Tom Ince – The Low-down

Tom Ince (20) signed for Blackpool from Liverpool in the summer of 2011 and in just over a year he has grown with each game he has played and is now one of Blackpool’s key attacking weapons. In his first season he scored 8 goals and made 8 assists in 41 appearances. This season he already has 13 goals, 9 assists in 20 league appearances.

Goal & Assist Analysis

The following two diagrams chart Ince’s goals and assists from this season and the location they occurred in relation to the opposition goal.

Tom Ince - Goals
Tom Ince – Goals 2012/13

From the diagram you can see that only two of his goals have been scored from outside the box, with the majority of the goals being struck from central areas (please note that he has three penalties in his tally). All but one of his goals were scored with his left foot.

Tom Ince - Assists
Tom Ince – Assists 2012/13

What is interesting here is that he tends to start games lined up on the wide right of Blackpool’s forward line, however, 36%  of his goals and assists come from the left hand side. This is partly due to him being left footed, but also potentially down to him being rotated from the right to left in games. It’s perhaps the dynamic of a switch that catches defenders cold and not picking him up as he switches sides as much as it is natural for him to play on the left hand side.

Starting out

Upon joining the club the first impressions of Ince were of a young player with pace and a trick, but often prone to running with his head down, narrowing his field of vision. He takes his place in Blackpool’s 4-3-3 as one of the two wide forwards, normally as an inverted winger on the right. His first touch was initially an issue, but he has clearly worked hard on this and he is only prone to the odd error. His passing lacks a little consistency, both in range and execution however, his game isn’t necessarily based on his passing ability.

Tricky Customer?

He has good acceleration and sustains his pace well to beat men. His tricks can be a little readable and he could do with adding more subtlety and disguise to elevate his one v one play. However, he clearly enjoys to engage his direct opponent in order to beat him. He seeks to drift off the right flank across the edge of the box looking either for short combinations with team mates or to get away early shots, normally curling left to right. On the evidence of his goals he can hit powerful shots as well as placing the ball with control and accuracy. This is allied to reliable delivery from wide free kicks, corners and crossing from open play. He could, however, do with developing more variety to his delivery. Perhaps developing his pace of delivery and craft to move the ball with more bias towards the end of its flight.

It appears that he is mentally strong and doesn’t tend to lose his composure the closer he gets to the opposition goal. Generally speaking he is a team player, willing to track back and support in defence. However, his work back towards his own goal could be sharper and smarter. He could also do with increasing his field of vision to appreciate his options earlier which will also help with his decision-making. In addition to settling in to either wide forward position and has even dropped deeper and centrally at times and realistically he could also be deployed as a very effective attacking left back.

Holding back

One area of his game that had been detrimental to his development and the flow of the team is the upon receiving the ball. He had a habit of turning back away from goal in order to protect the ball from the opponent. On the face of it this isn’t necessarily a bad move, however, it appeared totally instinctive. What made it worse is that he did it even when not being marked, leading to attacks slowing down and removing his vision from his attacking space. This may well be a consequence of being deployed as an inverted winger and not being comfortable letting the ball run across his body onto his weaker right foot. However, this season he has tended to do this less often and in doing so, he is becoming a little more direct in his attacking play and causing even more stress for the opposition.

What now?

He has now represented the England Under 21 squad and he was touted for a move last summer with one club submitting a formal offer for him. However, his father is his mentor and had been working with Ian Holloway to exploit his son’s potential. Now Holloway has moved on, it’s likely that he’ll also leave. Overall, his development is on a rapidly ascending trajectory and arguably he has outgrown this Blackpool side. He needs to be playing in the Premier League to aid his development and if the touted move to Liverpool comes off that may well be excellent for both parties (the player and the buying club), especially given the price that is being mentioned. However, wherever he goes it’s important that he gets game time. Any length of time on a bench will only serve to hold him back.

If indeed he is embarking on his final games for Blackpool then it truly has been a pleasure to see such a young talent develop so rapidly and TD can only wish him the best for the future.

Reds To Bloom In Tangerine

When Charlie Adam moved to Liverpool in the summer there were rumours that Jonjo Shelvey would move in the opposite direction and end up in a Tangerine shirt. It happened, but not as early as first anticipated. When the deal went through it wasn’t Shelvey who arrived, but instead Gerardo Bruna and Tom Ince came on permanent deals (although not officially as a part of the Adam deal). Shelvey eventually followed a couple of months later and signed a three month loan deal.

Latin & out again?

Gerardo Bruna has rarely featured for the Tangerines and is on the fringes of the match day squad. Originally recruited to be part of a development squad, he made some intriguing cameos in pre-season, but is yet to make a start in the league. However, since the development squad idea is being questioned by the club, it is now unclear what role he will have at the club.

Bruna describes his best position as a number 10;

“I love to play in the number 10 role and play in between the lines and play the final pass and score some goals”.

“I like to play just behind the striker or in midfield. I like to get on the ball and create for the strikers”.

He is unlikely to find that role at Blackpool due to 4-3-3 being their usual set up. Generally Holloway likes to line up with a holding midfielder flanked by two side midfielders to get forward and support the attack. When Bruna has figured in the team he has been played as a wide forward and he appears to lack the experience in that position to play it effectively. He appears tentative in a forward position, possibly inhibited by the sight of the touchline hemming him in. His performance against Sheffield Wednesday showed that he does like to drift in search of the ball. That tends to back up his own thoughts about his best position and it might be something that Holloway may encourage as it is similar to the way that Gary Taylor-Fletcher plays from a forward position.

He has a little burst of pace, but his frame is fragile and he struggles to sustain enough pace to get away from his man. Plus in the game against Nottingham Forest he came on to the right forward position and that appeared to show that he is very left footed. That isn’t necessarily an issue if a player has a swift change of pace, ease of movement or balance to change direction quickly. However, he appears to be a little short of possessing those qualities.

Whilst being a wide forward may not be his ideal position right now, perhaps it would be something that he could learn. However, Holloway appears to have been less than kind about his application in training. Whilst this could well be viewed as a motivating statement as opposed to one stating the end of his brief career with Blackpool it might be useful to see where he could fit in, should he start to develop his game.

He has an excellent first touch, his passing appears good, although it’s unclear at this stage if he has a full passing range, but it is doubtful he could switch play from flank to flank given a perceived lack of leg strength. He has tricks to beat men in closed spaces and his vision appears good and will comfortably change passing angles and pick out spaces and gaps behind a defence. He also seems to have a latent aggression that has emanated in a few lunges, but that may hint at a playing aggression that could be channelled in to his play.

If he has a future at Blackpool he may need to develop his game and change his aspirations away from his beloved number 10 role. He could be a good inside midfielder on the left given his ability to pass the ball and create. However, the skill set for that particular midfielder also includes, tackling, strength and stamina too. All three of which are key weaknesses and ones that will take time to improve. The questions are: will Holloway allow him to develop at Blackpool or move him on to develop and come back or leave altogether?

No doubting Thomas

Tom Ince has made a much better start to his Blackpool career. His progress is more widely charted than his Argentinian colleague, but it is still useful to examine him in a little more detail. First impressions were of a young player with pace and a trick, but perhaps running too much with his head down, narrowing his field of vision. Taking his place as one of the two wide forwards he appears to have developed with the game time he has had. His first touch is solid, but inconsistent, his passing lacks consistency too. His appreciation of pass weight still seems a little slack and has led to concession of possession at times. However, he has good acceleration and sustains his pace well to beat men. His tricks are a little readable and could do with adding more subtlety and disguise to elevate his one v one play. On the evidence of his strikes against Doncaster he can hit powerful shots and allied to that his delivery from wide free kicks and corners can be useful. He could do with developing more variety to his delivery and perhaps developing his pace of delivery and craft to move the ball with more bias towards the end of its flight.

It appears that mentally he is strong, resilient and doesn’t appear to lose his composure the closer he gets to the opposition goal. Following on from a point made earlier, he needs to increase his field of vision to appreciate his options earlier which will also help with his decision making. Overall, his development appears to be some way ahead of Bruna. If anything he is assisted by the fact he suits the system that Blackpool play and settles well in to either wide forward position and has even dropped deeper and centrally at times. Although in the latter position he lacks experience. However, there’s no reason why over time he couldn’t develop in to a central role, but all the signs are that he is a potentially dangerous attacking wide player. Where he goes from here will be interesting. He appears ambitious and will want to move on at the earliest opportunity, however, his long-term career may well be best served with a lengthy apprenticeship by the seaside under Ian Holloway.

Under the Shel

Most eagerly anticipated upon his arrival was Shelvey. Physically he looks strong and imposing; standing around six feet tall and well developed muscularly fitting the archetypal model of a young English footballer. He has good pace and his stamina looks strong right to the last minute. There are very few doubts about him physically. However, Shelvey may still be developing mentally, both as an adult and as a footballer. The following quote from him lends an insight in to his mind;

“I didn’t know until I got in at half-time and someone mentioned the sending off. I thought they were playing with 11 … obviously I’m that thick!”

This hints at a lack of intelligent thought on the pitch and is possibly an area of concern and could be retrograde to his development and success back at his parent club. At the level that Liverpool aspires to they need intelligent players off and on the pitch. However, he clearly understands space and exploitation of opportunity and with his physical attributes he can seize moments in games and has already shown his willingness to try to dominate by calling for the ball and attempting to command his team mates. He appears to have a strong drive and winning mentality and perhaps this will override his other mental shortcomings.

His first few appearances for the Tangerines saw him take his place in the midfield and whilst his positional sense is solid, his attacking instincts can see him lose his shape in an orthodox midfield three. He has a good range of passing, but his timing and selection of pass is inconsistent. Also, as with Ince whilst his first touch is good it also lacks consistency. In low pressure games, he could easily dominate, however, should a team sense him ponder they could easily throw him off his stride. During the game against Burnley this happened, and he was soon taken out of the midfield as Holloway switched to a conventional 4-4-2 with Shelvey taking up position wide left. Here he looked like he appreciated facing the play with the ball coming on to him and in behind the defence, as well as trying to isolate his opponent in one v one situations.

As has been seen with the goals he has scored he can shoot with both power and accuracy and he appears to be a natural goal scorer, in fact it could be argued that he has the skill set for a central forward role. He can play with his back to goal, he can use his strength to dominate a centre back, drop deep to receive and create both from deep and further up the pitch. In fact in the last two matches he has been taking up position as one of the wide forwards which has seen Blackpool win twice and Shelvey grab a hat trick against Leeds United. Arguably Blackpool’s midfield has been a more coherent unit without him in there, but it has also left him in a position which appears more natural for him. Finally, his tackling is good enough for midfield, but a real concern is his recklessness in the challenge. Against Burnley, he went in to a challenge without looking and went over the top of the ball and put his opponent in danger and he should have been sent off.

Shelvey is only at Blackpool for two more months, but already he has enjoyed some success (5 goals in 7 games), when he returns to Liverpool it is unlikely that he will be ready for first team action right away and another spell at Bloomfield Road (or another club) would help him develop even more. Whatever happens, Liverpool has a versatile attacking talent, who, should he mature and deepen his understanding of the game could prove to be useful for them in the long term. However, given Liverpool’s aspirations and the distance Shelvey has to develop to reach their level it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was allowed to leave Anfield in the summer.

Tomorrow is another day

What is really interesting here is that these are three attacking players coming through the same academy in the last year or two, yet have progressed at different rates and have different skills and abilities. They may have spent varying times at the academy and been touched by other academies elsewhere, but it does offer an intriguing perspective on academy development and development of young footballers. Where these three players traverse as they climb their personal and professional mountains remains to be seen. Early indications suggest two of these players will play Premier League in the long term whilst one may have to work harder to catch them up.

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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