This article may have been more appropriate in the first few days of Appleton’s regime, however, there’s still value in establishing a few of the questions that Appleton himself may have posed himself as he starts to tackle his new job. This will effectively place a line in the sand which can be revisited in a couple of months time to try to assess where changes have been made.
Q: Why is Barry Ferguson at Fleetwood? Is he likely to return and why should he return?
Provided Ferguson hasn’t breached club conduct in any way then there’s a potential way back in to the set up for him. He left under the proviso that he was going to Fleetwoodto get games as he wasn’t happy about squad rotation plans. It might be that Appleton can guarantee him games and he may return. Appleton appears to be looking for better defensive shape and at the end of last season Ferguson and Ángel Martínez were very much a solid defensive midfield platform with the latter adding some real dynamism.
Q: What is the best defensive combination?
This was a question that hung over Holloway’s tenure which was never resolved. Ultimately the solution is decided by the defensive strategy, with Appleton looking like he wants Blackpool to sit narrower and a little deeper then he may build around that. Kirk Broadfoot appears to be the preferred first choice right back and whilst he can be a little clumsy he has been surprisingly dynamic going forward initiating goals as well as combining with Tom Ince. At centre back Ian Evatt may be out for sometime so that might make Craig Cathcart and Alex Baptiste first picks in the centre.
Q: What is the best midfield combination?
The supporter held view is that in a midfield three it would be Isaiah Osbourne, Ángel Martínez and Tiago Gomes. It’s likely that given Chris Basham’s suspension that this might be the midfield against Crystal Palace in the next game. However, it remains to be seen if that indeed is the best combination. Getting the combination right in midfield is ultimately the key to Blackpool’s season. Osbourne is a good runner, but in recent weeks has shown an eye for goal and a through ball. However, his first touch is inconsistent and in a tightly packed midfield that’s very limiting. Martínez is an outstanding footballer and it has been surprising for him not to start. His strong substitute appearance at Peterborough should see him start again Palace. Gomes is a lively attacking midfielder, who arguably only needs to add goals to make the position behind the striker his own. Appleton has had a chance to weigh up both Ludovic Sylvestre and Elliot Grandin with only the former looking like he might break in to the midfield trio.
Q: What is the best system to use?
Holloway recruited his players to fit a 4-3-3 scheme and in the main those players remain. Appleton appears to be continuing this approach, however, that may be a product of his inheritance. There is a little more emphasis towards a 4-2-3-1 with four attacking and six defending. His work in the next two transfer windows will give a greater insight in to how he wants his teams to shape up.
Q: Should Kevin Phillips be starting games?
This is more critical than it may appear. Phillips is an anachronism in the modern game and especially so in a 4-3-3. He plays on the line of the defence and does little to seek out combinations with his team mates. He often turns his back on play in order to get in to the box which is highly detrimental to good team play. He arguably hasn’t adapted his game to flourish in Blackpool’s system (even given his goals) and it’s unlikely at such an age that he has time to adapt. Appleton may well start to see him as an option to come off the bench rather than starting with Nathan Delfouneso starting centrally.
Q: How does he whittle his huge squad down?
Appleton has remarked about the size of squad he has inherited and that he wants to work with a squad of between 18-20 players. He is lucky in this respect in that the vast majority of his players are either out of contract in the summer or have options that the club can take up. He may base his decisions around those players that make his initial cut with the rest being assessed in any ‘reserve’ games that are likely to be held between now and the end of the season. It would appear that a few players may already have been taken out of the equation with Neal Eardley being replaced by Broadfoot and not through injury, whilst Elliot Grandin was substituted after 30 minutes of the game against Watford. One fringe player has already left and he tried to get several players out on loan before the deadline.
Q: Who will he bring to the club in January?
This may be dictated by who leaves in January. It would appear that at his rate of progress Tom Ince will need to leave the club. He’s good enough to be playing at a much higher level and it’s hard to see how much more he can learn at the club. Added to that, should Matt Phillips leave too then Appleton will certainly be looking to recruit in the wide forward areas. Outside of that, he will make a decision on loanee Wesley Thomas and perhaps another forward or two may be brought in. January will also be a test of if he believes that there’s enough defensive quality. It would be a gamble not to add any further defensive options given current injuries and general lack of genuine defensive talent at the club. Allied to this, there is a huge dependency on Matt Gilks’ fitness, Mark Halstead lacks playing experience and remains a bench filler. Again, it would be a gamble if no goalkeeper was brought in as back up.
Appleton will no doubt be looking for answers to some of these questions between now and the end of January. At that point in time it might be useful to revisit this article and assess the answers should they have become clear by then. If Blackpool have strengthened their position in the league, it would be safe to assume that the answers have been a little more forthcoming than they are right now.