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 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

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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What's in a pass – Revisited

Back in January this blog took a look at the passing of Blackpool and the role that it plays in their overall game plan. Then Blackpool were on 25 points and 8 games later they have only mustered up further 4 points. This decline is on the radars of the mainstream media and the following clichés are being warmed up; ‘the honeymoon is over’ and ‘running out of steam’. However, can a focus on Blackpool’s passing help to understand more about why Blackpool have only clocked up 4 points from a possible 21 in their last 8 games?

The decline?

Just for clarity purposes, here is a chart showing how Blackpool’s points per game has progressed throughout the season and as you can see the line tails off towards the end as the most recent run of defeats have taken their toll.

Blackpool's average points since the match against Arsenal in week 2.

Pass Incompletion

In the previous article Blackpool’s passing was picked out as a key strength and at that time they had a pass completion rate higher than Liverpool under Roy Hodgson. However, if we plot the game pass completion rates for each game on a graph, what do we see?

From left to right see how the line gradually tails downwards as Blackpool have completed less and less passes.

As you can see Blackpool’s pass completion has been gradually eroding in recent weeks. In fact for the games prior to their last win Blackpool’s pass completion was 75% and in the last six games it has dropped to 70%.

Player Focus

Recent articles have focused on some individual player performance over the course of the season, most recently with Ian Evatt, Charlie Adam and David Vaughan. Below is a chart showing their pass completion % for the last 6 games set against that of the games before that.

You can see above how Charlie Adam and Ian Evatt's pass completion has dropped in the last 6 games.

You can clearly see that in the games where Blackpool’s pass completion has begun to disintegrate, David Vaughan has been consistently excellent, even pushing up his pass completion above 85%. Whilst Adam has dropped from 71% to 60% and Evatt has gone from 68% to 75%.

This tends to fit in to the fact that Blackpool’s pass completion has started to drop for two key reasons. Team putting players under more pressure by closing them down and that Blackpool’s players are still learning to improve their decision-making at this level i.e. when to pass and what pass to make.

For example, teams seem to really pressure the back line and the keeper now, in order to make it harder for them to play out from the back. This is further backed up when looking at the completion rate for goal kicks. In the last six games it has dropped to 57% from 64% previously. Earlier on in the season goal kicks were often taken short, however, forwards are alert to that threat now and seek to cover the edge of the area making interceptions and forcing passing errors. See the chalkboard below from Blackpool’s most recent game against Aston Villa. Notice how 9 of the 20 interceptions made by Villa were in Blackpool’s own half.

As Villa pressed Blackpool they made 20 interceptions, 9 of them in the Blackpool half.

Pep talk

This week Ian Holloway has talked about how he wants to learn from Josep Guardiola to improve his side. It is possible that he feels he can learn to improve his side’s ball retention by seeing how Barcelona play and that this learning could well be applied to allow his side to pass the ball better under pressure, improving their pass completion and possibly win more games. On average, in the games that Blackpool win, their pass completion is 1% higher than those they lose. Small margins on the surface, but at the top-level of football, small margins might make a big difference especially as Blackpool try to stay in the Premier League.

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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.

Sunderland Review

Steve Bruce lost Darren Bent to Aston Villa this week and Daniel Welbeck to injury, but arguably it helped to define his team selection and he reaped the benefits. Ian Holloway will be happy with the way the game ended, but will be hoping that injuries picked up don’t affect his side over the coming games.

Setting up

Sunderland made space hard to come by in the middle of the pitch, Malbranque sitting narrow and out of possession Richardson dropped back in to midfield.

From a formation point of view Blackpool set out in their normal 4-3-3, but Sunderland resembled more of a 4-5-1 out of possession with Kieran Richardson breaking from midfield when in possession of the ball to join Asamoah Gyan up front. Out of possession Sunderland were narrow in midfield, little width was used as Steed Malbranque edged in from the left. In losing Darren Bent this week Steve Bruce was forced in to setting up this way, arguably had he had the same squad at his disposal as the last time these two sides met then he’d possibly have gone 4-4-2 and potentially given control of the centre to Blackpool.

The simple way to effectiveness

Sunderland came with a simple and clear game plan;

  1. Crowd the midfield
  2. Press Blackpool high up the pitch
  3. Attack quick and direct when in possession

It is often the simplest plans that draw the most success and Sunderland carried out theirs to perfection. Each player worked hard to hassle Blackpool players in possession of the ball and in particular this served two purposes. To break up Blackpool’s passing rhythm in midfield and to stop Blackpool playing out from the back. As can be seen below, Zenden and Henderson were told to press Blackpool when they were in possession of the ball in the deep. Often this is where Blackpool build their attacks from, not this time, as Adam and other Blackpool players were given little space to work in early on in the game.

Three Sunderland players ensuring that Blackpool couldn't pass it out from the back. This pressure was applied directly after keeper distribution.
Here you can see that Blackpool are suffocated on the edge of their box. Adam has no space to move in to or many passing options.
Adam has the ball, but two on rushing Sunderland players are making sure he can't find any space to make a play.

The work that Sunderland did in closing down the space pushed Blackpool’s normally reliable passing down to a completion rate of 71%. Sunderland did see less of the ball, but as with any possession in football, it is what you do with it that counts, their pass completion came in at 63%.

The strongest survive

Sunderland are an athletic and strong team and certainly some strong challenges affected Blackpool and their plans for the day. A boot to the nose of Neil Eardley meant he was off the pitch when they scored and an injury to Richard Kingson meant a substitution had to be used to bring on Paul Rachubka. Added to this Stephen Crainey went of with what appeared to be a twisted knee. You can see below how Sunderland instinctively attacked the space left by Eardley being off the pitch. If anything Craig Cathcart (20) perhaps should have checked his position as he is very close to Ian Evatt here and has been sucked in to going where the ball is.

Arguably, had Eardley been on the pitch then he'd assume the position indicated by the tangerine line and Richardson wouldn't have had anywhere to run in to.

Shining Lights

This doesn’t detract from the excellent game Sunderland played and in particular Jordan Henderson stood out, assisting in breaking up Blackpool’s midfield winning all 4 of his duels, making two interceptions and spreading the play when he had the ball as well as making intelligent untracked runs in to the wide right position (first half) to deliver some quality crosses. Also Bolo Zenden was excellent in breaking up play in the centre of midfield winning 7 out of 8 of his duels.

Exploitation

Blackpool did get to grips with Sunderland at times in the first half and once their realised that Sunderland were over committing men in the press, they then exploited the space. However, Craig Gordon had a superb game and once the game went 2-0 Sunderland were happy to drop deeper and ride out whatever Blackpool could throw at them in the hope of catching Blackpool on the counter. Below you can see what happened when Blackpool chipped the ball over the Sunderland midfield. It left Charlie Adam with a full 30 yards to run in to exposing their back line. Only good keeping from Craig Gordon stopped this from being 1-1.

All the Sunderland midfield have committed to attack and press in the final third. A simple 'out ball' leaves Adam with a free run to the back line.

Lack of frontal cohesive movement

Blackpool lacked the focal point of DJ Campbell, often the player that will drop deeper and work hard to win ball as well as making intelligent runs. Gary Taylor-Fletcher didn’t offer the same movement and mobility upfront as Campbell, he doesn’t make forward runs or peel off the shoulder of defenders, he likes to drop to receive the ball before giving and going. This meant that Charlie Adam had little to aim for by way of runners in to the channels or in behind the defence.

Matty Phillips offered some dynamic runs from wider positions, but more often than not he failed to beat his man losing 4 out of 5 take ons. Added to this Luke Varney was very static at times and when he did manage to cut in he failed to make a positive contribution, losing all eight of his duels. In the final third Varney came up short with only 3 of his passes being successful in that area and two of those were out wide and went backwards. Blackpool found it hard to penetrate the Sunderland defence when running with the ball. Look at the Chalkboard to show how attacks around the box broke down as Blackpool lost the take on. Virtually the only time they did break the line, they won a penalty.

Blackpool trying to take Sunderland players on a losing 17 times, look how many are in the final third.

Moving On

Ian Holloway will hope that his team learn from this display and find their rhythm early against Manchester United on Tuesday night as a strong performance could help to set up this next stretch of games where Blackpool will hope to nudge closer to safety. He’ll also hope that the injuries sustained today, don’t have any major impact on his squad. Steve Bruce will be happy that he won and won via a simple and effective game plan.

Blackpool's Number 26

Simon says, 'put your hands on your head if you can land it on a sixpence from 50 yards'.

There’s no doubt that when people refer to Blackpool this season they normally mention Charlie Adam in the same breath. He has adapted to life in the Premier League and made many people sit up and take notice. However, where does Adam fit in the Blackpool FC and just was does he bring to the team?

Tale of the tape

Keeping things brief on this front as the table below will cover most of the key stats, but far and away the first stat to catch the eye is Adam’s passing. Blackpool as a team have a pass completion of 75% and Adam has a lower one than the team coming in at 71%. However, given that Adam is the main set piece taker then the open play pass completion percentage may hold more relevance to his overall play. In open play he finds his team mates 74% of the time against a team average of 78%. Again he comes in lower than the team average, but assuming Holloway has assigned him the role of playmaker then he is likely to mis-place passes as he looks for the killer ball.

What is clear when looking at his stats for the season is how much he contributes elsewhere and this is typical of the player he is and the flexibility that Holloway has instilled in the team. There’s no room in the Blackpool squad for one-dimensional footballers (and arguably no place for them any more in the modern game) and he chips in winning tackles (83) and intercepting opposition moves (41) which are duties normally associated with a more defensive minded midfielder.

Extracted from Guardian chalkboards and Telegraph stats.

When you look at the table above there is one of those numbers that start to show the true worth of Adam to Blackpool this season. That is the key passes totalling 36, the next highest Blackpool player is Gary Taylor-Fletcher with 27 and ranks Adam 13th in the Premier League.  What this does is to back up the assertion that Georgina Turner made in her excellent article about Adam in that, ‘he has set countless Blackpool moves in motion with a well-timed drop of the shoulder and a deft flick of his left foot’.

Positional focus

Now the stats have been laid bare, what about the space that he occupies on the pitch. All those stats occur for a reason and that is they happen within that space and to understand that space can help to understand some of the variation in success that Adam has had this season. By no means has Adam been perfect and with his work rate comes a desire to improve and success. He’d possibly be first to admit that there are times this season where he has failed to break defences down or command more authority in the middle of the pitch.

These following four games give good examples of where Adam operates best from Blackpool’s perspective and where the opposition are best to keep him in order to keep him quiet.

Liverpool

In the first game against Liverpool this season, Adam was at the heart of a magnificent performance from Blackpool underpinning some wonderfully positive passing moves. On the day Liverpool were very static in the first half and Blackpool worked between their lines with ease. In midfield Liverpool tended to allow Adam as much space as he wanted. Whether this was ignorance from Roy Hodgson or not isn’t clear, but it happened. As you can see below Adam spread himself far and wide and made it in the Liverpool box at times. He got forward well and found space in the final third in order to operate.

Above Blackpool are attacking right to left.

When Liverpool came to Bloomfield Road the other week it appeared that Liverpool (albeit under new management) still hadn’t come to terms with Adam endeavouring to find space. They coped with him better and as mentioned in the review they did field a similar three-man midfield to Blackpool. However, with Christian Poulsen proving to be rather inert Adam was still able to find space and time to find his passing range. Below you can see that he is still allowed to get in the box and the final third even given the different Liverpool approach.

Above Blackpool attacking from left to right.

The Liverpool matches in isolation may not show the positions where Adam is dangerous, but given he was at the heart of both victories a look at another match set might show where to keep him.

Manchester City

The home game against Man City saw Adam earn rave reviews from Sky Sports pundits (not sure what qualification that is?) but it saw Blackpool go down to a 3-2 defeat. Ultimately the game was highly influenced by the majestic David Silva ghosting around the pitch and cutting deeply through the Blackpool defence with his vision and passing ability. However, it appears that City were all too aware of letting Adam get free and in to space and close to goal. Aware of his passing ability and propensity to shoot on sight you can see below how his heat map is considerably more constricted than that of the Liverpool games. There is little activity in the final third as Man City were content to let Adam have the ball in deeper areas.

Above Blackpool attacking from left to right.

In the return at Eastlands it appeared that Man City had the measure of Adam. Keep him deep and he is less of a threat. However, it is important to note that Roberto Mancini has an emphasis on a holding midfielder and in this match Nigel de Jong was excellent in killing the space that Adam likes to attack and something akin to what Poulsen should have done for Liverpool at Bloomfield. You can see below just how little of the final third Adam was seeing in that match.

Above Blackpool attacking from right to left.

This is most probably nothing new for most people, but hopefully it shows that given space, time and less attention then Adam can advance in to his favourite areas and should that happen then it becomes more likely he’ll hurt teams. In the away match against Stoke he worked between Stoke’s rather static 4-4-2, found space and again was central to all the good things that happened for Blackpool that day. Contrast his heat map below to that from the Man City game above. You can clear see how much more he gets in the final third and on that day was key to the DJ Campbell winning goal.

Above Blackpool attacking from right to left.

It’s pretty clear and logical that the closer teams allow Adam to get to their goal with time on the ball the more threatening he is and given that Blackpool tend to struggle against teams covering the space in front of defence with a holding midfielder suggest that might be the way to stifle him. However, given his passing range from deep and Adam’s desire to develop, then it wouldn’t be surprising to see him adjust his game to become a threat from the deep.

Just to illustrate one final time, look at the chalkboards below, one from the Stoke game and one from the Man City (away) game.

Adam opens up the Stoke defence who lined up in a flat 4-4-2 affording him space. Compare that to the lower one where Man City closed out the space that Adam thrives in.

What’s not in the stats?

Following on from that his passing range is something that cannot be unlocked through the stats above. His range is superb and a look at Up the ‘Pool’s recent article on the long diagonal pass goes someway to illustrate his range of passing. However, added to that range is his speed of thought, passes of long or short-range aren’t ‘eyed’ up or pondered over. They are swiftly clipped with either inside or outside of the boot giving little or no advance warning to the opposition as to where the ball will end up. The downside of this is that his team mates aren’t often able to judge and should he step up to a more high-profile team then perhaps players of a supposed higher standard might read him at the same speed as he makes his mind up.

Added to this there are the unquantifiable aspects of his character that bristle when he takes to the pitch. He has a free spirit on the turf allied to a steely drive and determination that emanates in strong attacking runs or fully committed tackles.

Three is the magic number

On this blog the ideas and theories behind Blackpool’s three-man midfield have been discussed in length and this is crucial to understanding Adam. Adam must be considered in terms of Blackpool and the system that they play, he is surrounded by hard-working and equally excellent players who provide him with the ball and receive his passes and finish off the team moves.

Adam’s performances are facilitated by those around him and none more so that David Vaughan. Before looking deeper at Vaughan a mention needs to go out to the role that Elliot Grandin plays in freeing up space for Adam to attack. Earlier in the season it wasn’t entirely clear what role Holloway wanted him to play, however, as the season has progressed it appears that Grandin has a brief to drift to the flanks, initially looking composed on the ball, but its the space he leaves behind which is key. By drifting to the flanks he leaves a vacancy behind that Adam can fill.

David Vaughan was brought to the club as a left back, left winger before Ian Holloway arrived and when it became clear that Holloway had secured the signing of Adam it appears that Holloway had done his study on the best way to get the most out of Adam. Adam signed on loan in the February of 2009 under Tony Parkes. Adam fizzed and dazzled in fits and starts during his 13 match loan spell, earning a red card on debut for a clash with former Bloomfield favourite Richie Wellens in a match against Doncaster. What this loan spell tended to show is that in a two man midfield Adam could be dominated by hard working opponents, Blackpool won 4 games of that 13 game spell. What Holloway knew was that to get the best of Adam and free him up he had to field him in a three man midfield. It’s a bit chicken and egg whether or not Adam inspired the 4-3-3 or Holloway was going to play that way anyway. The man Holloway appears to have assigned as the man to free Adam up was David Vaughan. Keith Southern was in there, but he is full of energy and bustle and not nearly so composed on the ball. Holloway knew he had to have a passer of the ball in next to Adam in combination with the energy of Southern. The midfield this season have evolved further and become more cultured, but the role of Vaughan has changed as well. He sits more, he breaks the play up, he is both breaker up of opposition play and setter of tempo.

Look at Vaughan’s stats below to see what he contributes to the team.

Extracted from Guardian chalkboards.

What the stats show is that Vaughan averages about 10 passes per game less than Adam, but is more efficient with his passing, achieving 87% with his pass completion. This is measurable against other players who are playing in a slightly withdrawn role i.e. Chelsea’s Jon Obi Mikel has clocked up a pass completion of 89%. Also, he also won 82 tackles at a success rate of 66% which helps to break up opposition play. Vaughan will also retain possession and allow Adam to move in to space. Vaughan is however, more static in movement given his role, but will set the tempo with passes to full back and centre backs before releasing to Adam.

Hopefully what has been illustrated here is that although Adam is getting a lot of column inches David Vaughan is integral to that and he must be viewed in tandem with Adam. He shoots less and holds a lower profile, but teams who ignore Vaughan will leave themselves open to Blackpool dominance in the pass.

Improvements

Ian Holloway recently said that he’s working to ensure that Adam got a move to one of the country’s biggest clubs if he stuck with him for the rest of this season. The reason behind this is that Holloway feels Adam can still improve under him and by looking at his stats you can begin to see where he may look to improve him. First and foremost, his decision making could be refined, instead of looking for the killer ball, the simple lay off might be an option. Given his pass completion is lower than the team’s average and some way below that of Vaughan and other recognised ‘top’ Premier League midfielders (Paul Scholes weighs in with a pass completion of 90% and David Silva 83%) then he may strive to improve his decision making, rather than his passing ability. This would surely have a positive effect on Blackpool retaining possession more often.

Added to this Adam loses more duels when taking on opposition players  and again this might be something that he can work on, either to do so less or improve his ability to get past players. Given that on 28 occasions he loses out then that could be 28 passes to a team mate or any other positive option.

Another statistic that Holloway may try to reduce is the number of shots that Adam has, again choosing the right time to shoot may improve his all round game. At the moment he has had 66 shots at goal, 15 finding their target and 3 hitting the back of the net, from penalties. Again, any improvement here will only serve Blackpool well and assist in them retaining Premier League status for another year.

The King of Bloomfield Road??

It’s very likely that Charlie Adam will leave Bloomfield Road, but he will leave all Blackpool fans with memories to savour and linger for generations to come none more so than ‘that free kick’ at Wembley last May. Provided any future move is conducted with dignity and respect and the club get a respectable transfer fee then it will suit everyone. Adam will get his chance to shine on an even bigger stage and Blackpool will live on and stronger for having Adam grace the turf at Bloomfield.

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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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What's in a pass?

Pass this to your fellow man and never, never, surrender it to the opposition!

Blackpool have spent most of their inaugural Premier League season sticking to a passing game that was at the centre of their promotion from the Championship. It forms a part of the slightly patronising term, ‘a breath of fresh air’ as teams generally ‘shut up shop’ or as Stoke did ‘go direct’. Enough of the vague cliches now and the focus will turn to facts.

Factoid!

The facts about Blackpool this season is that they’ve passed the ball very well, all players (goal keeper inc) are encouraged to pass the ball with the aim of keeping possession. Ian Holloway has openly cited the style of Spain and Barcelona as the target for his ever improving team. In taking this approach Blackpool have attempted 8,507 passes this season completing 75% of all their passes (up to and including Man City away). This is an admirable achievement for a team that prior to the season starting was written off as certain relegation candidates by some of the media. As the plaudits have been heaped on Blackpool for this superb application of the passing game it is something that everyone at Bloomfield Road should be proud of.

What this blog post is going to try to do is to try and second guess what Ian Holloway might be trying to work on with his team as the second half of the season gets under way. Holloway has said that he wants to improve on what he and his team does and with this in mind he’ll be seeking to squeeze more out of his team as the season unfolds.

Passing Focus

Whilst Blackpool’s pass completion has been around the 75% mark, some games have been characterised by the Seasiders struggling to close out the game, losing leads and conceding late goals. The games against Blackburn, Fulham, Bolton, Wolves and Villa (and this week Birmingham) spring to mind. Holloway will no doubt be asking himself why this is going on and whilst there are valid and pertinent arguments for pointing the finger at poor defending, there may be a tale within the Blackpool passing stats that might show the way forward.

Let’s illustrate this through reference to pass completion stats from the quarters of games. The best of and the worst of Blackpool’s pass completion are listed in the table below.

You can see where Blackpool have had their best and worst quarters of passing whilst in the Premier League.

It can be seen that Blackpool enjoyed the best pass completion quarters in the game against West Brom, understandably so, given that Blackpool were playing against nine men. Less men to pressure the ball leads to more time on the ball and less misplaced passes. However, some of the other best pass completion quarters are against the sides that are more renowned for passing the football. Two of them took place at the Emirates, however, here lies more about the story of the game. Blackpool were walloped for six and at times, even though Blackpool passed the ball around well, Arsenal were content with them doing that. Also another of the best quarters was away to Chelsea when again Blackpool were swiftly put to the sword and the opposition were content to let Blackpool retain possession. However, the stand out quarter is the one in tenth place as Blackpool played some superb passing football to dominate the first half at Anfield.

A look at the worst quarters starts to give Blackpool some insight in to where things have gone wrong at times this season. The worst quarter of passing that the team has seen occurred at Anfield and in fact the worst three quarters all occurred in away games. However, that gives us no insight in to why pass completion dropped. In fact looking deeper at those instances and placing them in to context allows us to understand what went wrong. Liverpool came out for the second half two down and scored early. They pushed hard for a second and in doing so worked hard to close Blackpool’s players down and forced mistakes. Against Newcastle, Blackpool were again leading and coming out from the break freshly addressed by Chris Hughton they upped their work rate to force more mistakes from Blackpool.

However, it is the fourth worst pass completion quarter that gives an insight in to what can go wrong when a team starts to misplace passes. That quarter occurred in the final stages of the game against Bolton, where Bolton applied pressure, Blackpool dropped deeper, clearances became wild, legs tired as did minds and as concentration slipped so did the passes until they conceded a late equaliser. Two of the ten worst quarters occurred in the Blackburn game, where they stifled Blackpool and forced them in to hitting long balls, which played in to their hands. It was also, one of Blackpool’s worst performances and with an overall pass completion of 67% also the worst passing performance of the season.

From left to right, the pass completion % has been charted for each 15 minute quarter of the game. As the game progressed, you can see how Blackpool's pass completion dropped in the last Quarter as Bolton applied pressure, Blackpool got tired, sloppy and ended up dropping 2 points.

Quite simply, it appears to show that if Blackpool’s passing breaks down, then so does the team’s performance. When they’ve had their best passing periods, they’ve not conceded a goal. However, in three of the worst periods of passing Blackpool did concede goals.

Telling Stories

However, there are tales within a tale here. The Manchester City game is a good example of where Blackpool had a tremendous game on the ball, but served to back up the old saying about having possession is no good if you don’t do anything with it. One of the best pass completion periods came in that game and in fact the pass completion for the first three quarters of that game stood at 78% as Blackpool matched City, however, City introduced David Silva and the game swung away from Blackpool as did their pass completion, which slipped to a woeful 68% and the game was lost.

Progression

As 2011 gets under way and as more teams (should) get more insight in to what makes Blackpool tick then Holloway and his team will need to work harder to keep that pass completion up in the high seventies and if they want to close out game instead of losing leads, then they’ll certainly be looking to do that or even get in to the low to mid eighties. That itself is a big task. This blog has made mention of the long diagonal ball that appears to be a signature of this Blackpool team, that doesn’t work every time and may be used more sparingly. However, two recent articles have shed light on how Blackpool may be able to keep the ball, increase that pass completion and perhaps assist in winning more Premier League games.

Very Cross

In the January issue of World Soccer (no link sorry, you can still buy it I think), Paul Gardner reviews the use of the cross in the modern game, stating that that it no longer becomes an effective tool at the highest level of the game, citing the likes of Barcelona who rarely score their goals from ‘aerial ball delivered in to the penalty area from a wide position, but from no further than 30 yards away’. Blackpool’s season cross completion rate is 20%, which means that a total of 228 crosses have failed to reach a Blackpool player which is an average of 13 misplaced crossed per game equating to 3% of Blackpool’s total passes. Making the right decision when to cross and recycling the ball when we don’t have the right opportunity to cross could really benefit Blackpool, although it would place more emphasis on being more patient in attack and working the ball in between defenders for scoring opportunities.

Shorter the better

Added to this in a recent review of the Ajax team under new manager Frank de Boer, 11tegen11 suggested that Ajax were taking short corners in order to keep hold of the ball instead of putting the ball in to the box where the ball could be conceded to the opposition. Given that Blackpool only succeeds in hitting their men 34% of the time from corners then this might be a strategy for Blackpool as a total of 43 corners have been wasted this season and the impact of that is that Blackpool will inevitably concede valuable possession to opposition. However, as with the Sunderland game, the short corner can be useful in creating chances given that the angle of cross changes and can catch a team out who isn’t paying attention.

Moving On

All this is purely conjecture and at the heart of any improvement needs to be centred around player technique and it’s safe to say that Holloway will be striving to do this in every training session as well as improving players strength and composure on the ball so that ball is rarely wasted or the opposition manage to wrestle the players off the ball. It will be interesting to see if Blackpool continues along their passing path, if they maintain or even improve their current pass completion then another season in the Premier League beckons. However, become wasteful and fail to learn the lessons of the last quarter of the Bolton game and it might be a different story in 2011.

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