When Charlie Adam moved to Liverpool in the summer there were rumours that Jonjo Shelvey would move in the opposite direction and end up in a Tangerine shirt. It happened, but not as early as first anticipated. When the deal went through it wasn’t Shelvey who arrived, but instead Gerardo Bruna and Tom Ince came on permanent deals (although not officially as a part of the Adam deal). Shelvey eventually followed a couple of months later and signed a three month loan deal.
Latin & out again?
Gerardo Bruna has rarely featured for the Tangerines and is on the fringes of the match day squad. Originally recruited to be part of a development squad, he made some intriguing cameos in pre-season, but is yet to make a start in the league. However, since the development squad idea is being questioned by the club, it is now unclear what role he will have at the club.
Bruna describes his best position as a number 10;
“I love to play in the number 10 role and play in between the lines and play the final pass and score some goals”.
“I like to play just behind the striker or in midfield. I like to get on the ball and create for the strikers”.
He is unlikely to find that role at Blackpool due to 4-3-3 being their usual set up. Generally Holloway likes to line up with a holding midfielder flanked by two side midfielders to get forward and support the attack. When Bruna has figured in the team he has been played as a wide forward and he appears to lack the experience in that position to play it effectively. He appears tentative in a forward position, possibly inhibited by the sight of the touchline hemming him in. His performance against Sheffield Wednesday showed that he does like to drift in search of the ball. That tends to back up his own thoughts about his best position and it might be something that Holloway may encourage as it is similar to the way that Gary Taylor-Fletcher plays from a forward position.
He has a little burst of pace, but his frame is fragile and he struggles to sustain enough pace to get away from his man. Plus in the game against Nottingham Forest he came on to the right forward position and that appeared to show that he is very left footed. That isn’t necessarily an issue if a player has a swift change of pace, ease of movement or balance to change direction quickly. However, he appears to be a little short of possessing those qualities.
Whilst being a wide forward may not be his ideal position right now, perhaps it would be something that he could learn. However, Holloway appears to have been less than kind about his application in training. Whilst this could well be viewed as a motivating statement as opposed to one stating the end of his brief career with Blackpool it might be useful to see where he could fit in, should he start to develop his game.
He has an excellent first touch, his passing appears good, although it’s unclear at this stage if he has a full passing range, but it is doubtful he could switch play from flank to flank given a perceived lack of leg strength. He has tricks to beat men in closed spaces and his vision appears good and will comfortably change passing angles and pick out spaces and gaps behind a defence. He also seems to have a latent aggression that has emanated in a few lunges, but that may hint at a playing aggression that could be channelled in to his play.
If he has a future at Blackpool he may need to develop his game and change his aspirations away from his beloved number 10 role. He could be a good inside midfielder on the left given his ability to pass the ball and create. However, the skill set for that particular midfielder also includes, tackling, strength and stamina too. All three of which are key weaknesses and ones that will take time to improve. The questions are: will Holloway allow him to develop at Blackpool or move him on to develop and come back or leave altogether?
No doubting Thomas
Tom Ince has made a much better start to his Blackpool career. His progress is more widely charted than his Argentinian colleague, but it is still useful to examine him in a little more detail. First impressions were of a young player with pace and a trick, but perhaps running too much with his head down, narrowing his field of vision. Taking his place as one of the two wide forwards he appears to have developed with the game time he has had. His first touch is solid, but inconsistent, his passing lacks consistency too. His appreciation of pass weight still seems a little slack and has led to concession of possession at times. However, he has good acceleration and sustains his pace well to beat men. His tricks are a little readable and could do with adding more subtlety and disguise to elevate his one v one play. On the evidence of his strikes against Doncaster he can hit powerful shots and allied to that his delivery from wide free kicks and corners can be useful. He could do with developing more variety to his delivery and perhaps developing his pace of delivery and craft to move the ball with more bias towards the end of its flight.
It appears that mentally he is strong, resilient and doesn’t appear to lose his composure the closer he gets to the opposition goal. Following on from a point made earlier, he needs to increase his field of vision to appreciate his options earlier which will also help with his decision making. Overall, his development appears to be some way ahead of Bruna. If anything he is assisted by the fact he suits the system that Blackpool play and settles well in to either wide forward position and has even dropped deeper and centrally at times. Although in the latter position he lacks experience. However, there’s no reason why over time he couldn’t develop in to a central role, but all the signs are that he is a potentially dangerous attacking wide player. Where he goes from here will be interesting. He appears ambitious and will want to move on at the earliest opportunity, however, his long-term career may well be best served with a lengthy apprenticeship by the seaside under Ian Holloway.
Under the Shel
Most eagerly anticipated upon his arrival was Shelvey. Physically he looks strong and imposing; standing around six feet tall and well developed muscularly fitting the archetypal model of a young English footballer. He has good pace and his stamina looks strong right to the last minute. There are very few doubts about him physically. However, Shelvey may still be developing mentally, both as an adult and as a footballer. The following quote from him lends an insight in to his mind;
“I didn’t know until I got in at half-time and someone mentioned the sending off. I thought they were playing with 11 … obviously I’m that thick!”
This hints at a lack of intelligent thought on the pitch and is possibly an area of concern and could be retrograde to his development and success back at his parent club. At the level that Liverpool aspires to they need intelligent players off and on the pitch. However, he clearly understands space and exploitation of opportunity and with his physical attributes he can seize moments in games and has already shown his willingness to try to dominate by calling for the ball and attempting to command his team mates. He appears to have a strong drive and winning mentality and perhaps this will override his other mental shortcomings.
His first few appearances for the Tangerines saw him take his place in the midfield and whilst his positional sense is solid, his attacking instincts can see him lose his shape in an orthodox midfield three. He has a good range of passing, but his timing and selection of pass is inconsistent. Also, as with Ince whilst his first touch is good it also lacks consistency. In low pressure games, he could easily dominate, however, should a team sense him ponder they could easily throw him off his stride. During the game against Burnley this happened, and he was soon taken out of the midfield as Holloway switched to a conventional 4-4-2 with Shelvey taking up position wide left. Here he looked like he appreciated facing the play with the ball coming on to him and in behind the defence, as well as trying to isolate his opponent in one v one situations.
As has been seen with the goals he has scored he can shoot with both power and accuracy and he appears to be a natural goal scorer, in fact it could be argued that he has the skill set for a central forward role. He can play with his back to goal, he can use his strength to dominate a centre back, drop deep to receive and create both from deep and further up the pitch. In fact in the last two matches he has been taking up position as one of the wide forwards which has seen Blackpool win twice and Shelvey grab a hat trick against Leeds United. Arguably Blackpool’s midfield has been a more coherent unit without him in there, but it has also left him in a position which appears more natural for him. Finally, his tackling is good enough for midfield, but a real concern is his recklessness in the challenge. Against Burnley, he went in to a challenge without looking and went over the top of the ball and put his opponent in danger and he should have been sent off.
Shelvey is only at Blackpool for two more months, but already he has enjoyed some success (5 goals in 7 games), when he returns to Liverpool it is unlikely that he will be ready for first team action right away and another spell at Bloomfield Road (or another club) would help him develop even more. Whatever happens, Liverpool has a versatile attacking talent, who, should he mature and deepen his understanding of the game could prove to be useful for them in the long term. However, given Liverpool’s aspirations and the distance Shelvey has to develop to reach their level it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was allowed to leave Anfield in the summer.
Tomorrow is another day
What is really interesting here is that these are three attacking players coming through the same academy in the last year or two, yet have progressed at different rates and have different skills and abilities. They may have spent varying times at the academy and been touched by other academies elsewhere, but it does offer an intriguing perspective on academy development and development of young footballers. Where these three players traverse as they climb their personal and professional mountains remains to be seen. Early indications suggest two of these players will play Premier League in the long term whilst one may have to work harder to catch them up.