Month: November 2010

Seaside Strategy – Aston Villa Away

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.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

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?

 by Guardian Chalkboards

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.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

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.
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Goalscoring by DJ Campbell

Previously the focus of this blog has turned on Elliot Grandin to ramble about his contribution to Blackpool’s Premier League campaign. This time the focus goes on to DJ Campbell. His goals at the end of last season were vital in the promotion and this season he has scored a further two times in the highest league.

Some of DJ’s key qualities are his movement off the ball to find space, his ability to peel off a defender and ghost to the back post to pick up on loose ball, his pace over the first five yards and the fact the his is genuinely two footed.

The Breakdown

Last season DJ scored 11 times in 18 games at strike ratio of one goal to each 1.6 games. This season that ratio stands at one goal per 4.5 games.

When looking at the basic facts people might question why DJ has failed to score more goals in the Premier League. Let’s try and see what might be behind that. Most of this might be obvious, but it never harms anyone to set down the details behind the stats.

The goals DJ scored in that wonderful spell in the Championship have been roughly plotted on the diagram below to demonstrate the range and position that his goals were scored from.

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

What is clear here is that he failed to score a goal from outside the penalty spot. Close range goals are the bread and butter for a goal poacher and DJ’s instincts allow him to hold his position in the box and pick up the pieces that are either fed from his team mates or given to him by defensive mistakes. When breaking his goals down even further you can see 6 of those goals came from a direct assist from a team mate and the other 5 came from picking up on rebounded shots or defensive errors. In the Premier League these ‘scraps’ are few and far between so if you take those out of the equation then he scored 6 in 18 games at a ratio of 3 games per goal. This is more like DJ’s return in the Premier League.

Added to the fact that defences make less mistakes in the Premier League is that space is more limited. Just a very rough view point of his goals last season you can see that around about 7 of those you could say he was unmarked. This is credit to DJ in losing his marker, but it can also be down to poor defending. The fact is that it is rare for you to find space in the box in a Premiership game and being left unmarked is equally as rare. Added to this the quality of ‘keeper is much higher in this league and some of those goals that came from rebounds last season simply will happen less often this year.

Premier Class

This season DJ has had 19 shots and hit the target 6 times, so this is something that he may well look to improve as the season goes on. However, Blackpool as a team need to try and work the ball in to his favourite positions as up to now they’ve struggled to do that. Look at these two chalkboards to see how DJ has struggled in front of goal at times.

These are the two games where DJ Campbell has had the most shots this season and illustrates the difficult job he has.

How does DJ measure up against someone like Didier Drogba? Drogba has had 45 attempts on goal finding the net on 6 occasions which is a conversion rate of 7.5 chances for every goal. DJ needs 9 chances to get each of his goals. Clearly if he gets more chances from his team and/or he creates more for himself then more goals will come.

Keep going

As the season goes on and if DJ stays fit, he will score goals. He has proved that, he will never get bundles of goals at this level, but who does? What he will do is serve the team well and continue at this rate and he could end up with at least 8 goals come May. Find more space and work harder to improve and he may well get to 12 or 13. If he does that then he’ll have worked his way to becoming one of the best strikers in the country and if Blackpool stay up, he will be one of the key reasons for that happening.

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West Ham Preview

Looking at the way that both defences have been broken down so many times this season then it might make for an open game. Both sides will be going out for the win and that approach will make sure that space is easy to come by. The manager who gets his team to exploit that space most effectively will see his team dominate the game.

Formations

Blackpool will likely return to a more familiar first eleven, however, Ian Holloway may consider some of the stand out players from the Villa game such as Ludo Sylvestre. He was efficient with his passing against Villa and adds a little extra dimension when taking set pieces.

West Ham have a slightly asymmetrical feel to it as Piquionne favours the right flank as well as the right winger.

Looking at West Ham’s last game then they lined up in a rough, slightly staggered 4-4-2 or perhaps even a 4-4-1-1. The key difference to this formation appears to be the role that Piquionne plays. He can either play as an out and out forward, or slightly deeper, with a bias towards the right side. This can be seen in the average positions from their last game below. Note the red circle, it highlights the bias towards the right with Dyer underlined in green higher up the pitch than the recognised attacker Piquionne underlined in pink.

The red circle highlights the bias towards the right wing with little balance on the left.

From the way that the two teams will set up then we can see that space in front of the defences is key once again. If Avram Grant selects Boa Morte then that hints at more progression in to attack, as the alternative Radoslav Kovac is likely to sit and contain the play more. Boa Morte may well be assigned to exploit that space and pass balls in to the box. If that proves to be the case then a Blackpool midfielder will need to drop to cover that space. For that reason and given his performance against Villa then Sylvestre may well be asked to carry out this role. As for West Ham, Scott Parker will drop in to that space as Blackpool enjoy breaking from midfield in to there. From a formation point of view, at times against Villa and again towards the end of the Everton game Blackpool’s front three dropped to a one almost and shaped the team in to a 4-2-3-1.

Hammers Heartbeat

Most people will know that Scott Parker is the West Ham heartbeat, you can see here that his passing is efficient and he holds together West Ham’s midfield and helps to set an attacking tempo. Added to that he isn’t afraid to shoot from midfield, which Blackpool must be fully aware of. However, if Blackpool can throw off Parker’s passing then it’s likely that West Ham will struggle to get a foothold in the game. It looked like West Brom did a good job of that as below you can see his passing performance against them, set off against a near flawless performance from the other week against Birmingham. Also note how much further his passes are from the opposition box.

Parker misplaced only one pass all game against Birmingham and got in to positions near their box. Note how more passes where misplaced against West Brom and that he isn't getting as near to their box.

Right Wing Hammering

Looking back at the performance against West Brom, then West Ham favoured the right wing for attacks, which is partly explained by the role that Piquionne plays, but also partly by the return to fitness of Kieron Dyer who’ll look to get forward regularly if selected.

West Ham favouring the right wing for attacks against West Brom

This will be an interesting aspect of the game, should West Ham stick to this biased approach and it’ll need Stephen Crainey being alert as well as Ian Evatt to cover should West Ham isolate Crainey in a two versus one situation. This bias may have been a ploy to attack perceived weaknesses of West Brom’s left side. They certainly had a much better attacking balance against Birmingham, but in their home game against Newcastle then the right wing again became the favoured route.

Fluency

West Ham have a tradition for playing good passing football and look to construct moves rather than the more direct approach employed by Stoke. Looking at the pass counts for each match West Ham have a decent number of passes each match (approx 300) and they complete 80% of them. However, the key to this passing as with any team is making the passes count. Generally, Scott Parker will see most of the ball in the middle of the pitch, but the penetration needs to come from somewhere else as well. Perhaps this is why West Ham have struggled this year. In their formation you’d expect that to come from some like Boa Morte, however, based on the West Brom game, it doesn’t appear to be the case. Piquionne appeared to be that person, but given he moves towards the flank he cannot be as dangerous as often as someone who hold the more central role.

Who is getting the ball in to the box apart from Scott Parker. Boa Morte in 54 mins didn't, but Piquionne from the right had more success.

Game on!

Both sides will look for a win here, West Ham need one and Blackpool will always look for one. Given the defences that will line up then there may well be plenty of goals. The focus will be on Ian Holloway selection, but should Blackpool win then the focus will turn to the manner of that victory and go some way to vindicating his midweek team selection.

Just the 10 changes, then

When I wrote before the Aston Villa game that changes were afoot, even I wasn’t expecting quite so many of them. Ian Holloway opted to make no fewer than ten changes to the side that took to the field against Everton, and in doing so has drawn the full glare of the media spotlight. In the wake of this story, I think there are some key issues that should be looked at:

  • Was Holloway right to make so many changes?
  • Were the ‘Pool fans who travelled short-changed?
  • Did Holloway over-react in the post-match interview?
  • Should the Premier League be getting involved?
  • Is Holloway’s quit threat genuine?
  • What does this mean for Saturday?
  • What are the longer-term consequences? 
Let’s take a look at these questions one at a time, and try to provide some answers…
Was Holloway right to make so many changes?
This obviously depends on your definition of right. The reasons given by the manager for the overhaul were twofold – the first being to rest players who have played regularly. This season has no doubt been a step up in terms of the standard and pace of the game, so the view that players need to be kept fresh is a worthy one. The second reason given by Holloway was to let some of the fringe players have an opportunity. Fringe players, might I add, that have been selected among Blackpool’s 25 man squad submitted to the Premier League. 
By the letter of the law, surely fielding players part of this squad cannot possibly be construed as purposely sending out a weakened team? Then again, you have the ambiguous Premier League rule E.20 – “In every League Match each participating Club shall field a full strength team.” In whose opinion? With pre-selected squads of 25, who determines just which players are strong and weak? Some might suggest a rule of limiting changes from game to game, but where would this arbitrary limit be set? A maximum of six changes? Seven? What if injuries and suspensions mean a team has to make more changes than this pre-determined limit?
Holloway has a squad, and he is surely entitled to use it as he sees fit, without outside influence.
Were the ‘Pool fans who travelled short-changed?
This is a tricky one. Anyone who was at Villa Park last night cannot argue with the level of performance. First choice team or not, for long spells the men in tangerine matched their more illustrious counterparts, and but for a last minute goal from a set-piece, ‘Pool would have come away with a well-earned point. The team sent out did not roll over, and did not do the club a disservice. Fans were given a chance to see potential future starts, such as Matt Phillips and Ludovic Sylvestre, shine on the big stage.

Then again, had a more familiar XI started the match, Seasiders’ fans could have been rewarded with another away win. Villa, through a number of injuries, were also depleted, and arguably there for the taking. Last night cost me in excess of £50, and it will have cost many even more than that. Personally, I don’t regret going and I still feel it was value-for-money in entertainment terms (as much as Premier League football can be good value). However, for financial reasons I am having to miss my first away game of the season at Upton Park on Saturday. Would I have chosen West Ham over Villa if I’d known that Holloway would make 10 changes? Possibly, possibly not. Is it really for me though, to pick and choose my games depending on the chances of my team winning? Absolutely not. Following Blackpool through some truly horrendous times, it would be churlish to now cry off at the first sign of the Premier League dream turning sour.
What’s to say, though, that Blackpool would have played better with an unchanged team? In spells, ‘Pool played as well as they have done all season, and in Phillips had one of the outstanding performances of the season so far. If some fans feel aggrieved at Holloway’s decision, then that is their prerogative, but by and large, I believe most Blackpool supporters understand the reasons, even if they don’t necessarily agree with them.
Did Holloway over-react in the post-match interview?
For me, this is possibly the heart of the story. Would the media reaction today have been so pronounced had Holloway not have been so ‘wiggy’ in his post-match interviews? I doubt it. In some ways, Holloway’s reaction has become the story, rather than the changes themselves. Holloway may have felt his fringe players weren’t being treated with due respect by post-match interviews, but a little more civility towards them might not have gone amiss. A quiet post-match press conference would have, in all likelihood, kept the issue largely under the radar.
Should the Premier League be getting involved?
This is a no-brainer. With the new rules on 25 men squads, this should be the end of the debate on weakened teams. It is not for the suits to decide what constitutes a full-strength team. The confirmation that the Premier League are looking at this issue is disappointing. By handing Wolves a suspended £25,000 fine for making 10 changes at Old Trafford last season, the authorities put themselves in an awkward predicament.
The precedent set in that case leaves the Premier League with three choices
  1. Follow through on their original decision giving Blackpool a similar punishment
  2. Admit their original decision was a mistake
  3. Judge Blackpool’s transgression to be ‘less wrong’ than Wolves, perhaps giving Holloway a warning, or possibly take no action whatsoever
Going off past form, the second option is unlikely. I rather suspect the Premier League will take the easy way out, taking no action. Holloway has endeared himself to the country, and any sanctions would surely result in a public backlash Scudamore et al will be hoping to avoid. Following the first course of action could potentially have some very serious repercussions.

Is Holloway’s quit threat genuine? 
Initially, I thought it probably wasn’t. We all say things in the heat of the moment, and Holloway is certainly no different. In his press conference today, Holloway has stood firm on his threat to quit if the club are fined, claiming the team he picks should be down to him alone. It’s hard to argue with him on this, and nor would I dare, but it still looks like he is backing himself into a bit of a corner. I don’t imagine it’s likely the club will be fined, but it cannot be completely ruled out.
If the club are fined, would he keep to his word and resign? This would obviously be disastrous, and I find it hard to believe he would walk away just like that, but it only goes to show just how intense the pressure is on managers at this level. I can’t help but feel though that he has brought some of this on himself by being so outspoken post-match yesterday.
What does this mean for Saturday?
With 10 changes last night, there’s every chance that nearly all those who were left out could return to the starting line-up, which would surely only magnify the issue and increase the probability of a fine. Again, you have to wonder if Holloway has dug himself into a hole here. Does he ignore all the media scrutiny and just pick the team he wants, or to temper the reaction, does he try and retain some of those who featured last night? 
Realistically, it’s hard to imagine more than three or four players keeping their places. Phillips has done himself no harm in retaining his place, while Marlon Harewood might be given the chance to score against another of his former clubs. Injuries at the back to Craig Cathcart and Dekel Keinan could mean Rob Edwards stays at centre back, but beyond that I find it hard to see who else will keep their place. This would mean another eight changes, which is bound to cause another stir, deservedly or not.
What are the longer-term consequences? 
Looking forward to January, yesterday’s match will prove very useful in assessing who might be surplus to requirements, and where extra depth might be needed. There are one or two who played last night that could be moved on to make room in the 25 for new blood, and others who will have impressed the manager enough to feature on a more regular basis.
More significantly though, is wondering how costly dropped points tonight could be. As already mentioned, picking a more familiar starting XI might not have necessarily effected a more positive result, but if ‘Pool are relegated by a narrow margin at the end of the season, critics may well point to last night’s team selection and wonder ‘what if?’.

Conclusions

The outcome at Upton Park on Saturday will be instrumental to how last night’s decision will be viewed. Three points on Saturday with a rejuvenated and fresh group of players will look like inspired management, especially when one considers how close ‘Pool were to a draw last night. However, back-to-back defeats will inevitably lead to more searching questions about the decision to rest key players. Holloway has denied the changes were made with the trip to West Ham in mind, but from the outside looking in, a win over a team also battling against the drop is a more valuable one.
One point I must stress, and one that Holloway sought to achieve in his press conference today, is to note how well the replacements played. I’ve often thought more attention should be paid to the football itself, rather than the circus which surrounds it. That a Blackpool team with 10 changes was still able to compete at this level is a hugely encouraging sign for the rest of the season, when changes may be forced due to injuries and suspension, rather than fatigue.
I’ll be doing a full analysis of the Villa match in the next 24 hours or so, when the focus will be firmly on the pitch.

Aston Villa Preview

Blackpool go to Villa Park after collecting an excellent point against Everton, while the hosts will come in to the game on the back of two draws. Villa are under new management and there are signs that Gerard Houllier is beginning to stamp his mark on this team. They are a little short on personnel cause of injuries in key central areas and this may well force Houllier to adapt his style somewhat.

Formations

It’s normally safe to say that Holloway will stick with his 4-3-3 which was more representative of those numbers on Saturday against Everton as opposed to the 4-2-1-3 that has been emerging in this campaign. However, this may may alter slightly given Holloway’s intimation that he may rest players. It will be hard to call the team for Blackpool, however, the same can be said of Villa given the injuries they have. Houllier tends to favour a 4-2-3-1 formation. However, the teams may well line up like this (note that the Blackpool team is based on nothing but gut instinct).

Taking a look at Villa’s previous home game versus Birmingham City then these were the average positions, roughly outlining their 4-2-3-1 approach.

This formation (defence in red, midfield in green and attack in pink) does bear a little resemblance to that which Blackpool have been playing this season.

What to expect?

On the face of it, both sides may line up very similar in formation, but the way that the formation is executed may differ somewhat. Blackpool like to push the full backs up high when in possession of the ball in order to strangle the territory in the final third whilst Houllier likes his full backs to sit more and leave a more defined line of four even when in possession. However, at Fulham over the weekend, Luke Young pushed up to add width and support in attack at times. Villa when they have either John Carew or Emile Heskey fit, can play with greater flexibility moving forward as they have focal points in the air and on the ground. However, given both those strikers are injured then they will need to adapt their approach due to their replacements (Nathan Delfouneso is a probable starter) not overtly being an aerial threat. Both sides utilise wide men to create width and in the case of Villa to deliver excellent crosses for conversion in the box. As has been noted already, Blackpool do like to get crosses in the box, however, they must be early crosses and to feet. However, should Harewood start then cross variation might be better given his height advantage over that which Campbell offers.

Given the injuries that Villa have, then predicting their style based on previous performances becomes tricky and that in itself presents Blackpool with a problem. Beware of the wounded animal as you don’t know how they’ll react. In their midfield Houllier will possibly be choosing from Ciaran Clark or Stephen Ireland (his other option of Steve Sidwell is apparently not fit either) to fill in for Reo-Coker. Whichever, starts will show Houllier’s hand, Clark should be more defensive and Ireland more progressive and attacking. However, what is clear is that should they line up like above then the space in front of the defence is crucial and the team that reduces that space or likewise exploits it should see the best outcomes. Villa may well ask Ciaran Clark to drop in to that space, whilst Holloway may expect his midfielders to rotate that duty or opt for Southern or Sylvestre to drop deeper to cover the threat of Ashley Young. Below you can see the role that Clark played against Fulham at the weekend, passing from deep and tackling to break up the play in the midfield area.

Defensive Strength

Defensively, Villa have a reputation for being miserly, resilient and strong. Brad Friedel is an excellent keeper and the defensive line is superbly lead by Richard Dunne, they’ve conceded 14 goals this season but note that 6 were in one game. They’ve only conceded two in their last four games (five since Houllier took charge against Wolves) and will be another stubborn defence for Blackpool to break down similar to Everton at the weekend.

Opportunity

Keeping the ball and then winning it when you don’t have it are key elements to any game. One thing to note from the game against Fulham is Friedel kicking long and it resulting in Aston Villa losing possession. Perhaps he is still kicking long as that is what they’ve done with a tall target man, however, Blackpool may wish to exploit this and ensure that they win as many of Friedel’s long balls as possible given that Villa’s aerial threat may have gone. However, don’t be surprised to see Friedel distributing along the ground come the match time.

The circled headers are the ones won by Fulham in the area you might expect Heskey or Carew to win them. Given they are both injured then Fulham were very successful in this area.

Better the devil you know

Barry Bannan will be familiar to all Blackpool fans, he has made a breakthrough at Villa this season and seems to be finding his confidence in the Premiership. Looking at this performance at Fulham at the weekend against one from earlier in the season you can almost see his confidence through his passing. Note the range of his passing and the assist in white for Mark Albrighton to score. Also note the variation in direction making him unpredictable and hard to read, which is a critical factor unlocking a defence. Finally, look at his balls in to the box. One to the left, one to the right and one through the middle just to keep everyone on their toes. Should be great to see him go up against Charlie Adam should Adam get a start.

Game on!

This could be one open game for both teams, however, given Houllier’s taste for defensive stability then perhaps he may set out to stifle the space that Blackpool like to play in, which is now becoming quite common for Blackpool to be faced with. However, should he give more freedom to attack to his midfielders then we should see plenty of action in and around both boxes. Ian Holloway will love this tactical battle and I suspect will have a couple of tricks up his sleeve to vary Blackpool’s style given a potential change of personnel.

Changes Afoot

As ‘Pool prepare for their second of three games, in what our German friends would call an englische Woche, Ian Holloway has indicated that he may rest certain players for the trip to Villa Park, as he seeks to give some of his new players their first real chance to shine. But just how many changes can we expect?
The most obvious example of Holloway’s willingness to make major changes to his side came in last season’s home game against Sheffield United, where he made no fewer than seven. Ian Evatt, Charlie Adam, David Vaughan, Keith Southern, Hameur Bouazza and Billy Clarke all dropped to the bench, despite being automatic picks at the time. After a goalless opening 45 minutes, Adam and Vaughan were unleashed at half-time helping the Seasiders to a 3-0 victory.
Who, then, is vulnerable from the starting XI against Everton? Resting the goalkeeper would seem unnecessary, so I’d expect Matt Gilks to keep his place. Neal Eardley too looks hard to displace with Alex Baptiste still a couple of weeks away from fitness – it’s unlikely Danny Coid would be thrown in. An injury to Craig Cathcart looks set to rule him out, while at left back David Carney may finally get the nod over Stephen Crainey.
The rest of the team isn’t quite as easy to predict, the midfield especially. Holloway has shown in the past he’s not afraid to rest his star men, but leaving out Vaughan and Adam for the same game would surely be a high-risk strategy. A few injury niggles to Adam in recent weeks though may mean that he is the more likely of the two to be rested. With Keith Southern not yet fully match fit, it is doubtful he will add to the 62 minutes he managed against Everton.
Up front Taylor-Fletcher is the man I would expect to be most at risk. GTF has stepped up to Premier League level surprisingly well, although his form has tailed off in the past few games, with time out of the side possibly the best thing for him. Luke Varney nearly missed the match against the Toffees, while DJ Campbell’s goal drought could put his place in jeopardy.
With all this in mind, this is one potential team Holloway could send out to face Aston Villa.
Dekel Keinan is the obvious replacement for Cathcart, and with Carney featuring with more regularity from the bench, I suspect he may get his first start. Ludovic Sylvestre could come in if Adam is rested, with Elliot Grandin regaining his place behind the front three. Matt Phillips could not do any more to earn a place on the teamsheet and Marlon Harewood could be given the chance to score against his former employers. The remaining attacking place is anyone’s guess, but at the moment it seems like Campbell is somewhat undroppable.
I’m not for a minute suggesting this is the team I would pick. A severely weakened Villa side is seemingly there for the taking, but Holloway’s intentions to rotate his squad have been made quite explicit. It could be all mind games, but I’d expect the unexpected when the teams are announced tomorrow evening.

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.