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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.