Anyone who has watched Blackpool since Ian Holloway took charge will know what to expect. Attacking football is what he wants and that is what he has been getting from his players. Everyone should expect more of the same this season, but before speculating about how Blackpool’s play may shape up this season let’s take a look at the players he has brought. The following observations are made from brief viewing in pre-season and what is known about the player from previous clubs.
On the defensive
In defence, there have been three new additions. Paul Bignot will act as cover at right back, he appears to be comfortable moving forward both on and off the ball, but at this stage it is unclear just how many starts he might be given or what his defensive ability is like. Matt Hill brings experience and versatility, covering both left and centre backs. He has been given some playing time in pre-season at left centre back partnering Ian Evatt. It has been speculated on this blog previously that perhaps Holloway was looking for a left-sided centre back to given better balance and smoother circulation of the ball along the back line. However, it appears that Hill has been utilised centrally because another summer recruit, Bob Harris is likely to be cover at left back. Hill seems competent enough to handle both positions and his height should only be an issue should a team see that as a target to exploit. However, only time will tell if that really is a weakness or not.
Bob Harris may well not get a lot of game time this season, but he will be asked to place as much pressure on Stephen Crainey as he can. At first he was possibly Holloway’s first choice to replace Crainey if he had left the club as expected. However, now Crainey remains Harris will have to use his limited opportunities to make it impossible for him to be dropped. He should get his chance when Crainey picks up an injury and when he does he will be advancing forward comfortably and will provide quality ball in to the ball and may well pack a decent shot.
The day before the season kicks off Miguel Llera was brought in, a left footed centre back of similar stature and build to Ian Evatt, perhaps without his aerial ability, but appears competent enough on the ball and comfortable moving forward.
Midfield sees the greatest changes and given that gaining control of the centre is so crucial in football then this is where Holloway has made his critical moves. Barry Ferguson has come in to the club and he will be expected to sit in deep midfield as two midfielders move in front of him. It is likely that he will hold and not rotate in a three man midfield as Blackpool tended to do when Adam, Vaughan and Southern lined up. Ferguson has most probably been bought for more than his footballing ability, but to also bring experience, knowledge of the game and leadership on the pitch. It’s likely that he’ll take the captain’s armband and lead the team out. Also in midfield is Angel Martinez, who from a brief stint in pre-season against Sheffield United is competent on the ball and likes to sit centrally. He may well act as cover for Ferguson in that holding role. Bojan Djordic may well play as a wide forward when the season starts, however, judging his preseason games, he appears to suit the central and deeper areas of the pitch which might lend him to backing up Elliot Grandin when Blackpool hold two midfielders deeper and allow one to push high up the pitch.
Back of the net
Up front Kevin Phillips is likely to start the season as the central striker, whether he adapts to this system at this stage of his career will be interesting. He seems comfortable playing on the shoulder of defenders and less about dropping deeper and linking up with the midfielders. He’ll also be expected to switch with the left and right forwards during the game and this might push him out of his comfort zone. Strangely for a striker with so many career goals, this season might be his biggest challenge.
Craig Sutherland has come back to the UK after playing college ‘soccer’ in the United States and he has impressed in pre-season. He appears to understand where is supposed to run from his wide forward position as his goal against Sheffield United confirms as well as being composed and accurate when shooting. Whether he can play centrally and hold the ball up and link play remains to be seen.
Coming in from Liverpool is Gerard Bruna, who has stated his preferred position is as a ‘Number 10’, given that it’s rare that Blackpool fill this position it will be interesting to see how he handles the possibility of fitting in to the system as a wide forward. However, should Blackpool lack creativity in central areas, then he may well drop deeper and sit at the head of a midfield triangle in a 4-2-3-1. Also, coming in from Liverpool is Tom Ince, who appears to favour the wide left forward role, however, he will be expected to rotate centrally and to the right in the system. Upon rather brief inspection, he may well have good pace if shown the space, however, he passing, crossing and decision making will be under scrutiny if he wants to break in to the first eleven.
Given the recruitment that has gone on, how does that reflect on the way that Blackpool will shape up when they take to the field against Hull tonight. It would appear that Barry Ferguson is a guaranteed starter and will captain the side. What about the other new recruits?
It’s likely that only Kevin Phillips from the other new arrivals will start the game again Hull, however, a few may come in to the game from the bench. Perhaps Tom Ince or Gerado Bruna might get on late in the game out wide left to show what they can do regardless of the game situation as could Craig Sutherland. It’s unlikely that either Matt Hill or Miguel Llera will play a part in defence.
The role of Barry Ferguson might well be very interesting. As the full backs will keep pushing up, it’s likely that he’ll ensure that cover is provided at the back. Last season it could be a regular occurrence to see all three midfielders caught high up the pitch. Therefore, this might be the biggest change to witness when the Tangerine take to the field again Hull. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Holloway rotates him in a three man midfield, with either Ludo Sylvestre or Keith Southern sitting deeper and trying to use Ferguson’s skills at ball retention higher up the field to build pressure in the final third. Should Sylvestre be selected it will be intriguing to see how he takes to the midfield now that Charlie Adam has departed. The last time those two started a game (Manchester City away) there was a sense that they were taking each others space and tripping each other up. If selected, Sylvestre may well have the main playmaking duties bestowed upon him. He clearly has an eye for a pass and could get Championship defences on the turn with consistency making him a danger in any game.
Ian Holloway may decide that he wants to move from the standard 4-3-3 that he re-found towards the end of last season and ask Elliot Grandin to start much further up the pitch in something resembling a 4-2-1-3 shape as you can see below. Should that be the case then it’s likely that Sylvestre will make way and Blackpool’s play will revolve around Grandin and his composure in possession trying to link play with the forwards. However, Grandin struggles to receive and turn with the ball at times meaning he can be nullified if you force him away from goal. However, if teams let him turn and run directly then he could enjoy some great success in this league.
What new players?
As is stands it appears that there is little potential impact on the first eleven from the new recruits. In truth this might be the case, however, it will be down to them to take their chances when they get them. There is still continuity to the Premier League team now Crainey and Gilks are back on board. Should any of the other new players get a chance against Hull, it will because of either late injuries or impressing with performances on the training pitch.
What should be expected from the trip to Hull? Nigel Pearson will most probably try to jam the midfield with numbers and seek to spoil any rhythm that Blackpool try to build up. Expect Barry Ferguson to be pressured from the first whistle and for Hull to break at speed to catch Blackpool on the counter. It will be interesting to see how Blackpool create and score goals this season and this match will give some great indications as to what will happen. Gary Taylor-Fletcher may well be the key player this season and Hull will need to track his movement and pass on marking duties from defence to midfield as he goes in search of the ball from his wide right position. Pearson will hope that Robert Koren sees as much of the ball as possible whilst Blackpool will need to be vigilant and deny him time and space on the ball to pick a pass or release a shot on goal.
Whatever happens tonight this season will certainly be entertaining and full of attacking football again.