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.

Aston Villa Preview

Blackpool go to Villa Park after collecting an excellent point against Everton, while the hosts will come in to the game on the back of two draws. Villa are under new management and there are signs that Gerard Houllier is beginning to stamp his mark on this team. They are a little short on personnel cause of injuries in key central areas and this may well force Houllier to adapt his style somewhat.

Formations

It’s normally safe to say that Holloway will stick with his 4-3-3 which was more representative of those numbers on Saturday against Everton as opposed to the 4-2-1-3 that has been emerging in this campaign. However, this may may alter slightly given Holloway’s intimation that he may rest players. It will be hard to call the team for Blackpool, however, the same can be said of Villa given the injuries they have. Houllier tends to favour a 4-2-3-1 formation. However, the teams may well line up like this (note that the Blackpool team is based on nothing but gut instinct).

Taking a look at Villa’s previous home game versus Birmingham City then these were the average positions, roughly outlining their 4-2-3-1 approach.

This formation (defence in red, midfield in green and attack in pink) does bear a little resemblance to that which Blackpool have been playing this season.

What to expect?

On the face of it, both sides may line up very similar in formation, but the way that the formation is executed may differ somewhat. Blackpool like to push the full backs up high when in possession of the ball in order to strangle the territory in the final third whilst Houllier likes his full backs to sit more and leave a more defined line of four even when in possession. However, at Fulham over the weekend, Luke Young pushed up to add width and support in attack at times. Villa when they have either John Carew or Emile Heskey fit, can play with greater flexibility moving forward as they have focal points in the air and on the ground. However, given both those strikers are injured then they will need to adapt their approach due to their replacements (Nathan Delfouneso is a probable starter) not overtly being an aerial threat. Both sides utilise wide men to create width and in the case of Villa to deliver excellent crosses for conversion in the box. As has been noted already, Blackpool do like to get crosses in the box, however, they must be early crosses and to feet. However, should Harewood start then cross variation might be better given his height advantage over that which Campbell offers.

Given the injuries that Villa have, then predicting their style based on previous performances becomes tricky and that in itself presents Blackpool with a problem. Beware of the wounded animal as you don’t know how they’ll react. In their midfield Houllier will possibly be choosing from Ciaran Clark or Stephen Ireland (his other option of Steve Sidwell is apparently not fit either) to fill in for Reo-Coker. Whichever, starts will show Houllier’s hand, Clark should be more defensive and Ireland more progressive and attacking. However, what is clear is that should they line up like above then the space in front of the defence is crucial and the team that reduces that space or likewise exploits it should see the best outcomes. Villa may well ask Ciaran Clark to drop in to that space, whilst Holloway may expect his midfielders to rotate that duty or opt for Southern or Sylvestre to drop deeper to cover the threat of Ashley Young. Below you can see the role that Clark played against Fulham at the weekend, passing from deep and tackling to break up the play in the midfield area.

Defensive Strength

Defensively, Villa have a reputation for being miserly, resilient and strong. Brad Friedel is an excellent keeper and the defensive line is superbly lead by Richard Dunne, they’ve conceded 14 goals this season but note that 6 were in one game. They’ve only conceded two in their last four games (five since Houllier took charge against Wolves) and will be another stubborn defence for Blackpool to break down similar to Everton at the weekend.

Opportunity

Keeping the ball and then winning it when you don’t have it are key elements to any game. One thing to note from the game against Fulham is Friedel kicking long and it resulting in Aston Villa losing possession. Perhaps he is still kicking long as that is what they’ve done with a tall target man, however, Blackpool may wish to exploit this and ensure that they win as many of Friedel’s long balls as possible given that Villa’s aerial threat may have gone. However, don’t be surprised to see Friedel distributing along the ground come the match time.

The circled headers are the ones won by Fulham in the area you might expect Heskey or Carew to win them. Given they are both injured then Fulham were very successful in this area.

Better the devil you know

Barry Bannan will be familiar to all Blackpool fans, he has made a breakthrough at Villa this season and seems to be finding his confidence in the Premiership. Looking at this performance at Fulham at the weekend against one from earlier in the season you can almost see his confidence through his passing. Note the range of his passing and the assist in white for Mark Albrighton to score. Also note the variation in direction making him unpredictable and hard to read, which is a critical factor unlocking a defence. Finally, look at his balls in to the box. One to the left, one to the right and one through the middle just to keep everyone on their toes. Should be great to see him go up against Charlie Adam should Adam get a start.

Game on!

This could be one open game for both teams, however, given Houllier’s taste for defensive stability then perhaps he may set out to stifle the space that Blackpool like to play in, which is now becoming quite common for Blackpool to be faced with. However, should he give more freedom to attack to his midfielders then we should see plenty of action in and around both boxes. Ian Holloway will love this tactical battle and I suspect will have a couple of tricks up his sleeve to vary Blackpool’s style given a potential change of personnel.

Blackpool v Everton Match Review

A fair result given that tactically Everton shaded the first half and Blackpool the second. Moyes positioned his team in his usual fashion, Holloway on the other hand brought in Keith Southern with Elliot Grandin dropping to the bench. If anything this meant that Blackpool played a more flatter formation in midfield as they brought back the Championship midfield triumvirate.

Tactical Swings

Moyes’s usual formation of a lop sided 4-1-4-1 worked superbly to deny Blackpool space and create attacking space of their own. Firstly, John Heitinga strangled the space that Blackpool’s midfield like to operate in, (in front of the oppostition’s defence and behind the opposition midfield). Also, by playing a narrowed midfield four this squeezed the other midfield space that Blackpool like to try and pass through to dominate games. Added to this Everton retained possession excellently and broke sharply when they got the ball.

In the second half, Holloway made a point of getting Vaughan pushed higher up in to an advanced attacking midfield position which helped to occupy Heitinga and pressured the Everton defence more directly. The final tactical swing occurred through the substitions. Holloway’s changes saw Blackpool shift to a 4-2-3-1 verging on a 4-2-4 whilst Moyes’s substituions saw him move to a more conventional 4-4-2 which was crucial as Blackpool exploited the space between their lines and hence why they finished so strongly.

Vaughan was pushed higher up the field straight after half time to give Blackpool an attacking midfield focal point.

As Everton shifted to a 4-4-2 this gave Blackpool more space in front of the Everton defence and behind their midfield. This contributed to the dominance that Blackpool enjoyed in the final ten minutes.

Key Players

The impact of Keith Southern is superbly analysed here by Up The ‘Pool, efficiency in posession was the name of his game, however, his coverage of the pitch is testament to his ability to cover space. What is interesting is his failure to make a tackle, Southern himself admitted to feeling a difference in pace and perhaps his lack of speed to close down opponents meant he was never in position to make a tackle. The key to this whole game was John Heitinga, his withdrawl saw Moyes concede his solid balance of five defensive and five attacking players, but it was the space he occupied and subsequently freed up that played into Blackpool’s hands. Heitinga made his tackles and passed solidly, but his influence wasn’t overly measurable. It was more down to his occupancy of space, the vital space that Blackpool thrive upon. You can see in the diagrams above how little space there was and how much more space there was after his substitution. Both Birmingham and Blackburn played someone in a similar role and they both frustrated Blackpool to a similar extent.

Steven Pienaar was crucial in the game till his injury, floating in off the left wing he linked up well with his central midfielders and opened up space to create two v one against Neil Eardley. Eardley stood up reasonably well to this test and certainly didn’t get consistently over run in that department. What Pienaar also helped to do by drifting inside was to pull out Blackpool’s attacking shape as Taylor-Fletcher appeared to drop at times to try and cover him, note (on the chalkboard below) how a lot of his passes were deep after being dragged back.

Right hand balance

Before the game it was noted how these two sides favoured the left hand side for attacking, Everton played up to that perfectly as their first came through that avenue, whilst they struck a great balance to make their second down the right. Overall, they did favour the left and it was testament to Eardley as stated above that he stood up well to the test. Blackpool on the other hand were more balanced, however, Taylor Fletcher’s performance wasn’t one of this best and the right flank was more truly occupied when Matthew Phillips came on, look at the spaces he occupied below. You can see below how Phillips wasn’t dragged back in to the midfield and played most of his game on the right flank.

The difference between Taylor-Fletcher and Phillips. Notice how Taylor-Fletcher was dragged back in to a central midfield position thus cutting down the right flank as an option for Blackpool.

This balance of attack might also be explained by Luke Varney having a poor game. He was rarely invovlved in the play and never once beat Phil Neville to get a cross in. Look how much Varney was involved against Fulham as opposed to Saturday. He was virtually shut out of the game.

In fact Blackpool appeared to lack their usual width and it could be down to the fact that Everton dominated the midfield and dragged Blackpool out of their usual shape when off the ball. Look at Blackpool’s average positions below and see how bunched up the whole team is, virtually the whole of the midfield and attack are in the centre circle.

Defence is in red, midfield green and forwards in pink.

Duelling

Everton won the battle of the tackle, not necessarily on an overwhelming count, but more on the postion they won their tackles, high up the pitch, helping to apply pressure to the Blackpool defence. Everton won 26 tackles in Blackpool’s half whereas Blackpool won 7 in Everton’s. Another aspect of this was the position of their take ons that they won. They were beating Blackpool players high up the pitch. This is crucial in helping to break Blackpool’s lines and create chances. Note where Blackpool won their duels, deep and not so near to the goal as you need to in order to then create chances.

Here you can see that Everton were beating men higher up the pitch than Blackpool were. This can lead to more chances as you break the opponents lines.

Penetration

Blackpool have had plenty of posession this season but not really got a lot of ball in to the opposition box to present Campbell with the chances he needs. Compare this with the way that Everton worked their way in to the box. Blackpool sustained much of their passing deeper than Everton. On the evidence of this game, Blackpool are beginning to work the ball in to the box, however, the frequency and placement needs to improve in order to start breaking down such high quality defences. Only in the last ten minutes did Blackpool start getting the ball in the danger areas with more frequency. Interesting to note that Blackpool failed to complete one cross from open play, effective crossing is crucial to breaking down defences as the defensive line feel less than comfortable in having to move back towards their goal to defend balls in behind them.

Note how few passes got behind Everton's defensive line as Blackpool struggled to breakdown a solid defence.

The season gets better

Overall a draw is a superb result for Blackpool who in the first half were losing the midfield battle and being denied the space that they love to operate in. The withdrawal of Heitinga was a strange decision presumably to counter Holloway’s attacking subs, however, it very nearly cost Everton a point. Blackpool move on to Aston Villa which should be a superb tactical match up again and one that Ian Holloway will relish.

Blackpool Basics – The Formation

The Basics

A weekend without football feels strange, but it also gives me a chance to catch up on a load of posts that I’ve been working on for some time. I’m going all John Major with this and going back to basics, however, I hope it’s more than his nonsensical rhetoric and I won’t mention ‘Victorian Values’ at all, apart from that mention just then.

First and foremost I want to get the basics set down before moving on to anything else formation or tactical based. Since day one, Holloway has set us up to play in a 4-3-3 which ‘on paper’ sets up as a flat back of four, a narrow line of three in midfield and a line of three forwards sat slightly wider that the midfield. I’m not gonna assume everyone reading this knows what a 4-3-3 looks like, but here it is on paper.

 

A standard 4-3-3 formation

 

As with most football formations the ‘on paper’ outline is rarely how the team takes it shape when on the field of play and the same can be said of Blackpool. In possession, the formation morphs in to a 4-2-1-3 as the midfield line splits in to a triangle shape and when possession is lost then the formation sets up in to a slightly deeper version of the basic 4-3-3.

 

With the ball the 4-3-3 morphs in to a 4-2-1-3

 

 

Without the ball the midfield three is restored to a flat line and the wide forwards drop a little deeper

 

If you take a brief look at any of our matches you can see the above patterns taking shape. Here I’ve pulled together a couple of shots from the play off final to illustrate this to back up my basic diagrams.

 

Here you can see the midfield diamond in action with Adam at the head of it

 

 

The midfield trio without the ball are circled as they defend in a line in front of the back four.

 

First impressions count

I have to say that I was really amazed when I first saw us play the 4-3-3 in the early days. In a pre season friendly against Everton I saw us line up that way for the first time and to be honest it was the first time I had ever witnessed a real life team line up with a 4-3-3. Until that Blackpool we were very much a 4-4-2 club as most English clubs are.

By the end of that friendly I was unsure if this was just a pre-season experiment. By the next time I saw us play, it was clear that 4-3-3 was going to be our basic shape. And by the time I witnessed our 2-1 victory over Newcastle it was clear that Holloway was bringing more to the club than a basic 4-3-3. It was refreshing, vibrant and the players were given freedom to move and freedom to attack.

More than meets the eye

The reasons behind Blackpool’s success last year cannot be wholly attributed to setting the players up in a 4-3-3 formation, however, it certainly did take a lot of teams by surprise, but it is more down to the way that the team played within the 4-3-3. As explained above, it is fluid in it’s structure, but as I will go on to say in my next few posts there are character traits of the 4-3-3 that I believe are crucial in making the formation a success.

Seasons Observations Part Two

Continuing on from part one, I shall pick out my key observations from the next four games.

v Chelsea (away)

Holloway admitted an error in picking Alex Baptiste in a defensive midfield role, a total diversion in tactics and a move that failed to pay off. The formation reverted to the usual 4-3-3 in the second half and gradually Blackpool played more coherent football. In playing Baptiste in the defensive midfield role, Holloway would have hoped to to see Baptiste breaking up Chelsea in our half. However, a quick look at his interceptions and tackles proves that the gamble never paid off. One interception out wide right and one tackle won.

v Blackburn (home)

It was a frustrating day all round and the less said about Charlie Adam’s own goal the better. However, one thing that Sam Allardyce is very adept at is getting his teams to work hard to ensure that the opposition play in to their strengths. This can be perfectly illustrated by taking a look at the passes delivered in to the Blackburn box. They want you to cross as they will no doubt (in most cases) win the aerial battle. Looking at Blackpool’s crosses in that game, note how many were unsuccessful and also what poor angles they were hit from. Not one came in from the byline. Blackburn can defend this play all day long with Nelsen and Samba commanding serious aerial respect ensuring that only a quarter of Blackpool’s crosses hit the target.

v Liverpool (away)

Going to Anfield and dominating the first half hour of a game is something very rare. Blackpool went and did that, Liverpool on the back of a Europa league game were somewhat put in to the shade by a dominant passing display in the first half an hour which culminated in Charlie Adam’s converted penalty. Here you can see the passing comparison between the two teams, Liverpool completed only 82% of their passes whilst Blackpool not only had more passes (132) than Liverpool, but completed 92% of them.

Another interesting point about the Liverpool victory is the way that Liverpool favoured their attacks to the right flank with Gerrard and Johnson pushing the play down the right, whilst Blackpool structured their attacks down the left. Was this a ploy to exploit the gaps left by Johnson at the back. Certainly the move leading up to the penalty would suggest that.

v Man City (home)

Much can be said about poor refereeing decisions, however, bringing on a world cup winning creative midfielder whom it is rumoured they paid £29m for is going to help give your side an advantage. Silva came on and floated between Blackpool’s lines and ensured that ball was played in to the Blackpool box. Getting the ball in to City’s box proved more difficult and for all Blackpool’s passing, not one pass from open play made it in to the City box. The only box activity you see here are passes out of the box. If Blackpool are to beat teams, they must start getting their passes in to the opposition boxes especially as DJ Campbell tends to thrive off balls in to the box (there’s a post coming about this).

There you have it. Blackpool’s first eight Premiership games giving an idea of the factors that could have proved decisive in each game. What is sure about Premiership football is that Blackpool aren’t totally out of their depth and we as fans can tinker with great tools such as Guardian Chalkboards to analyse our matches. I wonder what the passing charts would’ve looked like if we had this available during Worthington’s tenure?

Seasons Observations Part One

After my first match report from the Birmingham game, I want to run through the previous eight games picking out my key observations from each game to give an insight in to why I think we won, lost or drew the games.

Blackpool have started the season admirably and have already scored some memorable victories, should this start be sustained then survival in the Premiership may become a reality.

v Wigan (away)

The season started with a match up against a Wigan team under the stewardship of Roberto Martinez whom Holloway learned a lot from during his sabbatical. However, Martinez will have learned that taking your chances is a crucial part of winning football matches. Looking at the chalkboard below you can see that Wigan generated the most chances, but Blackpool took the points as they converted four of them. Wigan could point to a poor performance from Chris Kirkland as the reason for this as he endured an awful game at the Dee Dubya.

v Arsenal (away)

Hard to put much down about this performance that hasn’t already been said. Going down to ten men so early in a game (31 mins) against one of Europe’s best sides is only going to lead to one outcome. That we all know. However, up until the sending off a look at the passing stats shows that Blackpool were certainly seeing as much of the ball as Arsenal with 129 successful passes to Arsenal’s 138.

v Fulham (home)

Premiership football came to Bloomers with a pulsating game that was marked by Luke Varney’s inspirational debut. Blackpool’s passing was focused down the left hand side of the pitch that Varney occupied with the majority of the passing in the final third coming through the left side. Added to this Varney was fearless when it came to shooting accounting for seven of Blackpool’s sixteen shots throughout the match, Ormerod on the right side got one unsuccessful shot away. A look at Blackpool’s attacking chart again shows how much of the play was focused through the left. Oh, and Varney scored one and forced an own goal. Not a bad debut, and one that inspired the players around him to gravitate the play around him.

v Newcastle (away)

A great result for Blackpool, some great passing moves and breakaways. Newcastle seemed to rely on the high ball to Andy Carroll who played at the head of a 4-4-1-1 formation, however, Kevin Nolan was expected to feed off Carroll’s headers and set up attacking plays. You can see the problem here, Nolan was largely wasteful in possession. Blackpool knew that if Carroll was to win his aerial duels that they would have to be quick to intercept the ball when it came down, you can see that Blackpool made 50% of their interceptions in the zone that you’d have expected Nolan to be operating in.

What next?

Those are my quick insights on the opening four games of the season, the next four games provided tons more excitement for Tangerine fans and I shall post some more snapshots from those four games and maybe a little more depth about a wonderful performance at Anfield.

Battle of the Ibrox Old Boys

v Birmingham (Away) 23rd October 2010

The match against Birmingham wasn’t billed as the meeting of two ex-Glasgow Rangers midfielders, however, at the end of the day Barry Ferguson showed Charlie Adam who was best on the day, which proved to be a critical factor in the outcome of this match.

Midfield battle

Games are so often won in midfield and with Ian Holloway setting up with an unfamiliar 4-2-4 formation Blackpool’s midfield struggled to get their passing together as they moved away from their usual midfield of three. McLeish set his side out in a 4-4-2 with their two central midfielders split, in front of and behind Blackpool’s central midfield two in a diamond, something that caught Holloway by surprise.

If you look at the passing performances of Adam versus Ferguson then there is only one clear winner with the latter never misplacing a pass all game. A lesson for Adam to learn from. In fact Blackpool’s two key midfielders only had 51 successful passes all match and were still some way behind Ferguson.

Pressure

Another key to the Birmingham victory was the closing down they applied to the Blackpool players and you can see that they forced home interceptions high up the pitch whereas Blackpool failed to enjoy the same amount of success. Birmingham made ten of their 12 interceptions in the final third, whilst Blackpool could only make two.

Gilks’ distribution

Another point to note is the way that Blackpool struggled to win ball distributed from the back. Matt Gilks when giving the ball short was perfect, however, the moment he kicked long Blackpool struggled to win the ball high up the pitch. Ten of his fourteen goal kicks failed to find his own player with Ben Foster only letting five of his nine go astray. Gilks’ distribution has already been raised as a key earlier this season by UpthePool.

A lesson learnt……

So Charlie Adam’s former captain at Rangers Barry Ferguson showed how to pass the ball with accuracy and placed value on retaining the ball which allowed Birmingham’s midfielders to win the day. Blackpool’s start to the Premiership season has been characterised by strong midfield performances, today the formation change seemed to upset their rhythm and something it seems Ian Holloway will be keen he and his team learns from.