Blackpool v Birmingham – A Tactical Preview

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

Line Ups

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

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

Strategy

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

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

Stuck in the middle

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

Widescreen Action

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

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

Role in the hole

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

Off the bench

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

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

Game on

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

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.

Spurs – Match Preview

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

Tactics

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

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

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

Formations

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

Suspension of disbelief

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

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

Tale of the tape

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

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

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

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

Spurs Danger

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

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

Aerially Speaking

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

Game on!

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