Stoke City Report

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

Line Ups

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

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

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

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

Even

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

To-&-Fro

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

License to probe

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

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

A Central Winger

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

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

Pass domination

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

Steady Progress

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

Ten ways to stay in the Barclays Premier League

Holloway loves referencing the 'Barclays' bit of the Premier League name!

As Blackpool lined up against Wigan back in August, most fans were left wondering what awaited them in the highest league in the land. Fifteen matches in to the season and most Blackpool fans know what this Premier League is all about and how we fit in to the landscape. Sick and tired of being branded a breath of fresh air, Blackpool are more than this and there are some real reasons behind this success which if keep repeating themselves then come the end of the season the Tangerines will be dreaming about a second season in this league and being suitably patronised by idiots who go on about second season syndrome without ever really defining what that actually means.

The last two games versus Wolves and Bolton have seen two performances that encapsulate everything that Blackpool are about both from a negative and positive stand point. Stick to what they are doing and Ian Holloway will achieve what was once deemed impossible. To keep Blackpool Football Club in the richest league in the world. Here are ten things from Blackpool’s first fifteen games that should they continue will ensure another large party on the promenade.

Keep Attacking!

The approach that Blackpool have taken in attacking every match has been an approach away from the usual one trodden by a promoted team. This has taken many managers by surprise and they’ve appeared to take Ian Holloway’s claim to attack the Premiership with a pinch of salt. So far Blackpool have scored 23 goals, created 223 chances at an average of 15 per game, scoring 10% of them, with a further 19% hitting their target. Sustain this over the next twenty three games (hypothetically speaking) then Blackpool will have bagged 58 goals by the end of the season, 16 more than Burnley last year and a tally that would have been the eighth highest in the whole season.

Good Form-ation!

It works, it’s positive, it covers all corners of the pitch, and it allows Ian Holloway to get the most out of his players. Each player knows his role and those of his team mates, they subsequently know where everyone is during each phase of play and this helps the team build on field relationships. The system has evolved this season away from the flatish 4-3-3 of last season in to a more modern 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-1-3. The opposition are used to a team like Arsenal setting up in this manner, but a newly promoted side – Never!

Opposition Arrogance

Most fans of Blackpool will be more than familiar with the usual, ‘We can’t lose to this lot’ attitude of fellow fans, but it appears that opposition managers aren’t too far from the same mindset. As long as managers send out their teams in a standard flat 4-4-2 then Blackpool will keep picking up points. Look at Owen Coyle last Saturday, he sent his team out without making any concession for Blackpool thinking that his players and his outdated 4-4-2 would ‘have too much’ for little Blackpool. Only around the sixty minute mark after seeing his midfield being outnumbered three to two and constantly being passed through did he start to think he needed to change. Surely after ten minutes as Elliot Grandin received the ball behind a bemused Fabrice Muamba he should have realised and made a change. Thankfully he didn’t and Blackpool ascended in to a lead.

Counter Intelligence

Following on from the last point, the teams who have made decisions to counter us have had the most success. Most notably Birmingham stunted our formation with a canny application of a narrow diamond midfield. Mick McCarthy fielded a five man midfield and Everton and Blackburn both stifled the midfield by playing a holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1. If teams start doing more homework on our play then the season may grind to a halt quickly, people were wondering where Blackpool’s plan B was after defeat to Birmingham, however, right now Holloway can keep plan B till later.

Basic Defending

A look at the last two games goes a long way to show that Blackpool are starting to defend well after previously being very attack minded. The back four works well as a unit and looking at their chalkboards in the last games they won 48 tackles (the highest this year) and even won the aerial battle against a Bolton side who have been so dominant in the air at times this season.

Blackpool cleared their lines superbly against Wolves making 42 successful clearances (the highest this season for Blackpool) at a success rate of 63%, whilst against Bolton they were less successful only clearing their lines 35% of the time. This helps to explain a little of how Blackpool failed to hold on to their lead against Bolton, as the match progressed clearances failed and the opposition were able to regroup and hit back.

Stout defending against Wolves, but less success against Bolton.

Pass Masters

Well not quite, that would be Barcelona who made 684 passes against Real Madrid in the recent ‘el classico’ with a completion rate of 89%. However, Blackpool pass and pass the ball well, no cynical lumping of the ball up the field here. Keep passing like this till the end of the season and teams will be broken down time and again. To put this in perspective, Blackpool average 474 passes per game with a completion rate of 75%. There is room for improvement in the completion rate and Holloway will keep striving for that if he is to head along his desired Spanish route to playing football. The key is the way that Blackpool have started to penetrate in to opposition boxes, look below at the passes that made it in to the Bolton box last Saturday. This inevitably leads to scoring chances, goals and points.

Blackpool managed to pass the ball well in to the danger zone and broke through the defensive line of Bolton.

Diagonal Puzzle

A lot of fans reference this as a long ball, but it is much more sophisticated than that and has been used for years by many top quality teams (most notably Ajax and the Dutch national team) to shift defence in to attack, stretch the play and to set up a ‘move’. Teams are genuinely uncomfortable with such a ball being played and as for Wolves, it caused such concern for Mick McCarthy that he moved Michael Mancienne back to right back to counter the threat. This ball was in use last season and appears at times to be a set move. Next time it is played from left to right up to the right hand foward, check to see if Neil Eardley has moved up and Charlie Adam has moved in towards the ball also. If so, expect Adam to pick up the ball early from the knock down and set up either an overlap for the full back or in behind the defence for the forwards to run on to.

Here you can see the way the Blackpool play a long, left to right diagonal ball as a set attacking move.

Rack ’em up!

Up to now, there’s not been a bad run where points have dried up, only one occasion where back to back losses have been recorded, if that remains the same then that is crucial to keeping the status as a Premier League team. The media love a newly promoted team to hit a rough patch so they can wheel out the cliche machine and churn out more claptrap which can nag away at people’s confidence.

Get DJ with the ball at his feet in the right areas…..

And he will score. He worked so hard at the Reebok and he is so much more effective in the central striker role than he was in the deeper midfield based role. At the rate he’s going he may bag around 8 goals by the end of the season and they’ll all help to keep Pool safe. If his team mates get the ball to his feet in to the area between the goal and the penalty spot he’ll score. All his eleven goals in the Championship last year came in this zone.

DJ Campbell's 11 goals mapped out above, showing approx position ball was struck and direction of going in to the goal

Stay alert at all times

Blackpool are at their most vunerable after they’ve just scored, when they’ve conceded a free kick or in the last few minutes of games. 9 of the 29 goals conceded this season have come in the last quarter of the game.

When Manchester United come to visit on Saturday, should Ian Holloway keep his side performing the way they have up to now then Alex Ferguson will need to pay respect to Blackpool and ensure that he counters the threat Blackpool carry. Blackpool will create chances again on Saturday and if the defensive robustness found recently comes through again then the men in Tangerine may well sneak something from the fixture.

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Bolton Preview

Blackpool head to the Reebok  stadium for the first time, looking to match a Bolton side who are impressing people across the land with their performances over the past few weeks. Most are acknowledging that they aren’t the side of Allardyce or Megson any more and Owen Coyle has them passing the ball around in a more attractive, and on recent results, effective fashion.

Ian Holloway has a couple of choices to make from a selection point of view, namely who will play as the central striker and who will play at the head of the midfield triangle in the 4-2-1-3 or the 4-2-3-1, if the two wide forwards pull back a little. It’s likely that DJ Campbell will play in the central striker role and Elliot Grandin will return in midfield, although Gary Taylor-Fletcher may be an option for a deeper role than he normally plays.

Bolton are likely to come out in a 4-4-2 and will work hard to press Blackpool to put them under pressure. Muamba may have to drop to cover the movement of Grandin.

Bolton appear to line up in a 4-4-2, the full backs don’t push too far forward and Fabrice Muamba will hold a slightly deeper position than his midfield partner Stuart Holden, who will look to break forward to support the attack. On the wings, both Matthew Taylor and Chung-Yong Lee will push forward and will cross early and from deep for the target men in the forward line. Both forwards will drop deep to receive the ball and when out of possession will also drop back to add numbers to midfield to assist in breaking up the opposition play.

As with Wolves last week, this site discussed the theoretical issues of a 4-4-2 coming up against a 4-2-3-1 and again that could pose a problem for Bolton. Last week Wolves took steps to move away from that by setting out in a 4-5-1, however, there’s no precedent to suggest that Coyle will make a shift in formation and that may well play in to Ian Holloway’s hands. Coyle employs a style within his 4-4-2 that will help to level out the formation disadvantage. What is this style?

First of all, he may well have his side passing the ball with panache and style, but he is still fond of having his keeper and defenders skipping out midfield with long balls which will help them counter Blackpool’s potential midfield dominance given that Bolton will be outnumbered in that department by three to two. See the chalkboards below and how Jussi Jääskeläinen made just 3 of his 37 passes short, the rest sent long. On the other hand Richard Kingson went short on 19 of his 51 passes last week against Wolves.

Jussi Jääskeläinen hitting 8% of his passes short so Bolton still go long from the 'keeper, compared to Blackpool's Richard Kingson who plays out short from the back 38% of the time.

Also, out of possession Bolton will work hard to close down the Blackpool team and close out any space, every player has a remit to press the opposition and will not allow Blackpool any time to ponder on the ball. Blackpool will need to find their passing rhythm early and in tight spaces or face a tough battle to assert dominance in midfield. However, should they do this then the midfield two of Holden and Muamba might be easily bypassed leaving Grandin in plenty of space to operate. Given this, then Coyle may ask Muamba to drop deeper than normal to cover that space. However, this again is fraught with problems as it may leave either Adam or Vaughan with plenty of space to operate. Thus igniting the issue of playing 4-4-2 against 4-2-3-1. Coyle will surely start to rely more on the long ball this Saturday to bypass Blackpool’s midfield and Blackpool will face a similar challenge to that which they faced against Newcastle earlier in the season.

Bolton will hope to win the battle of the tackle as they did against Newcastle and Wolves in their last two games, in particular they are hard to dominate aerially (Zat Knight and Gary Cahill are very dominant in the air at the back) and Blackpool will be happy to concede defeat the air, if they pick up on the second balls and use them to construct thoughtful and patient attacks as they did up at Newcastle. Also, look at the following chalkboards and notice that Bolton (against Newcastle) made 21 interceptions and conceded 17 free-kicks in and around the midfield area, this will disrupt even the most fluent of passing teams and allow Bolton to assert themselves on the game. This doesn’t suggest for one minute that Bolton foul tactically in the midfield in order to reset themselves positionally, but the commitment of those fouls in and around such a key area can help to disrupt an attacking team. Bolton will be happy to give away fouls around the half way line and invite the long ball in to the box knowing that they will win most of the headers in that area. Andy Carroll only won half of his headers last week against Bolton’s back line and he is widely noted as being excellent in the air, so DJ Campbell will not be getting his head to too many high balls.

This shows how Bolton broke up Newcastle's midfield flow with 21 interceptions and conceding 17 free kicks.

Kevin Davies is the Bolton talisman and will seek to pull out wide to make passing plays or flick headers for willing runners. More impressive recently, has been the form of Johan Elmander, who since he has a new contract to win somewhere has suddenly found some superb form. He is both a threat in the air and on the ground and will also seek to take players on, beat them and take them out of the game in order to isolate opposing defenders and create numerical advantage. Look at this chalkboard from Newcastle and seek how many times Elmander took on and beat Newcastle players boosting both his team and their supporters.

Elmander taking on and beating Newcastle players, which takes players out of attacks and opens up space for Bolton.

This could be the start of a very tough period of games for Blackpool and points may well be very hard to come by, this will be a very difficult game against one of the form teams in the league and the favourites for this match. However, Blackpool fear no one and will attack. Something from the game at the Reebok will be a fantastic achievement for the Tangerines.

Wolves Preview

Both sides have been praised for their approaches to playing football this season. Blackpool will attack any team and Wolves for that matter too. Both sides like to pass the ball about and try and work the opposition out of position. This game could though, come down to the decisions that Mick McCarthy has to make.

Formations

If as the Bolton game McCarthy sends out his side in a 4-4-2 then this is how they may line up

With exception of Chelsea away Ian Holloway keeps his formation the same, whilst Mick McCarthy has over the past few weeks shown that he will adapt his formation for his opposition. McCarthy last week opted for a 4-4-2 against Bolton and a 4-5-1 against Arsenal in the previous game. Here’s where a critical decision lies, did McCarthy make the call for a five man midfield based on the perceived quality of opposition or did he do it from a counter formation point of view. For example, did he see the fact that Arsenal line up in a 4-2-3-1 and counter that by trying to crowd the midfield. Should Wolves form in to a 4-4-2 then that will be very interesting as either McCarthy doesn’t neccessarily counter the opposition formation or that he genuinely belives his 4-4-2 will overcome Holloway’s modfied 4-3-3. Theoretically, he would be playing in to the hands of Holloway should he go 4-4-2 as that leaves plenty of space for Blackpool to operate in in between the Wolves defence and midfield. This is illustrated below, as Blackpool triangulate their midfield three, with one player at the head (usually Grandin) which leaves Blackpool able to play through the Wolves midfield and for Grandin to float in to space.

The red box shows the space a 4-4-2 formation may well conceded to Blackpool's 4-3-3

The way to counter that would be to drop a central midfielder to cover, a centre back to step up or for pressure from Wolves’ two central midfielders on Adam and Vaughan in order to win the ball high up the pitch and set up attacks. The other way for a 4-4-2 to succeed against a 4-3-3 is the way that both Newcastle and Sunderland worked against Arsenal and Chelsea respectively. They pressed the opposition all over the pitch to deny them any space and the two forwards dropped deep to ensure all eleven men were goal side of the ball.

If McCarthy brings out his 4-5-1 then that will signal his intent to stifle the Blackpool midfield, who if given space have shown they can dominate teams at this level with metronomic and incisive passing. By packing the midfield with more men, McCarthy will hope to crowd out Blackpool and disrupt their rhythm. However, as with the opening 20 minutes against Arsenal the other week, playing a five man midfield requires an understanding of when to break out to support the forward player. Should the midfield remain static then that isolates the front man and ultimately invites pressure back on to them. Where Wolves got it right against Arsenal (given that they had enough chances to win the game) was that Milijas eventually realised he had to break out from midfield to support attacks and Jarvis and Hunt got forward superbly on the wings. See the image below and how that space that Blackpool had may well evaporate should McCarthy go with a 4-5-1.

With a 4-5-1 Wolves could cover the space normally allowed to Blackpool's midfield when they play against a 4-4-2.

This leads on to the final dynamic, what should happen if McCarthy calls for a 4-3-3 approach and match Blackpool, this could easily happen as he has the players at his disposal to do so. That would be fascinating, it might well see the likes of Adam, Vaughan, Henry, Mancienne (if selected) forced deeper to cover the central attacking midfielder leaving the most critical battle in the wide areas. Wolves could enjoy that factor given the form of Matt Jarvis and the precise delivery from Stephen Hunt. Holloway may well ask his full backs to site deeper should this happen and if so Blackpool will have to be very careful not to get dragged too deep as a unit and invite Wolves to attack them. Holloway would look to his own wide men for the same and given the pace of Varney and (if selected as most fans are crying out for) Matty Phillips then Wolves’ full backs may well be under pressure. Given the injuries that McCarthy has to deal with in defence then his full back choices may be the most critical. He’ll be aware of the pace Blackpool have in wide areas and will need good mobility from his full backs to nullify the threat.

The injuries that McCarthy is contending with may well be critical in this battle. His defensive selections should dictate how his defence plays. If he goes for the likes of Steven Mouyokolo as a centre back then his defence may play a normal to deep line to counter the pace and mobility of Blackpool’s forward line. Likewise Holloway may look at that and think that he needs more physicality against a strong defender and opt for Harewood to start. The problem for McCarthy comes back to the 4-4-2 problem. If he wants his defence to play deeper than normal to cover the pace that Blackpool have then that could open up more space between defence and midfield for Blackpool to exploit. In fact given his defensive options then McCarthy’s formation may be dictated from the back. A less mobile defensive back line that sits deeper might see McCarthy go for the 4-5-1 with one midfielder given the remit to drop in to the space and cover.

That was very heavy on theory, looking back at Wolves’ last two games there are a couple of interesting aspects to be aware of. Arsenal appeared to defend resolutely and of course they had an inspirational performance from Lukas Fabianski to thank, but also they defended Wolves’ crosses superbly. Look below and see the amount of unsuccessful crosses that Wolves’ had. Blackpool will need to do they basics well, cut out the inevitable crosses and clear their back line.

Arsenal defended Wolves' crossing very well. Blackpool will need to do the same to avoid being dominated.

Against Bolton, Wolves, who have a reputation for being tough in the tackle, were out fought in that area by a Bolton team perceived to have ‘gone soft’ under the stewardship of Owen Coyle. Look below at how Wolves were second best all over the park. In fact Gary Cahill and Zat Knight were dominant in the air. Cathcart and Evatt will need to look at emulating that for Blackpool to gain an advantage.

Bolton were dominant in the tackle especially in their own half, this is crucial against Wolves in breaking down their play.

So Blackpool will be hoping to win the battle of the tackle and stop the crosses hitting their targets and that may well go a long way to deciding the outcome of this game. Holloway and McCarthy will both enjoy this match up and this is surely what Holloway imagined his work would be like when he got Blackpool promoted. He will hope to counter the decisions that McCarthy makes in order to bring some more Premiership points to Blackpool’s already impressive tally.

Head over to the Vital Blackpool Forum to discuss this article with other fans.

The Perfect Combination?

A review by Zonal Marking of the Manchester derby didn’t do much to heighten the enjoyment of a truly awful spectacle, however, it did inspire this article about Blackpool’s midfield. The review touched on the idea of the ideal combination of a midfield three, both examples on that night were far from ideal and were cited as being behind the drab stalemate. The ideal combinations offered by the article included the breakdown that a team playing three in midfield should have a ball winner, a passer and an attacking creator. Instantly the Championship midfield trio of Southern, Adam and Vaughan sprung to mind, that had everything last season; balance, grit, energy, precision, vision and creativity to name a few characteristics. This season two of that trio are still playing exceptionally, but due to injury the ball winner was unavailable and Elliot Grandin came in to become a part of the midfield. Grandin has many qualities and has excited the Blackpool fans with his performances so far. He of the three though is the one that Holloway tends to sacrifice when he feels changes are needed. Does this mean that Grandin isn’t offering the midfield balance that Holloway is looking for or is his role something else entirely.

Ian Holloway appears to have set roles for each player to perform within his system and this allows him to make changes such as the 10 he made against Villa, without changing the shape or style of the team. Each of the three must have a set role, and as Holloway has openly cited Spain as an influence on how he wants his team to play then maybe he’s looking for Blackpool to have their own Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta or as defined above a ball winner, a passer and an attacking creator. If this is the case how does Blackpool’s midfield measure up against that ideal combination.

Last Saturday the midfield trio lined up against West Ham, in the tackle David Vaughan won all of five of his challenges, Charlie Adam won two and Grandin none. Given that Vaughan tends to sit deeper than the other two and won the most tackles then on the day he was the ball winner.

Looking at the number and accuracy of passes should give an idea of who the passer in the team is. Grandin was only on the pitch till the 59th minute so the passes were only counted till then. Vaughan completed thirty out of thirty four passes, Adam twenty five from thirty one and Grandin sixteen from twenty. Vaughan comes out on top here as the passer and looking back on previous games, he tends to rack up the most passes out of the trio in the games that have been played this season. You can see the differences in Vaughan and Grandin’s pasing below. Vaughan’s passes covering box to box and generally much deeper than Grandin.

Finally, who stood out as the attacking creator? This is the most obvious selection, Adam gets involved in most of the plays that Blackpool have, he is the nearest thing there is to a playmaker in the midfield. There were no goals against West Ham which would have given a better indication of the ‘attacking creator’ based on assists, however, when looking at the goal scoring chances from open play then Adam was involved in five chances, Vaughan five and Grandin one. This backs up the assertion that Adam makes plays, but Vaughan is his equal. Over the season though Adam has created the most goals for the Tangerines and again that should see him fit in as the playmaker and it’s fair to say that Holloway does give him license to try the extra ball that carries a higher risk, such as the diagonal pass with the outside of his left foot that Campbell pounced on to score at St James’. You can see below a couple of passes that Adam has made this season to contribute to goals (Adam is circled in red).

What does this say about Blackpool’s midfield or even Blackpool’s tactics for that matter? Well first and foremost it shows just how important David Vaughan is to the midfield unit. He is a true all rounder and almost the midfield lynch-pin, Adam gets the plaudits and the media glare but Vaughan is equally as important. It shows that if Holloway has an approach to his midfield three similar to that as described above then there is a lack of balance with Vaughan seemingly playing two roles and Grandin none. It could indicate that this season Holloway has moved away from a midfield three and sees his midfield as Vaughan and Adam with Grandin as a forward, a second striker perhaps filling in behind Campbell. The match against Wolves should go some way to understanding where Blackpool’s midfield is right now, should Grandin drop to the bench to replaced by Southern or Sylvestre then perhaps Holloway is aiming for the ideal combination in midfield.

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A Strange Stalemate – West Ham Review

As stalemates go, this was perculiar in the fact that both teams wanted to the win the game and had more chances between them to win the game than any game in the Premier League this season. A stalemate is generally the result of two teams fearful of losing and denying space all over the pitch and not committing too many players in to attack in order to keep their defensive shape. However, a combination of poor composure in front of goal, resolute defending and a lack of patience ensured not one goal was scored (No mention of the onside disallowed goal here).

The line ups

Line up after Dyer was subbed for West Ham. Barrera cropped up on both flanks and Obinna tended to drop deep or roam around from his forward position. Taylor-Fletcher gravitated inside and played in that role once Matty Phillips came on.

Blackpool almost returned to the side that played Everton with Southern dropping to the bench to be replaced by Grandin, setting Blackpool out in their now usual 4-2-1-3 / 4-2-3-1. With the introduction of Phillips, Taylor-Fletcher dropped deeper and more central and Blackpool formed in to a 4-2-4 which has become very common this season. West Ham set up in a rough 4-4-2 with some interchanging of position and one the front two dropping deep at times to form a 5 in midfield. Blackpool’s four band formation usually competes well against a three band system as they can exploit the space between the opposition lines. However, West Ham sat Parker and Noble deep at times to make their system more like 4-2-2-2 which helped to nullify Blackpool. This move from a formation point of view helped to contribute to the stalemate that ensued with the most space being created when attacks broke down and counter attacks were made.

Middle of the field

In midfield West Ham worked hard to deny Charlie Adam space, for the first 20 minutes this appeared to throw him off his game and in fact until his booking in the 27th minute he didn’t really make any positive passes and was generally pushed deeper and deeper by excellent pressure from Mark Noble and Scott Parker. The booking seemed to sharpen his mind and from then on, his range and effectiveness of pass increased with two passes getting in to the opposition box.

Adam's passing up to his yellow card on 28 mins, compared to his passes after that when he appeared to settle in to the game.

Before the game Scott Parker was talked about as West Ham’s key man and he didn’t disappoint, turning in an action packed display. He differs from Adam in that he is a complete midfielder and performs many roles. In  fact Parker, in addition to his 33 successful passes (joint with Noble for the most West Ham completed passes) chipped in with 5 succesful tackles, 2 interceptions and 6 blocks. Mark Noble wasn’t too far behind him with with a superb all round performance as well. With Parker and Noble denying him space, Adam played much deeper than West Ham’s key midfield duo. You can see how much deeper Charlie’s passing was compared to Scott Parker in the chalkboard below.

Note how Adam's passing is from a much deeper position than Parker.
Notice how Parker in the upper heatmap has a great share of his passes in the opposition half.

What was another key factor for West Ham in attempting to control of this game is the fact they were so dominant in the tackle winning 47 and losing only 19. When you break this down even more you can see that aerially West Ham were in complete control winning 18 headers to Blackpool’s 6. This is partly explained by the lack of height in the Blackpool side, but even those taller players in the centre back positions only won 2 of those 6. This gave West Ham an outlet going forward and territorial advantage to construct attacks.

Desperate Defence

This game saw clean sheets for both sides, but neither was down to a highly organised back line, some of the defending was desperate at times with lunges in to the tackle and last ditch blocking of shots. This was demonstrated with the amount of blocks each side had (22 in the entire game). Yes, this game will go down as having the most attempts on goal without a goal, but only 4 shots forced ‘keepers to make saves, something that both teams will take away from this game and seek to improve their composure in front of goal.

While the defences were performing resoltutely both attacks made it easy for them. As mentioned above through lack of composure and poor decision making but also from lack of patience in attack. Yes there were more shots at goals than you can shake a stick at, however, 14 of Blackpool’s shots came from outside the area and West Ham had 8 which accounted for 46% of all attempts on goal. Perhaps this showed a little desperation, trying to get a goal and shooting at all costs rather than retaining possession and finding a better position to shoot from.

Moving on

Overall this was a difficult match to break down given the even spread of play, there were good passing moves and plenty of chances but composure and decision making were lacking at key times. Blackpool will be happiest with the draw and move on to tackling Wolves at Bloomfield Road next week. Ian Holloway will be hoping that if they carve out that many opportunities again added to some renewed composure (such as that seen again Wigan in week one) then Wolves will need to do some scoring of their own to take something from Bloomfield Road next Saturday.

Blackpool v Everton Match Review

A fair result given that tactically Everton shaded the first half and Blackpool the second. Moyes positioned his team in his usual fashion, Holloway on the other hand brought in Keith Southern with Elliot Grandin dropping to the bench. If anything this meant that Blackpool played a more flatter formation in midfield as they brought back the Championship midfield triumvirate.

Tactical Swings

Moyes’s usual formation of a lop sided 4-1-4-1 worked superbly to deny Blackpool space and create attacking space of their own. Firstly, John Heitinga strangled the space that Blackpool’s midfield like to operate in, (in front of the oppostition’s defence and behind the opposition midfield). Also, by playing a narrowed midfield four this squeezed the other midfield space that Blackpool like to try and pass through to dominate games. Added to this Everton retained possession excellently and broke sharply when they got the ball.

In the second half, Holloway made a point of getting Vaughan pushed higher up in to an advanced attacking midfield position which helped to occupy Heitinga and pressured the Everton defence more directly. The final tactical swing occurred through the substitions. Holloway’s changes saw Blackpool shift to a 4-2-3-1 verging on a 4-2-4 whilst Moyes’s substituions saw him move to a more conventional 4-4-2 which was crucial as Blackpool exploited the space between their lines and hence why they finished so strongly.

Vaughan was pushed higher up the field straight after half time to give Blackpool an attacking midfield focal point.

As Everton shifted to a 4-4-2 this gave Blackpool more space in front of the Everton defence and behind their midfield. This contributed to the dominance that Blackpool enjoyed in the final ten minutes.

Key Players

The impact of Keith Southern is superbly analysed here by Up The ‘Pool, efficiency in posession was the name of his game, however, his coverage of the pitch is testament to his ability to cover space. What is interesting is his failure to make a tackle, Southern himself admitted to feeling a difference in pace and perhaps his lack of speed to close down opponents meant he was never in position to make a tackle. The key to this whole game was John Heitinga, his withdrawl saw Moyes concede his solid balance of five defensive and five attacking players, but it was the space he occupied and subsequently freed up that played into Blackpool’s hands. Heitinga made his tackles and passed solidly, but his influence wasn’t overly measurable. It was more down to his occupancy of space, the vital space that Blackpool thrive upon. You can see in the diagrams above how little space there was and how much more space there was after his substitution. Both Birmingham and Blackburn played someone in a similar role and they both frustrated Blackpool to a similar extent.

Steven Pienaar was crucial in the game till his injury, floating in off the left wing he linked up well with his central midfielders and opened up space to create two v one against Neil Eardley. Eardley stood up reasonably well to this test and certainly didn’t get consistently over run in that department. What Pienaar also helped to do by drifting inside was to pull out Blackpool’s attacking shape as Taylor-Fletcher appeared to drop at times to try and cover him, note (on the chalkboard below) how a lot of his passes were deep after being dragged back.

Right hand balance

Before the game it was noted how these two sides favoured the left hand side for attacking, Everton played up to that perfectly as their first came through that avenue, whilst they struck a great balance to make their second down the right. Overall, they did favour the left and it was testament to Eardley as stated above that he stood up well to the test. Blackpool on the other hand were more balanced, however, Taylor Fletcher’s performance wasn’t one of this best and the right flank was more truly occupied when Matthew Phillips came on, look at the spaces he occupied below. You can see below how Phillips wasn’t dragged back in to the midfield and played most of his game on the right flank.

The difference between Taylor-Fletcher and Phillips. Notice how Taylor-Fletcher was dragged back in to a central midfield position thus cutting down the right flank as an option for Blackpool.

This balance of attack might also be explained by Luke Varney having a poor game. He was rarely invovlved in the play and never once beat Phil Neville to get a cross in. Look how much Varney was involved against Fulham as opposed to Saturday. He was virtually shut out of the game.

In fact Blackpool appeared to lack their usual width and it could be down to the fact that Everton dominated the midfield and dragged Blackpool out of their usual shape when off the ball. Look at Blackpool’s average positions below and see how bunched up the whole team is, virtually the whole of the midfield and attack are in the centre circle.

Defence is in red, midfield green and forwards in pink.

Duelling

Everton won the battle of the tackle, not necessarily on an overwhelming count, but more on the postion they won their tackles, high up the pitch, helping to apply pressure to the Blackpool defence. Everton won 26 tackles in Blackpool’s half whereas Blackpool won 7 in Everton’s. Another aspect of this was the position of their take ons that they won. They were beating Blackpool players high up the pitch. This is crucial in helping to break Blackpool’s lines and create chances. Note where Blackpool won their duels, deep and not so near to the goal as you need to in order to then create chances.

Here you can see that Everton were beating men higher up the pitch than Blackpool were. This can lead to more chances as you break the opponents lines.

Penetration

Blackpool have had plenty of posession this season but not really got a lot of ball in to the opposition box to present Campbell with the chances he needs. Compare this with the way that Everton worked their way in to the box. Blackpool sustained much of their passing deeper than Everton. On the evidence of this game, Blackpool are beginning to work the ball in to the box, however, the frequency and placement needs to improve in order to start breaking down such high quality defences. Only in the last ten minutes did Blackpool start getting the ball in the danger areas with more frequency. Interesting to note that Blackpool failed to complete one cross from open play, effective crossing is crucial to breaking down defences as the defensive line feel less than comfortable in having to move back towards their goal to defend balls in behind them.

Note how few passes got behind Everton's defensive line as Blackpool struggled to breakdown a solid defence.

The season gets better

Overall a draw is a superb result for Blackpool who in the first half were losing the midfield battle and being denied the space that they love to operate in. The withdrawal of Heitinga was a strange decision presumably to counter Holloway’s attacking subs, however, it very nearly cost Everton a point. Blackpool move on to Aston Villa which should be a superb tactical match up again and one that Ian Holloway will relish.

Everton Preview

Everton head to Bloomfield Road more like the side that they are, rather than the team their results at the start of the season suggested. They played well at the start of the season but didn’t get the results, but now they have both. Blackpool on the other hand will hope that their bright start to the season will keep ticking along nicely.

Everton have a number of quality individuals, like Man City who came to Bloomfield Road recently, the difference with Everton is that those individuals are blended nicely in to an effective team. Their formation is a slightly lopsided 4-1-4-1 due to Steven Pienaar cutting in from the left flank. The formation is fluid in midfield, unlike the very static 4-1-4-1 that Blackburn play. The teams may well line up as below. Holloway does like to shuffle his team from time to time, however, this is based on the same line up as the West Brom game.

More left leaning bias for Bloomfield

Looking at Everton’s play this season, they appear to favour the left hand side when attacking, which is funny, ’cause so do Blackpool. Should both teams stick to this pattern then both right backs will have to be playing to the best of their ability.

Neil Eardley has been very solid since coming in to the side winning 13 out of 20 tackles this season, but this could well be his toughest test yet. Everton have Phil Neville in at right back and he is currently enjoying a great start to the season. He worked dillengently to shut out Gareth Bale the other week, so much so that Bale was put on to the right wing to avoid him.

Going against the grain

What could be the key is which team fights their instincts and gets a better balance to their attack as gaps should emerge down the right hand attacking side. Gary Taylor-Fletcher has been there for most of the season and Blackpool will look to him to exploit space should he start. However, the pace of Matthew Phillips might be more suited to getting the most out of such space especially as it appears that Taylor-Fletcher has a tendency to drift. Looking at the eight goals that Everton have conceded this season (second best defensive record in the league after Chelsea) you can see that at least three of them came from moves down the right hand side as you can see below.

Game on!

Everton have a fluid midfield who like to make runs from deep as Johnny Heitinga sits deep to provide defensive cover. Their team is roughly split in to 5 outfield defending players and 5 attacking players. Which is a great division of labour, whereas Holloway tends to favour a blend of 4 defensive to 6 attacking. Everton’s greater balance in this respect may well give them more defensive solidity and make it especially hard for Blackpool to break them down.

What is known is that if Blackpool should breakdown the Everton defence then they need to take their chances, time and space are more limited in the top flight and Blackpool’s strikers are beginning to find that to be the case.

It should be a good tactical match up, plenty of movement, good passing and good use of space (both creation and exploitation of) and the best side should be the one that strikes a greater balance to their attack whilst defending resolutely.

Blackpool v West Brom

West Brom arrived in Blackpool full of confidence and within half an hour, down to nine men, you would have thought that confidence would gradually ebb away. Not so. West Brom were superb all night, patient, disciplined and worked with 9 men better than their hosts with eleven. West Brom will take away great confidence from the performance and have given Roberto Di Matteo plenty to learn from, whilst Blackpool just confirmed what Ian Holloway stated before the game – they need to take their chances.

It wasn’t that Blackpool couldn’t create chances, they could, twenty six of them in total. However, for long periods of the game, they were being out manouvered by the nine men of West Brom who created a decent amount of chances themselves. In the period when the game was down to nine verses eleven West Brom managed to get ten attempts away, of those 2 hit their target and one other found the back of the net. Blackpool only managed one more chance on target in addition to their goals. You can speculate about the reasons behind such a poor conversion rate on a night when the uninitiated may have expected a hatful, but when you start to unpick the chances that Blackpool had the true extent of the story becomes clear.

Why couldn’t Blackpool break down nine men?

I want to look at this in a little bit of detail. To do this I shall take up the story from the previous paragraph. Looking at the chances that Blackpool had in the game then the facts are like this….

Goals – 2

On target – 3

Off target – 14

Blocked – 7

Two things can be said here, Blackpool failed to find the target with the chances they had, but West Brom defended superbly to block seven times which is a tremendous defensive effort. But what of those off target attempts? When looking at the chalkboard then it becomes clear that the chances Blackpool were missing weren’t always close encounters, only five of those missed chances came from within the box and only two of the blocks occurred inside the area. This goes along way to show that Blackpool struggled to work the ball in to sufficient enough areas to create genuine goal scoring opportunities. This appeared to stem from a lack of midfield invention and more importantly an over reliance on attacking from the left.  I will cover the issue of left in more detail later on as it was pin pointed by Zonal Marking as one of the traits of the game and I want to look at why that was the case.

A strange situation……

All night long there was a hint of ‘not sure what we do against nine men’ about Blackpool. Blackpool appeared to try and work the ball about, but mistakes came very often and very few successful passes found their way to players in the box. If you look at Charlie Adam’s open play passing performance you can see that he made one successful pass in to the box in the tenth minute that lead to the penalty.

 

Adam's only pass from open play in to the box is circled in red, it lead to the penalty and the first goal.

 

A good few fans leaving the ground felt that Adam was wasteful in possession and looking at his stats for the night then his pass completion was 79% compared to 87% against Man City so that has some credence. However, approx half of his unsuccessful passes came as crosses and this leads on to the next problem that Blackpool had. Poor crossing.

Very cross!

This is something that failed us against Blackburn the other week and again this was problematic. Blackpool hit thirty crosses and only nine hit their target. The crosses were often slow in coming and very predictable due to their prominence in being hit from the left. Often the crosses were hit high, but where is the height in the Blackpool attack to win the headers? Luke Varney won Blackpool’s only header in the box all night.

Great credit must go to West Brom, they played two banks of four when down to nine men and stifled Blackpool’s attacks and constructed good attacking opportunities of their own. They defended well and you can see how many blocks and clearances they made in key areas below.

Left wing softies

The thing that stood out to everyone in the match was Blackpool’s reliance in attacking down the left and I want to understand why this was as Blackpool’s second came from the right. Normally such a bias could be attributed to the fact that there’s more success coming from that area. However, that wasn’t the case. You could point to the fact that Blackpool have two left footed midfielders, so perhaps they favour the left hand side for attacking. Perhaps so, however, that can’t explain it all as you could argue that as a left footed player opens themselves up to a pass then the right becomes a more natural way of hitting the ball.

Attacking down the left might be tactical, perhaps, the opposition have a weak right side, but why would that be the case in almost every match that Blackpool play. The passing pattern against Man City was similar (see the chalkboard below) and as mentioned in the season catch up this was the main area of attack against Liverpool.

The drift……

So perhaps this would suggest that it’s not match specific and something to do with the fabric of the team. When looking at the average positions for last night you can see that Gary Taylor Fletcher held a deeper position in the field of play than Varney (the man on the opposite flank). It seems that Taylor-Fletcher does drift in to a more central and deeper role at times and in doing so, when the team looks to attack, if he’s not in the wide right position and Varney is, then naturally the team will seek to go down the left. However, this may be due to the team’s perception that Varney offers a more direct threat than Taylor-Fletcher and gravitate towards him. This positional drift intentional or not may well be the reason for such a focus on the left and if Blackpool are to progress in the Premier league then they need better balance of attack.

 

Taylor-Fletcher unlined in pink and the pink dot is the suggested area he may well have assumed if he didn't drift deep and to the centre.

 

A win is a win

Blackpool ended the night with another three Premier league points and West Brom emerged with a performance that will stand them in good stead during any future adversity. Blackpool knew before the game that they needed to start to convert their chances and that hasn’t changed, however, they need to start to add more variation and perhaps those chances might just become more convertible.

Seasons Observations Part Two

Continuing on from part one, I shall pick out my key observations from the next four games.

v Chelsea (away)

Holloway admitted an error in picking Alex Baptiste in a defensive midfield role, a total diversion in tactics and a move that failed to pay off. The formation reverted to the usual 4-3-3 in the second half and gradually Blackpool played more coherent football. In playing Baptiste in the defensive midfield role, Holloway would have hoped to to see Baptiste breaking up Chelsea in our half. However, a quick look at his interceptions and tackles proves that the gamble never paid off. One interception out wide right and one tackle won.

v Blackburn (home)

It was a frustrating day all round and the less said about Charlie Adam’s own goal the better. However, one thing that Sam Allardyce is very adept at is getting his teams to work hard to ensure that the opposition play in to their strengths. This can be perfectly illustrated by taking a look at the passes delivered in to the Blackburn box. They want you to cross as they will no doubt (in most cases) win the aerial battle. Looking at Blackpool’s crosses in that game, note how many were unsuccessful and also what poor angles they were hit from. Not one came in from the byline. Blackburn can defend this play all day long with Nelsen and Samba commanding serious aerial respect ensuring that only a quarter of Blackpool’s crosses hit the target.

v Liverpool (away)

Going to Anfield and dominating the first half hour of a game is something very rare. Blackpool went and did that, Liverpool on the back of a Europa league game were somewhat put in to the shade by a dominant passing display in the first half an hour which culminated in Charlie Adam’s converted penalty. Here you can see the passing comparison between the two teams, Liverpool completed only 82% of their passes whilst Blackpool not only had more passes (132) than Liverpool, but completed 92% of them.

Another interesting point about the Liverpool victory is the way that Liverpool favoured their attacks to the right flank with Gerrard and Johnson pushing the play down the right, whilst Blackpool structured their attacks down the left. Was this a ploy to exploit the gaps left by Johnson at the back. Certainly the move leading up to the penalty would suggest that.

v Man City (home)

Much can be said about poor refereeing decisions, however, bringing on a world cup winning creative midfielder whom it is rumoured they paid £29m for is going to help give your side an advantage. Silva came on and floated between Blackpool’s lines and ensured that ball was played in to the Blackpool box. Getting the ball in to City’s box proved more difficult and for all Blackpool’s passing, not one pass from open play made it in to the City box. The only box activity you see here are passes out of the box. If Blackpool are to beat teams, they must start getting their passes in to the opposition boxes especially as DJ Campbell tends to thrive off balls in to the box (there’s a post coming about this).

There you have it. Blackpool’s first eight Premiership games giving an idea of the factors that could have proved decisive in each game. What is sure about Premiership football is that Blackpool aren’t totally out of their depth and we as fans can tinker with great tools such as Guardian Chalkboards to analyse our matches. I wonder what the passing charts would’ve looked like if we had this available during Worthington’s tenure?