Spurs – Match Preview

Harry Redknapp divides opinion across the country, but one thing is for sure, he guided his Spurs team in to the Champions League and along with that managed to progress in to the second phase. Yet again another quality side visits Bloomfield Road, however, Ian Holloway will be hoping that his own side will deliver another quality performance to try and upset another side that are ‘bigger and better’.

Tactics

Redknapp has gone on record to say that tactics don’t matter and it’s about the players (apologies for the link as it does go to the gutter aka the Sun newspaper site), but he is more of a tactician than he likes to make out. He will shift and change dependant on circumstance whether pre or in game or due to player availability. If he fails to make any consideration for Blackpool then there is a danger that his side may struggle to beat Blackpool.

Dependant on the fitness of Rafael van der Vaart Spurs will either line up in a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1, the latter favoured should the Dutchman be fit to start. However, even if Jermaine Defoe starts then the latter formation may still be employed as Defoe does has a tendency to drop goal side of any deeper lying midfielders. In Blackpool’s case Defoe may be asked to drop in front of David Vaughan. If so, then that will be interesting as at one point against Stoke last week Kenwyne Jones did exactly the same, putting Vaughan under pressure and lead to concession of possession.

To back up some of Spurs’ formation flexibility Tom Williams did a great summary of how they’ve varied their approach in the Champions league, which shows that Redknapp can be unpredictable. However, should he go for a flat 4-4-2 he will need his players to be on top of their game to overwhelm Blackpool and in part this will go some way to backing up his claim about players counting over tactics. Arsenal have a similar four band line up and his three band system managed to over come them, by going deep and narrow. Not saying Blackpool are in the class of Arsenal here, just that theoretically, as Blackpool have seen already this season, not many teams playing a regular 4-4-2 have enjoyed much success against them. Will Blackpool once again enjoy exploiting the space between the Spurs defence and midfield and it will be interesting to see if Redknapp makes any concession to Holloway and assign a man to track Elliot Grandin.

Formations

If Van der Vaart is fit then Spurs may line up like this, however, if not then Defoe may come in. Redknapp may also opt for the aerial threat of Crouch up front. Blackpool from a formation point of view are unlikely to change even in the absence of Charlie Adam.

Suspension of disbelief

Blackpool’s key selection issue will be around, the man to replace Charlie Adam. There was a huge amount of buzz around Holloway’s team selection against Villa, however, the logic of that performance may well be justified come 5pm on Sunday. Let’s look at who could replace Adam.

First up is the most obvious candidate, Ludovic Sylvestre, acknowledged by some at the club as Blackpool’s best passer of the ball. Holloway, may also choose to bring in Keith Southern as a holding option, which could free up David Vaughan to come in to Charlie’s more advanced role.

Tale of the tape

The Villa game saw Sylvestre make 77 passes with a completion rate of 88% and Southern with 62 at a rate of 79%. In the tackle Sylvestre won 2 out of 2 while Southern won 1 out of 2. Southern came up with 1 interception to Sylvestre’s 2. Just based on performance based around stats then surely Sylvestre (if fit) will get the nod. However, Holloway may take a look at the positional side of this, given that the midfield three this year is staggered, Vaughan sitting deep, followed by a more advanced Charlie Adam then Elliot Grandin. In the Villa game, did anyone take up Charlie’s more advanced position? On the average position diagram Sylvestre held a more central position and as high up as Adam when he came on, whereas Southern was ever so slightly deeper.

Within the pink circle you can see that Sylvestre (19) held the same position line as advanced as Adam (26) and tucked in deeper and behind Adam's marker is that of Southern.

The choice could be determined with reference back to the discussion from the other week around the perfect midfield combination. In that article it was set out that in a midfield three the perfect combination would be a ball winner, a passer and an attacking creator. So when we look at the creativity, neither Southern or Sylvestre made any of the goals, but who made the most passes in to the opposition box. When looking at their Chalkboards you can see that Sylvestre edges that whereas Southern’s intended passes in to the box failed. So it appears that the general feeling of Sylvestre being Adam’s replacement comes out in the final analysis. Should he play then this is his real chance to cement a place in the team. However, should Holloway go with Southern he may be making a concession for the Spurs threat by using him to pick up Van der Vaart. Sylvestre also has the ability to deliver quality set pieces and scored a free kick earlier in the season in the Carling up against MK Dons. However, Holloway is unpredictable, he may also opt for Jason Euell to replace Adam, but there was little in his display against Villa that suggested he’d come in and compliment the midfield.

Sylvestre managed to penetrate the Villa box, however, Southern failed.

Spurs Danger

Spurs will attack down the flanks and given that they will be outnumbered in midfield this may be their best way of creating chances. Aaron Lennon is a very quick right winger who will look to get in behind Stephen Crainey. However, without doubt everyone knows that Gareth Bale poses a great threat to any team he plays against. However, he can be tamed as Everton proved earlier this season. Admittedly the game came after a European night and Blackpool don’t have that factor to benefit them. You can see on the chalkboard below that Bale had a miserable game against Everton not making any of his crosses count and towards the end of the game he was moved to the right wing to escape the attention of Neville. However, Everton were canny and Bale wasn’t shackled by one man only and in fact played Seamus Coleman (a right back) in a right midfield position helped to deny Bale the space he needed. Holloway may ask Gary Taylor-Fletcher to drop slightly deeper to replicate this.

Notice the accumulation of red lines as Bale struggled to connect with his team mates.

Aerially Speaking

Again the aerial question is posed as Spurs have Peter Crouch in their ranks and may start or be used off the bench to great effect. There is some what of a mis-truth around Crouch as some people perceive him to be weak in the air. Zonal Marking did a superb review of his aerial ability in order to break down that myth and clearly when reading it, he will need to be handled with caution should he take the field. However, Blackpool have not lost the aerial battle in their last two games and should not fear his threat if they perform to the best of their ability.

Game on!

Holloway will hope to make the right decision on replacing Adam, it’s something that was going to have to happen at some point this season and win or lose Holloway will have an even better understanding of his squad that can only help the team later on in the season.

Stoke City Report

Blackpool took the three points again from a side who supposedly have better players and made pundits come up with the ‘breath of fresh air’ phrase yet again. In a couple of ten minute spells in either half Blackpool played superb, controlled, passing football, moving Stoke around the pitch and carving out chances. While Stoke played to their strengths from set plays and came very close to breaking the goal line.

Line Ups

Blackpool stuck with the same starting eleven from the Bolton game two weeks ago, whilst Stoke welcomed back Andy Wilkinson and Jermaine Pennant back from injury and took their place on the right hand side of Stoke’s formation with Robert Huth moving back in to his preferred centre position, Jon Walters and Danny Higginbotham dropped to the bench.

Stoke’s shape remained in a rough 4-4-2 throughout the first hour and only once Tuncay was introduced did they have any variation as he dropped in to something more like a midfield three and with the final throw of the dice, Pulis opted to take off a defender for a midfielder and go to a back three. From the Blackpool perspective, the only noticeable change was a subtle one in midfield with David Vaughan sitting deeper in front of the centre backs, presumably to pick up Kenwyne Jones as he withdrew from the front line.

Notice how Vaughan (circled in pink) holds a deeper position, more like a holding midfielder.

Another interesting observation from the average positions above is that DJ Campbell (39), due to his dropping deep to receive the ball, held a deeper average position than Elliot Grandin a member of the recognised midfield unit. This gives Blackpool a platform to attack from and Campbell with generally pass back to Adam or look for little passes or flicks for Grandin to run on to.

Even

The first half was an even affair with chances for both sides, but as mentioned in the preview a moment of magic from Ricardo Fuller could have given Stoke the edge. Prior to that Blackpool dominated possession as Stoke’s midfield appeared to be dropping deeper and deeper. Earlier in the game Stoke worked hard to deny space to Blackpool’s midfield and it worked well as Blackpool started to misplace passes. However, once Stoke backed off Blackpool operated well in the spaces and played between their lines well, got good width and constructed some excellent overlapping passing moves especially down their left flank. Stoke’s main threat came from set pieces, although Blackpool defended poorly at times, failing to pick up men in the box and giving too much time and space for Fuller to hit the bar.

To-&-Fro

The second half started with Stoke almost making the breakthrough, but it was Blackpool who actually did and Charlie Adam was again at the heart of the play and as mentioned a few weeks ago, if Blackpool can get the ball to DJ Campbell close to the 6 yard box with the ball at his feet he will generally get his goals. Stoke were guilty of letting Campbell get that close and will be unhappy with that. Blackpool had some great control of the ball for a period before Stoke tried everything to get on level terms and sharp keeping, goal line clearances and the bar ensured that they failed to find the net.

License to probe

Charlie Adam was the focal point of most of Blackpool’s play, he attempted more passes (63) than any other player on the pitch, however, his success rate was low (66%, the team average was 72%), but that is mainly due to the fact he is given the freedom to try the unique which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Stoke allowed him too much space at times and Adam will revel in that as the more time he has, the more time he had to vary his pass direction. Earlier in the season he developed a left leaning bias to his passing that made him readable, however, a look at his chalkboard shows how penetrative his passing was and how much variation in pass direction there was. His ball for the Grandin chance on  39 mins was sublime as was his passing in the lead up to the goal.

The top chalkboard shows the wide variety of pass (even though slight with a left bias), whilst the lower chalkboard shows how he successfully made passes from open play in to the Stoke box.

A Central Winger

An article by Zonal Marking last week introduced a concept called the ‘central winger’ and it appears that this might go some way to explaining what Holloway sees Grandin’s role to be. He certainly isn’t a traditional playmaker and at his previous clubs he has been played on the wing. When looking at his chalkboards then you can see he drifts to the wings and this was central to some of the excellent passing moves that Blackpool constructed in the wide areas. Given that Grandin’s last two performances have been excellent, could it be that he has learned the role that Holloway wants him to play? If so, is this important for opening up space for Adam to move in to and operate?

Grandin's heat map from his passes show his drift to the wing areas with 36% of his passes on wing.

Pass domination

Blackpool dominated in the pass having attempted 112 passes more than Stoke. The danger for Stoke is that they played in to Blackpool’s hands, Blackpool attempted 445 passes with a 73% completion rate. The teams that have stopped Blackpool passing the ball with a fluency have had the most joy against them (Blackburn worked hard to ensure that Blackpool completed only 67% of passes). Give them the ball, time on the ball and Blackpool have proved that they will create chances in the Premier League. Stoke mainly hit long balls from the ‘keeper as Bolton did the other week and had little joy from that approach, however, Stoke know their own game and are happy to play it. With two central midfielders (Combined, Whitehead and Delap attempted 61 passes, added to this 10 of Delap’s passes were his throws, which were largely unsuccessful) passing with such low amounts means that they have to over rely on the wingers to set up play in open passing moves.

Steady Progress

Blackpool move in to the Christmas period with a great 16 games behind them. Christmas looks like it will be a tough period and the time when the tiresome pundits will roll out the ‘injuries and suspensions’ nonsense as the next test for Blackpool. Charlie Adam is suspended for the Spurs game and Blackpool (according to www.physioroom.com) already have 6 players out injured, so we shall see. However, should Blackpool have at least another three points come the end of the first week of January then everyone at Bloomfield Road will be set for a second half of the season that will be as exciting as the first.

Stoke City Preview

As Ian Holloway squares up to his good friend Tony Pulis, he’ll be hoping to give him a good run for his money like Blackpool did on their visit to the Britannia last year in the Carling Cup. Stoke come in to the match on the back of a draw at Wigan last week, while the Blackpool players will be refreshed after having last Saturday off due to the cold weather.

Looking back to look forward

This preview actually starts its life as a review of Blackpool’s last match as there was something about that Bolton performance that resonated with the public perception of the way that Stoke play. This season Bolton have been praised by most of the mainstream media as being an attractive side and that Owen Coyle likes his team to ‘play the right way’, with the ball on the ground. This style of football was nowhere to be seen at the Reebok stadium where a swift boot of the ball seemed the order of the day.

Bolton are still a direct, long ball team based on the first hour of the match and a pain staking trawl through the chalkboards of that match help to back up that point. Now this isn’t strictly scientific or robust, but it was something to cure the itch that developed whilst watching Jussi Jääskeläinen ‘put his foot through’ another upfield punt. With the opportunity to build from the back via the goalkeeper, Bolton failed to take that approach, instead hitting long balls upfield to utlitise the aerial ability of Kevin Davies. In going through, minute by minute of the chalkboards, Bolton hit 55 ‘long balls’ which accounted for 13% of their total attempted passes that day. The majority of them were hit from open play; however, the majority of them were unsuccessful with 55% failing to find their target.

They hit their long ball finish line around the 60 minute mark when they introduced Martin Petrov and Rodrigo Moreno in to the action. Then, this ‘attractive football’ started to appear, they passed the ball around and their long balls died off. Subsequently their pass completion improved (before 60 mins it was 63%, after 60 mins it went up to 77%) and they bagged two goals to snatch an unlikely draw. So Bolton got nothing against Blackpool by playing long, direct football. This has a lot of similarities for the upcoming fixture against Stoke, hence why this has been brought up.

Bolton continually played long balls from the back in the first hour of the game against Blackpool, especially coming from the goalkeeper as you can see here. The lower chalkboard shows a variation in passes from the hour mark, with more going shorter and wider rather than long.

Battle in the air

In the Bolton preview it was mentioned that Blackpool would concede defeat in the air as long as they won the battle on the ground and picked up the second balls. As it turned out Blackpool were excellent in the tackle against Bolton and in the air they edged it winning 23 headers and losing 22. This was a superb return for Blackpool especially as aerial strength isn’t neccessarily a part of their armoury and in fact both Blackpool goals came from headers. This will give Stoke something to ponder as they do like to play the long ball upfield and lob that flat old long throw in to the box. However, Stoke have someone in the shape of Kenwyne Jones who could really threaten Blackpool aerially. A quick look over the last few games shows that Jones wins his aerial battles. Last week against Wigan he won 66% of his aerial battles and earlier in the season against West Brom won 83%. So if Blackpool allow Jones to win his headers then this will set up Stoke’s attacking play, normally high up the field, putting the Blackpool defence under pressure.

Also, a ploy that worked against Wolves, by hitting the long diagonal right to left to expose the aerial frailty of Keith Foley at right back may not be a wise choice given that Luke Varney may have to jump against Robert Huth (even if Andy Wilkinson is fit, Pulis might take this option to counter Blackpool) who is usually good in the air. Just a closing point to note, two of Blackpool’s three goals in the Carling Cup match against Stoke last year came from headers.

Width and mobility

Blackpool may not try and play the long diagonal given the chances of losing the ball in the air, however, they may well look to go wide along the ground and get the ball played in to the channels and down the line in order to get Stoke’s full backs turning around. If that is something that Holloway opts to do then the wide forwards should be Luke Varney and Matthew Phillips and they’ll be asked to swap regularly to add variety to the Blackpool attack. Given this, it will be interesting to see if Pulis goes for Huth at right back or opts for a more mobile defender. Pulis uses the width of the pitch too and the threat of Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant is one for Blackpool to be concerned about. They are wingers as opposed to Blackpool’s wide forwards, they will cross regularly and will deliver clinical set piece delivery when called upon. Neal Eardley struggled at times against Matt Jarvis against Wolves and far too often did he allow him to get a cross in. Should this happen again then Cathcart and Evatt will need to be at their best to repel Stoke.

Starting Out

Stoke set up in a 4-4-2, however, their shape does morph a little as Jones withdraws.

Both managers are very likely to stick with the formations they know, Pulis is an operator of the 4-4-2, whilst most people are now well aware that Holloway gets his side set up in a 4-3-3 morphing in to a 4-2-3-1. However, after looking at the average positions from their game against Wigan (in which Pulis noted he tried to be more positive) Stoke morphed in to a kind of 4-2-3-1 with Delap and Whitehead sitting in central midfield, while Walters and Etherington pushed higher up the flanks with Jones withdrawing deeper, something that Jones does favour in his general play anyway. Both managers have selection choices to make, Holloway’s key decision appears to be the position of wide right forward between Matthew Phillips and Gary Taylor-Fletcher, whilst Pulis has doubts about the fitness of Andy Wilkinson and Jermaine Pennant. Added to this Pulis may always opt to start with Sanli Tuncay, although it is likely that he’ll start on the bench.

Coming off the bench like Bolton

Pulis can look to his bench to change his style away from a direct approach, this comes in the shape of Sanli Tuncay, who is comfortable on the ball, creative with it and positive with his running. If he doesn’t start the game, which is likely, then he can be deployed from the bench, as he was to good effect against Man City, assisting Etherington in scoring the equaliser. For Blackpool this has echoes of Bolton the other week, as Tuncay could help to keep the ball on the ground more, especially if Blackpool are able to match Stoke in the air and shut them out. If this proves to be the case Holloway will need to make sure his side adjusts to the change of style better than they did against Bolton.

Game On!

Whatever the outcome on Saturday, Blackpool will be more confident in facing Stoke given their performance against Bolton and fresh given their week off. However, Stoke won’t give them any time and space on the ball and will test them directly and will look to moments of potential magic from Ricardo Fuller to steal the points come 5 o’clock.

*Note: The long ball was defined by me as a ball hit forward, in the air, covering a distance of 30 yards or more. No comparative analysis was done against other teams in order to place Bolton in context and it was motivated by me being disappointed in seeing a media branded, ‘attractive team’, hitting what I perceived to be a high number of long balls. One day I might attempt to place this in to context when I have the time and should I be proved wrong then I shall put my foot through a size 5 and be very sorry.

**Further note: If anyone wants to have a look at the details of the long balls then I’ll stick them on a Google spreadsheet and add the link in here. Just let me know.

Ten ways to stay in the Barclays Premier League

Holloway loves referencing the 'Barclays' bit of the Premier League name!

As Blackpool lined up against Wigan back in August, most fans were left wondering what awaited them in the highest league in the land. Fifteen matches in to the season and most Blackpool fans know what this Premier League is all about and how we fit in to the landscape. Sick and tired of being branded a breath of fresh air, Blackpool are more than this and there are some real reasons behind this success which if keep repeating themselves then come the end of the season the Tangerines will be dreaming about a second season in this league and being suitably patronised by idiots who go on about second season syndrome without ever really defining what that actually means.

The last two games versus Wolves and Bolton have seen two performances that encapsulate everything that Blackpool are about both from a negative and positive stand point. Stick to what they are doing and Ian Holloway will achieve what was once deemed impossible. To keep Blackpool Football Club in the richest league in the world. Here are ten things from Blackpool’s first fifteen games that should they continue will ensure another large party on the promenade.

Keep Attacking!

The approach that Blackpool have taken in attacking every match has been an approach away from the usual one trodden by a promoted team. This has taken many managers by surprise and they’ve appeared to take Ian Holloway’s claim to attack the Premiership with a pinch of salt. So far Blackpool have scored 23 goals, created 223 chances at an average of 15 per game, scoring 10% of them, with a further 19% hitting their target. Sustain this over the next twenty three games (hypothetically speaking) then Blackpool will have bagged 58 goals by the end of the season, 16 more than Burnley last year and a tally that would have been the eighth highest in the whole season.

Good Form-ation!

It works, it’s positive, it covers all corners of the pitch, and it allows Ian Holloway to get the most out of his players. Each player knows his role and those of his team mates, they subsequently know where everyone is during each phase of play and this helps the team build on field relationships. The system has evolved this season away from the flatish 4-3-3 of last season in to a more modern 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-1-3. The opposition are used to a team like Arsenal setting up in this manner, but a newly promoted side – Never!

Opposition Arrogance

Most fans of Blackpool will be more than familiar with the usual, ‘We can’t lose to this lot’ attitude of fellow fans, but it appears that opposition managers aren’t too far from the same mindset. As long as managers send out their teams in a standard flat 4-4-2 then Blackpool will keep picking up points. Look at Owen Coyle last Saturday, he sent his team out without making any concession for Blackpool thinking that his players and his outdated 4-4-2 would ‘have too much’ for little Blackpool. Only around the sixty minute mark after seeing his midfield being outnumbered three to two and constantly being passed through did he start to think he needed to change. Surely after ten minutes as Elliot Grandin received the ball behind a bemused Fabrice Muamba he should have realised and made a change. Thankfully he didn’t and Blackpool ascended in to a lead.

Counter Intelligence

Following on from the last point, the teams who have made decisions to counter us have had the most success. Most notably Birmingham stunted our formation with a canny application of a narrow diamond midfield. Mick McCarthy fielded a five man midfield and Everton and Blackburn both stifled the midfield by playing a holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1. If teams start doing more homework on our play then the season may grind to a halt quickly, people were wondering where Blackpool’s plan B was after defeat to Birmingham, however, right now Holloway can keep plan B till later.

Basic Defending

A look at the last two games goes a long way to show that Blackpool are starting to defend well after previously being very attack minded. The back four works well as a unit and looking at their chalkboards in the last games they won 48 tackles (the highest this year) and even won the aerial battle against a Bolton side who have been so dominant in the air at times this season.

Blackpool cleared their lines superbly against Wolves making 42 successful clearances (the highest this season for Blackpool) at a success rate of 63%, whilst against Bolton they were less successful only clearing their lines 35% of the time. This helps to explain a little of how Blackpool failed to hold on to their lead against Bolton, as the match progressed clearances failed and the opposition were able to regroup and hit back.

Stout defending against Wolves, but less success against Bolton.

Pass Masters

Well not quite, that would be Barcelona who made 684 passes against Real Madrid in the recent ‘el classico’ with a completion rate of 89%. However, Blackpool pass and pass the ball well, no cynical lumping of the ball up the field here. Keep passing like this till the end of the season and teams will be broken down time and again. To put this in perspective, Blackpool average 474 passes per game with a completion rate of 75%. There is room for improvement in the completion rate and Holloway will keep striving for that if he is to head along his desired Spanish route to playing football. The key is the way that Blackpool have started to penetrate in to opposition boxes, look below at the passes that made it in to the Bolton box last Saturday. This inevitably leads to scoring chances, goals and points.

Blackpool managed to pass the ball well in to the danger zone and broke through the defensive line of Bolton.

Diagonal Puzzle

A lot of fans reference this as a long ball, but it is much more sophisticated than that and has been used for years by many top quality teams (most notably Ajax and the Dutch national team) to shift defence in to attack, stretch the play and to set up a ‘move’. Teams are genuinely uncomfortable with such a ball being played and as for Wolves, it caused such concern for Mick McCarthy that he moved Michael Mancienne back to right back to counter the threat. This ball was in use last season and appears at times to be a set move. Next time it is played from left to right up to the right hand foward, check to see if Neil Eardley has moved up and Charlie Adam has moved in towards the ball also. If so, expect Adam to pick up the ball early from the knock down and set up either an overlap for the full back or in behind the defence for the forwards to run on to.

Here you can see the way the Blackpool play a long, left to right diagonal ball as a set attacking move.

Rack ’em up!

Up to now, there’s not been a bad run where points have dried up, only one occasion where back to back losses have been recorded, if that remains the same then that is crucial to keeping the status as a Premier League team. The media love a newly promoted team to hit a rough patch so they can wheel out the cliche machine and churn out more claptrap which can nag away at people’s confidence.

Get DJ with the ball at his feet in the right areas…..

And he will score. He worked so hard at the Reebok and he is so much more effective in the central striker role than he was in the deeper midfield based role. At the rate he’s going he may bag around 8 goals by the end of the season and they’ll all help to keep Pool safe. If his team mates get the ball to his feet in to the area between the goal and the penalty spot he’ll score. All his eleven goals in the Championship last year came in this zone.

DJ Campbell's 11 goals mapped out above, showing approx position ball was struck and direction of going in to the goal

Stay alert at all times

Blackpool are at their most vunerable after they’ve just scored, when they’ve conceded a free kick or in the last few minutes of games. 9 of the 29 goals conceded this season have come in the last quarter of the game.

When Manchester United come to visit on Saturday, should Ian Holloway keep his side performing the way they have up to now then Alex Ferguson will need to pay respect to Blackpool and ensure that he counters the threat Blackpool carry. Blackpool will create chances again on Saturday and if the defensive robustness found recently comes through again then the men in Tangerine may well sneak something from the fixture.

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Bolton Preview

Blackpool head to the Reebok  stadium for the first time, looking to match a Bolton side who are impressing people across the land with their performances over the past few weeks. Most are acknowledging that they aren’t the side of Allardyce or Megson any more and Owen Coyle has them passing the ball around in a more attractive, and on recent results, effective fashion.

Ian Holloway has a couple of choices to make from a selection point of view, namely who will play as the central striker and who will play at the head of the midfield triangle in the 4-2-1-3 or the 4-2-3-1, if the two wide forwards pull back a little. It’s likely that DJ Campbell will play in the central striker role and Elliot Grandin will return in midfield, although Gary Taylor-Fletcher may be an option for a deeper role than he normally plays.

Bolton are likely to come out in a 4-4-2 and will work hard to press Blackpool to put them under pressure. Muamba may have to drop to cover the movement of Grandin.

Bolton appear to line up in a 4-4-2, the full backs don’t push too far forward and Fabrice Muamba will hold a slightly deeper position than his midfield partner Stuart Holden, who will look to break forward to support the attack. On the wings, both Matthew Taylor and Chung-Yong Lee will push forward and will cross early and from deep for the target men in the forward line. Both forwards will drop deep to receive the ball and when out of possession will also drop back to add numbers to midfield to assist in breaking up the opposition play.

As with Wolves last week, this site discussed the theoretical issues of a 4-4-2 coming up against a 4-2-3-1 and again that could pose a problem for Bolton. Last week Wolves took steps to move away from that by setting out in a 4-5-1, however, there’s no precedent to suggest that Coyle will make a shift in formation and that may well play in to Ian Holloway’s hands. Coyle employs a style within his 4-4-2 that will help to level out the formation disadvantage. What is this style?

First of all, he may well have his side passing the ball with panache and style, but he is still fond of having his keeper and defenders skipping out midfield with long balls which will help them counter Blackpool’s potential midfield dominance given that Bolton will be outnumbered in that department by three to two. See the chalkboards below and how Jussi Jääskeläinen made just 3 of his 37 passes short, the rest sent long. On the other hand Richard Kingson went short on 19 of his 51 passes last week against Wolves.

Jussi Jääskeläinen hitting 8% of his passes short so Bolton still go long from the 'keeper, compared to Blackpool's Richard Kingson who plays out short from the back 38% of the time.

Also, out of possession Bolton will work hard to close down the Blackpool team and close out any space, every player has a remit to press the opposition and will not allow Blackpool any time to ponder on the ball. Blackpool will need to find their passing rhythm early and in tight spaces or face a tough battle to assert dominance in midfield. However, should they do this then the midfield two of Holden and Muamba might be easily bypassed leaving Grandin in plenty of space to operate. Given this, then Coyle may ask Muamba to drop deeper than normal to cover that space. However, this again is fraught with problems as it may leave either Adam or Vaughan with plenty of space to operate. Thus igniting the issue of playing 4-4-2 against 4-2-3-1. Coyle will surely start to rely more on the long ball this Saturday to bypass Blackpool’s midfield and Blackpool will face a similar challenge to that which they faced against Newcastle earlier in the season.

Bolton will hope to win the battle of the tackle as they did against Newcastle and Wolves in their last two games, in particular they are hard to dominate aerially (Zat Knight and Gary Cahill are very dominant in the air at the back) and Blackpool will be happy to concede defeat the air, if they pick up on the second balls and use them to construct thoughtful and patient attacks as they did up at Newcastle. Also, look at the following chalkboards and notice that Bolton (against Newcastle) made 21 interceptions and conceded 17 free-kicks in and around the midfield area, this will disrupt even the most fluent of passing teams and allow Bolton to assert themselves on the game. This doesn’t suggest for one minute that Bolton foul tactically in the midfield in order to reset themselves positionally, but the commitment of those fouls in and around such a key area can help to disrupt an attacking team. Bolton will be happy to give away fouls around the half way line and invite the long ball in to the box knowing that they will win most of the headers in that area. Andy Carroll only won half of his headers last week against Bolton’s back line and he is widely noted as being excellent in the air, so DJ Campbell will not be getting his head to too many high balls.

This shows how Bolton broke up Newcastle's midfield flow with 21 interceptions and conceding 17 free kicks.

Kevin Davies is the Bolton talisman and will seek to pull out wide to make passing plays or flick headers for willing runners. More impressive recently, has been the form of Johan Elmander, who since he has a new contract to win somewhere has suddenly found some superb form. He is both a threat in the air and on the ground and will also seek to take players on, beat them and take them out of the game in order to isolate opposing defenders and create numerical advantage. Look at this chalkboard from Newcastle and seek how many times Elmander took on and beat Newcastle players boosting both his team and their supporters.

Elmander taking on and beating Newcastle players, which takes players out of attacks and opens up space for Bolton.

This could be the start of a very tough period of games for Blackpool and points may well be very hard to come by, this will be a very difficult game against one of the form teams in the league and the favourites for this match. However, Blackpool fear no one and will attack. Something from the game at the Reebok will be a fantastic achievement for the Tangerines.

Wolves Preview

Both sides have been praised for their approaches to playing football this season. Blackpool will attack any team and Wolves for that matter too. Both sides like to pass the ball about and try and work the opposition out of position. This game could though, come down to the decisions that Mick McCarthy has to make.

Formations

If as the Bolton game McCarthy sends out his side in a 4-4-2 then this is how they may line up

With exception of Chelsea away Ian Holloway keeps his formation the same, whilst Mick McCarthy has over the past few weeks shown that he will adapt his formation for his opposition. McCarthy last week opted for a 4-4-2 against Bolton and a 4-5-1 against Arsenal in the previous game. Here’s where a critical decision lies, did McCarthy make the call for a five man midfield based on the perceived quality of opposition or did he do it from a counter formation point of view. For example, did he see the fact that Arsenal line up in a 4-2-3-1 and counter that by trying to crowd the midfield. Should Wolves form in to a 4-4-2 then that will be very interesting as either McCarthy doesn’t neccessarily counter the opposition formation or that he genuinely belives his 4-4-2 will overcome Holloway’s modfied 4-3-3. Theoretically, he would be playing in to the hands of Holloway should he go 4-4-2 as that leaves plenty of space for Blackpool to operate in in between the Wolves defence and midfield. This is illustrated below, as Blackpool triangulate their midfield three, with one player at the head (usually Grandin) which leaves Blackpool able to play through the Wolves midfield and for Grandin to float in to space.

The red box shows the space a 4-4-2 formation may well conceded to Blackpool's 4-3-3

The way to counter that would be to drop a central midfielder to cover, a centre back to step up or for pressure from Wolves’ two central midfielders on Adam and Vaughan in order to win the ball high up the pitch and set up attacks. The other way for a 4-4-2 to succeed against a 4-3-3 is the way that both Newcastle and Sunderland worked against Arsenal and Chelsea respectively. They pressed the opposition all over the pitch to deny them any space and the two forwards dropped deep to ensure all eleven men were goal side of the ball.

If McCarthy brings out his 4-5-1 then that will signal his intent to stifle the Blackpool midfield, who if given space have shown they can dominate teams at this level with metronomic and incisive passing. By packing the midfield with more men, McCarthy will hope to crowd out Blackpool and disrupt their rhythm. However, as with the opening 20 minutes against Arsenal the other week, playing a five man midfield requires an understanding of when to break out to support the forward player. Should the midfield remain static then that isolates the front man and ultimately invites pressure back on to them. Where Wolves got it right against Arsenal (given that they had enough chances to win the game) was that Milijas eventually realised he had to break out from midfield to support attacks and Jarvis and Hunt got forward superbly on the wings. See the image below and how that space that Blackpool had may well evaporate should McCarthy go with a 4-5-1.

With a 4-5-1 Wolves could cover the space normally allowed to Blackpool's midfield when they play against a 4-4-2.

This leads on to the final dynamic, what should happen if McCarthy calls for a 4-3-3 approach and match Blackpool, this could easily happen as he has the players at his disposal to do so. That would be fascinating, it might well see the likes of Adam, Vaughan, Henry, Mancienne (if selected) forced deeper to cover the central attacking midfielder leaving the most critical battle in the wide areas. Wolves could enjoy that factor given the form of Matt Jarvis and the precise delivery from Stephen Hunt. Holloway may well ask his full backs to site deeper should this happen and if so Blackpool will have to be very careful not to get dragged too deep as a unit and invite Wolves to attack them. Holloway would look to his own wide men for the same and given the pace of Varney and (if selected as most fans are crying out for) Matty Phillips then Wolves’ full backs may well be under pressure. Given the injuries that McCarthy has to deal with in defence then his full back choices may be the most critical. He’ll be aware of the pace Blackpool have in wide areas and will need good mobility from his full backs to nullify the threat.

The injuries that McCarthy is contending with may well be critical in this battle. His defensive selections should dictate how his defence plays. If he goes for the likes of Steven Mouyokolo as a centre back then his defence may play a normal to deep line to counter the pace and mobility of Blackpool’s forward line. Likewise Holloway may look at that and think that he needs more physicality against a strong defender and opt for Harewood to start. The problem for McCarthy comes back to the 4-4-2 problem. If he wants his defence to play deeper than normal to cover the pace that Blackpool have then that could open up more space between defence and midfield for Blackpool to exploit. In fact given his defensive options then McCarthy’s formation may be dictated from the back. A less mobile defensive back line that sits deeper might see McCarthy go for the 4-5-1 with one midfielder given the remit to drop in to the space and cover.

That was very heavy on theory, looking back at Wolves’ last two games there are a couple of interesting aspects to be aware of. Arsenal appeared to defend resolutely and of course they had an inspirational performance from Lukas Fabianski to thank, but also they defended Wolves’ crosses superbly. Look below and see the amount of unsuccessful crosses that Wolves’ had. Blackpool will need to do they basics well, cut out the inevitable crosses and clear their back line.

Arsenal defended Wolves' crossing very well. Blackpool will need to do the same to avoid being dominated.

Against Bolton, Wolves, who have a reputation for being tough in the tackle, were out fought in that area by a Bolton team perceived to have ‘gone soft’ under the stewardship of Owen Coyle. Look below at how Wolves were second best all over the park. In fact Gary Cahill and Zat Knight were dominant in the air. Cathcart and Evatt will need to look at emulating that for Blackpool to gain an advantage.

Bolton were dominant in the tackle especially in their own half, this is crucial against Wolves in breaking down their play.

So Blackpool will be hoping to win the battle of the tackle and stop the crosses hitting their targets and that may well go a long way to deciding the outcome of this game. Holloway and McCarthy will both enjoy this match up and this is surely what Holloway imagined his work would be like when he got Blackpool promoted. He will hope to counter the decisions that McCarthy makes in order to bring some more Premiership points to Blackpool’s already impressive tally.

Head over to the Vital Blackpool Forum to discuss this article with other fans.

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.

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.