Blackpool v Birmingham – A Tactical Preview

This game has the hallmarks of being a very close contest, even if Birmingham did have the upper hand in the regular season, drawing at Bloomfield Road 2-2 before winning 3-0 at St Andrews. However, both sides are slightly different teams since that last contest and that provides for some interesting dynamics.

Line Ups

Ian Holloway should have a virtually full strength squad to choose from. In terms of selection decisions the key one appears to be whether to select Barry Ferguson or Keith Southern to partner Angel Martinez as one of the holding midfielders in a 4-2-3-1. This selection dilemma has crept up on Holloway after Martinez has proved to be a superb midfielder, filled with vibrancy, technique and intelligence. His emergence in the final part of the season has meant that the two former mainstays of the midfield are battling it out for selection. The dilemma is enhanced because both players offer different skillsets, Ferguson holds his position more, whilst Southern is more of a runner and tackler applying almost constant pressure on the man in possession.

Chris Hughton appears to have settled on a back four since Stephen Caldwell’s injury. In addition to this his midfield might see Jordon Mutch support Guirane N’Daw centrally flanked by the superb Chris Burke on the right and Andros Townsend on the left. Up front it’s possible in the away leg he may field Erik Huseklepp to sit slightly deeper than Marlon King who will be at the head of the attack in a 4-4-1-1. The second leg may see Hughton field Adam Rooney alongside King in a more traditional 4-4-2 set up.

Strategy

Holloway’s strategy will remain the same over both legs and is consistent with the attacking approach witnessed in the two other seasons he has managed Blackpool. Blackpool implement their attacking strategy slightly differently this season, there’s less emphasis on controlled possession and slightly more direct, counter attacking style utilising the pace he has on each flank.

Hughton is likely to keep things compact at Bloomfield Road, using long balls to relieve pressure and build attacks. He’s likely to take a reactive approach to the second leg and adjust to suit the match position.

Stuck in the middle

As mentioned earlier the selection issue Ian Holloway has will dictate how his midfield will operate. The central battle has the possibility of being keenly fought. Holloway may field Ferguson for more assurance on the ball looking to hold possession solidly in the middle before moving the ball on to the forwards. If Holloway does this then it’s likely that N’Daw will be used to target one or both of the midfielders in order to win the ball back high up the pitch and unsettle Blackpool’s passing rhythm. However, Holloway may see N’Daw’s application as a threat and use Keith Southern to fight fire with fire so to speak. Both N’Daw and Southern are very similar players and should Southern get the nod, then it’s likely that battle will be very feisty with both managers aiming for their player to win their battles.

Widescreen Action

The wide men from both teams have the ability to change this game with both sets of full backs due for a busy night. In more recent weeks Blackpool’s full backs have started to sit a little deeper and it may be the same in this match. Chris Burke has had an outstanding season with 12 goals and 16 assists from the right wing. Stephen Crainey will need to be alert at all times as Burke likes to cross early and can cut in to cross with his left as much as his right. He is also likely to try to cut inside to shoot as well, so Crainey will need to ensure that he passes on his marking of Burke effectively and the rest of the team are alert to his inside movement. In addition to Burke, should Huseklepp be fielded he’s likely to drift towards the right hand channel where he may combine very effectively with Burke to produce chances for himself or for King. Huseklepp has already scored twice against Blackpool for Portsmouth this season and his movement is superb as featured on this blog earlier on in the season.

On the other hand Blackpool have two very exciting wide forward players. Tom Ince is more of a traditional winger, whereas Matthew Phillips is very much a powerful running forward. Both players are difficult to read on the ball and enjoy one on one duels. The key for Birmingham is not to allow Phillips or Ince to turn and run at their defence and Hughton may ask his side to tightly double mark them to try to nullify their threat. If Birmingham fail to stop Ince and Phillips from running at them then their centre backs will need to be alert and defend astutely on the turn to prevent their goal being exposed.

Role in the hole

As pointed out above Huseklepp could be very dangerous if selected because of his tendency to drift in to the right, however, Blackpool have an equally dangerous threat up front in the form of Stephen Dobbie. Since his return to Blackpool Dobbie has scored 5 goals in a 7 matches and always looks a threat due to his movement and willingness to shoot on sight of the goal. He is exceptionally hard to track as he moves around the field and should N’Daw move high up the field to press, Blackpool may seek to pass beyond him to Dobbie who will expose the space left behind.

Off the bench

The role of the substitutes could be critical with both manager set to have great options available to them. Hughton will have the physical presence of Nikola Zigic to send on to disrupt the Blackpool defence, but more potently he has the young forward Nathan Redmond at his disposal. Redmond may even start the game, but it’s more likely Hughton will use him as an impact player. He’s already scored against Blackpool this season and may well replace Townsend after the hour mark to inject extra pace and trickery in to the proceedings. Or he may be asked to sit in behind Marlon King and run at defenders centrally which is a position he’s currently learning according to his recent interview with BBC West Midlands.

Blackpool on the other hand have Kevin Phillips who is likely to start on the bench and come in to the action late on especially if Blackpool are chasing the game. He has scored 16 goals this season in a variety of ways and has such a fine appreciation of space which makes him very hard to track. He is single-minded and will shoot on sight but Birmingham will know all about him given he left the club last season. The other key option that Holloway has is the midfielder Ludovic Sylvestre, who has recently come on during games and settled the team down in midfield and sparked some high quality attacks with his excellent passing.

Game on

This tie may well be tight from start to finish. Blackpool would potentially need at least a goal advantage to take to St Andrews as Birmingham have only conceded 14 times and lost once this season at home. Blackpool do have players who have exceeded expectations before, however, who wins this tie will have to keep excelling to beat either Cardiff or West Ham in order to get back to the Premier League.

Blackpool 2-0 Ipswich Town – Routine Victory

Ian Holloway will be very happy that his Blackpool side took advantage of a poor Ipswich team who after some promising early play, disintegrated as a team unit the longer the match wore on.

Lining up

Paul Jewell appeared to have watched the way that Derby set up to beat Blackpool at Bloomfield Road last month and set his team up to do something similar. By setting up in a 4-1-4-1 he tried to try to stifle the middle of the pitch and stop Blackpool from controlling that area. Blackpool on the other hand fielded Gary Taylor-Fletcher in midfield which lent itself to Blackpool becoming a more aggressive unit, fluidly changing from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-2-4 depending on the role that Taylor-Fletcher took up. The main change for Blackpool was Matt Hill replacing the injured Stephen Crainey at left back.

Congestion without the charge

Lack of clarity

As alluded to earlier, Ipswich appeared to want to work Blackpool hard in the centre of the field, Jimmy Bullard played in a deep-lying central midfield role with Lee Bowyer and Keith Andrews ahead of him. It appeared that Bullard was expected use the space he found in the deep to try to dictate play. Andrews appeared to be asked to push higher up the pitch and try to hurry up Barry Ferguson in the deep and force him in to mistakes. Whilst this carries a perfectly logical path, it appeared to be focused on how they performed off the ball and they lacked a real plan of attack when they had the ball. They made occasional moves to spread the play wide, but rarely built up any passing rhythm and started to hit hopeful long balls that rarely made any impact.

A Deep Bullard

The role of Bullard is certainly worth noting. He operated in a deep midfield position, most probably as a concession to match up numbers with Blackpool’s three central midfielders. He may have helped to stifle Blackpool in the first half by closing down the space reducing Blackpool’s options, however, for such a role to work he also needed to make tackles and interceptions to gain the ball for Ipswich. He rarely broke up the Blackpool midfield rhythm and obtained the ball to his advantage. Most of the time Blackpool would collect the ball and start again. When he did have the ball he was very deep and although he made some passes to the flanks his passing was devoid of any forward penetration. Bullard appears to enjoying breaking from midfield to receive the ball on the run in the final third and by keeping him so deep Jewell effectively removed a key threat from his team.

Keys to victory

There were a number of reasons for Blackpool’s victory.

  1. They moved the ball out to the flanks early enough to avoid getting stuck in a midfield battle.
  2. They consistently unsettled the Ipswich defence particularly in the first half, with excellent passes in to the right hand channel causing Aaron Cresswell at left back real problems on the turn.
  3. They initially lacked runners breaking from midfield in the first half which slowed their momentum, however, in the second half Ferguson and in particular Keith Southern broke forward much more regularly and Ipswich failed to cope with that added pressure.
  4. Ian Holloway singled out the impact of his defenders stepping up in the second half to create a spare man in midfield to resolve the deadlock. This gave them extra passing options and helped them to gain a greater control in the centre of the pitch.
  5. Finally, and most possibly the most vital element, was the excellent display of Taylor-Fletcher. He was active in his movement all game long making him hard to track, especially when he started centrally and moved out wide right. This had the added bonus of helping Blackpool overload Ipswich in that area. His first touches were excellent, as was his link up play and blended midfield and attack supremely well. His movement ensured that he was rarely picked up effectively by Ipswich and ended up having a lot of time to pick his passes and create openings for Blackpool.

Moving on

A display such as that from Ipswich shows clear organisational issues on the playing side, a lack of playing discipline and a lack of a game plan coming from the management. They’ll struggle to pick up points and only a strong performance from Danny Collins in the centre of defence stopped them from being over run for the duration of the match. Blackpool will not have such an easy victory all season long, but still appear to lack quality passing in the final third and an appreciation for game tempo. Arguably those last two elements are those which they lost with the departure of Charlie Adam and have yet to replace. The loan market is now open and Ian Holloway may well be seeking those ingredients from a loanee.

Ian Holloway’s Biggest Task

Pondering the future......

Well, that was the season that was.

The season where Blackpool almost achieved the impossible, when they won many friends and played some unforgettable football. As the season ended an era was brought to a close and Blackpool will enter the new season with a new first choice eleven and new expectations.

The end of each season sees the gradual whittling away of a squad; players being released and sold on. Blackpool have already said goodbye to a swathe of players and added to this, it is likely Charlie Adam will leave along with others.

Taking stock

Before going in to the details about where Blackpool go from here, it’s worth establishing who is considered a part of the squad for the purposes of this article. Players such as Ashley Eastham, Tom Barkhuizen, Louis Almond, Chris Kettings, Adam Dodd and Liam Thomsett should be considered as potential loanees unless any have made significant strides in their development and impress in pre-season. Also factored in here is the ‘worst case scenario’ that DJ Campbell leaves as well as both Stephen Crainey and Matthew Gilks rejecting their contract offers.  The current squad is detailed below.

This is the assumed Blackpool squad - June 2011

In total, that gives Blackpool a ‘skeleton’ squad of fourteen players and clearly this needs to be built upon. If they were to play a game right now, how would Blackpool shape up?

Shaping up

Obvious gaps to fill

As you can see Blackpool have obvious gaps that will require filling. This also places little consideration on striking a balance in midfield between craft and steel as well as assuming that Ludovic Sylvestre will still be around for week one of the new season.

There are considerable doubts about his future and that of Elliot Grandin. However, Sylvestre has been featured here for two reasons. Firstly, he has the passing ability and vision of Charlie Adam even if he is lacking in Adam’s drive, aggression and direct goal threat. Secondly, because back in March Ian Holloway singled him out as a player he considered to be integral to Blackpool’s future. However, given that Blackpool are playing Championship football this season and he struggled to grasp the language, then it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him depart.

Building the foundations

When Ian Holloway arrived at Blackpool he talked about having a squad of twenty-four players made up of different ages bracketed in to four broad categories. Apprentices, young, senior and experienced professionals*. You can see the assumed quotas for each age profile below which gives a measure against the vacancies in each bracket.

Apprentice (18-21), Young (21-25), Senior (25-30), Experienced (30+)

During his time in charge of Blackpool this may have flexed from time to time but it’s safe to assume that he will be building his squad around similar principles as well as ensuring that he has at least two players to cover each position on the field. You can see below the current squad composition compared against positional vacancies.

Blackpool need at least ten players, you can see above where the positions need filling.

What does this mean for Blackpool’s recruitment this summer? Given they’ve got a squad of approximately fourteen players then they’re about ten short of where Holloway will want to be and on the chart above you can see what positions need to be recruited.

Filling station

What types of players may be expected to arrive on the scene at Bloomfield Road given the situation outlined above?

Obviously a goalkeeper and a left back are priorities. Given Holloway’s system then the keeper needs to be comfortable with the ball at his feet and the left back needs to be comfortable pushing high up the pitch. In the centre of defence an experienced defender might be targeted and he may be left footed which might ensure a switch for Ian Evatt away from his left centre back role. A left footed centre back would serve two purposes, give better balance to the back line and facilitate a smoother recycling of the ball across the back line. Another factor that Holloway might seek in this new centre back is pace in order to give him more comfort in playing a high line.

Further up the pitch the requirements become more widespread and it’s fair to say that a mixed bag will be arriving at the seaside, however, high-profile direct replacements for Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell may well dictate how the rest of the recruitment pans out.

Another thing to consider is internal shuffles along the lines of when Holloway took over and he converted David Vaughan from left wing/back to central midfielder. A possible move along these lines would be Neal Eardley in to central midfield. He has the technical skills and a good passing range to operate in that position. He was tried out in central midfield in the last pre-season, at the time it was assumed that was to build up positional awareness and stamina, however, Holloway deployed him in that role against Wigan for the final moments of that game. Should this be the case then a right back may well be recruited to cover that shuffle.

This is not an exhaustive analysis but serves to show the process that will be being pursued.

Tactical development

Finally, what should be expected from Blackpool when they take to playing again? It’s fair to say that their formation will start the same. However, arguably Blackpool start this season with more formation options than a year ago. Holloway will likely start with either his 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3 and he may also bring a 3-5-2 in to play more often. Perhaps when he feels that a team has countered his 4-2-3-1 and isolated the attacking players and when he needs added lateral midfield width to break from deeper areas especially when the opposition are fielding one man up front.

Strategy wise it is safe to assume that Holloway will keep attacking from the first minute and perhaps he’ll cast off his attempts to stifle a game as that proved to be fatal at times last season. Tactically he may also ask his team to play the same, however, ‘build up play’ may be more around short passing in the deep and less about stretching the play due to the loss of Adam’s passing abilities.

Defensively he may well persist with the high line and offside trap, however, knowing when to use it has been an issue in the past and not having the players with the right positioning, anticipation and pace to play in such a way does temper the effectiveness of the tactic. It might be that Holloway works with the defensive unit to build more lines of cover in so that they sit a little bit deeper and he may look at his defensive phase and decide to work on a different scale. At times Blackpool were working to 5 or 6 men behind the ball in the defensive phase last year, whilst he might ask them to work more towards 7, 8 or 9 for added security.

The biggest tactical lessons that Ian Holloway may well have learnt from the Premier League is to understand how he wants his team to shape up in the attack to defence transition of the game. Any team who purposely broke up a Blackpool attack and attacked directly themselves gained an advantage as did teams who cleared wildly, only to see that Blackpool had pushed to high up and lost position. Perhaps Holloway may well attack in fewer numbers. Or perhaps, he will ensure that his players are more well-drilled in recovering their shape.

Summer break

The task ahead of Ian Holloway and Blackpool is quite significant and this should help to put that task in to perspective. It’s likely that he will have identified his key targets by now, however, identifying those targets and bringing them in are two very different strands. The key to the whole of this process is for the recruitment to happen swiftly and smoothly giving Holloway maximum time with his new squad to ensure a strong start to the new season.

This is the final post of this season and it will act as a marker for the new season when the blog returns in late July. Thank you for your support and for reading the blog over the course of the season. Thanks also to everyone who has helped me with aspects of the blog and thanks to anyone who has spread the message of the blog via forums, websites, social media and word of mouth.

*This is from memory and no written record is available to back this up.

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How a 3-5-2 might save Blackpool from relegation?

Wigan Athletic had just gone 3-0 up at Bloomfield Road, only minutes earlier Ian Holloway had made a treble substitution in order to salvage something from the game, with three goals needed Holloway had a rethink. That rethink may just have saved Blackpool’s season, but why?

Shuffle

Holloway shuffled his players and set them up in a 3-5-2 moving from their usual 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 shape. On the face of this, it might have been an act of desperation, however, on further inspection it appeared to be a shrewd move. By moving Neil Eardley from right back in to the centre of midfield, Blackpool still maintained a three-man central midfield, but the structure changed and it is this change of structure that sparked a recollection in the mind of Ian Holloway. Without knowing it (or perhaps he did know it), he had brought back the midfield set up that served Blackpool so well in the Championship, albeit flanked by two wingers or wing backs (depending on your interpretation). In this case however, that point is irrelevant.

Showing Blackpool shuffling in to a 3-5-2 in front of Wigan's midfield.

For the match against Wigan, Blackpool set up with their midfield three in a triangulated fashion as they’ve done for the majority of the season with the exception of maybe Spurs at home (more 4-1-2-3 then). The tip of the triangle is furthest up the pitch and that player looks to receive the ball in advanced positions before making passes out to the flanks and on occasion in to the channels beyond the opposition defence. This formation on a number of occasions has served Blackpool very well, especially against teams who set up in a standard 4-4-2.

This means that the player (usually Elliot Grandin) will play in behind the opposition central midfield and in front of the defence and few teams, when he has played well, have picked him up effectively. However, against Wigan and in recent weeks, due to either a loss of form, recovery from injury, better opposition or a combination of all three, he has largely been ineffective. In fact Wigan cancelled out Blackpool by inverting their midfield triangle as demonstrated below.

Wigan going man for man in midfield.

You can see in the screen shot below how this played out in reality as Wigan closed down Adam and Vaughan denying them the space or the angle to make the pass to Grandin. Grandin has plenty of space, but Watson is ready to close down once Grandin gets the ball.

Wigan midfield (blue) closing down Vaughan and Adam in the centre. Grandin free and has that space to roam in, however, Watson (blue) is deep and waiting, but it would be difficult form Adam and Vaughan to get through their counterparts.

When Blackpool played Fulham at Craven Cottage Blackpool saw plenty of ball in the centre of the pitch but rarely got the ball through to Grandin because of the hard work put in by Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu. When Grandin saw the ball his touches lacked quality, fluency and sharpness. The Fulham game was a warning that went unheeded. Against Wigan a bland and ineffective first 73 minutes meant a change was needed. When the switch to 3-5-2 was made Grandin had already been withdrawn. Earlier in the game, he again had been poor. Wigan, setting up with a four banded system, filled the space in front of the defence denying the space for Grandin to work in. Wigan effectively cancelled out Blackpool’s shape and worked harder off the ball to press Blackpool and forced them in to making errors.

Flat attack

The 3-5-2 flattened Blackpool’s shape in midfield and they began to control the game, whether this was more down to the game situation of Wigan being three goals to the good is hard to say. However, Neil Eardley looked assured on the ball, gave bite in the tackle and made up for the absence of David Vaughan. Keith Southern worked the right hand side of the three and Charlie Adam the left. All of a sudden Wigan’s formation was out of step and Blackpool could over run Wigan’s more advanced midfielders and make runs from deep that were hard to track. At that moment Ian Holloway had regained the qualities of his Championship midfield. You can see how the Blackpool midfield set up in the 3-5-2 and the runs they were able to make putting stress on Wigan’s deeper midfielder who had to watch and track runs from deep.

Flattened out and breaking out.

Old habits die hard

The Championship midfield was fluid, Adam, Vaughan and Southern rotating position, all getting on the ball at different stages and different positions, covering for each other, making untracked runs from deep, working midfield passing triangles getting the opposition to chase and pulled out of shape. This is essentially what Ian Holloway reverted to against Newcastle, inspired by the shape within the 3-5-2 he pulled his Championship triumvirate back in to the game in his tried and tested 4-3-3.

It’s important to understand why Blackpool had changed their midfield set up for their Premier League campaign as it wasn’t necessarily by design. A pre-season injury to Keith Southern left Ian Holloway with a selection dilemma, Elliot Grandin had been brought in (presumably) as a winger/wide forward, but given Southern’s injury, thrust Grandin in to the role. The thumping of Wigan on the first day of the season would have given Holloway heart and little reason to change and from there on, the selection stuck. Once Southern regained fitness and looked like becoming a starter, he struggled to find his form in the Premier League, possibly due to lack of game time, but more so, perhaps because of the change of midfield shape and the changing of expectations of the midfield role.

Familiar ground

Against Newcastle he seemed more assured in familiar company, as if he knew what to do and where to go, statistically he probably had his best game (winning 6 tackles against his season average of 1.5) and the important aspect is the fact that all three midfielders know when to cover each other. Previously had Southern played with Grandin in the side, if he has pressed high up the pitch and been taken out with a good pass or two, with Grandin also being advanced that Blackpool had two men out of the game. With this system, he knows he can go to the man on the ball as there will be two behind him, and should Adam press high up, then he’ll drop back and cover.

Against Newcastle’s two central midfielders Blackpool bossed them through sheer weight in numbers, but also better use of the ball. However, had the triangulated shape been in practice and Nolan and Tiote may well have shut Grandin out and given Newcastle the advantage. However, it was rare that they could do this with the flatter Blackpool midfield, time and space were restricted and once Blackpool gained possession they had good passing angles and great midfield running that more than once threatened to open Newcastle up.

Pastures new

Effectively Ian Holloway has made subtle midfield changes to gain better control of the centre from teams who know what to expect from Blackpool. Earlier in the season few teams closed them down and very few paid special attention to Charlie Adam, giving him acres of space to play in. Given the turn of the year, teams have started to focus on Adam and working hard in the centre of midfield to sit narrow and close out the passing angles to Grandin. This effectively strangled Blackpool and in combination with a few games strewn with poor forward movement and defensive errors largely explains why Blackpool have gone so long without getting wins. Given that Stoke and Bolton, two proponents of the 4-4-2 are next up at Bloomfield Road it will be interesting to see how they cope with the change of shape knowing that their two central midfielders will be outnumbered in a slightly different way than they were earlier on in the season.

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 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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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.

Spurs – Match Preview

Harry Redknapp divides opinion across the country, but one thing is for sure, he guided his Spurs team in to the Champions League and along with that managed to progress in to the second phase. Yet again another quality side visits Bloomfield Road, however, Ian Holloway will be hoping that his own side will deliver another quality performance to try and upset another side that are ‘bigger and better’.

Tactics

Redknapp has gone on record to say that tactics don’t matter and it’s about the players (apologies for the link as it does go to the gutter aka the Sun newspaper site), but he is more of a tactician than he likes to make out. He will shift and change dependant on circumstance whether pre or in game or due to player availability. If he fails to make any consideration for Blackpool then there is a danger that his side may struggle to beat Blackpool.

Dependant on the fitness of Rafael van der Vaart Spurs will either line up in a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1, the latter favoured should the Dutchman be fit to start. However, even if Jermaine Defoe starts then the latter formation may still be employed as Defoe does has a tendency to drop goal side of any deeper lying midfielders. In Blackpool’s case Defoe may be asked to drop in front of David Vaughan. If so, then that will be interesting as at one point against Stoke last week Kenwyne Jones did exactly the same, putting Vaughan under pressure and lead to concession of possession.

To back up some of Spurs’ formation flexibility Tom Williams did a great summary of how they’ve varied their approach in the Champions league, which shows that Redknapp can be unpredictable. However, should he go for a flat 4-4-2 he will need his players to be on top of their game to overwhelm Blackpool and in part this will go some way to backing up his claim about players counting over tactics. Arsenal have a similar four band line up and his three band system managed to over come them, by going deep and narrow. Not saying Blackpool are in the class of Arsenal here, just that theoretically, as Blackpool have seen already this season, not many teams playing a regular 4-4-2 have enjoyed much success against them. Will Blackpool once again enjoy exploiting the space between the Spurs defence and midfield and it will be interesting to see if Redknapp makes any concession to Holloway and assign a man to track Elliot Grandin.

Formations

If Van der Vaart is fit then Spurs may line up like this, however, if not then Defoe may come in. Redknapp may also opt for the aerial threat of Crouch up front. Blackpool from a formation point of view are unlikely to change even in the absence of Charlie Adam.

Suspension of disbelief

Blackpool’s key selection issue will be around, the man to replace Charlie Adam. There was a huge amount of buzz around Holloway’s team selection against Villa, however, the logic of that performance may well be justified come 5pm on Sunday. Let’s look at who could replace Adam.

First up is the most obvious candidate, Ludovic Sylvestre, acknowledged by some at the club as Blackpool’s best passer of the ball. Holloway, may also choose to bring in Keith Southern as a holding option, which could free up David Vaughan to come in to Charlie’s more advanced role.

Tale of the tape

The Villa game saw Sylvestre make 77 passes with a completion rate of 88% and Southern with 62 at a rate of 79%. In the tackle Sylvestre won 2 out of 2 while Southern won 1 out of 2. Southern came up with 1 interception to Sylvestre’s 2. Just based on performance based around stats then surely Sylvestre (if fit) will get the nod. However, Holloway may take a look at the positional side of this, given that the midfield three this year is staggered, Vaughan sitting deep, followed by a more advanced Charlie Adam then Elliot Grandin. In the Villa game, did anyone take up Charlie’s more advanced position? On the average position diagram Sylvestre held a more central position and as high up as Adam when he came on, whereas Southern was ever so slightly deeper.

Within the pink circle you can see that Sylvestre (19) held the same position line as advanced as Adam (26) and tucked in deeper and behind Adam's marker is that of Southern.

The choice could be determined with reference back to the discussion from the other week around the perfect midfield combination. In that article it was set out that in a midfield three the perfect combination would be a ball winner, a passer and an attacking creator. So when we look at the creativity, neither Southern or Sylvestre made any of the goals, but who made the most passes in to the opposition box. When looking at their Chalkboards you can see that Sylvestre edges that whereas Southern’s intended passes in to the box failed. So it appears that the general feeling of Sylvestre being Adam’s replacement comes out in the final analysis. Should he play then this is his real chance to cement a place in the team. However, should Holloway go with Southern he may be making a concession for the Spurs threat by using him to pick up Van der Vaart. Sylvestre also has the ability to deliver quality set pieces and scored a free kick earlier in the season in the Carling up against MK Dons. However, Holloway is unpredictable, he may also opt for Jason Euell to replace Adam, but there was little in his display against Villa that suggested he’d come in and compliment the midfield.

Sylvestre managed to penetrate the Villa box, however, Southern failed.

Spurs Danger

Spurs will attack down the flanks and given that they will be outnumbered in midfield this may be their best way of creating chances. Aaron Lennon is a very quick right winger who will look to get in behind Stephen Crainey. However, without doubt everyone knows that Gareth Bale poses a great threat to any team he plays against. However, he can be tamed as Everton proved earlier this season. Admittedly the game came after a European night and Blackpool don’t have that factor to benefit them. You can see on the chalkboard below that Bale had a miserable game against Everton not making any of his crosses count and towards the end of the game he was moved to the right wing to escape the attention of Neville. However, Everton were canny and Bale wasn’t shackled by one man only and in fact played Seamus Coleman (a right back) in a right midfield position helped to deny Bale the space he needed. Holloway may ask Gary Taylor-Fletcher to drop slightly deeper to replicate this.

Notice the accumulation of red lines as Bale struggled to connect with his team mates.

Aerially Speaking

Again the aerial question is posed as Spurs have Peter Crouch in their ranks and may start or be used off the bench to great effect. There is some what of a mis-truth around Crouch as some people perceive him to be weak in the air. Zonal Marking did a superb review of his aerial ability in order to break down that myth and clearly when reading it, he will need to be handled with caution should he take the field. However, Blackpool have not lost the aerial battle in their last two games and should not fear his threat if they perform to the best of their ability.

Game on!

Holloway will hope to make the right decision on replacing Adam, it’s something that was going to have to happen at some point this season and win or lose Holloway will have an even better understanding of his squad that can only help the team later on in the season.

Stoke City Report

Blackpool took the three points again from a side who supposedly have better players and made pundits come up with the ‘breath of fresh air’ phrase yet again. In a couple of ten minute spells in either half Blackpool played superb, controlled, passing football, moving Stoke around the pitch and carving out chances. While Stoke played to their strengths from set plays and came very close to breaking the goal line.

Line Ups

Blackpool stuck with the same starting eleven from the Bolton game two weeks ago, whilst Stoke welcomed back Andy Wilkinson and Jermaine Pennant back from injury and took their place on the right hand side of Stoke’s formation with Robert Huth moving back in to his preferred centre position, Jon Walters and Danny Higginbotham dropped to the bench.

Stoke’s shape remained in a rough 4-4-2 throughout the first hour and only once Tuncay was introduced did they have any variation as he dropped in to something more like a midfield three and with the final throw of the dice, Pulis opted to take off a defender for a midfielder and go to a back three. From the Blackpool perspective, the only noticeable change was a subtle one in midfield with David Vaughan sitting deeper in front of the centre backs, presumably to pick up Kenwyne Jones as he withdrew from the front line.

Notice how Vaughan (circled in pink) holds a deeper position, more like a holding midfielder.

Another interesting observation from the average positions above is that DJ Campbell (39), due to his dropping deep to receive the ball, held a deeper average position than Elliot Grandin a member of the recognised midfield unit. This gives Blackpool a platform to attack from and Campbell with generally pass back to Adam or look for little passes or flicks for Grandin to run on to.

Even

The first half was an even affair with chances for both sides, but as mentioned in the preview a moment of magic from Ricardo Fuller could have given Stoke the edge. Prior to that Blackpool dominated possession as Stoke’s midfield appeared to be dropping deeper and deeper. Earlier in the game Stoke worked hard to deny space to Blackpool’s midfield and it worked well as Blackpool started to misplace passes. However, once Stoke backed off Blackpool operated well in the spaces and played between their lines well, got good width and constructed some excellent overlapping passing moves especially down their left flank. Stoke’s main threat came from set pieces, although Blackpool defended poorly at times, failing to pick up men in the box and giving too much time and space for Fuller to hit the bar.

To-&-Fro

The second half started with Stoke almost making the breakthrough, but it was Blackpool who actually did and Charlie Adam was again at the heart of the play and as mentioned a few weeks ago, if Blackpool can get the ball to DJ Campbell close to the 6 yard box with the ball at his feet he will generally get his goals. Stoke were guilty of letting Campbell get that close and will be unhappy with that. Blackpool had some great control of the ball for a period before Stoke tried everything to get on level terms and sharp keeping, goal line clearances and the bar ensured that they failed to find the net.

License to probe

Charlie Adam was the focal point of most of Blackpool’s play, he attempted more passes (63) than any other player on the pitch, however, his success rate was low (66%, the team average was 72%), but that is mainly due to the fact he is given the freedom to try the unique which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Stoke allowed him too much space at times and Adam will revel in that as the more time he has, the more time he had to vary his pass direction. Earlier in the season he developed a left leaning bias to his passing that made him readable, however, a look at his chalkboard shows how penetrative his passing was and how much variation in pass direction there was. His ball for the Grandin chance on  39 mins was sublime as was his passing in the lead up to the goal.

The top chalkboard shows the wide variety of pass (even though slight with a left bias), whilst the lower chalkboard shows how he successfully made passes from open play in to the Stoke box.

A Central Winger

An article by Zonal Marking last week introduced a concept called the ‘central winger’ and it appears that this might go some way to explaining what Holloway sees Grandin’s role to be. He certainly isn’t a traditional playmaker and at his previous clubs he has been played on the wing. When looking at his chalkboards then you can see he drifts to the wings and this was central to some of the excellent passing moves that Blackpool constructed in the wide areas. Given that Grandin’s last two performances have been excellent, could it be that he has learned the role that Holloway wants him to play? If so, is this important for opening up space for Adam to move in to and operate?

Grandin's heat map from his passes show his drift to the wing areas with 36% of his passes on wing.

Pass domination

Blackpool dominated in the pass having attempted 112 passes more than Stoke. The danger for Stoke is that they played in to Blackpool’s hands, Blackpool attempted 445 passes with a 73% completion rate. The teams that have stopped Blackpool passing the ball with a fluency have had the most joy against them (Blackburn worked hard to ensure that Blackpool completed only 67% of passes). Give them the ball, time on the ball and Blackpool have proved that they will create chances in the Premier League. Stoke mainly hit long balls from the ‘keeper as Bolton did the other week and had little joy from that approach, however, Stoke know their own game and are happy to play it. With two central midfielders (Combined, Whitehead and Delap attempted 61 passes, added to this 10 of Delap’s passes were his throws, which were largely unsuccessful) passing with such low amounts means that they have to over rely on the wingers to set up play in open passing moves.

Steady Progress

Blackpool move in to the Christmas period with a great 16 games behind them. Christmas looks like it will be a tough period and the time when the tiresome pundits will roll out the ‘injuries and suspensions’ nonsense as the next test for Blackpool. Charlie Adam is suspended for the Spurs game and Blackpool (according to www.physioroom.com) already have 6 players out injured, so we shall see. However, should Blackpool have at least another three points come the end of the first week of January then everyone at Bloomfield Road will be set for a second half of the season that will be as exciting as the first.