With all the hoo-hah about team selection hopefully behind us, I’d like to take a look at how some of the fringe players performed, and whether it’s possible for them to oust their teammates on a more regular basis.
Three players who had perhaps been closest to breaking into the starting XI prior to the game at Villa Park were David Carney, Ludovic Sylvestre and Matt Phillips. Did they put in a good enough shift to warrant keeping their places for the game against West Ham tomorrow, or are they likely to be back on the bench in another all-change approach from Ian Holloway?
In order to compare performances, I have used statistics from those who they replaced from the Manchester City game – that match also ending 3-2 being possibly the most suitable comparison.
Looking at Carney first, can he hope to keep Stephen Crainey out of the side? Crainey has drawn criticism for some of his performances this season, most noticeably away at Arsenal, but more often than not he has bounced back with a solid performance, making it hard for Holloway to drop him. Carney was brought in on deadline day as back-up for Crainey, but despite his experience with the Australian national side, has had to bide his time.
The easiest thing to notice is just how much further up the pitch Crainey plays. Not only that, but Crainey also tries to contribute with assists, providing crosses on a number of occasions, while Carney failed to make one cross all game – his only passes into the Villa box coming from corners. This is fairly surprising, as Carney has played large spells of his career as a midfielder, giving the expectation that he would get forward more often than he did at Villa Park.
What, then, of Ludovic Sylvestre? I’ve chosen to compare his statistics against those of Charlie Adam. With Adam’s future at Blackpool in doubt beyond January, many will be hoping that the former Barcelona trainee can step into his shoes. Sylvestre’s performance was one of the highlights against Aston Villa, as he looked composed in possession and moved the ball neatly. He did tire as the game wore on, being visibly slow to track back in the latter stages, but that is only to be expected with so few first team minutes under his belt. What do the stats say about Sylvestre though? Can he hold a torch to Adam?
Sylvestre made a particularly large number of passes, completing 61 of them successfully. In terms of sheer quantity, few Blackpool players have made quite so many passes in a single game this campaign. What about the quality of these passes though? Where Adam holds the advantage over Sylvestre is the areas in which he sees the ball. Adam’s role is slightly higher up the pitch and thus taking up more dangerous positions in an attacking sense. Sylvestre looks to keep the ball ticking over nicely, but whether he offers the same drive as the ‘Pool skipper remains to be seen.
Last, but not least, let’s take a look at the star man from Wednesday night’s game, Matt Phillips. When he signed from Wycombe in August, I expected he would be a peripheral figure for much of this season – one for the future, if you like. Even his cameo appearances have caught the eye, including his memorable goal against Blackburn, which should have been enough to earn ‘Pool a point. A starting place was long overdue, and nobody took their chance more so than Phillips. For many, he was the most exciting player on the pitch, and of the 10 changes, he is possibly the candidate most likely to stay in the side tomorrow at Upton Park.
Comparing his performance to Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s against Man City, you can see how Phillips helped give the Seasiders real width. Whereas GTF has a tendency to drift towards the centre of the pitch, Phillips ran at the full-back time and time again. He briefly switched to the left at one point in the first half, but even then he kept wide, rarely coming inside and making the ‘Pool attack narrow. Perhaps most impressive was Phillips determination to get to the byline and deliver a cross. He created a number of chances doing this, which with some better finishing from Marlon Harewood, could have resulted in a more positive result. How long Phillips can maintain the high standards he has set himself is uncertain, but he is already establishing himself as a player of real quality.
Looking forward to tomorrow, Holloway has to decide which players come back in, and which ones drop out. I doubt there’ll be another 10 changes, but you have to wonder if Carney and Sylvestre have done enough to keep out Crainey and Adam. Only fatigue or injury is likely to prevent Matt Phillips adding to his first Premier League start, and I’m hoping I’ll have plenty more to write about the highly-exciting prospect after the game against West Ham.