One Door Closes……..

As almost everyone will know by now, West Ham beat Blackpool to make it back to the Premier League whilst Blackpool will have another season in the Championship.

The match itself held few surprises. Tactically it was relatively predictable with the majority of the elements cited in the preview playing out, even up to the drifting in at the back post by Ricardo Vaz Te which provide crucial at the end. In terms of analysis of the final the excellent The Seventy Two blog together a comprehensive deconstruction of events and it’s well worth a read. The key notes from the game were clearly the pressing, loose balls, Blackpool’s combination play, and the probing plays West Ham were making with long to medium distances passes to either win aerial duels or expose the space in behind Neal Eardley.

New Balance

Football is a game where balance is critical. Teams must be balanced in various ways and the job of the opposition is largely about throwing your team out of balance in whatever way possible. When games such as this are ‘in balance’ for large periods the game is generally settled by the team who converts the chances that come their way or handle the other critical moments, especially in defence. It is here where Blackpool fell just short. Matthew Phillips in particular will benefit from this experience as he’ll learn to clear his mind under pressure to execute his play with greater precision and quality. The Blackpool defence will add this to their learning as they continue their development in to a side that can defend, and perhaps this, more than the offensive side of things is where the two sides were separated.

In his second post match Sky television interview, Sam Allardyce laid his arm across the ‘inappropriate trophy’ that had just been handed over, he looked proud, tired and content all at the same time. However, it wasn’t the trophy that caught the eye, but the whiteboard in the background. Upon it alongside the names of Barry Ferguson and Stephen Dobbie were the words ‘Clean’ and ‘Sheet’. That was and always is a key priority for a man like Allardyce and even though they never achieved it, it can breed defensive discipline. Add this to the fact that the official man of the match was James Tomkins and you get a sense of where these teams have differed over the season. Tomkins has the qualities of a top defender (regardless of Blackpool’s goal), in that allied to his basic skills of heading and tackling, he has that ability at this level to not being exposed to the sort of last-ditch defending that heaps pressure upon teams. Blackpool on the other hand, has defenders who to the basics well, but perhaps don’t have the all round positional awareness at such a consistent level in order to quell teams in burgeoning moments of flight.

Hold up

In addition to this Blackpool missed the injured Gary Taylor-Fletcher as they failed to effectively engage the West Ham centre backs regularly in order to pull them apart or out of position. Kevin Phillips filled in, but despite his 16 goals this season, he appears to enjoy the latter stages of games when they breakdown giving him plenty of space to feast upon. He is superb at finding space, and his shooting is a sight to behold especially when unexpected and released early. However, the central striking role in this Blackpool set up, requires more than a traditional striker. It requires, part midfielder, wide forward and target man too. All too often when West Ham forced Blackpool to go long from back to front, Phillips failed to win  the ball. This left Blackpool’s midfield to work hard in order to mop up the loose balls that appeared as a result.

The winning goal perhaps perfectly summed up the critical differences between these two teams. Forced to go long from his goal kick Matt Gilks started the chain of events that would lead to him picking the ball out of the back of the net. Here’s the sequence of actions;

  1. Goal kick taken, aerial duel contested, West Ham won, returning the ball high and back in to the Blackpool half.
  2. Another aerial duel was contested, Blackpool won, ball returned to the half way line.
  3. Upon realising the ball was loose Jack Collinson was first to the ball and hit a first time pass to the left side in the path of Kevin Nolan who had started his run moments earlier.
  4. Ian Evatt runs over to cover, but Nolan managed to scuff a cross in to the box.
  5. The cross beats the first man, Neal Eardley.
  6. Alex Baptiste slips, falls over and the ball breaks towards Stephen Crainey and Carlton Cole.
  7. Crainey slips as Carlton Cole uses his strength to reach the ball and poke it to the unmarked Vaz Te.
  8. The rest is history.

Essentially there were four absolutely critical moments that created the final scuffle that Carlton Cole turned in to a goal. Of those four moments, two were ultimately preventable on Blackpool’s behalf and two combined in to one seamless move by a West Ham player who used his speed of thought, technique, positioning and awareness of movement ahead of him.

Eardley could have lunged and cut out the cross, Baptiste may have kept his feet and cleared, arguably Barry Ferguson could have anticipated the break of the ball that Collison seized upon. However, none of this happened, these things also happen for a reason. Yes, they brought back memories of Blackpool’s more calamitous moments in defence over the last few seasons, but as well as being a reminder of the past, it hints at what the future may have held. Blackpool’s Premier League campaign was littered with such defensive issues, and regardless of the recent defensive improvements, it’s in times of pressure where humans tend to revert to their old habits especially if the new ones are not fully ingrained.

Getting there

To see Blackpool at Wembley again was a privilege and to experience the flip side of the outcome might be an important experience for the players and supporters. There’s no shame in losing a football match, most teams lose more than they win, in fact football is probably a game of losses and how they are handled and built upon. This may seem a negative way of viewing things, but nevertheless it’s a way of viewing things. Acceptance goes hand in hand with this and whilst it is a noble approach to try to win every game, it needs to be accepted that more often than not, that won’t happen. Sides such as Stoke survive in the Premier League because they accept the games they are likely to lose and target those that they deem that winning is achievable. This isn’t to say that you give up, far from it, but sometimes you have to pick your battles. Again it’s about balance, going ‘hell for leather’ in trying to win each game can be exhausting. Knowing when to attack and when to defend is a fine art that only the best can master. There are signs that this Blackpool team are gradually getting more balance to their play. The earlier parts of the season saw the team losing their shape all too often making them weak and easy to pick off. It was common to see 6 of 7 players committed to attack leaving them exposed in transitions. Blackpool now attack with 5 or even 4 leaving more space for those players to attack and great security when a turnover occurs.

About the process

This is perhaps where Blackpool proves such a fascinating case; this side has quietly developed over the course of the season. The second half was stronger than the first and start next season in the same fashion with a smattering of further progress and automatic promotion may not be far off. It’s this prospect that perhaps offers Blackpool a better platform to jump from and in to the Premier League with a keen eye on keeping their status. The last promotion was a momentous feat, but it clearly caught the club cold and exposed their lack of structures, behaviours and strategy amongst other things. There are signs that the club has learnt from this and plans were being mapped out this time around should promotion have been gained i.e. under soil heating.

This leads to two aspects. Does the club carry out the potential (current) plans anyway? Or park them for the foreseeable with a view to revisiting them under certain conditions? Due to the way that Blackpool FC is operated, the biggest resource that the club has at its disposal is time. It’s unlikely that financial trouble will cripple the club as it has done and will do to other clubs. Therefore it’s far from unreasonable for the club to plan astutely and communicate plans effectively. The latter is critical as fans appreciation of the here and now is more keenly appreciated as they experience ‘stand still’ whilst other clubs buzz around in pursuit of glory.

Tough Nut

Obviously the Championship will have a different dynamic next season the six new teams will add their own levels of complexity. Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton will hope to follow the lead set by Norwich and Southampton in recent seasons and earn back to back promotions. Whilst Bolton, Blackburn and Wolves will bring their dishevelled states, dust themselves down and perhaps one or two of them will settle in to something good. Add this to the other good sides in the division and the Championship will be competitive as ever. Blackpool will require a few tweaks to their playing staff in the summer, but nothing too drastic. Keeping talent may be the biggest issues, but as Alan Pardew (after sending his scouts) warned on Sky after the final, Matt Phillips and Tom Ince perhaps need another season at this level. Wise words indeed and ones, if heeded, could grant Blackpool the explosive force needed to dictate games on a regular basis. In terms of recruitment, failures from January (Jamie Murphy and Michael Jacobs) may well be revisited as well as a follow-up on Ian Holloway’s stated admiration for Jacob Butterfield. However, the latter may well be in vain as Premier League teams appear to be waiting to swoop. The final pieces of the jigsaw may well come in the form of trying to secure last season’s successful loan signings such as Stephen Dobbie.

Another door opens

Whatever happens this summer, Blackpool must operate with an eye on being ready for pre-season. The last two summers have been borderline shambolic in terms of recruitment planning, albeit last season being better than the previous. This would go someway to keeping the balance and energy flowing at the club and hopefully the lessons from the Oyston money ‘scandal’ will have been learned and never faced again. For Tangerine Dreaming, the future is unclear. A summer break is needed as writing on Championship matches to the level desired is difficult due to the lack of useful metrics and the time needed to draw up meaningful articles. Expect a few close season articles in the next few weeks, read, comment and share as you wish. Thank you ever so much to everyone who has done the very same over the course of this season and since the blog started.

John

Tangerine Dreaming

Blackpool v West Ham – The Tactical Lowdown

On Saturday Blackpool and West Ham go head to head in the Championship play off final at Wembley in what should be a clash of contrasting styles which offers a feast for the spectators, partisans and neutrals alike.

As you are

If you know anything of either Ian Holloway or Sam Allardyce as people you’ll have a fair idea of what to expect from their teams as their teams reflect who they are. Allardyce is a big, imposing man, who as a player was strong in the tackle and committed in the air. Holloway was more technical, buzzing with energy and more gritty and determined than his modest frame suggested. On the other hand, Allardyce is often portrayed in the media as a belligerent ignoramus and Holloway as class clown. However, they are both very studious about the game and they understand their game deeply. Everything about this final suggests that it should be a fascinating battle, with two teams from different ends of the footballing spectrum meet head to head.

Game strategies here won’t be overly occasion specific, in that each manager is likely to stick to what they know. Allardyce appears to have a key rule in his strategy, stop the opposition and then build from that base with well-balanced attacks through direct passing and crosses in to the box. Holloway on the other hand will seek to control possession and escape any pressure exerted by West Ham, build through the team and attack relentlessly for the majority of the game.

Setting up

From a formation perspective Blackpool are expected to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation which offers more balance than their gung-ho 4-3-3 from last season’s Premier League campaign. West Ham on the other hand tend to favour a 4-4-1-1 framework, but in the first hint at the battle about to commence may try to block up Blackpool by switching to a 4-1-4-1.

The use of a 4-1-4-1 means that West Ham and Blackpool will match up relatively neatly across the pitch which essentially means two things. The team that wins the critical individual battles will gain a foothold and the team that utilises the space available will be at an advantage. The ‘battles’ are essentially something that will pan out on the day and non of them are easy to call. The midfield as always will be crucial, with the likes of Mark Noble and Barry Ferguson trying to lead their side by example with good challenges, reclamation of the ball and good use of the ball once in possession. Down the flanks full backs will be fully engaged and arguably the team with the better full backs will enjoy a great advantage.

However, the critical battle may be focused on the formation switch that Allardyce is likely to make. His holding midfielder (in this example James Tomkins) will likely be deployed to pick up Stephen Dobbie. Dobbie will attempt to float between the West Ham midfield and defence hoping to receive the ball to feet and link up with the other three forwards as well as engaging in one v one encounters where he’ll seek to use his dribbling ability to take men out of the game.

Cut out

Knowing where the space is on the football pitch is always critical and although ‘in game’ this is a very dynamic element there is a way of highlighting some theoretical elements from accepting players positions in relation to the space. The diagram below effectively blanks out the spaces covered by the players leaving only the areas that are available.

The most obvious aspect of the diagram above are the spaces beyond the defensive line. How will each manager try to exploit that area?

Firstly, Allardyce is renowned as a long ball exponent, in truth, his sides show greater balance to their play than that, but he will seek to build play around a long ball or two in order to gain a foothold around the final third. Primarily, their main long ball is far from aimless, in fact it is highly structured and very dangerous. Usually the long ball emanates from the centre back (1) after a passage of brief passes along the back line. It’s aimed to the centre forward who will seek to flick on the ball (2) to runners who go beyond the heading player and in behind the defence. Normally this will be someone like Kevin Nolan.

The other element is that his midfield will position (3) to pick up on the loose ball and then build a second phase of attack should the first fail. It is here where the game will be in balance and requires diligent work from Blackpool to firstly win the header and then for Angel Martinez and Ferguson to pick up on the second balls. Alternatively, should Cole win the flick on, then Alex Baptiste will need to pick up the runner most likely to benefit.

(1) The long pass is made. (2) Forward attempts to win header and runners seeks to collect the ball. (3) If the ball drops back central midfielders look to pick up the second ball.

Alternatively, Ian Holloway will look to either feed the ball to the feet of his wide forwards so that they can be isolated against the opposition full backs with the intent to beat their marker and run behind the defence with the ball at their feet. In addition to this, Blackpool’s possession as it progresses higher up the field will allow their midfielders to play the balls in to the channels and in behind the West Ham defence on to well-timed runs from their forward line.

Should either team’s attempts to get in behind the opposition fail then the middle flanks of the pitch may well be the focus for developing plays. Holloway has a reputation for encouraging his full backs to attack, in recent weeks they’ve tended to sit a little deeper, however, he may ask them to step up to combine with their attackers to isolate opposition full backs to break in behind the defensive line. Allardyce also enjoys having two full backs in Matthew Taylor and Guy Demel who can be attacking in their play and he may ask them to push high up the pitch seeking to get in to crossing situations and assist with getting good quality delivery into the penalty area to develop situations.

Off the ball

In beating Blackpool 4-0 at Upton Park earlier in the season Allardyce revealed in his BBC post match interview where he thought he could break Blackpool down. Essentially he remarked about two things, exploiting Blackpool’s off the ball shape and getting down the sides of the centre backs. This is very enlightening indeed as it acknowledges Blackpool as being a side who are poor out of possession, but Allardyce would be remiss if he thinks he’s encountering the same Blackpool side. The deployment of two holding midfielders as well as the restraint on the full backs to move forward has not only added greater balance to their side off the ball, but assists with the second element of exposing the sides of the centre backs. Holloway will no doubt be working with his side on his off the ball shape knowing that this is where West Ham are likely to exploit them.

Off the ball West Ham are a treat, they are genuinely fascinating and set up very subtlety to make the most out of positions, as above when the ball goes long, positioning and pressing are key, but it is at set pieces where they come in to their own. Too much emphasis is placed on marking systems and winning the aerial duels at corners and other set pieces and little attention is placed on what is going on elsewhere. In his column the Guardian Secret Footballer (@TSFGuardian) exposed the lengths that Allardyce goes to (as do other managers) exploit these situations.

‘Sam Allardyce studied hundreds of Premier League corners to see where the clearing header, on average, would land. Once he identified a pattern (it’s usually a front-post header that is cleared towards the dugout), he placed a man on the exact spot where the ball generally made its first contact with the pitch’

Jack Collison’s goal against Cardiff in their first leg was a classic example of such positioning, albeit in reverse to the situation outlined above. Holloway will have to ensure that his new-found corner set up places as much emphasis on the happenings outside of the box as it does on the new-ish zonal positioning inside the box.

Crowd Mentality

What is interesting in any game against a side managed by Sam Allardyce is how the crowd unwittingly knows he has executed his game plan. If after twenty minutes of this final the Blackpool fans are saying, ‘but we just aren’t ourselves’, or ‘we’re playing awful’, then he’s achieved objective one. The key for Blackpool is to not be put out of their stride, play to their strengths, if the door to the final third is closed, retreat and try again. Keep the ball moving on the floor, quickly and accurately, move West Ham around the field, make them chase the ball. West Ham offer a more dynamic and proficient version of the Birmingham side they have just beaten with the same approach, here they will need to go further, and excel beyond the standards that they’ve set this season.

Key Players

West Ham possess talent in abundance, but arguably their key men are focused in midfield and attack. In Kevin Nolan they have someone who holds few secrets, he will use his strength to dominate opponents both on the ground and in the air as well as having an ability to read play acutely so that he can time late runs in to the box. Alongside Nolan, Mark Noble will aim to control the game in possession and through his pressing. He adds the energy and subtlety that keeps West Ham ticking over. Blackpool will need to deny him time on the ball and escape his attentions when he is buzzing about the pitch closing out space. The January acquisition of Ricardo Vaz Tê may well be critical here, he has been excellent since joining West Ham. He can often be frustrating with his inconsistency on the ball, but his unpredictability is also a strength. He shoots often, early, from anywhere, with power and occasional stunning accuracy. However, it’s his movement off the ball which could be critical here, he floats and drifts in off the flank to central areas and can creep in at the back post effectively. Of all the players in the West Ham side he has the ability to either change the game or disappear altogether.

Blackpool on the other hand will look to Ian Evatt to lead by example from the back. He was first class both on the ground and in the air in dominating Marlon King in the previous games and will need to repeat his performances to control the West Ham attack. Added to this Blackpool have a really assured midfielder in front of him, ready to seize on the loose balls. It isn’t the obvious figure of Barry Ferguson, but in fact Angel Martinez. Martinez has excelled since becoming first choice, he is quick to the ball, but more importantly can work in tight spaces in the deep; which helps Blackpool construct from the back in a really assured manner. He can anticipate astutely and if Blackpool do start to dominate this game, then it’ll be because Martinez has found his rhythm early. Added to this he delivers excellently weighted through balls behind the defence. In fact, there’s little weakness to his game, some may say his size is an issue and therefore, Allardyce may to try to bully him with aggression and pressure from Kevin Nolan. Finally, in attack Blackpool have Matthew Phillips. Although both he and Tom Ince have had outstanding seasons it’s Phillips who West Ham are likely to be most wary of, mainly due to his more direct running and powerful frame. If he gets his confidence high early on in the game by winning his first few duels, then that’ll benefit Blackpool greatly. He is such a strong runner with the ball that he can be imposing and although this tricks lack consistency they can at times throw a whole defence out of balance.

Game on

It’s likely that the first twenty minutes of this game will be frantic as West Ham attempt to outwork and outrun Blackpool denying them any time and space on the ball in an attempt to suffocate them in to submission. If Blackpool can handle this then the scene will be set for an end to end battle that will end with the winner claimed a rich prize. One club arguably needs the outcome more than the other and finals can produce dynamics that go beyond tactics, so although West Ham are overwhelming favourites, absolutely anything can happen.

Goal Analysis – Space Exploration

Professional football is rather unique in that the higher up the profession you go, the less space you are given to work in. Compare that with a factory worker producing for an employer. They have their space protected and have guaranteed space to work in. An office worker has a desk in which to complete their tasks. As they get better they may progress through the ranks of their profession, perhaps to become a manager with a spacious office at their disposal. They apparently need this space to operate in order to operate at a higher level whilst the workers enjoy their guaranteed, if restricted work space.

Football is different. As you progress through the game, generally you have your space taken away from you. At the very highest levels of the game space is at a premium and generally you have to find your own space or have a system set up to grant you some. Occasionally the opposition may cede some through negligence or by design. However, a general rule in football is that the more you progress in your profession the less space you have and you have to get used to operating in less space. Obviously you are well remunerated for this inconvenience so you’re hardly likely to take this to a union or refer the case to the Health & Safety Executive.

Last season this blog complied a feature on DJ Campbell, charting the goals that he scored in the Championship whilst also looking at how he was settling in to the Premier League. A general observation made at the time was that during his goal scoring period in the Championship it was noticeable how much more space he had to execute his moves and make his decisions. Now Blackpool are back in the Championship it is noticeable how much space there is, especially in the box and final third. In recent weeks there have been a few goals occurring in Blackpool’s matches that highlight this issue of space and alongside this, some excellent play from a wise old professional who knows how to create space.

Hammered

First and foremost West Ham outclassed Blackpool from start to finish when they met the other week, however, when Gary O’Neil struck the third West Ham goal it stood out because of the time and space he was granted. You can see below how he is on the edge of the area left all alone with Blackpool giving him all the space he needs to choose what to do.

Gary O'Neil is circled above to illustrate the space he was granted by the Blackpool defence.

This struck an uncanny resemblance to when Kevin Phillips struck against Cardiff last month. The Cardiff defence appeared to react slowly and space was granted to Phillips who guided the ball in to the goal with great technique and accuracy. You can see below how Phillips has almost seven if not eight yards of space to work in.

The arrow indicates the movement Phillips made in to the space.

When you’ve operated at the level that Kevin Phillips has for large parts of his career you can’t afford to give him too much space. He maintains his composure and has an acute awareness for where he is in relation to the goal and when to shoot.

Masterful

If a defence isn’t conceding space to be exploited, players need to be aware of how to create space. Leading on from the last example, Kevin Phillips has recently demonstrated why he is a supreme goalscorer, especially at this level. His movement in the box is largely focused on space creation and the goals he scored against Bristol City and West Ham have similar hallmarks. Below you can see how prior to the ball coming in to Phillips he has worked his way between the two Bristol City centre backs.

Compare the picture above to the one below, where against West Ham Phillips does exactly the same.

Again, he is perfectly positioned, this time in between the full back and centre back. In these cases, if the centre back fails to clear the ball then Phillips has the space he needs to attempt to score. If the delivery is poor, or the ‘keeper intercepts then the chance goes away. Unfortunately for the opposition in these cases, that didn’t happen. The only other way to thwart Phillips is for another defender to react or for Phillips to miss with his shot. Neither happened here and these are two great examples of how an intelligent striker can create space when perhaps it’s not always obvious.

Space to learn

Space is the most critical element in most games of football. Give a footballer space and they can operate, take the space away and only the better footballers will tend to flourish. In the top leagues and competitions, this becomes more and more obvious. If Blackpool end up back in the Premier League next season then some of the younger strikers could learn a lot from watching Kevin Phillips as the rest of the season plays out.

The lost fluency – Blackpool v West Ham

West Ham outworked Blackpool in the central area of the pitch to record a deserved victory as Ian Holloway shuffled his team selection which ultimately appeared to disrupt the fluency that they have found at many stages this season.

Setting up 

4-3-3 v 4-4-2, West Ham’s Obinna being the player who drifted the most from either side.

This was a clear 4-3-3 v 4-4-2 battle and for the first time this season Blackpool were undone by a flat and very plain 4-4-2 with few defining features. There was two clear reasons for this.

1. Mark Noble and Scott Parker worked hard to deny Blackpool’s midfield enough space to operate and when they won the ball they were economical with it. The consequence of this was that Blackpool’s pass completion dropped to 71%. Between Noble and Parker they attempted 100 passes completing 77% compared to Vaughan and Adam who attempted 123 passes completing 69% of them.

2. When David Vaughan and Charlie Adam found space; Andy Reid was struggling early on to understand his role in a new team and was often too static. This appeared to be backed up as Ian Holloway appeared to have a lengthy discussion with him around the 20 minute mark. After about half an hour he was swapped with Gary Taylor-Fletcher. Assuming Reid was told to play a central winger role as defined by Zonal Marking the other month, then by looking at the chalkboard below you can see how Reid stayed in central area more opposed to the way that Grandin drifted to the flanks in the previous game against Man Utd. Added to this Reid misplaced 8 of his 19 passes in open play.

Assuming both Reid and Grandin are assigned the same role then you can see the difference from the opening 30 mins of the last two games. Reid appears to stick in middle as Grandin drifts to the wing.

A final point on Blackpool’s formation, as is becoming normal when chasing a game, Blackpool moved more in to a 4-2-4 as Holloway made his usual aggressive substitutions.

Back line changes

Ian Holloway made his first call of the night by picking a defensive line that had never played together before. David Carney came back from the Asian Cup Final (where he went for a jog instead of marking Tadanari Lee, who scored the winning goal) and in to the left back spot with Alex Baptiste moving in to centre back as Ian Evatt was dropped to the bench. The back line didn’t settle and Holloway brought on Evatt on at the break to replace Craig Cathcart. The impact of these changes saw Carney sit back more than Stephen Crainey would have done, whilst West Ham (as previous clubs have done) appeared to target an apparent weakness in Blackpool’s right back area.

In previous games both Sunderland and Manchester United have opened up Blackpool down their right side, this isn’t to say that it’s the right back who is causing the issue as the right-sided centre back has a duty of cover as well. It appears that there is a lack of cohesion at times down that flank and West Ham were the latest side to benefit. What causes this appears to be three things. Firstly, the right back (Eardley in this case) misses tackles. Secondly the right back loses position and doesn’t recover quick enough. Finally, the centre back not anticipating danger and being able to cover adequately enough.

With Carney not having the sense of adventure that Crainey brings to the team it appeared to reduce Blackpool’s attacking dynamic down the left and Blackpool enjoyed more success from the right flank. You can see from the Chalkboard below where Blackpool lacked some balance in their passing.

Blackpool struggled all game to get in to good positions in the final third. Here you can see how few passes were completed in the final third on the left flank. Possibly Carney lacked the adventure that Crainey brings??

Moving on

Mistakes were all too common for Blackpool in this match, but West Ham showed up like a team who are used to working hard to battle against relegation and duly got their reward along with a mercurial performance from Victor Obinna. Ian Holloway will have a think about his strategy for integrating his new players in to his side and work hard towards an invigorated Blackpool performance to push Everton all the way this Saturday.

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.

West Ham Preview

Looking at the way that both defences have been broken down so many times this season then it might make for an open game. Both sides will be going out for the win and that approach will make sure that space is easy to come by. The manager who gets his team to exploit that space most effectively will see his team dominate the game.

Formations

Blackpool will likely return to a more familiar first eleven, however, Ian Holloway may consider some of the stand out players from the Villa game such as Ludo Sylvestre. He was efficient with his passing against Villa and adds a little extra dimension when taking set pieces.

West Ham have a slightly asymmetrical feel to it as Piquionne favours the right flank as well as the right winger.

Looking at West Ham’s last game then they lined up in a rough, slightly staggered 4-4-2 or perhaps even a 4-4-1-1. The key difference to this formation appears to be the role that Piquionne plays. He can either play as an out and out forward, or slightly deeper, with a bias towards the right side. This can be seen in the average positions from their last game below. Note the red circle, it highlights the bias towards the right with Dyer underlined in green higher up the pitch than the recognised attacker Piquionne underlined in pink.

The red circle highlights the bias towards the right wing with little balance on the left.

From the way that the two teams will set up then we can see that space in front of the defences is key once again. If Avram Grant selects Boa Morte then that hints at more progression in to attack, as the alternative Radoslav Kovac is likely to sit and contain the play more. Boa Morte may well be assigned to exploit that space and pass balls in to the box. If that proves to be the case then a Blackpool midfielder will need to drop to cover that space. For that reason and given his performance against Villa then Sylvestre may well be asked to carry out this role. As for West Ham, Scott Parker will drop in to that space as Blackpool enjoy breaking from midfield in to there. From a formation point of view, at times against Villa and again towards the end of the Everton game Blackpool’s front three dropped to a one almost and shaped the team in to a 4-2-3-1.

Hammers Heartbeat

Most people will know that Scott Parker is the West Ham heartbeat, you can see here that his passing is efficient and he holds together West Ham’s midfield and helps to set an attacking tempo. Added to that he isn’t afraid to shoot from midfield, which Blackpool must be fully aware of. However, if Blackpool can throw off Parker’s passing then it’s likely that West Ham will struggle to get a foothold in the game. It looked like West Brom did a good job of that as below you can see his passing performance against them, set off against a near flawless performance from the other week against Birmingham. Also note how much further his passes are from the opposition box.

Parker misplaced only one pass all game against Birmingham and got in to positions near their box. Note how more passes where misplaced against West Brom and that he isn't getting as near to their box.

Right Wing Hammering

Looking back at the performance against West Brom, then West Ham favoured the right wing for attacks, which is partly explained by the role that Piquionne plays, but also partly by the return to fitness of Kieron Dyer who’ll look to get forward regularly if selected.

West Ham favouring the right wing for attacks against West Brom

This will be an interesting aspect of the game, should West Ham stick to this biased approach and it’ll need Stephen Crainey being alert as well as Ian Evatt to cover should West Ham isolate Crainey in a two versus one situation. This bias may have been a ploy to attack perceived weaknesses of West Brom’s left side. They certainly had a much better attacking balance against Birmingham, but in their home game against Newcastle then the right wing again became the favoured route.

Fluency

West Ham have a tradition for playing good passing football and look to construct moves rather than the more direct approach employed by Stoke. Looking at the pass counts for each match West Ham have a decent number of passes each match (approx 300) and they complete 80% of them. However, the key to this passing as with any team is making the passes count. Generally, Scott Parker will see most of the ball in the middle of the pitch, but the penetration needs to come from somewhere else as well. Perhaps this is why West Ham have struggled this year. In their formation you’d expect that to come from some like Boa Morte, however, based on the West Brom game, it doesn’t appear to be the case. Piquionne appeared to be that person, but given he moves towards the flank he cannot be as dangerous as often as someone who hold the more central role.

Who is getting the ball in to the box apart from Scott Parker. Boa Morte in 54 mins didn't, but Piquionne from the right had more success.

Game on!

Both sides will look for a win here, West Ham need one and Blackpool will always look for one. Given the defences that will line up then there may well be plenty of goals. The focus will be on Ian Holloway selection, but should Blackpool win then the focus will turn to the manner of that victory and go some way to vindicating his midweek team selection.