Ian Holloway’s Biggest Task

Pondering the future......

Well, that was the season that was.

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

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

Taking stock

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

This is the assumed Blackpool squad - June 2011

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

Shaping up

Obvious gaps to fill

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

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

Building the foundations

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

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

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

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

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

Filling station

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

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

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

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

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

Tactical development

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

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

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

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

Summer break

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

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

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

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Blackpool’s Core Problem

The Blackpool Five

Good and great football teams have a core set of players who hold the team structure together, it is often referred to as the spine of the team. Throughout their promotion season from the Championship Blackpool had a spine of players who pulled together to make Blackpool a fantastic attacking team and gave them great consistency in the run in which saw them come from nowhere to secure promotion.

When the Premier League season kicked off that spine still remained, however, the supporting figures were either not up to standard, inconsistent, ageing or too new to Ian Holloway’s methods to provide strength in depth. As the season progressed players integrated in to the side and some of the newer players became ‘first choice’ options. However, none of these players served to be a genuine replacement when any of the spine missed games. Did that really matter? Did losing key players have any impact on Blackpool’s results?

Spinal matters

Ian Evatt, Stephen Crainey, David Vaughan, Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell could be defined as being the spine of the Blackpool side. When these five players lined up for Blackpool the whole team appeared to play with much more verve, vigor and assurance. However, what was the record for the games when these players lined up against those matches when they didn’t?

With all the spine present Blackpool gained 27 of their 39 points in 21 games at a rate of 1.29 points per game which should they have stayed together in the side and completed all 38 games, Blackpool would have racked up 49 points. They won 33% of the games they lined up in.

In the other 17 games when that spine was removed either in whole or in part, Blackpool racked up 12 points at a rate of 0.71 points per game which is half a point down on the games when the spine of the team was in place. Blackpool won only 18% of these games.

Stockpiles

This is a crucial set of facts when you consider Blackpool’s fate. They clearly didn’t have either the quality of back up players or the ability or time to integrate them in to the side with restricted playing opportunities or a planned approach to squad rotation. Injuries played a large part in disrupting the spine of the team as well as suspensions. David Vaughan picked up hip injury that kept him out of three games back to back and Stephen Crainey suffered with an ankle ligament injury that kept him out for six games. Then DJ Campbell got sent off against Wolves and missed three matches whilst Charlie Adam’s persistent bookings meant he missed three matches through suspension. What is really important to note is that of that spine it is very likely that on the opening day of the new season Blackpool will only have Ian Evatt left.

What can Blackpool and other teams learn from this experience?

Should Blackpool ever get back to the Premier League then it will be because they again have a solid spine, but they will need to ensure that their spine isn’t compromised and spend time considering how that spine will be best replaced in the case of injury and suspension. Blackpool will hope to recruit potential peripheral players to serve as shadows or to recruit first team players in other positions with the calibre to flex their field position and game approach.

With the break up of the spine as Blackpool move in to the Championship then the true perspective of the task ahead of Holloway is huge, his inherited squad was never completed and developed to his satisfaction. It’s no exaggeration to say that he has to build from the ground up again. To think that this might take two years is a realistic prospect given the club’s approach to recruitment. However, should it take two years then surely prior to any eventual promotion, Ian Holloway will have plans in place to thoroughly develop his squad further to cope with the rigors of a full season in the Premier League.

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Blackpool v Bolton Match Analysis

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

Setting up


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

Opening up

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

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

Advantage ‘Pool

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

Cohen-hesive

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

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

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

Linking up

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

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

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

Battle of the Chesterfield old boys

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

Moving on

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

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.

Liverpool Match Review

Blackpool beat a sluggish, negative and stagnant Liverpool at Anfield back in October and with the return of Kenny Dalglish to the Liverpool hot seat, this match could’ve got away from Blackpool as Fernando Torres scored an early opener. It was a credit to Blackpool as they never panicked or broke from their game plan to get back in to the match.

The set up

Blackpool they lined up in their 4-2-3-1 with what could be described as their first choice eleven, although Elliot Grandin did sit a little deeper than usual at times making a flatter three in midfield. Whilst Dalglish picked a team who set up in a similar fashion to Blackpool, but had Glen Johnson in at left back after he was tipped for a midfield start.

For Blackpool Elliot Grandin played slightly deeper than usual whilst Poulsen sat in front of the Liverpool back four.

The effects of the formations made space very tight in the midfield with Raul Meireles playing in the three behind Torres with Lucas and Christian Poulsen holding deeper. If anything this restricted Blackpool, who at times this season have really struggled against teams who sit a midfielder deep and in front of the back four. A consequence of the midfield set up was that Meireles sat very close to Charlie Adam. At times it appeared that he was almost man marking Adam but it was more likely a consequence of positioning than anything else.

For arguments sake Liverpool’s formation at times could be described as a 4-1-4-1 as much as a 4-2-3-1, as Lucas tended to push higher up. As all the midfielders tried to find space they tended to shuffle with Meireles dropping deeper at times, Adam the same, Vaughan stepping up and Lucas the same. The only midfielder who failed to progress from his position was Poulsen, presumably under instruction. This meant that Blackpool could outnumber Lucas and Meireles in the centre as Grandin dropped deeper and Poulsen was out of the game.

At times Martin Kelly got forward from right back for Liverpool as did Glen Johnson on the left. Blackpool as usual pushed both full backs up when the times were right, but not in as sustained manner as in other matches this season. Both centre forwards worked hard, Torres in particular moved to close down both centre backs when out of possession and when breaking forward he was peeling off to the right and left to escape the centre backs.

First Hour

The game was very even for the first hour, as above, the space was restricted, mistakes were plenty in terms of conceding possession. Chances (goals apart) weren’t clean-cut. However, both sides were trying to pass the ball from the back, Blackpool moving it quicker on occasion in an attempt to either get Luke Varney winning headers against Martin Kelly or to catch Liverpool’s back four flat-footed.

Passing fad

Liverpool had more of the pass, with a pass total of 517 to Blackpool’s 445 with a completion rate of 73% to Blackpool’s 72%. However, as the game progressed Liverpool’s pass completion dropped off with the last 15 minutes of the game seeing it drop as low as 62% whilst Blackpool’s hit 72%. The chart below shows how, as the match progressed Liverpool’s passing disintegrated.

The pass comp % for both teams has been broken down in to 15 minute segments. You can see how as the match progressed from left to right then Liverpool's passing got worse.

Another observation about Liverpool was that their game against Blackburn Liverpool saw them make 598 passes at a completion rate of 74%, however, their passing lacked balance with 64% of their passes coming down the right. In this game they had much better balance with a 49/51 split between left and right.

Pressing matter

Points that stood out for Liverpool was their pressing of the ball higher up the pitch. This is illustrated in the chalkboard below as Liverpool won 65% of their 17 interceptions in the Blackpool half.

Liverpool pressing high up the pitch intercepting Blackpool's passes in their half.

However, very few occurred in front of the Liverpool area and it was this that exposed Liverpool’s back line. Poulsen was presumably asked to sit, screen and break up Blackpool play that threatened the Liverpool defence. However, all his interceptions occurred in the Blackpool half and none in that key area. It wasn’t as though Blackpool were bypassing that zone either, as you can see from the Chalkboard below. Blackpool consistently took on and beat Liverpool players in front of the back line. Poulsen won only 1 of his 5 tackles and effectively offered little or no cover to his defence. With Poulsen being so inert and positioned away from the heart of the action and Meireles being tied up with Adam, this left Lucas having to do the majority of the midfield work attempting 14 tackles winning 10 of them.

Blackpool taking Liverpool players on and beating them.

Parting to the end

In the 77th minute something occurred which was symptomatic of how Liverpool broke down towards the end of the game. With the ball on the back line and Blackpool pressing higher up the pitch, Poulsen dropped to receive the ball, however, Lucas and Meireles were caught too far up the pitch and any attempt to build from the back failed as the ball dropped back to Daniel Agger, he had little choice but to clear long and concede possession. Quite simply, Liverpool started to lose their shape (tiredness?) and never regained it again.

Here, Poulsen (yellow) is about to receive the ball from Agger (black) both under pressure from Taylor-Fletcher (tangerine) and Vaughan (white). There isn't another Liverpool player in the shot ahead of Poulsen. They opted to go long.

Subbing to stifle

Ian Holloway has at times this season tried to ‘shut up shop’ with mixed results, sometimes conceding late goals. In this game, it could be argued that the substitutions were crucial in this match. For Blackpool the injection of Matthew Phillips’ pace forced Liverpool deep and allowed quick counters for Blackpool. Added to this Ian Holloway brought in two defensive midfield subs in order to close out the game with fresh legs and an emphasis on the tackle. Blackpool’s shape changed to a 4-1-4-1 for the last five minutes whilst Liverpool’s changes made them resemble more of a 4-4-2.

Ian Holloway made defensive subs switching to a 4-1-4-1 for the last 5 mins.

It was the Liverpool subs who saw very little of the game who made the least impact. Jonjo Shelvey and David N’gog made a total of 7 passes (3 misplaced) between them, lost 2 of their 3 tackles and didn’t muster a shot. Whereas Alex Baptiste and Keith Southern got on the ball making 11 passes (1 misplaced), won 2 tackles and 2 clearances to ensure that the game end was controlled by Blackpool.

At the double

It was a high tempo, all action performance from Blackpool again and the fresh legs the Tangerines had will have given them an edge against a Liverpool side that tired as the match progressed. It was even more impressive, given that Holloway managed to stifle the game through good substitutions and that Blackpool got a win against a side playing a four band system, something they’ve struggled with this season. Again, the team keeps developing, at this rate, Premier League survival may be a strong reality.

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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.

Goalscoring by DJ Campbell

Previously the focus of this blog has turned on Elliot Grandin to ramble about his contribution to Blackpool’s Premier League campaign. This time the focus goes on to DJ Campbell. His goals at the end of last season were vital in the promotion and this season he has scored a further two times in the highest league.

Some of DJ’s key qualities are his movement off the ball to find space, his ability to peel off a defender and ghost to the back post to pick up on loose ball, his pace over the first five yards and the fact the his is genuinely two footed.

The Breakdown

Last season DJ scored 11 times in 18 games at strike ratio of one goal to each 1.6 games. This season that ratio stands at one goal per 4.5 games.

When looking at the basic facts people might question why DJ has failed to score more goals in the Premier League. Let’s try and see what might be behind that. Most of this might be obvious, but it never harms anyone to set down the details behind the stats.

The goals DJ scored in that wonderful spell in the Championship have been roughly plotted on the diagram below to demonstrate the range and position that his goals were scored from.

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

What is clear here is that he failed to score a goal from outside the penalty spot. Close range goals are the bread and butter for a goal poacher and DJ’s instincts allow him to hold his position in the box and pick up the pieces that are either fed from his team mates or given to him by defensive mistakes. When breaking his goals down even further you can see 6 of those goals came from a direct assist from a team mate and the other 5 came from picking up on rebounded shots or defensive errors. In the Premier League these ‘scraps’ are few and far between so if you take those out of the equation then he scored 6 in 18 games at a ratio of 3 games per goal. This is more like DJ’s return in the Premier League.

Added to the fact that defences make less mistakes in the Premier League is that space is more limited. Just a very rough view point of his goals last season you can see that around about 7 of those you could say he was unmarked. This is credit to DJ in losing his marker, but it can also be down to poor defending. The fact is that it is rare for you to find space in the box in a Premiership game and being left unmarked is equally as rare. Added to this the quality of ‘keeper is much higher in this league and some of those goals that came from rebounds last season simply will happen less often this year.

Premier Class

This season DJ has had 19 shots and hit the target 6 times, so this is something that he may well look to improve as the season goes on. However, Blackpool as a team need to try and work the ball in to his favourite positions as up to now they’ve struggled to do that. Look at these two chalkboards to see how DJ has struggled in front of goal at times.

These are the two games where DJ Campbell has had the most shots this season and illustrates the difficult job he has.

How does DJ measure up against someone like Didier Drogba? Drogba has had 45 attempts on goal finding the net on 6 occasions which is a conversion rate of 7.5 chances for every goal. DJ needs 9 chances to get each of his goals. Clearly if he gets more chances from his team and/or he creates more for himself then more goals will come.

Keep going

As the season goes on and if DJ stays fit, he will score goals. He has proved that, he will never get bundles of goals at this level, but who does? What he will do is serve the team well and continue at this rate and he could end up with at least 8 goals come May. Find more space and work harder to improve and he may well get to 12 or 13. If he does that then he’ll have worked his way to becoming one of the best strikers in the country and if Blackpool stay up, he will be one of the key reasons for that happening.

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