the 77th minute something occurred which was symptomatic of how Liverpool broke down towards the end of the game. With the ball on the back line and Blackpool pressing higher up the pitch, Poulsen dropped to receive the ball, however, Lucas and Meireles were caught too far up the pitch and any attempt to build from the back failed as the ball dropped back to Daniel Agger, he had little choice but to clear long and concede possession. Quite simply, Liverpool started to lose their shape (tiredness?) and never regained it again.

Here, Poulsen (yellow) is about to receive the ball from Agger (black) both under pressure from Taylor-Fletcher (tangerine) and Vaughan (white). There isn't another Liverpool player in the shot ahead of Poulsen. They opted to go long.

Subbing to stifle

Ian Holloway has at times this season tried to ‘shut up shop’ with mixed results, sometimes conceding late goals. In this game, it could be argued that the substitutions were crucial in this match. For Blackpool the injection of Matthew Phillips’ pace forced Liverpool deep and allowed quick counters for Blackpool. Added to this Ian Holloway brought in two defensive midfield subs in order to close out the game with fresh legs and an emphasis on the tackle. Blackpool’s shape changed to a 4-1-4-1 for the last five minutes whilst Liverpool’s changes made them resemble more of a 4-4-2.

Ian Holloway made defensive subs switching to a 4-1-4-1 for the last 5 mins.

It was the Liverpool subs who saw very little of the game who made the least impact. Jonjo Shelvey and David N’gog made a total of 7 passes (3 misplaced) between them, lost 2 of their 3 tackles and didn’t muster a shot. Whereas Alex Baptiste and Keith Southern got on the ball making 11 passes (1 misplaced), won 2 tackles and 2 clearances to ensure that the game end was controlled by Blackpool.

At the double

It was a high tempo, all action performance from Blackpool again and the fresh legs the Tangerines had will have given them an edge against a Liverpool side that tired as the match progressed. It was even more impressive, given that Holloway managed to stifle the game through good substitutions and that Blackpool got a win against a side playing a four band system, something they’ve struggled with this season. Again, the team keeps developing, at this rate, Premier League survival may be a strong reality.

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Tangerines aren't just for Christmas

As 2011 gets underway, Blackpool FC will be looking forward to more of the same which should see the team achieve what was being touted as impossible back in August. Festive fixtures against Sunderland and Manchester City saw similar performances from a statistical point of view but differing outcomes with a win and a loss. A review of last night’s Birmingham game will follow in the next few days.

Statistical Breakdown

The seasonal games were both away, however, it appears that Blackpool from a pass completion point of view progressed from where they left off against Bolton and Stoke in their previous games. Against Bolton Blackpool’s pass completion faded towards the end of the game (there’s a post coming about this) as a 2-0 lead became 2-2 at the final whistle. However, in both of these games Blackpool attained pass completion rates of 75% (S’land) and 77% (Man C). These are very good figures and in both matches allowed Blackpool to set up enough chances to score as they did twice at the Stadium of Light but never at Eastlands, although Joe Hart did make two good saves to shut them out. In both of those games Blackpool had 9 shots on goals with the greater accuracy coming on New Year’s day leading to the aforementioned Hart saves.

In the tackle Blackpool again performed admirably in both games although against a more aerial based Sunderland they lost the aerial battle, but won the aerial duel against City. However, in the city game there were only 9 aerial duels compared to the 37 against Sunderland. By losing so many headers to Steve Bruce’s outfit this will have been a major contributing factor to Sunderland having enough of the ball to create the 30 chances they had on goal. When it came to interceptions Blackpool made 12 at the SoL and only 7 against City. Given that City out passed Blackpool then this suggests that Blackpool struggled to take the ball off City and this figure needed to be higher against a team who pass the ball so much. For instance, when Man City visited Bloomfield Road earlier in the season Blackpool made 15 interceptions in a game that Blackpool had more than their fair share of the play and might have won the game on another day.

Formational Variations

The formational propositions differed in each game, with Sunderland setting up in a 4-4-2 (albeit with Danny Welbeck cutting inside off the left flank) and Blackpool have enjoyed a lot of success against teams this season who set in up this manner. Even though Elliot Grandin went off injured in that game, Gary Taylor-Fletcher dropped in to the central position and helped Blackpool maintain positional continuity. He stayed central for a lot of the time and 71% of his passes occurred in the central zones, so certainly not playing the same role that Grandin did. However, from the central zone where he can create chances he failed to complete a pass in to the opposition box.

Taylor-Fletcher didn't drift like Elliot Grandin does when playing the same role, instead he remained more central.

However, the story over at Eastlands was different as the space on the pitch that Blackpool usually enjoys was closed out by Roberto Mancini’s 4-5-1 bordering on a 4-2-3-1 . All season Blackpool have had less success against teams who play a midfielder (or two) in front of the back four and Nigel de Jong had an outstanding game, making 3 tackles out of 4, misplacing only 2 of his 45 passes and closing out the space in the centre of the pitch. As the game became stretched Blackpool switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-2-4 to what could only be described as a 4-1-1-4 as Blackpool bypassed midfield play in the last ten minutes to get the ball forward quickly to try and snatch an equaliser. As the season progresses Ian Holloway will need to find ways for his team to break down teams set up with a defensive midfield cover as good as that provided by de Jong.

Shuffling the Midfield Trio

There have been a few discussions on this blog in past couple of months as to what Holloway wants his midfield to do. Over the festive period this has been thrown open again, first with the suspension of Charlie Adam in the game against Sunderland and the subsequent injury to Elliot Grandin in the same game. Therefore the trio used for the main part of the Sunderland game was Vaughan, Sylvestre and Taylor-Fletcher whilst Vaughan and Sylvestre were joined by Adam for the second game. The fact that the first trio oversaw a victory suggests that was better blend, but was there anything within the Chalkboards that suggested a lack of cohesion in the first half against Man City? If it is safe to assume that Sylvestre was filling in for Grandin, then he would assume the position at the head of the midfield trio with Adam and Vaughan sitting behind. However, as discussed above Grandin floats out to the wings which helps to free up the space for Adam to occupy and make passes. What can be seen through the chalkboards is that Sylvestre held a more central position throughout his time on the pitch which could’ve taken away the space that Adam likes to work in and thus lead to a more stunted and broken up first half from Blackpool. In the second half Adam did advance more and this is reflected in him making an extra 4% of his passes in the final third. Although a marginal improvement it still hints at the subbing of Sylvestre lead to Adam getting in to his favoured position more often and given that the match was against a title contender then the team on the whole is going to enjoy less of the ball in advanced positions.

As highlighted in red, Adam managed to get forward a little more after the subbing of Sylvestre.

This leads to the question of whether or not Adam and Sylvestre can operate in the same team and if they can, how will Holloway seek to make that happen given that Sylvestre possesses great quality on the ball as demonstrated in the game at the SoL. What Holloway and Blackpool did learn is that Blackpool can operate successfully without Adam and a look at Sylvestre’s chalkboard from the games shows how impressive he can be on the ball with a pass completion of 80% against Sunderland and 92% against Man City. Added to that, the performance at City showed how he was able to break down City’s normally resolute defensive line as highlighted below.

Sylvestre is safe and creative in possession of the football.

Break on through

The performance against City at Bloomfield Road was characterised on this blog as a performance where Blackpool struggled to break down City’s defence. However, as just mentioned above Sylvestre had some joy with excellent incisive passing and the team in general managed to get through that line more often than they did in the home fixture. This can be interpreted as a sign of progression and development on Blackpool’s behalf as they may be learning to break down the more resolute defences which should help to contribute to getting to safety provided they convert the subsequent chances.

Get him close and he will score!

As discussed on this blog earlier in the season when DJ Campbell was struggling to hit the back of the net, if his team can get the ball to his feet in the area between penalty spot and goal line then he will start scoring. Firstly, the game against Stoke helped to back up this assertion, but the game against Sunderland confirmed it more with his two goals coming from within that range. Whilst against Man City his team couldn’t get him in that close and not only failed to score, but to register a single shot on goal.

Combating Youthful Verve

Matthew Phillips saw more action over the festive period than he probably thought would happen. In both games he enjoyed good success down the right wing with the highlight being the assist for the winner at the SoL. It appeared that both Bruce and Mancini both made substitutions to counter his pace and dribbling ability. With Kieran Richardson’s pace being introduced to counter that of Phillips, whereas Pablo Zabaleta coming on for the more adventurous Aleksandar Kolarov. Both subs made life tough for Phillips; however, it appears that Mancini got the balance right as he sat deeper instead of pushing forward. This meant that instead of Phillips attacking space left by Kolarov he was monitored more watchfully by the resolute Zabaleta who stopped him from getting in behind the defence as he had earlier on as demonstrated below.

The red boxes are arguably where Holloway wants Phillips to operate. While Kolarov was on the pitch Phillips had success, though once Zabaleta came in to the game Phillips struggled and started to drift, even popping up on the left wing.

Take on me!

Just a special mention must go to Carlos Tevez who by repeatedly taking on and beating his man opened up space and by doing so he helps to make some tactics inert, creating his own space and taking players out of the game. Against Blackpool he drifted effortlessly past his man 7 times with 4 coming inside the box and a further two of them on the edge of the box. Little wonder he had so many chances and on another day he may well have had a hat-trick.

Rendering formations temporarily inert as Tevez takes on and creates his own space, constantly giving Blackpool problems.

January Blues

January started off with defeat to the Sky Blues of Manchester and has just been followed with another defeat to the Blues of Birmingham, however, the season is just hitting one of the busiest periods of the calendar and Ian Holloway will know he has strength in depth within his squad and are capable of picking up points anywhere in this league and he’ll be hoping to turn Blackpool’s away form in to this coming sequence of home fixtures as he tries to survive.