What is wrong with Blackpool?

Upon reading interviews with football managers more often than not they reveal elements of what makes a successful team. Before talking about their playing philosophy, they often talk about the importance of creating the right team spirit or the right energy around the team. Essentially this energy is created through having the right conditions around a team and if the energy is focused and positive it can help fuel the players on to great achievements.

Channeling

Ian Holloway is a manager who thrives on the right energy and is sensitive to the slightest changes in it; he understands that and works to keep things vibrant and relevant for his team. It is critical that the team energy is never diminished or diverted. If a manager keeps the energy channeled in to the right areas then his team can work together to improve, should that energy be drained away for any reason then it will be harder to get across his training and game objectives. Any quality manager knows that they are only able to influence the things that they can influence and this centres on the training pitch and on events on the match day. The manager must ensure that the energy on the training pitch is focused, positive and working at the right levels and trust the owner or chairman to ensure that the energy around the other elements of the club remain positive.

This energy is hard to understand at times as people experiences energy in different ways. The most common form experienced is that feeling when you enter a room and you know something isn’t right. This is critical in all aspects of life and absolutely critical in football, if the energy isn’t there, how does a manager get across their point of view, why should a player listen. Yes each player has internal motivation, but essentially the team energy is what fuels every player and gives the team the dynamic. The reason this is so pertinent for Blackpool Football Club right now is essentially the energy around the team has dropped. This article will take a little look at this to try to understand why.

Drained

It has been widely documented that Blackpool’s accounts show substantial reallocation of money from the football club to the owner Owen Oyston. Regardless of what money has gone and where it has gone, the club have been negligent and brought upon themselves unnecessary attention. There has been talk earlier this season from the chairman (Karl Oyston) that the club has learned its lessons from last season, but apparently that’s not the case. The club still remains aloof towards the impact of their actions and how they can knock on to the team, supporters and the energy around the club.

The lessons from the Charlie Adam saga last January haven’t been learned. The club was performing admirably in the Premier League till the club appeared to anger the player, his potential new club and dangle a substantial bag of carrots to the media. Press conferences started to focus less on the positive aspects of the team to the, ‘What’s the situation with Charlie Adam?’. The media generally don’t care about tactical dynamics and unpicking the fine details of the match. They want sleaze to sell their papers to the vacant majority who like bright pictures, loud noises and something to bitch about.

Pee Argh

Public relations as an enterprise is often scorned at, but essentially it’s used to sustain the right energy about a product and in the case of a football club, it can head off rumours and scaremongering. Essentially, Blackpool Football Club could have handled the release of their accounts with some clear communication before the event and failure to do so has left a void which has been filled by the media. Leaving a void can work sometimes; it can create a ‘buzz’, however, in a case such as this it has left a void which can only be filled with rampant negativity. It is this which is critical this time around and replicates the feeling of the Adam saga. The energy is being pulled away from the pitch, Holloway has to field questions about the subject at every turn and that leads to him being pulled in to debates that aren’t really his concern. He loves being on the training pitch, loves being enthusiastic about developing his players. He has genuine love and affection for his players; he is a man who is deeply centred on the things that are true and dear to him.

This concept of team energy can be tricky to define, but there are plenty of examples of energy being misaligned or pulled away from the areas that need it the most. The England national team will struggle to win a major championship as the media focus on the wrong elements in order to sell papers and the players aren’t ever given the time with the management to work towards creating the right energy. Blackburn Rovers suffered with their performances at home when their fans were protesting about Steve Kean’s management of the club. Liverpool to extent don’t seem to have fully refocused the energy around their team too after the Suarez case. It’s critical that this energy is channelled on to the pitch and not displaced in to areas where such energy will fizzle out. Blackpool Football Club have done what they have done with the money and legally they can do what they want. Fans won’t like it and it is hard to understand. Communication is so easy to get wrong, but a policy of no communication is unforgivable and gives out the wrong signals. There’s a lot to be said for softening the blow, it might still stun the victim, but the chances of surviving are much greater.

Fizzled out?

The effects of this energy drain are visible on the pitch at the moment, but it would be remiss to say that the recent results are a solely attributable to that issue alone. All season long there have been concerns about performances, but results have been strong and Blackpool still have a good prospect of getting to the play offs. Essentially there are a few fundamental footballing issues that have underpinned the season and these will now be explored.

Whilst the club haven’t learned the ‘off pitch’ lessons from last season the same can be said for issues on the pitch. Last season early season injuries saw Holloway flex his team shape away from the 4-3-3 to a more aggressive 4-2-1-3 verging on an aggressive 4-2-4. Only after being soundly thrashed at home to Wigan did Holloway appear to remember what was once dear to him and reverted back to the flat 4-3-3 in the final few games and enjoyed some very good performances. However, the very same dilemma still rumbles on. Blackpool have done very much the same this season. Their better performances come when their midfield three remains flat and retain numerical superiority over their opponent. The moment that is conceded is the moment that Blackpool start to struggle. Holloway’s Blackpool have thrived through team cohesion, underpinned by their energy. They work best in combinations, link ups and supporting each other. When they play the more aggressive 4-2-4 the individual comes out more, the team breaks down quicker and the collective spirit looks spent and stretched.

Aggression

The reasons for Holloway making these decisions lie in his approach to management. He appears to reward what works well, which is fundamentally a sound approach, however, there does appear to be little understanding that sometimes things work well because of the conditions being right. His allegiance to the 4-2-4 seems to be borne out of his strong ‘in game’ tactical sense when he sees that a game requires an aggressive move, especially when team match us up in midfield and we grind to a halt. When it works, teams can be decimated and completely over run. However, it is debatable whether or not this approach fits in to a suitable starting strategy against any team. It appears that Holloway doesn’t hit the reset button after each game, which can be a fine approach, but a performance as a substitute doesn’t always translate to being a first team pick in the next game. Some players are more tuned in to being a substitute; some games are more suited to a certain player being a substitute.

This all leads to one of the key issues aside from the formation and tactics, the matter of Holloway knowing what his strongest side is and playing it. At the moment the squad is being rotated and a good performance can be rewarded with a further start and a bad performance almost certainly ends up with a place in the stands. Again there are arguments to both sides here, but it feels like it’s not the approach that suits Blackpool right now. This is a side that is still learning to play with each other. The defensive issues appear to be stemming from lack of teamwork, understanding and communication. All of which develop as players play with each other more often. Holloway will surely be trying to stabilise his selection as a cure of some on field issues and allied to that revisit the playing principles that have brought his side so much success. In fact this last point is absolutely key. Holloway is a man of principles and he has admitted in the past that when he has sacrificed his principles his side suffer as a result. It’s almost like he isn’t being authentic and compensates a little too much for the opposition or as much recently the pitch at Bloomfield Road. Holloway may well reflect on his team’s qualities and get back to those in order to restore the energy on the pitch. As a starting strategy, a 4-3-3 has been proven to work well and the aggressive 4-2-4 is proven to work well when chasing a game.

Splitting Up

In order to demonstrate the flaws when Blackpool start in the aggressive 4-2-4 the recent game against Hull is a good case study. Here Holloway asked his side to be aggressive both on and off the ball and to look to go long to counteract the uneven pitch which he deemed not conducive to the passing football he wants to play. The 4-2-4 worked well in this instance for an hour. The two midfielders (Barry Ferguson & Keith Southern) worked hard to close Hull down, disrupting their rhythm and Blackpool stretched Hull with long balls being quick to win the second balls. The plan failed when Hull re-organised themselves, Blackpool’s midfield two tired and one of them picked up an injury. Suddenly Hull dominated the middle ground, Blackpool were slower to close them down and slower to the second balls and conceded in the last-minute for a 1-1 draw. Although this performance appeared strong for an hour, it was built on poor foundations and it was hard for Holloway to rework his tactics from such an aggressive position.

The red shaded area outlines where the opposition can intercept Blackpool and split their team leading to Blackpool being dominated by their opponent.

At many other times this season the 4-2-4 has struggled as it can be easily split in to two parts (see diagram above) by a hardworking and diligent opponent. Isolate the midfield two, cut off the supply to the front four and a team can nullify Blackpool. Essentially you can form a wall between the attack and defence and all Blackpool’s coherency drains from the team. The flatter 4-3-3 gives Blackpool a better base to work from; they will generally not lose the midfield and attack at pace from that platform. It is from there that Holloway can make changes to affect the dynamic.

Testing the Faith

Holloway’s faith in the 4-3-3 has been tested by teams who seek to stifle his midfield. This has been a clear problem all season as it results in Blackpool being slowed down in midfield and when they reach the final third they come to a stand still. Without effective movement ahead of the ball and players who are aware of the tempo dropping they become predictable and a side can sit behind the ball knowing that they won’t be pulled apart. Holloway’s solution to this has generally been aggressive treble substitutions; normally adding attacking players to the field of play to try to push the opposition even further back. It is here where the 4-2-4 has worked. Blackpool got even more aggressive than that against Coventry going to an almost 3-2-5 which battered Coventry in to submission. The late comebacks have secured Blackpool several points this season at the same time convincing Holloway that the approach provides a viable starting strategy.

The 4-2-4 is sometimes marked out by some observers as a 4-2-3-1, however, that observation looks and feels misplaced. Mainly because the aggressive attributes of the players draws no distinction in the attacking bands of the formation often leaving them left up the field in a flat line of four. Crucially, whoever plays at the attacking point of the midfield trident doesn’t drop deep enough when Blackpool are out of possession and arguably Blackpool don’t have the right type of players to play such a critical role. Elliot Grandin (now at Nice) played the role to some effect, but even he was too aggressive at times to play a role that requires a great deal of tactical and positional understanding.

It’s fair to say that Holloway is still working with his side, but his decisions have become a little distant from his core footballing principles (short passing, possession, ball retention and attack). The next two or three games will be critical, he may be able to get the aggressive approach to work on a regular basis, but he may also appreciate the qualities that his three-man midfield has brought him in the past. However, he still has a dilemma as the ideal three-man midfield may not be on the books at Blackpool at the moment. The club haven’t replaced the drive, creativity and balance that Charlie Adam provided. The club has excellent holding midfielders, runners and good passers, but arguably that spark is still missing and this might be why Holloway is veering towards the 4-2-4.

Indefensible

Added to this there are still major concerns about Blackpool’s defensive work. The spotlight falls upon the defensive line, but essentially Blackpool’s key defensive concerns lie in their off the ball work. Their pressing is very inconsistent. It is often hard to pinpoint their pressing strategy, it is rare that they get this right and their inconsistent off the ball work puts an awful lot of strain on the defence. The defensive phase starts with the attackers, if they fail to exert the required pressure, the midfield needs to step up and apply their press. In playing a high defensive line the pressing needs to be intense and all too often it drops off, affording the opposition midfield too much time and consequently exposing the defence to easy through balls. It’s hard to blame the back line at these times, but they do still appear uncoordinated and it’s never apparent who is responsible for making the call to step up for offside. On the flip side, the defensive line is wholly responsible for the poor work closer to their goal and as seen recently, from set pieces. As at many times last season the defenders seem slow to react to impending danger and often goals are the result of errors that stack up, such as the goal against Cardiff which was analysed on this site. This is basic stuff, but requires improvement, as mentioned earlier; it’s very possible that the rotation of the defensive unit hasn’t helped them to function effectively.

Brilliance

This has been a very critical diagnostic of Blackpool, but ultimately it has come about from a poor run of form. However, it’s very likely that the team will bring this back around. The negativity surrounding the ‘tax dodge’ will dissipate with a strong performance against Brighton on Saturday. Blackpool are inconsistent, but when they click, this side is arguably more impressive than the one seen in the Premier League last season. Yes that spark in midfield might not be there, but their attacking pace and incisive running from wide areas has taken some good sides apart with relative ease. Barry Ferguson has excellent technical quality and when he gets a foothold in the game he organises, composes and drives the team on from deep. Stephen Crainey is an excellent left back who perfectly understands his role in attack as well as defence. Alex Baptiste at right back can make explosive forward runs and support his strike force superbly well. Matt Gilks has been first class, making some truly jaw dropping saves. Up front Matthew Phillips is developing in to a Premier League forward, who combines raw pace, with powerful and accurate shooting. On the other flank Tom Ince is moving away from his inconsistency to provide a probing threat up front. Regardless of shape and tactics, Holloway has a very good squad with lots of options and all in all this side has a chance to become one of the top six in this league.

Moving on

With ten games to go the season run in starts now. The players and staff have a few days to prepare for the next game whilst fans have a chance to gain some perspective. The owners will no doubt continue as they have done, hopefully next time something potentially explosive starts ticking they’ll work smarter to communicate the dangers so at least the fans can prepare themselves for the bang. Whether or not there should be a bombshell or not is a matter for another time and another place. This time is reserved for replenishing the team’s energy and for fans to rally around their side and support them for the good things that have been brought to Blackpool by Ian Holloway and his team.

Blackpool 1-1 Cardiff City – An unlikely point

Cardiff should have won this game with some considerable ease as Blackpool struggled to get any fluency in possession of the football and weren’t effective enough without it.

Setting up

Blackpool with a flatter than usual back four. Sorry, no extra 's' above in Gunnarsson.

Blackpool fielded an unchanged side in their variant of a 4-3-3 with Gary Taylor-Fletcher once again at the tip of the central midfield triangle. The actuality of the shape will be discussed later on. Cardiff dropped Robert Earnshaw, presumably for tactical reasons as Malky Mackay replicated the approach of both Derby and Ipswich by packing the midfield. He has his side man for man in the middle of the pitch setting them up in a rough 4-5-1 formation with Peter Whittingham advancing to support Kenny Millar, who acted as the lone striker.

Central focus

Again the centre of the pitch was the focus of the battle and Mackay made the right moves. For the third home game running a manager has packed the midfield. Whilst Derby packed the midfield to great effect they were opportunist in seizing their win, Ipswich did well in stifling Blackpool but appeared to have no game plan in possession. However, Cardiff both stifled Blackpool excellently, but were technically much more competent on the ball than the other two teams and were able to structure their attacks with more cohesion.

Why did Cardiff win the centre ground?

  1. Blackpool’s shape on and off the ball was inconsistent at times, on paper they matched up 3 v 3 in the centre, but when Gary Taylor-Fletcher failed to recover his off ball position this left Blackpool outnumbered in the centre. There are certainly questions about Taylor-Fletcher’s effectiveness in a midfield role. He is certainly excellent in the final third for such a role, but in tight games like this he needs to not only recover position but close out the opposition and make tackles. Is Taylor-Fletcher more effective starting deep and drifting up the pitch or starting up and drifting deep? Arguably the latter is the preferred option as it frees him from defensive duties and he is harder to track from the higher starting position, asking questions of the opposition defence and midfield as he sneaks in to space. This has the feeling of last season when Blackpool struggled in the Premier League when losing sight of their flatter midfield three and only recovering it when 3-1 down to Wigan at home. Will Holloway seek to restore the flatter shape for his midfield three or will he persist with one man advancing and Blackpool straying towards a 4-2-4.
  2. Cardiff completely outworked Blackpool in the centre. As soon as a Blackpool player received the ball a Cardiff man went to close him down immediately. They shared the work load well and Peter Whittingham put pressure on Barry Ferguson in the deep and always looked to get goal side of him. On the other hand, Blackpool’s pressing was sporadic at best and at times almost seemed to invite Cardiff to turn and attack them.
Support group
Winning the centre ground in a football match doesn’t guarantee a team anything, however, given that Cardiff were so dominant they also performed much better in other aspects. None more so than the work of Whittingham, Craig Conway and Don Cowie. As Kenny Millar performed a lone striking role they worked superbly to get forward to support him, giving him passing options and especially Cowie and Conway getting in to dangerous positions in wide areas. Added to this they were composed on the ball in and around the final third and delivered some very tricky crosses and passes that through a combination of Blackpool defending and Cardiff poor finishing ensured that they inflicted little real damage. Conway in particularly looked very dangerous picking an excellent pass in the deep which split open Blackpool’s dis-organised high defensive line as well as laying on the cross for Cowie’s goal.
An interesting observation about this match was how little Blackpool’s full backs got forward. In a number of games this season, Blackpool’s stepped up their game when Alex Baptiste progressed forward. In this match he rarely got forward, it could be assumed that this was more to the excellent play of Cardiff’s wide men ensuring that they were continually occupied. It’s likely that to be the case rather than Ian Holloway asking them to sit as that was hardly a ploy he tried in the Premier League and certainly not something that would help Blackpool. Matt Hill in addition to staying back also strayed very centrally and seemed uncomfortable in keeping his width and stepping higher up to support the midfield. The moment that Stephen Crainey came on Blackpool looked like holding on to the ball better. He understands the role and how he can influence the game from full back. Helping to support the midfield offering passing options, but also in getting the ball up to the forwards as he did in the lead up to the Blackpool equaliser.
Moving on
Cardiff have a solid looking Championship team, functional, spirited, flexible, creative and reasonably well-balanced. However, they may need to find someone more clinical to play the lone striker role when they play away from home in order secure more victories. Blackpool on the other hand may not function as poorly as this all season and win a point when defeat seemed likely. Holloway will take encouragement from his substitutions, the real question centres on his ability to deal with teams who come to Bloomfield Road to match up his midfield three. A lot of the time Blackpool will move the ball around better than this and win more games, however it is when the ball stops moving do issues become apparent. He might need to ask his players to solve these situations ‘in game’ with more effectiveness, or he may seek tactical changes to flex their approach.

Blackpool 2 – 1 Peterborough United

Approaching the game

Both sides made little concession for each other tactically, both set up to play attacking football and stick to their principles. This made for an open game with plenty of chances, but for all the excellent ability on the ball and build up play, it was the mistakes made by either team that tended to present the better opportunities.

Setting up

The middle of the pitch became very congested

The key point of interest about the way that each team set up was their most advanced midfielder.

For Blackpool, Elliot Grandin was aggressive in his positioning, receiving the ball higher up the pitch than he was last week and at times this made Blackpool have four forward players in a 4-2-4 shape. However, he stayed too high up the pitch at times when Blackpool were out of possession. When this happened, Peterborough enjoyed success as they outnumbered Blackpool three to two in the centre.

George Boyd on the other hand, played at the tip of the Peterborough midfield diamond, but he wasn’t fixed in that position. At times he dropped deeper then pushed up high which meant that Peterborough’s formation flexed from a flattish 4-4-2 out of possession and to a 4-3-3 in possession.

Fluid problems

Peterborough attacked at speed with quick one touch passing and swapping positions. Their positional interchanges seemed to cause Blackpool problems who struggled to track runners coming from unexpected areas of the pitch. However good this interchanging was from an attacking point, it was also their downfall defensively. When teams have a fluid approach to positional play it is essential that they regain their shape when off the ball. Too often Peterborough made mistakes to give possession to Blackpool and they struggled to get their shape back, becoming exposed at the back.

Moving around

Blackpool seemed happy to keep the ball and managed to move the ball around the back line easily before moving it out to Barry Ferguson who had plenty of options. Generally Elliot Grandin would be the receiver from Ferguson and when this happened there was a good flow to Blackpool’s passing. However, as with the Hull game last week, Blackpool really start to break a team down when a defender steps higher up the pitch. Last week it was Alex Baptiste and this week it was Ian Evatt and Baptiste. Both advanced well in to the final third at times with Baptiste effectively joining the attack, adding great variety to Blackpool’s play and an element of surprise.

The game seemed to swing towards Peterborough when Elliot Grandin was substituted, so much of Blackpool’s positive play centered on him and his removal seemed to stunt Blackpool as their passing options seemed closed off and possession started to be surrendered too easily.

High and dry again

Again Ian Holloway had his defensive line playing high up the pitch and again they looked susceptible to a surprise ball over the top. It was vital in the context of this game that Matt Gilks was alive to the threat and make some great saves in one on ones. Gilks’ anticipation may well be the key element in this line working better for Blackpool given that their defence will be turned and their centre backs don’t have enough pace to recover.

Crossing the divide

The clearest difference between the two sides defensively was Peterborough’s inability to deal with a cross ball. In the first half Blackpool had a series of corners, all poorly defended by Peterborough. Also, Blackpool found some great crossing positions in open play and again Peterborough struggled to deal with them effectively. The first Blackpool goal was a perfect example of that with Kevin Phillips not even having to jump to head the ball in at the back post from a deep out-swinging cross.

Moving on

Ian Holloway will be happy with that performance, however, he may reflect on his timing of his substitutions, especially against such an attacking team as Peterborough who will seize on any initiative you give to them. Peterborough on the other hand were excellent moving forward, but their transition from attack to defence leaves them wide open and easy to pick apart. However, even if that is accepted as a weakness it is imperative that they reduce their defensive errors which left them exposed all too often in this match.

Hull 0 -1 Blackpool – Gaining Control

Blackpool start the season with a win and a clean sheet, but at times Hull were threatening and had they shown more composure in front of goal then they may have secured a draw.

Setting up

Hull set up in a standard 4-4-2, with Robbie Brady starting wide left supported by a central midfield duo of Paul McKenna and Tom Cairney with Robert Koren holding position on the right flank. Up front Dele Adebola and Matty Fryatt were given starts. For Blackpool Craig Cathcart lined up in the middle of defence with Alex Baptiste at right back. Barry Ferguson anchored the midfield with Keith Southern and Elliot Grandin supporting him as Ian Holloway set up in his normal 4-3-3. Up front Kevin Phillips held the central striker role supported by Gary Taylor-Fletcher on the right and Brett Ormerod on the left.

 

4-3-3 up against a 4-4-2. Similar feeling for Blackpool

Opening up

Tactically the game appeared pretty straight forward. Hull looked to close Blackpool down quickly and high up the pitch. In possession they either went high and long to Adebola or worked the ball to the flanks. Blackpool on the other hand sought to control possession in midfield, but went long from back to front quite often wide right to the head of Taylor-Fletcher.

Hull had the best of the early part of the match. They looked to try and make Blackpool rush their possession and in particular both McKenna and Cairney stepped up when required to pressurise Ferguson in the deep. Brady was the main threat throughout the game and Hull tried where they could to  get him one v one where possible and subsequently he was able to get in to some good crossing and shooting positions. Hull looked to get Liam Rosenior forward from right full back but in truth he struggled to break in behind the Blackpool defence when he had space to exploit.

As the first half progressed Blackpool controlled the centre of the pitch winning tackles and loose balls to assert their dominance. Elliot Grandin found himself in good forward positions between the Hull defence and midfield but struggled to pick the right pass. Even though Hull worked exceptionally hard in closing down Ferguson, he was well supported by Grandin and Southern as well as the defence providing him with passing options so Blackpool were rarely exposed in midfield.

In forward positions Blackpool weren’t very fluid in their movement, Taylor-Fletcher often staying high and wide and not necessarily backing up Blackpool’s suggested game plan of exposing Joe Dudgeon to the high ball. As the half progressed Taylor-Fletcher went in search of the ball and Blackpool instantly looked more potent around the final third.

Change of ends, change of sides

Even though Hull had chances in the first half, Blackpool held the advantage in the critical centre of the pitch and that remained in the second half. Pearson’s main change in the second period was to swap over Koren and Brady around 58 minutes. Brady continued to look dangerous, but less could be said of Koren. Brady caused trouble for Blackpool all game long and his two footed ability makes him hard to read. His delivery was reasonably good and varied, and will take a shot on even with the most limited opportunity. However, Hull’s strikers lost their composure when they could have scored but they were also let down through a lack of guile in their forward movement which made them predictable at times. When Brady wasn’t creating, their main chances tended to come from some poor organisational and positional play from the Blackpool back line.

Two factors

Even though Blackpool enjoyed a numerical advantage in the centre of the pitch they generally exerted better pressure for two reasons. The use of Baptiste and the introduction of Billy Clarke. Alex Baptiste had a strong game from full back and from the half hour mark added some excellent progressive running to support the attack and occasionally was the furthest man forward. He defended excellently, rarely being beaten and also made a last ditch tackle. He has given Holloway the ideal solution after the last minute debacle over Neal Eardley and his contractual issues and is probably first choice at right back again.

Keith Southern and Barry Ferguson dominated with good passing and link up play with Grandin however only once Billy Clarke came on did Blackpool start to threaten in the final third. Clarke’s movement opened up the forward line and gave Blackpool’s midfielders plenty of options and their forwards better spaces to run in to and it was from his deft flick that Blackpool made their winner.

Moving on

Hull looked dangerous at times and when teams are matched man for man with them they’ll enjoy some great success and if they can generate composure in front of goal then they’ll have a strong season. Blackpool on the other hand will hope to move better in the final third and work their high defensive line with more anticipation and composure. Three points is a most welcome start for Blackpool, but there will be greater challenges ahead.

Dawning of a new era

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

On the defensive

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

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

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

Critical area

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

Back of the net

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

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

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

Shaping up

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

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

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

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

Alternate

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

Subtle changes in midfield perhaps? Sylvestre for Grandin?

What new players?

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

Kick off

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

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

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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Charlie Adam – An Honest Appraisal

Charlie Adam will move on from Blackpool this summer and he will begin the new season at a new club. His time at Blackpool was a tremendous success for him and the club and he will be remembered as one of the finest players to grace the pitch at Bloomfield Road.

This article will openly and honestly assess his ability and hopefully give fans of his prospective new club an idea of the player away from limited highlights that may have been packaged up by your regular media outlets.

Information:

Charlie Adam - Blackpool's Number 26

Full name: Charles Graham Adam

Date of birth: 10th December 1985

Height: 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)

Place of birth: Dundee, Scotland

Current club: Blackpool Football Club

Previous clubs: Rangers, Ross County (loan), St Mirren (loan)

 

Made to measure

To start here’s a quick look at his key statistics from the season.

Those may be the stats that give a feel for what Charlie Adam is all about, however, that is within the context of Blackpool’s team structure and the season they had and it is important to keep them in that context. What cannot be detailed here is where this places Adam in the context of his Premier League peers as that data isn’t readily available for the purposes of this article.

However, here are some observations that will add depth to the understanding of the player and what he will bring to his new club.

Passing

He is equally adept at finding both corners of the pitch with long penetrating passes either lofted or drilled low and flat, although the pass from left to right is his most natural play. He can execute them through a normal passing technique or via a higher risk volley pass which can be very potent when executed accurately. His first time passing (without looking up) can be sublime and well disguised, however, these carry a high tariff and don’t always work. If intercepted early enough then he can compromise his own team’s shape in the defensive phase. His passing over a short range is excellent and very reliable. His passing is equally excellent regardless of pitch location, edge of the box passing can be as good as passing from the deep. Near the edge of the box he will attempt a diagonal ball cut between and behind defenders getting them to turn.

He does however, need time on the ball in order to pick his pass and if a team puts him under pressure, he can be caught in possession by an astute opponent. If his awareness allows him to sense danger he will surge forward to create space to release the pass. However, his accuracy can suffer in these situations as his focus tends to be disturbed.

Below you can see how his pass completion fluctuated throughout the season from a high of 81% to a low of 45%.

Note: Where the line is thicker it means the number of successful passes was higher.

Pace

He has pace, a common misconception is that he isn’t quick. He’s certainly not a hundred metre runner, however, his pace over the first few metres is enough to take him away from most opponents especially given his upper body strength and ability to fend off tacklers (he has a take on success rate of 49%). However, this pace cannot be sustained over distance and will look to a drag of the ball or a nutmeg to beat his man rather than engage in a foot race.

Strength & Stamina

Physically he looks strongly built, if anything he may be carrying too much body fat which would improve given the right circumstances as Blackpool’s approach to fitness conditioning isn’t comparable to an established Premier League team. However, his stamina doesn’t appear to be an issue. He is strong in head to heads, tough in the tackle, a decent leap is met with a good sense of timing and a strong neck gives him above average aerial power which he utilises more in his own box rather than the attacking one, more due to his positioning and role within the Blackpool team. He doesn’t appear to be overly susceptible to injury, tends to pick up very occasional knocks as opposed to serious injuries either by overuse or accident.

Shooting & set pieces

He is excellent at delivering set pieces. Wide free kicks are better delivered from wide on the right hand side and generally hits them just above head height swinging inwards. His free kick delivery from wide left have a tendency to be hit low towards feet and behind the defensive line, swinging away from goal. He generally takes the majority of his corners from the right side, in-swinging, although has a tendency to over hit the ball. His striking of the corner can be inconsistent with a scuffed low and running corner being the key fault. His goal against West Ham was scored in this fashion, but it wasn’t deliberate as his celebration would confirm.

His direct free kicks are especially dangerous, he is able to force a powerful strike hard and low or hard and at wall height or float and curl in to the corners. He is at his most dangerous when the kick is right of centre with the strike curling to the top right corner. His penalties used to show a tendency to be struck low to the right corner, however, recently his penalties have shown his variation, with occasional strikes to the left making him hard to read. His placement shows reliability and will often strike them with power to evade the ‘keepers dive.

Mentality

He is a team player and selfless with it, he has filled in when the team are short of cover and has played centre forward, centre back and left back in games albeit for short periods. He leads his team by example, interacts with the crowd as well as appearing to be very vocal towards his team mates. He appears equally spirited between his own team and the opposition and plays hard, but fair. He appears to take time to recover from mistakes and possibly has highly critical self talk that might impinge on him delivering over a course of a match when a mistake has occurred. For example, an early misplaced pass or the own goal at home to Blackburn or being caught in possession prior to Birmingham’s second goal at St Andrews.

His disciplinary record is marked by his persistent collecting of yellow cards (11 this season), however, it is rare that he loses his temper, even though he was sent off on his Blackpool for a stamp on an opponent. He does appear to have moments of passion where his focus is lost and can lead him in to the occasional rash challenge.

Technical ability

He has good close control, the ball rarely escapes him. He is strong at taking the ball down with the chest and will shield the ball well. He is however, very left footed, passing and shooting accuracy suffer when he uses his right foot. An opponent who can make him turn on to his right side will enjoy an advantage.

Positional play

Within Blackpool’s 4-2-3-1 formation, he forms a part of the deeper two midfielders, but is more progressive than his partner and acts as a link from holding midfielder to the man at the tip of the midfield triangle. When Blackpool play their flatter 4-3-3 he will normally gravitate towards the centre left of the midfield three.

He can set up plays from the middle and left of the pitch (1 & 2), but is given license to support the attack in the final third (4) and can easily play in that more advanced role. He tracks back well to close out space in the defence and will support his left back when under attack, covering runs in behind. He can hold the deeper position (3), although it tends to be against his natural attacking instinct. He made some of his early appearances for Rangers wide left (5), although his lack of pace means he wouldn’t necessarily penetrate the opposition back line, but his delivery from out wide could be utilised more often as well as his link up passing to bring others in to the game.

As revealed in the programme notes for the game at home against Manchester United it is interesting to note that he believes his best position to be at centre half (6) and this hints at the possibility of him covering as a sweeper in some schemes. He is adept at dropping deep between the centre backs when then spread to cover full back raiding forward. From this position he will comfortably hit long diagonal passes (left to right is the most common) or revert to short passes.

Should he be employed in a 4-4-2 then he can be exposed against the opposition central midfield pair, should they work hard to pressurise him and to cut off the link from his midfield partner. It would be unwise to utilise him in this formation given his propensity for needing more time on the ball. A midfield three gives him support and passing options as well as cover for when he breaks forward.

Awareness and vision

He has an excellent understanding of the pitch in front of him and where the space is in front of him in which to pass the ball. He can often see the plays that his Blackpool team mates cannot which can lead to misplaced passes. Should he be surrounded with players of a greater understanding, anticipation and pace his passes may link up more often. However, his vision tends to be limited and doesn’t possess a good awareness of a full 360 degrees which often means he is unaware of what is going on behind him, which not only reduces his passing options, but leaves him susceptible to a timely intervention by an opponent from behind.

Conclusion

Adam is a good central midfielder, with excellent passing range, good technical ability but at times tries to repeat the extravagant pass a little too often. He has great value to his set piece delivery and is tough and good spirited. Physically strong, but requires a better base fitness which might improve his speed and stamina. His vision needs improvement as do his reactions to working in tighter spaces. What is possible is that his drive, desire, ambition and determination to learn and develop suggests that he will improve given the right conditions.

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Tangerine Dreaming Awards – 2010/11

Just brilliant!

After an amazing season in the Premier League it’s now time to start reflecting on a superb experience. First up are the awards picking out a few points from the season. The awards are entirely subjective and not formed through consultation and aren’t necessarily backed up with facts. However, (where applicable) further end of season articles will serve to cover the whys, wherefores and the greater detail etc.

TD  Blackpool player of the season

  1. David Vaughan
  2. Stephen Crainey
  3. Ian Evatt
The ‘Spotter’s Badge’ for doing your homework

Alex McLeish employed a restrictive diamond formation both home and away against Blackpool and the upshot was the the centre space was virtually eliminated and Blackpool were too slow to react to find space elsewhere
. McLeish was the first manager to clearly spend time thinking about playing Blackpool and it paid off reducing Ian Holloway’s men to two stale performances.
 

Reactionary tactical move of the year by an opposition manager

Mick McCarthy win this one in moving Michael Mancienne to right back to counter the threat of Luke Varney from Blackpool’s long diagonal balls. McCarthy sent his team out at Bloomfield Road with Kevin Foley at right back and Michael Mancienne in a holding midfield role. Blackpool enjoyed early success from that route and McCarthy was quick to change and it was a change that sparked a chain reaction, leading to the game being a close encounter as the match progressed.

Last throw of the dice award for manager who didn’t really know what to do

Owen Coyle spent the first half of the game against Blackpool at the Reebok seeing his 4-4-2 structure being exposed time after time. He didn’t seem to recognise what was going on until the second half when he decided to send on Martin Petrov, Rodrigo Moreno and Ivan Klasnic. Their passing as a team became better and eventually secured a draw, however, it was really ‘the kitchen sink’ treatment not by design, more through sheer panic. Still, it worked.

Best visiting player to Bloomfield Road

  1. Ryan Giggs – His speed and movement seemed to spark Manchester United in to life when the game was threatening to get away from them. Incisive, quick runs and thoughtful passing saw Blackpool opened up time after time.
  2. David Silva – his technical abilities are supreme, but the fact he ghosted around Bloomfield was a sight to behold. Space exists for Silva to fill. Enough said.
  3. Luka Modric – Just a brilliant footballer and didn’t deserve to be on the losing side at all at Bloomfield Road. Short, consistent passing all game long combined with a sense of when to make a break forward and get beyond the defensive line.

Hypnotic Passing Award

Luka Modric – see above. It was a privilege and pleasure to witness him pass the ball over 180 minutes this season.

The ‘surprised they were not relegated’ award

Bolton’s season was plastered together by two players. A brave statement which won’t be backed up here, but Stuart Holden’s energy held their flat midfield together at times, when he got injured Daniel Sturridge’s opportunism and desire to prove a point picked up some valuable points to keep them afloat.

Inexplicable tactical decision

At 3-2 up away against a good Premier League team may well require some tactical tweaks to contain, or you could try and keep the status quo. Ian Holloway chose to do something that went against his philosophy against Everton and did something that wasn’t thought through or drilled in training. He made two defensive substitutions, turning Blackpool in to a 5-4-1 and chaos ensued with Blackpool losing the match 5-3. 

Stroke of genius award for innovation

Ian Holloway gets this to make up for the previous one. His decision to go to a 3-5-2 when 3-0 down to Wigan led to a much flatter midfield three and convinced him that he had to return to his midfield set up that guided them through the Championship.

‘The Turnaround’ award for team better than their previous attempt at playing Blackpool

When Blackpool romped home 4-0 at the DW Stadium earlier in the season Wigan looked disjointed and had their fragile confidence shattered by poor goalkeeping from Chris Kirkland. Oh, and they didn’t have Charles N’Zogbia. Martinez made a great decision in dropping Kirkland soon after and the re-integration of N’Zogbia, gave them a direct goal threat as well as unpredictability in the final third. When Wigan (complete with the Frenchman and Ali Al-Habsi in goal) came to Bloomfield Road in April they were a different side, dictated the game and looked like a team focused on their game plan and their greater plan of staying in the Premier League.

Award for taking men on with considerable ease

Opposition players are just obstacles for Carlos Tevez to get around. In doing so against Blackpool he just kept taking men out of the game making it very hard to defend against a very strong team.

The Red Mist award for taking man and ball

Gonzalo Jara – When you’ve just seen your side reduced to ten men with a debatable decision, the last thing you should do is take man and ball when the game is stuck in the corner and no danger is apparent. Not Jara, he acted first, thought last and then had a shower.

Pass of the season

Charlie Adam’s first time passing can sometimes be played out of the vision of some Blackpool players. Adam is likely to pass at any moment, over any range and at any pace. Adam’s first time pass away to West Brom was perfectly executed and showed vision and inspiration that becomes hard to defend against but easy to admire.

Blackpool goal of the season

  1. DJ Campbell v Spurs – This goal was a classic counter attack, fast running, clever touches, turning a defence on it’s heels and a composed finish by Campbell all combined with a little good fortune.
  2. Luke Varney v Wolves – Superbly struck volley stunning Wolves and most spectators at Bloomfield.
  3. Charlie Adam v Blackburn – At 1-0 up, Adam clipped a perfect free-kick out of the reach of Paul Robinson to make it 2-0 at Ewood Park.

Opposition goal of the season

David Silva’s turn and shot at Bloomfield Road was a sight to behold. Crafty, cunning, balanced and one of those goals that even the Blackpool players probably wanted to applaud.

Moving on

Those were a few awards to remember just a small collection of memories of Blackpool’s season in the Premier League. Check back here later in the week for a few posts looking back at the season that was.

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Manchester United v Blackpool – Tangerine Theatre of Dreams

The final game of the season and the champions host Blackpool in what could be their last Premier League game. The outcome of this game alone will not necessarily control Blackpool’s destiny unless the Tangerines achieve the impossible and win at Old Trafford.

Given that Sir Alex Ferguson may well rest several of his players in advance of their Champions League final against Barcelona then their line up is a matter of guess-work. However, after the possible line ups have been introduced, this article will focus on some of the theoretical battles that may emerge during the game that may well go a long way to deciding if the Tangerines are still dreaming come the start of the 2011/12 season.

Line ups

How will Manchester United line up? Here's it's somewhere between a 4-4-2 and 4-3-3. Will Anderson play?

The Manchester United line up is going to be tricky to call and as a result, their shape difficult to fix. The suggestion above sees their shape being a loose 4-4-2 with Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov up front. Quite possibly Darren Fletcher may come in to the centre where his energy would benefit a 4-4-2 against a 4-3-3. Nani may well line up on either flank, but wherever he lines up it can be taken as a given that he will push forward and attack. If Anderson plays then his role may well be pivotal to their approach. Should he sit narrow as above then that will help Man United match up against Blackpool’s midfield three, the teams who’ve done something similar against Blackpool’s 4-3-3 have had the most success this season. Ian Holloway will play the eleven who started the match against Bolton in his usual 4-3-3 with his new-found flatter shape in midfield.

Strategically thinking

It is possible that both teams will have the same attacking philosophy and the game will be wide open with play stretched across the length and width of the pitch allowing space to open up everywhere. Holloway may ask his full backs to commit to the attack and in addition, his centre backs to step up and launch attacks. In fact Blackpool will go all out for a win in this fixture, Holloway will not be thinking of a cagey opening 20 minutes keeping things tight and building from there. That just doesn’t happen with this Blackpool side. Ferguson might have a loose strategy within this game. An emphasis on attack, yes, but perhaps he might ask the likes of Darren Fletcher to rehearse patterns of movement that might be explored in the Champions League final. He might be happy for Patrice Evra to progress forward for left back and ask his centre backs to cover for him.

This article will now pick out three battles that might prove pivotal in the final breakdown.

Battle down the flanks

Both sides will utilise their wide men to break down each others defences, however, it is the application of Blackpool’s full backs that could be crucial. Under Ian Holloway Blackpool’s full backs have progressed in to attack on many occasions and as Blackpool go on an all out attack in this game then Stephen Crainey and Neil Eardley will progress high up the pitch. This will present a problem for Blackpool as it has done on occasion this season. As you can see below Manchester United might try to work a position for a midfielder to exploit through balls in behind Stephen Crainey to release Nani, who in turn will be in the perfect position to find his forwards in the box.

Holloway will be well aware of this threat and he could counter this basically, by asking his full backs to recover their position quickly and for David Vaughan and Charlie Adam to track back and support from midfield. However, he may well ask his full backs to attack relentlessly so that Ferguson’s wide men are running back to their own goal more often than not. This ploy hangs off Blackpool being able to gain a foothold in the midfield first in order to set up attacking plays which leads on to the next key battle.

Flower of Scotland

As most observers will know, Charlie Adam has had a good season for Blackpool and has created and scored goals all throughout the season. When he has struggled it is because teams deny him the space to work on the ball. Ferguson might field Darren Fletcher in the centre of midfield to close down that space to panic Adam and hurry him up in to making mistakes. Ferguson might do this to assert control in this game, but he might have very specific plans for Fletcher (fitness withstanding) to take in to the Champions League final to counter Barcelona’s fluid midfield.

If this doesn’t prove to be the case and Adam settles in to the game and finds his passing rhythm, he will attempt his long diagonal passes and he will also be a threat with his set piece delivery. However, he will look to break in to the attacking third down the left side. With the support of Stephen Crainey he can build himself in to one of his favoured positions to deliver deft balls over and in between the defence to release DJ Campbell through on goals. You can see this demonstrated below.

After Crainey breaks forward, Adam will join him looking to play angled cross balls in to the box for DJ Campbell runs.

This was the position that Blackpool built themselves in to last week against Bolton and Manchester United’s defensive line will have to be alive to this threat and not get caught on their heels like Bolton did last week.

Masterful movement

One of the observations of the meeting between these two teams at Bloomfield Road was the intelligent movement of Berbatov. He appeared to work himself in between the right full back and right-sided centre back. At the time of the game Blackpool were suffering when teams attacked their right back area, so it might have been a game specific plan, but more likely it is down to Berbatov’s instinct. This is again something that Blackpool will have to be wary of and as a demonstration of the point, you can see how it might look below.

Where has Berbatov gone?

Berbatov will keep moving and should he peel off the shoulder of a defender in to space, then it will may well be a ball from deep that he latches on to. Blackpool’s defence have struggled to read teams that play clever balls from deep and they will need to be alert to the threat that when that happens, Berbatov will be on the move and will have to be tracked. Paul Scholes will look to put on a passing masterclass and he averages eight long balls per game and it is likely that the Scholes/Berbatov combination could prove lethal.

Game on

This will be a tremendous game, Ferguson may well see this as a chance to rehearse some set moves against a team that line up in a 4-3-3, which could be useful for their Champions League aspirations. Blackpool on the other hand will try all game long to keep scoring and win or lose this game, they will not necessarily fall. If Blackpool do fall, then it will be with their heads held high and with a very proud set of supporters who’ve enjoyed a season that they’ve been dreaming about for years.

Check out previews from a Manchester United perspective over on;

Stretford-End.com – Preview

Can they score? – Preview

Stretford End Arising – Preview

Blackpool v Bolton Match Analysis

Earlier in the season Bolton had produced a rousing come back to take a point from the encounter with Blackpool. This time out Ian Holloway narrowly got the better of Owen Coyle in a pulsating encounter.

Setting up


Ian Holloway set Blackpool up as he has for the last few games, with the flatter midfield three and brought in Jason Puncheon up front in place of Sergei Kornilenko. Owen Coyle brought Ricardo Gardner in to central midfield for the injured Johan Elmander.

Opening up

Coyle opted to set up in his usual 4-4-2 that saw his players sit narrow both on and off the ball, most noticeably Matthew Taylor sitting in narrow off the left flank and relatively high up the pitch. This seemed to be a ploy by Coyle to increase numerical superiority in attack to feed off their more direct approach. However, by lining up like this they conceded clear numerical advantage to Blackpool in the centre. Often in the first half David Vaughan found himself as the spare man in midfield.

Holloway ensured that his players attacked from the beginning with his side swarming all over Bolton from the start.

Advantage ‘Pool

Blackpool’s numerical advantage in midfield counted for a lot in the first half as they dominated Bolton’s midfield two and Bolton as a result struggled to gain any kind of foothold in the game. Bolton’s best chances came from direct balls over the top of the midfield, from set pieces and more so from poor defensive positioning from the Blackpool back line. As an illustration of how Bolton struggled in the first half, their pass completion was a lowly 55%. They really struggled to get their wide men in to the game and really couldn’t sustain any periods of pressure. The dominance that Blackpool gained in the centre gave them excellent passing options and combined with the movement of their forwards, they played some excellent balls in to the channels and in behind Bolton to really test the mobility of their back line.

Cohen-hesive

Coyle addressed his midfield shortcomings by withdrawing Fabrice Muamba on 50 minutes and his replacement Tamir Cohen seemed to invigorate Bolton. Clearly after the break Coyle had asked his team to work harder from front to back to deny Blackpool as much time and space on the ball, and they were much better on it. Cohen himself expanding the play with a couple of quality passes and Bolton’s full backs were more assured on the ball and less wasteful. In the first half forward pressure on Paul Robinson forced him in to some poor passes and his pass completion was 50%, however, his better use of the ball in the second half meant that Bolton built their attacks more from the back and his pass completion went up to 77%.

Considered passing from the back brought players like Chung-Yong Lee more in to the action and he had an impact.

Overall Bolton’s pass completion went up to 66% and they had 71 more passes. At this stage, although Blackpool had the lead, Bolton were starting to move Blackpool around more, trying to drag them out of shape, but they also broke much better on the counter.

Linking up

It might be an obvious statement to make, but when the Blackpool forward line combines their movement, pace and finishing ability, Blackpool can score against any defence in this league. Games such as Wolves and Fulham away were characterised by static forward play and Blackpool failed to score. This match saw DJ Campbell drop deep, wide and in behind the Bolton defence to register two goals. The chalkboard below illustrates how he received the ball in the deep, before breaking in to the box to receive the ball where he’s at his most dangerous.

Setting up plays in deep and breaking in to the box.

However, the roles of Jason Puncheon and Gary Taylor-Fletcher were crucial in the goals that Blackpool scored. Puncheon was composed on the ball, understood where he should be making his runs and combined well with the midfield to build some excellent attacks. Taylor-Fletcher, whilst not as efficient on the ball was incisive when needed to be and chipped in with two assists. His role is less about making the right runs, but more about the sleight of hand and the risk to make a pass. You can see his chalkboard below and notice how his unsuccessful passes tend to be around the box, but the key is that he is attempting those passes and only Charlie Adam has made more key passes per game than him this season.

Battle of the Chesterfield old boys

As highlighted in the preview the performance of Kevin Davies and Ian Evatt were central to this game. Davies struggled to link up play in the first half, but his ability in the air to win duels all game long was good, winning 10 of 17. In the second half, he played some excellent short passes and brought team mates in to the game and acted as a fulcrum for building counter attacks. On the other hand Ian Evatt continued his excellent recent form with a strong performance at the back. He won 7 of his 9 duels, even though at times the Blackpool back line lost their shape leaving their goal exposed. Therefore, whilst Evatt performed steadily all match long Davies was at the centre of the good things that Bolton did all match long, but grew in importance to Bolton as the match progressed and when he was withdrawn Bolton didn’t appear nearly as effective. For reference, they only managed two off target shots once he had departed on 83 minutes.

Moving on

With poor defending by both sides the goals might have continued to flow, however, credit must got to Coyle for motivating his side at the break to come out as strong as they did. Blackpool and Ian Holloway will again take heart from this superb win and a four game unbeaten streak and hope to cap off this crazy season with an unlikely three points at Old Trafford