Blackpool v Bolton Preview

Bolton come to Bloomfield Road in a poor run of form having lost their last three games, whilst Blackpool will have taken great heart from a strong showing against Spurs last week.

Line ups

The positioning and application of Johan Elmander could be pivotal??

Ian Holloway has a fully fit squad to choose from, but may well opt for giving Jason Puncheon a start over Sergei Kornilenko upfront. Last week against Spurs, Puncheon looked better on the ball and understand his running patterns much better than Kornilenko and certainly seemed to link up well with DJ Campbell.

For Bolton, Owen Coyle is likely to use the same eleven that lost at home to Sunderland last week, however, Bolton’s shape may be hard to call. The reason behind this is the arrival of Daniel Sturridge and the injury to Stuart Holden which has led to a slight change of shape. When these two sides met back in November Coyle favoured a standard 4-4-2, however, he likes to utilise both Elmander and Sturridge in addition to their captain Kevin Davies. The upshot of this is that when the team is being more aggressive they show a clear split in attack and defence as shown by their average positions from the Sunderland game. In that game Coyle asked Muamba and Elmader to form more of a diamond formation. An aggressive move, but it might be a step too far for an away game against an attacking Blackpool side. However, as they sit tighter and defend as they did for large periods against Arsenal they hold average position much more akin to a standard 4-4-2 with Johan Elmander sitting in central midfield alongside Fabrice Muamba.

Elmander (9) can sit tight as well as push higher up and adapt to game circumstances. Diagrams courtesy of www.whoscored.com.

However, that tends to be Coyle’s play at home and away from home he tends to field Elmander wide right favouring Mark Davies (injured for this game) or Tamir Cohen in central midfield or another option (Ricardo Gardner at Blackburn). Would it be a risk to field Elmander centrally? If Coyle thinks that, then Cohen will possibly start if fit.

New Statesman

Stuart Holden has been of vital importance to Bolton this season with his energy and mobility to move around the pitch offering passing options, but more importantly to close down the opposition and win ball. Without him in the midfield Bolton have looked exposed, non more so than when these two teams met at the Reebok back in November. Blackpool found it very easy to play through Muamba and Mark Davies with Elliot Grandin often finding a lot of time and space to build attacks. Holden had average 4.5 tackles per game and with Muamba chipping in with 3 per game they formed a strong combination. Since Holden’s injury Coyle’s midfield selection has been varied and it appears that no one has replaced Holden’s tackle contribution and the upshot of this is that Bolton lack that bite they once had.

Goal threat

As much as Stuart Holden helped to bond Bolton’s midfield, then Daniel Sturridge has been excellent since coming in from Chelsea. Looking at Bolton’s attacking statistics, he starts to dominate the key areas such as shots per game, dribbles and most importantly goals. With 7 goals since his arrival he will shoot on sight and should Bolton score in this game, then it’s very likely that he will be the source. He favours his left foot and should the ball not settle naturally on that foot then he will seek to get the ball to his left before releasing his shot (5 of his 7 goals have been scored with his left foot). Holloway may well ask Alex Baptiste to pick him up as he advances and try to steer him wide and away from goal whilst trying to stop him getting the ball on to his left foot.

Captain Marvel

Last time out Ian Evatt picked up Kevin Davies and coped admirably, and he has been in good form of late as Blackpool have attained a more robust defensive line. In the last three games against recognised strong aerial teams (Newcastle, Stoke & Spurs) he has managed to win 57% of his aerial duels. If he can replicate that level of performance against Davies then that will go a long way to putting Blackpool in a strong position. With the return of Matthew Gilks in goal and the move of Alex Baptiste to centre back Blackpool look more resilient defensively. Evatt and Baptiste seem to work better together as a partnership as Baptiste has the pace to act as a cover whereas Craig Cathcart is perhaps too similar to Evatt and has also made three errors leading directly to goals being conceded and points lost.

Game on

Some observers have made the comment that Bolton are already on their holidays, however, it would be surprising if that really is the case. Bolton will battle hard for every ball and Daniel Sturridge is playing like he wants to prove a point to Chelsea or perhaps a prospective new employer. Blackpool know that they must win this game to have a realistic chance of survival, should they fall short here then it won’t be because Ian Holloway has tried to defend. Expect an all out attacking performance from his team.

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Spurs 1 – 1 Blackpool – White van man

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

Van der right

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

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

Van der middle

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

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

Van der left

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

Parking the van

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

Moving on

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

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

Preview – v Spurs @ White Hart Lane

Kick off: 17:30 GMT  Coverage: ESPN in the UK & Fox Sports Channel in the US

Coming in to this match, neither side is in sparkling form, but that might make for an exciting match. Covered live on ESPN and kicking off at 17:30 GMT both managers have key selection and tactical decisions that could make this a high scoring occasion. Here’s a few of those decisions analysed and dissected.

Setting up

The battle could be played out down the right hand side of the above image. Crucial.

Harry’s selection headache

Ian Holloway has a fully fit squad to choose from and on the face of it he may stick with the same eleven as last time out against Stoke. Harry Redknapp is the manager with the key selection decision with his first choice at left back, Benoît Assou-Ekotto injured. Whoever Harry selects in that position will be important as Ian Holloway may try to second guess his choice and make his own selection and tactical decisions based on that. What can Redknapp do?

  • Attacking full back – He can choose to go for Gareth Bale at left back, which gives him an attacking angle from deep, but would need responsibility from elsewhere to cover his forward runs.
  • Regular full back – He could opt for a more defensive choice from a centre back that he has at his disposal such as Sebastien Bassong, William Gallas or Vedran Corluka, which would give his more of a flatter defensive line and less exposed down that flank when Spurs are attacking.

What could Redknapp be thinking?

By playing Bale at left back and advancing it gives his side greater width, however, Blackpool spread their forwards high and wide, so when Bale attacks, Blackpool may well have a player in the space waiting for the counter. Given that aspect, should he pick Bale at left back then he must be confident that either a centre back will cover, or his team can recover their overall shape before Blackpool’s threat emerges.

Bale at left back is a different proposition than Bale in a left wing position and that will be something that Holloway will be aware of and part of him would most probably like to see Bale in a deeper starting position, even if he does advance when Spurs have possession. Should Bale come in at left back then Redknapp’s choice of personnel on his left wing will interesting. The selection of Steven Pienaar would make sense, the fact he cuts inside gives two benefits for Spurs. Firstly, assistance in adding numbers centrally to counter Blackpool’s possible numerical superiority given they will field a 4-3-3. Secondly, he will create the space through his movement inside for Bale to run in to and leave Bale 1 v 1 with Blackpool’s right back (Neil Eardley). Effectively this would be a good strategy for Redknapp to pursue at it achieves two key aims, restrict the time and space afforded to Blackpool’s midfield three and get Bale 1 v 1 at every possible opportunity.

Choose your weapons

Should Redknapp opt for Bale at left back then that would signal his attacking intentions, however, start him on the left wing and he may well be compensating for the threat that Blackpool have as much as using Bale in his strongest position. However, assuming Bale starts at left back and pushes up as then Ian Holloway will relish the opportunities that offers. He will know that there will be left in the wake of Bale’s surges and he may well look to play Spurs on the counter and in doing so his choice of player at right forward may be crucial. In fact Holloway’s forward line is about the only selection doubt he has.

In recent weeks he has opted for the trio of Matthew Phillips, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and DJ Campbell. In selecting Phillips he would be looking to use his pace on the counter to exploit the space on the right hand side. However, that recent forward selection has presented Holloway with his own issues. The trio lack a little balance. It tends to see Campbell start out on the left and Taylor-Fletcher through the middle and it gives the forward line a right-sided bias which hasn’t shown work or even be an obvious ploy. Another aspect that has shown detriment to the fielding of this trio is that both Campbell and Taylor-Flecther like to drop deep and it may be no coincidence that Blackpool’s last two performances have been very inert in the final third. Should Holloway opt for that forward line then he must have very specific instructions for them to avoid the drift to the right and deep. However, that may not be too bad in itself as it would serve two purposes. Firstly, the potential to overload and combine down the right flank. Secondly, to help build counter attacks from the deep with the forwards involved, working the ball up field. Given the second goal that Blackpool scored against Spurs at Bloomfield Road it should give Redknapp a little warning of what Holloway may be looking to do again.

Normality

Finally, on the subject of Spurs’ left side, then should Bale play left wing and a more defensive option comes in, then their will still be space for Blackpool to exploit, but they may exploit it slightly differently. As Bale is advanced the Spurs full back will need to be aware of Blackpool’s midfield, possibly Keith Southern, aiming to run in to that space to set up plays. Or alternatively Blackpool may play long diagonals either over the full back or to head. Should this be the case, then Taylor-Fletcher may take up the wide right position whilst Phillips goes to the left. Blackpool will look to set up play from a Taylor-Fletcher header and advance from there. Should that be the case then Redknapp might look to field his more aerially able defender in that position.

Shape-shifting

In the last match Holloway changed his midfield shape slightly to add a little more of a defensive aspect to his side setting up in a 4-1-2-3 as opposed to the 4-3-3 he is likely to play in this game. Recently Blackpool have deployed a much flatter midfield three with each player sharing responsibilities for attack and defence. This will certainly help Blackpool to gain numerical advantage over Rednapp’s preference for a 4-4-1-1, however, it might need one or more of those midfielders to pay particular attention to Rafael van der Vaart who is likely to play off either Peter Crouch or Roman Pavlyuchenko. Redknapp may spoil that battle altogether if he decides to bring in Jermaine Defoe in a two-man strike force. Should he do that then Blackpool may well enjoy some prolonged periods of possession and Spurs would look to Sandro and Modric to keep their discipline and press sensibly to disrupt the Blackpool midfield. However, should van der Vaart take to the pitch then Holloway may well ask his midfield to shape up more like the 4-1-2-3 from the Bloomfield Road match, with David Vaughan dropping in to a holding role.

So much more

The Spurs left back selection may well have a critical impact on the outcome of the game. Aside from that, Blackpool won’t push their full backs up as far as they would normally do, given Spurs’ strength down the flanks. And this article hasn’t even touched on the potential impact of Aaron Lennon and how Spurs might look to get him in either a foot race or released via a pass and in behind Stephen Crainey. Also missing in this article is the crucial role of Charlie Adam, out of form of late, but will Redknapp plan to stifle him. The way that the match shapes up, he may well get plenty of space to operate in which he would relish and given his recent pep talk with Holloway then he may well form a key part of some strong passing moves in the Blackpool midfield.

Get set!

It would be a huge surprise if this match ends up in a dull stalemate and in fact it should be a fantastic spectacle, Holloway will go for broke hoping that next weeks match against Bolton might give his side the most realistic chance for a final three points and possible safety. Spurs on the other hand may go out with a limited but refreshing brief of ‘relax, play their own game and to express themselves’ all over the pitch. Now that their battle for fourth place is all but over then Spurs may just play without fear and they have some class acts who may well flourish under those conditions.

An Even Affair – Blackpool 0 – 0 Stoke

A fair result at Bloomfield Road as both teams enjoyed a period of domination, but neither could take the chances handed to them. Stoke had the better of the chances, Blackpool better of the ball, but by the final whilst both teams will see it as a point gained.

Line ups

4-3-3 v 4-4-2

This was a straightforward battle between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2 giving Blackpool the numerical advantage in the centre of the pitch. From a tactical point of view the pattern for the first half was set early on, Blackpool passed the ball around in midfield, Stoke looking to pressure Blackpool on the ball. Blackpool looked to get the ball wide and in to the channels, whilst Stoke looked for territorial gains, using Kenwyne Jones’ aerial ability to set up attacking moves.

Scrappy

The first half saw Blackpool dominate the passing game, even though Stoke had the better chances. It is interesting to see how Blackpool’s passing dropped off in the second half as Stoke worked harder to pressurise Blackpool who then struggled to put passes together and started to hit longer passes instead of building play. You can see from the graph below how Blackpool’s players has less passes in the first half compared to the second, as a team they managed 123 less passes.

Every player with the exception of Keith Southern made less passes in the 2nd half.

Having less passes in the second half isn’t a sign of anything really, other than the opposition must be seeing more of the ball, however, Blackpool’s passing quality declined as well in the second half as they failed to find team mates more often, through sloppy play, rushed passes and longer, less controlled passing. You can see below how each player had a lower pass completion in the second half.

Across the team Blackpool's pass completion dropped.

Just as a final illustration of how Blackpool stopped playing out from the back, take a look at Matthew Gilk’s distribution from the first to the second half. In the first period, he made shorter passes, but in to the second he did that only once. If this was a clear change of game plan by Ian Holloway then it was a tweak that failed to show measurable reward.

Getting longer by the minute.

Case for the defence

Stoke countered everything that Blackpool could do in the first half, particularly with hard work and resilience in their defence. You can see below how many more interceptions they had the first half.

Working hard in the first half to stifle Blackpool's dominance.

More importantly, Stoke excelled on the ground when it came to standing up to Blackpool. You can see below how they lost only one tackle on the ground in the first half, well away from danger as they frustrated Blackpool before setting up their stronger second half.

Near perfect in the tackle to stop Blackpool in the first half.

Scrappy

In the second half Stoke worked harder to deny Blackpool time on the ball and when they got the ball they used it well, stretching the play wide, making high balls from back to front and generally forcing Blackpool backwards. You can see how Stoke’s aerial duels changed in nature from one half to the next.

One aerial duel in the Blackpool box in the first half.

The aerial duels Stoke contested in the first half could be considered ‘set ups’ and not direct attacking threats, however, look how in the second half the aerial contest shifts to the Blackpool box as Stoke applied their pressure.

Pushing Blackpool deeper.

Break free

Back in December Charlie Adam was afforded a lot space and created several penetrating passes in to the Stoke box, in this match under much more pressure from the Stoke midfield (particularly Glenn Whelan) he couldn’t get his passing together and he and Blackpool failed to make telling passing in to the heart of the Stoke box. Stoke must take great credit for having such an organised and resilient defensive unit.

Charlie Adam couldn't complete passes in to key areas.

Long gone

Blackpool had a clear plan last time out as a counter measure to the long throws made by Stoke, essentially the back four remained in position whilst Charlie Adam and Luke Varney picked up the aerial threats, leaving the back four in place to deal with the fall out. In this match, that approached remained, but it appeared that Adam dropped in to the back four as Ian Evatt stepped out to man mark Jones. In truth Blackpool handled the threat well, out of 12 long throws, Blackpool won 9.

3 out of 12 long throws were successful

Moving on

Both teams deserve credit for working hard when a stern wind was whipping across and around Bloomfield Road, Blackpool have gone 180 minutes against Stoke without conceding which they will take great heart from, whilst Stoke are working towards their FA cup final. Blackpool head to White Hart Lane and will hope to attack Spurs in order to try to build confidence ahead of their final home game of the season against Bolton. The Bolton match will most probably decide where the Tangerines will be playing their football next season.

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.

Error Prone – Blackpool 1 – 3 Wigan

Wigan took the points as they turned in a composed performance, taking advantage of chances handed to them by Blackpool. Blackpool on the other hand will want to forget this error strewn match as Ian Holloway continues his search for a settled first eleven.

Setting up

Overloading the apparent weakness.

The team selection for Blackpool centred on the return of Matt Gilks in goal and the restoration of Neil Eardley at right back with Elliot Grandin coming in to the midfield. For Blackpool the problem from the Arsenal game remained how to compensate for the loss of David Vaughan. In truth no one really covered his position providing Blackpool with the same gap in their balance that caused them problems against Arsenal i.e. there’s not enough cover for the defence nor disruption of the opposition midfield. Wigan were somewhere between a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-5-1, with Steve Gohouri coming in for the suspended Maynor Figueroa. Roberto Martinez asked Ben Watson and James McCarthy to sit deeper than Mohamed Diame who appeared to be asked to play higher up the pitch. Presumably to apply pressure to Charlie Adam in the deep.

Plain speaking

Tactically the game itself was pretty plain from Blackpool’s perspective. Presumably the individual errors took away and coherency from their play and didn’t allow them to execute their game plan. One element that was clearly not apparent, which seemed obvious, was to target the left back Steve Gohouri who may have found an appearance at left back somewhat uncomfortable.

However, it was Martinez who made the most distinctive tactical moves. Firstly, as mentioned above, stationing Diame higher up the pitch to pressurise Charlie Adam and deny him the space that he thrives on. The other tactical element that Martinez appeared to bring to the game was to focus Wigan’s play down their left flank. Blackpool’s right back area is one of concern for Ian Holloway and his constant switching between Eardley and Alex Baptiste shows his doubt about the position. Whilst Wigan didn’t really get a lot of joy down the left, they were confident on passing the ball about in that zone of the pitch, Tom Cleverley, N’Zogbia and Diame all focused their passing and running in to that area and that can be seen in the high concentration of passes on the chalkboard below.

Left, left, left, right, left (repeat to fade)

Back to three

The major piece of tactical intrigue from Ian Holloway came when the game was dead, therefore the value of his change must be tempered by that fact, however, it is well worth noting what he tried. After his triple substitution failed to change the game within his normal framework he pushed Neil Eardley in to central midfield turning Blackpool in to a 3-5-2. Arguably Blackpool’s system has been exposed in recent weeks as the player at the tip of the midfield triangle has either been squeezed out of play by the opposition or the player hasn’t played well. If either of these or both happen then Blackpool’s system becomes more predictable. The shift to a 3-5-3 flattened the midfield three bringing in Eardley who is more competent on the ball in to the area of the pitch that Blackpool had surrendered to Wigan through poor displays from Keith Southern and Charlie Adam. The shift to this system gave Blackpool more control and composure in the centre. Whether this system would work elsewhere isn’t clear, what is clear is that Neil Eardley could well play more games in the centre of midfield and this is something that has been toyed with for a while as Holloway tried him in central midfield during pre-season.

Watson in control

Another point to note is that while Charlie Adam is heading to the PFA Awards he will be left to reflect on a game where he was outplayed by Ben Watson. Watson dominated the centre of the pitch winning all 9 of his duels, passing efficiently and breaking up play with 4 interceptions.

Wigan gained control of the centre through Ben Watson.

All too often since the turn of the year has Charlie Adam been wasteful in possession which could be through his own drop in performance, opposition pressure or lack of cohesion from his team mates taking away the platform which he usually performs well upon. From the chalkboard below the red streaks of failed passes dominate as his pass completion drop to 53%

Keeping it simple

Charlie Adam was wasteful and Ben Watson showed how to retain possession and stringing his side together. However, as individual performances go Tom Cleveley was safe in possession and Charles N’Zogbia showed the direct running and link up play that make him a very dangerous player when he wants to be.

No bite

The final point to make is that without David Vaughan Blackpool are even weaker in defensive passages of play and struggle to break up the opposition. Wigan were superb in their passing, but also superb in breaking up Blackpool’s play with 19 interceptions. Blackpool’s error will have contributed to this, but Blackpool had no answer to this only being able to make 9 interceptions themselves.

No contest. A fine smattering versus a splutter.

Moving on

Blackpool need to be much better off and on the ball in their final few games working harder to disrupt teams as well as cutting out errors and recovering better from those that they make. Wigan will be happy with three points, but they will have harder tests than this and will need Ben Watson, Charles N’Zogbia and Tom Cleverley to keep building play in the final third order to threaten better teams.

Blackpool 3 – 1 Spurs

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

Setting up

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

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

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

Countering a dangerous threat

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

Swinging on the subs

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

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

Getting it right

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

Jenas Impact

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

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

Inviting Pressure

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

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

Clear it!

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

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

Moving upwards

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

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Clinical Deficiencies – Everton v Blackpool

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

Setting Up

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

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

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

Right back to where we started

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping it tight till switching it off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concession of the advantage!

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

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

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

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

Ding Dong

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

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The lost fluency – Blackpool v West Ham

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

Setting up 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back line changes

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

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

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

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

Moving on

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

Sunderland Review

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

Setting up

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

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

The simple way to effectiveness

Sunderland came with a simple and clear game plan;

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

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

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

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

The strongest survive

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

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

Shining Lights

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

Exploitation

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

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

Lack of frontal cohesive movement

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

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

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

Moving On

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