Tom Ince (20) signed for Blackpool from Liverpool in the summer of 2011 and in just over a year he has grown with each game he has played and is now one of Blackpool’s key attacking weapons. In his first season he scored 8 goals and made 8 assists in 41 appearances. This season he already has 13 goals, 9 assists in 20 league appearances.
Goal & Assist Analysis
The following two diagrams chart Ince’s goals and assists from this season and the location they occurred in relation to the opposition goal.
From the diagram you can see that only two of his goals have been scored from outside the box, with the majority of the goals being struck from central areas (please note that he has three penalties in his tally). All but one of his goals were scored with his left foot.
What is interesting here is that he tends to start games lined up on the wide right of Blackpool’s forward line, however, 36% of his goals and assists come from the left hand side. This is partly due to him being left footed, but also potentially down to him being rotated from the right to left in games. It’s perhaps the dynamic of a switch that catches defenders cold and not picking him up as he switches sides as much as it is natural for him to play on the left hand side.
Upon joining the club the first impressions of Ince were of a young player with pace and a trick, but often prone to running with his head down, narrowing his field of vision. He takes his place in Blackpool’s 4-3-3 as one of the two wide forwards, normally as an inverted winger on the right. His first touch was initially an issue, but he has clearly worked hard on this and he is only prone to the odd error. His passing lacks a little consistency, both in range and execution however, his game isn’t necessarily based on his passing ability.
He has good acceleration and sustains his pace well to beat men. His tricks can be a little readable and he could do with adding more subtlety and disguise to elevate his one v one play. However, he clearly enjoys to engage his direct opponent in order to beat him. He seeks to drift off the right flank across the edge of the box looking either for short combinations with team mates or to get away early shots, normally curling left to right. On the evidence of his goals he can hit powerful shots as well as placing the ball with control and accuracy. This is allied to reliable delivery from wide free kicks, corners and crossing from open play. He could, however, do with developing more variety to his delivery. Perhaps developing his pace of delivery and craft to move the ball with more bias towards the end of its flight.
It appears that he is mentally strong and doesn’t tend to lose his composure the closer he gets to the opposition goal. Generally speaking he is a team player, willing to track back and support in defence. However, his work back towards his own goal could be sharper and smarter. He could also do with increasing his field of vision to appreciate his options earlier which will also help with his decision-making. In addition to settling in to either wide forward position and has even dropped deeper and centrally at times and realistically he could also be deployed as a very effective attacking left back.
One area of his game that had been detrimental to his development and the flow of the team is the upon receiving the ball. He had a habit of turning back away from goal in order to protect the ball from the opponent. On the face of it this isn’t necessarily a bad move, however, it appeared totally instinctive. What made it worse is that he did it even when not being marked, leading to attacks slowing down and removing his vision from his attacking space. This may well be a consequence of being deployed as an inverted winger and not being comfortable letting the ball run across his body onto his weaker right foot. However, this season he has tended to do this less often and in doing so, he is becoming a little more direct in his attacking play and causing even more stress for the opposition.
He has now represented the England Under 21 squad and he was touted for a move last summer with one club submitting a formal offer for him. However, his father is his mentor and had been working with Ian Holloway to exploit his son’s potential. Now Holloway has moved on, it’s likely that he’ll also leave. Overall, his development is on a rapidly ascending trajectory and arguably he has outgrown this Blackpool side. He needs to be playing in the Premier League to aid his development and if the touted move to Liverpool comes off that may well be excellent for both parties (the player and the buying club), especially given the price that is being mentioned. However, wherever he goes it’s important that he gets game time. Any length of time on a bench will only serve to hold him back.
If indeed he is embarking on his final games for Blackpool then it truly has been a pleasure to see such a young talent develop so rapidly and TD can only wish him the best for the future.
There’s no doubt that when people refer to Blackpool this season they normally mention Charlie Adam in the same breath. He has adapted to life in the Premier League and made many people sit up and take notice. However, where does Adam fit in the Blackpool FC and just was does he bring to the team?
Tale of the tape
Keeping things brief on this front as the table below will cover most of the key stats, but far and away the first stat to catch the eye is Adam’s passing. Blackpool as a team have a pass completion of 75% and Adam has a lower one than the team coming in at 71%. However, given that Adam is the main set piece taker then the open play pass completion percentage may hold more relevance to his overall play. In open play he finds his team mates 74% of the time against a team average of 78%. Again he comes in lower than the team average, but assuming Holloway has assigned him the role of playmaker then he is likely to mis-place passes as he looks for the killer ball.
What is clear when looking at his stats for the season is how much he contributes elsewhere and this is typical of the player he is and the flexibility that Holloway has instilled in the team. There’s no room in the Blackpool squad for one-dimensional footballers (and arguably no place for them any more in the modern game) and he chips in winning tackles (83) and intercepting opposition moves (41) which are duties normally associated with a more defensive minded midfielder.
When you look at the table above there is one of those numbers that start to show the true worth of Adam to Blackpool this season. That is the key passes totalling 36, the next highest Blackpool player is Gary Taylor-Fletcher with 27 and ranks Adam 13th in the Premier League. What this does is to back up the assertion that Georgina Turner made in her excellent article about Adam in that, ‘he has set countless Blackpool moves in motion with a well-timed drop of the shoulder and a deft flick of his left foot’.
Now the stats have been laid bare, what about the space that he occupies on the pitch. All those stats occur for a reason and that is they happen within that space and to understand that space can help to understand some of the variation in success that Adam has had this season. By no means has Adam been perfect and with his work rate comes a desire to improve and success. He’d possibly be first to admit that there are times this season where he has failed to break defences down or command more authority in the middle of the pitch.
These following four games give good examples of where Adam operates best from Blackpool’s perspective and where the opposition are best to keep him in order to keep him quiet.
In the first game against Liverpool this season, Adam was at the heart of a magnificent performance from Blackpool underpinning some wonderfully positive passing moves. On the day Liverpool were very static in the first half and Blackpool worked between their lines with ease. In midfield Liverpool tended to allow Adam as much space as he wanted. Whether this was ignorance from Roy Hodgson or not isn’t clear, but it happened. As you can see below Adam spread himself far and wide and made it in the Liverpool box at times. He got forward well and found space in the final third in order to operate.
When Liverpool came to Bloomfield Road the other week it appeared that Liverpool (albeit under new management) still hadn’t come to terms with Adam endeavouring to find space. They coped with him better and as mentioned in the review they did field a similar three-man midfield to Blackpool. However, with Christian Poulsen proving to be rather inert Adam was still able to find space and time to find his passing range. Below you can see that he is still allowed to get in the box and the final third even given the different Liverpool approach.
The Liverpool matches in isolation may not show the positions where Adam is dangerous, but given he was at the heart of both victories a look at another match set might show where to keep him.
The home game against Man City saw Adam earn rave reviews from Sky Sports pundits (not sure what qualification that is?) but it saw Blackpool go down to a 3-2 defeat. Ultimately the game was highly influenced by the majestic David Silva ghosting around the pitch and cutting deeply through the Blackpool defence with his vision and passing ability. However, it appears that City were all too aware of letting Adam get free and in to space and close to goal. Aware of his passing ability and propensity to shoot on sight you can see below how his heat map is considerably more constricted than that of the Liverpool games. There is little activity in the final third as Man City were content to let Adam have the ball in deeper areas.
In the return at Eastlands it appeared that Man City had the measure of Adam. Keep him deep and he is less of a threat. However, it is important to note that Roberto Mancini has an emphasis on a holding midfielder and in this match Nigel de Jong was excellent in killing the space that Adam likes to attack and something akin to what Poulsen should have done for Liverpool at Bloomfield. You can see below just how little of the final third Adam was seeing in that match.
This is most probably nothing new for most people, but hopefully it shows that given space, time and less attention then Adam can advance in to his favourite areas and should that happen then it becomes more likely he’ll hurt teams. In the away match against Stoke he worked between Stoke’s rather static 4-4-2, found space and again was central to all the good things that happened for Blackpool that day. Contrast his heat map below to that from the Man City game above. You can clear see how much more he gets in the final third and on that day was key to the DJ Campbell winning goal.
It’s pretty clear and logical that the closer teams allow Adam to get to their goal with time on the ball the more threatening he is and given that Blackpool tend to struggle against teams covering the space in front of defence with a holding midfielder suggest that might be the way to stifle him. However, given his passing range from deep and Adam’s desire to develop, then it wouldn’t be surprising to see him adjust his game to become a threat from the deep.
Just to illustrate one final time, look at the chalkboards below, one from the Stoke game and one from the Man City (away) game.
What’s not in the stats?
Following on from that his passing range is something that cannot be unlocked through the stats above. His range is superb and a look at Up the ‘Pool’s recent article on the long diagonal pass goes someway to illustrate his range of passing. However, added to that range is his speed of thought, passes of long or short-range aren’t ‘eyed’ up or pondered over. They are swiftly clipped with either inside or outside of the boot giving little or no advance warning to the opposition as to where the ball will end up. The downside of this is that his team mates aren’t often able to judge and should he step up to a more high-profile team then perhaps players of a supposed higher standard might read him at the same speed as he makes his mind up.
Added to this there are the unquantifiable aspects of his character that bristle when he takes to the pitch. He has a free spirit on the turf allied to a steely drive and determination that emanates in strong attacking runs or fully committed tackles.
Adam’s performances are facilitated by those around him and none more so that David Vaughan. Before looking deeper at Vaughan a mention needs to go out to the role that Elliot Grandin plays in freeing up space for Adam to attack. Earlier in the season it wasn’t entirely clear what role Holloway wanted him to play, however, as the season has progressed it appears that Grandin has a brief to drift to the flanks, initially looking composed on the ball, but its the space he leaves behind which is key. By drifting to the flanks he leaves a vacancy behind that Adam can fill.
David Vaughan was brought to the club as a left back, left winger before Ian Holloway arrived and when it became clear that Holloway had secured the signing of Adam it appears that Holloway had done his study on the best way to get the most out of Adam. Adam signed on loan in the February of 2009 under Tony Parkes. Adam fizzed and dazzled in fits and starts during his 13 match loan spell, earning a red card on debut for a clash with former Bloomfield favourite Richie Wellens in a match against Doncaster. What this loan spell tended to show is that in a two man midfield Adam could be dominated by hard working opponents, Blackpool won 4 games of that 13 game spell. What Holloway knew was that to get the best of Adam and free him up he had to field him in a three man midfield. It’s a bit chicken and egg whether or not Adam inspired the 4-3-3 or Holloway was going to play that way anyway. The man Holloway appears to have assigned as the man to free Adam up was David Vaughan. Keith Southern was in there, but he is full of energy and bustle and not nearly so composed on the ball. Holloway knew he had to have a passer of the ball in next to Adam in combination with the energy of Southern. The midfield this season have evolved further and become more cultured, but the role of Vaughan has changed as well. He sits more, he breaks the play up, he is both breaker up of opposition play and setter of tempo.
Look at Vaughan’s stats below to see what he contributes to the team.
What the stats show is that Vaughan averages about 10 passes per game less than Adam, but is more efficient with his passing, achieving 87% with his pass completion. This is measurable against other players who are playing in a slightly withdrawn role i.e. Chelsea’s Jon Obi Mikel has clocked up a pass completion of 89%. Also, he also won 82 tackles at a success rate of 66% which helps to break up opposition play. Vaughan will also retain possession and allow Adam to move in to space. Vaughan is however, more static in movement given his role, but will set the tempo with passes to full back and centre backs before releasing to Adam.
Hopefully what has been illustrated here is that although Adam is getting a lot of column inches David Vaughan is integral to that and he must be viewed in tandem with Adam. He shoots less and holds a lower profile, but teams who ignore Vaughan will leave themselves open to Blackpool dominance in the pass.
Ian Holloway recently said that he’s working to ensure that Adam got a move to one of the country’s biggest clubs if he stuck with him for the rest of this season. The reason behind this is that Holloway feels Adam can still improve under him and by looking at his stats you can begin to see where he may look to improve him. First and foremost, his decision making could be refined, instead of looking for the killer ball, the simple lay off might be an option. Given his pass completion is lower than the team’s average and some way below that of Vaughan and other recognised ‘top’ Premier League midfielders (Paul Scholes weighs in with a pass completion of 90% and David Silva 83%) then he may strive to improve his decision making, rather than his passing ability. This would surely have a positive effect on Blackpool retaining possession more often.
Added to this Adam loses more duels when taking on opposition players and again this might be something that he can work on, either to do so less or improve his ability to get past players. Given that on 28 occasions he loses out then that could be 28 passes to a team mate or any other positive option.
Another statistic that Holloway may try to reduce is the number of shots that Adam has, again choosing the right time to shoot may improve his all round game. At the moment he has had 66 shots at goal, 15 finding their target and 3 hitting the back of the net, from penalties. Again, any improvement here will only serve Blackpool well and assist in them retaining Premier League status for another year.
The King of Bloomfield Road??
It’s very likely that Charlie Adam will leave Bloomfield Road, but he will leave all Blackpool fans with memories to savour and linger for generations to come none more so than ‘that free kick’ at Wembley last May. Provided any future move is conducted with dignity and respect and the club get a respectable transfer fee then it will suit everyone. Adam will get his chance to shine on an even bigger stage and Blackpool will live on and stronger for having Adam grace the turf at Bloomfield.
Blackpool beat a sluggish, negative and stagnant Liverpool at Anfield back in October and with the return of Kenny Dalglish to the Liverpool hot seat, this match could’ve got away from Blackpool as Fernando Torres scored an early opener. It was a credit to Blackpool as they never panicked or broke from their game plan to get back in to the match.
The set up
Blackpool they lined up in their 4-2-3-1 with what could be described as their first choice eleven, although Elliot Grandin did sit a little deeper than usual at times making a flatter three in midfield. Whilst Dalglish picked a team who set up in a similar fashion to Blackpool, but had Glen Johnson in at left back after he was tipped for a midfield start.
The effects of the formations made space very tight in the midfield with Raul Meireles playing in the three behind Torres with Lucas and Christian Poulsen holding deeper. If anything this restricted Blackpool, who at times this season have really struggled against teams who sit a midfielder deep and in front of the back four. A consequence of the midfield set up was that Meireles sat very close to Charlie Adam. At times it appeared that he was almost man marking Adam but it was more likely a consequence of positioning than anything else.
For arguments sake Liverpool’s formation at times could be described as a 4-1-4-1 as much as a 4-2-3-1, as Lucas tended to push higher up. As all the midfielders tried to find space they tended to shuffle with Meireles dropping deeper at times, Adam the same, Vaughan stepping up and Lucas the same. The only midfielder who failed to progress from his position was Poulsen, presumably under instruction. This meant that Blackpool could outnumber Lucas and Meireles in the centre as Grandin dropped deeper and Poulsen was out of the game.
At times Martin Kelly got forward from right back for Liverpool as did Glen Johnson on the left. Blackpool as usual pushed both full backs up when the times were right, but not in as sustained manner as in other matches this season. Both centre forwards worked hard, Torres in particular moved to close down both centre backs when out of possession and when breaking forward he was peeling off to the right and left to escape the centre backs.
The game was very even for the first hour, as above, the space was restricted, mistakes were plenty in terms of conceding possession. Chances (goals apart) weren’t clean-cut. However, both sides were trying to pass the ball from the back, Blackpool moving it quicker on occasion in an attempt to either get Luke Varney winning headers against Martin Kelly or to catch Liverpool’s back four flat-footed.
Liverpool had more of the pass, with a pass total of 517 to Blackpool’s 445 with a completion rate of 73% to Blackpool’s 72%. However, as the game progressed Liverpool’s pass completion dropped off with the last 15 minutes of the game seeing it drop as low as 62% whilst Blackpool’s hit 72%. The chart below shows how, as the match progressed Liverpool’s passing disintegrated.
Another observation about Liverpool was that their game against Blackburn Liverpool saw them make 598 passes at a completion rate of 74%, however, their passing lacked balance with 64% of their passes coming down the right. In this game they had much better balance with a 49/51 split between left and right.
Points that stood out for Liverpool was their pressing of the ball higher up the pitch. This is illustrated in the chalkboard below as Liverpool won 65% of their 17 interceptions in the Blackpool half.
However, very few occurred in front of the Liverpool area and it was this that exposed Liverpool’s back line. Poulsen was presumably asked to sit, screen and break up Blackpool play that threatened the Liverpool defence. However, all his interceptions occurred in the Blackpool half and none in that key area. It wasn’t as though Blackpool were bypassing that zone either, as you can see from the Chalkboard below. Blackpool consistently took on and beat Liverpool players in front of the back line. Poulsen won only 1 of his 5 tackles and effectively offered little or no cover to his defence. With Poulsen being so inert and positioned away from the heart of the action and Meireles being tied up with Adam, this left Lucas having to do the majority of the midfield work attempting 14 tackles winning 10 of them.
Parting to the end
In the 77th minute something occurred which was symptomatic of how Liverpool broke down towards the end of the game. With the ball on the back line and Blackpool pressing higher up the pitch, Poulsen dropped to receive the ball, however, Lucas and Meireles were caught too far up the pitch and any attempt to build from the back failed as the ball dropped back to Daniel Agger, he had little choice but to clear long and concede possession. Quite simply, Liverpool started to lose their shape (tiredness?) and never regained it again.
Subbing to stifle
Ian Holloway has at times this season tried to ‘shut up shop’ with mixed results, sometimes conceding late goals. In this game, it could be argued that the substitutions were crucial in this match. For Blackpool the injection of Matthew Phillips’ pace forced Liverpool deep and allowed quick counters for Blackpool. Added to this Ian Holloway brought in two defensive midfield subs in order to close out the game with fresh legs and an emphasis on the tackle. Blackpool’s shape changed to a 4-1-4-1 for the last five minutes whilst Liverpool’s changes made them resemble more of a 4-4-2.
It was the Liverpool subs who saw very little of the game who made the least impact. Jonjo Shelvey and David N’gog made a total of 7 passes (3 misplaced) between them, lost 2 of their 3 tackles and didn’t muster a shot. Whereas Alex Baptiste and Keith Southern got on the ball making 11 passes (1 misplaced), won 2 tackles and 2 clearances to ensure that the game end was controlled by Blackpool.
At the double
It was a high tempo, all action performance from Blackpool again and the fresh legs the Tangerines had will have given them an edge against a Liverpool side that tired as the match progressed. It was even more impressive, given that Holloway managed to stifle the game through good substitutions and that Blackpool got a win against a side playing a four band system, something they’ve struggled with this season. Again, the team keeps developing, at this rate, Premier League survival may be a strong reality.
Blackpool have spent most of their inaugural Premier League season sticking to a passing game that was at the centre of their promotion from the Championship. It forms a part of the slightly patronising term, ‘a breath of fresh air’ as teams generally ‘shut up shop’ or as Stoke did ‘go direct’. Enough of the vague cliches now and the focus will turn to facts.
The facts about Blackpool this season is that they’ve passed the ball very well, all players (goal keeper inc) are encouraged to pass the ball with the aim of keeping possession. Ian Holloway has openly cited the style of Spain and Barcelona as the target for his ever improving team. In taking this approach Blackpool have attempted 8,507 passes this season completing 75% of all their passes (up to and including Man City away). This is an admirable achievement for a team that prior to the season starting was written off as certain relegation candidates by some of the media. As the plaudits have been heaped on Blackpool for this superb application of the passing game it is something that everyone at Bloomfield Road should be proud of.
What this blog post is going to try to do is to try and second guess what Ian Holloway might be trying to work on with his team as the second half of the season gets under way. Holloway has said that he wants to improve on what he and his team does and with this in mind he’ll be seeking to squeeze more out of his team as the season unfolds.
Whilst Blackpool’s pass completion has been around the 75% mark, some games have been characterised by the Seasiders struggling to close out the game, losing leads and conceding late goals. The games against Blackburn, Fulham, Bolton, Wolves and Villa (and this week Birmingham) spring to mind. Holloway will no doubt be asking himself why this is going on and whilst there are valid and pertinent arguments for pointing the finger at poor defending, there may be a tale within the Blackpool passing stats that might show the way forward.
Let’s illustrate this through reference to pass completion stats from the quarters of games. The best of and the worst of Blackpool’s pass completion are listed in the table below.
It can be seen that Blackpool enjoyed the best pass completion quarters in the game against West Brom, understandably so, given that Blackpool were playing against nine men. Less men to pressure the ball leads to more time on the ball and less misplaced passes. However, some of the other best pass completion quarters are against the sides that are more renowned for passing the football. Two of them took place at the Emirates, however, here lies more about the story of the game. Blackpool were walloped for six and at times, even though Blackpool passed the ball around well, Arsenal were content with them doing that. Also another of the best quarters was away to Chelsea when again Blackpool were swiftly put to the sword and the opposition were content to let Blackpool retain possession. However, the stand out quarter is the one in tenth place as Blackpool played some superb passing football to dominate the first half at Anfield.
A look at the worst quarters starts to give Blackpool some insight in to where things have gone wrong at times this season. The worst quarter of passing that the team has seen occurred at Anfield and in fact the worst three quarters all occurred in away games. However, that gives us no insight in to why pass completion dropped. In fact looking deeper at those instances and placing them in to context allows us to understand what went wrong. Liverpool came out for the second half two down and scored early. They pushed hard for a second and in doing so worked hard to close Blackpool’s players down and forced mistakes. Against Newcastle, Blackpool were again leading and coming out from the break freshly addressed by Chris Hughton they upped their work rate to force more mistakes from Blackpool.
However, it is the fourth worst pass completion quarter that gives an insight in to what can go wrong when a team starts to misplace passes. That quarter occurred in the final stages of the game against Bolton, where Bolton applied pressure, Blackpool dropped deeper, clearances became wild, legs tired as did minds and as concentration slipped so did the passes until they conceded a late equaliser. Two of the ten worst quarters occurred in the Blackburn game, where they stifled Blackpool and forced them in to hitting long balls, which played in to their hands. It was also, one of Blackpool’s worst performances and with an overall pass completion of 67% also the worst passing performance of the season.
Quite simply, it appears to show that if Blackpool’s passing breaks down, then so does the team’s performance. When they’ve had their best passing periods, they’ve not conceded a goal. However, in three of the worst periods of passing Blackpool did concede goals.
However, there are tales within a tale here. The Manchester City game is a good example of where Blackpool had a tremendous game on the ball, but served to back up the old saying about having possession is no good if you don’t do anything with it. One of the best pass completion periods came in that game and in fact the pass completion for the first three quarters of that game stood at 78% as Blackpool matched City, however, City introduced David Silva and the game swung away from Blackpool as did their pass completion, which slipped to a woeful 68% and the game was lost.
As 2011 gets under way and as more teams (should) get more insight in to what makes Blackpool tick then Holloway and his team will need to work harder to keep that pass completion up in the high seventies and if they want to close out game instead of losing leads, then they’ll certainly be looking to do that or even get in to the low to mid eighties. That itself is a big task. This blog has made mention of the long diagonal ball that appears to be a signature of this Blackpool team, that doesn’t work every time and may be used more sparingly. However, two recent articles have shed light on how Blackpool may be able to keep the ball, increase that pass completion and perhaps assist in winning more Premier League games.
In the January issue of World Soccer (no link sorry, you can still buy it I think), Paul Gardner reviews the use of the cross in the modern game, stating that that it no longer becomes an effective tool at the highest level of the game, citing the likes of Barcelona who rarely score their goals from ‘aerial ball delivered in to the penalty area from a wide position, but from no further than 30 yards away’. Blackpool’s season cross completion rate is 20%, which means that a total of 228 crosses have failed to reach a Blackpool player which is an average of 13 misplaced crossed per game equating to 3% of Blackpool’s total passes. Making the right decision when to cross and recycling the ball when we don’t have the right opportunity to cross could really benefit Blackpool, although it would place more emphasis on being more patient in attack and working the ball in between defenders for scoring opportunities.
Shorter the better
Added to this in a recent review of the Ajax team under new manager Frank de Boer, 11tegen11 suggested that Ajax were taking short corners in order to keep hold of the ball instead of putting the ball in to the box where the ball could be conceded to the opposition. Given that Blackpool only succeeds in hitting their men 34% of the time from corners then this might be a strategy for Blackpool as a total of 43 corners have been wasted this season and the impact of that is that Blackpool will inevitably concede valuable possession to opposition. However, as with the Sunderland game, the short corner can be useful in creating chances given that the angle of cross changes and can catch a team out who isn’t paying attention.
All this is purely conjecture and at the heart of any improvement needs to be centred around player technique and it’s safe to say that Holloway will be striving to do this in every training session as well as improving players strength and composure on the ball so that ball is rarely wasted or the opposition manage to wrestle the players off the ball. It will be interesting to see if Blackpool continues along their passing path, if they maintain or even improve their current pass completion then another season in the Premier League beckons. However, become wasteful and fail to learn the lessons of the last quarter of the Bolton game and it might be a different story in 2011.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?