This truly was a game of two halves, a bold Blackpool took full advantage of an error strewn Manchester United before two well judged and well-timed substitutions from Alex Ferguson swung the game in the second half.
The formations at the start of the game saw 4-3-3 go up against 4-3-3. The key being that they were applied slightly differently as Blackpool pushed Elliot Grandin up in to his advanced role while Manchester United pulled Paul Scholes deep to sit and hold in front of the defensive line. The fact that out of possession Grandin didn’t always drop back in to a three often gave Man Utd a spare man in midfield which explains their overall dominance on the ball (429 completed passes to 287). However, errors by Man Utd were rife in the first half and Ferguson appeared unhappy with Rooney being kept quiet out wide left and midway through the first half he opted for his first formation shift.
Ferguson went to a 4-4-2 to try to shake things up, moving Darron Gibson out to the left and bringing Wayne Rooney in centrally. In shifting to a 4-4-2 Ferguson tried to accommodate the two players that didn’t have the best of games. Needless to say that the 4-4-2 made no difference in the first half except to afford more space to Blackpool who used it well and could have extended their lead.
The second half saw Ferguson shift back to a 4-3-3 but given the free role assigned to Ryan Giggs the formation had a staggered feel to it as Giggs shuttled inside, outside, backwards and forwards.
As Blackpool possession broke down Man Utd more often than not had a spare man as Elliot Grandin wasn’t dropping back quick enough. This spare man was Paul Scholes and he knitted the formation together with some great passing ability (see below). In truth Man Utd’s 4-3-3 became more fluid with the running and movement of both Giggs and Hernandez away from the static nature of their 4-3-3 whilst Rooney and Gibson were on the pitch.
Standing in admiration
Man Utd found a rhythm in the second half and their passing and movement meant Blackpool were over run and couldn’t get near to Man Utd as they scored 3 goals in a 16 minute period. Look at the chalkboard for Blackpool’s interceptions for the whole match compared against them in that 20 minute spell where the lead was lost.
While the hype has been about Charlie Adam this week and the way that he pulls the strings for Blackpool with his superb passing range, on the night there was only one player on the pitch who dominated. Paul Scholes was composed in possession, making the right decisions at the right times and barely wasting a pass. Added to this he broke forward when he sensed the opportunity was there. Wherever Adam finishes his season he will surely look to learn from a midfielder like Scholes in order to adapt his game for certain occasions and when to spread play and when to keep things simple. See below and compare the passing chalkboards for the two players Scholes completed 88% of his passes whilst Adam was down at 55%.
After the Rafael head injury it appeared that Holloway knew Man United were in the ascendancy and tried to change things through personnel switches. He pulled Matty Phillips to right back, Eardley went to left back, Alex Baptiste went in to midfield and Grandin took up a forward position. Praise to Holloway for attempting to change the game in this way, but in truth it couldn’t stem the tide against a rampant Man U.
A right weakness
Ferguson appeared to have one element of his game plan that he stuck to which was apparent from the kick off, but only bore fruit in the second half. This was to target Blackpool’s right back position (not necessarily Neil Eardley) possibly backed up by Sunderland’s success in that area. Berbatov constantly peeled off in to that area when Man U had possession and Wayne Rooney stepped up to try to overload Eardley as Man U searched for early and quick ball in to that area. In the first half a mixture of good defending and woeful ball control and interplay by Man U meant that nothing was achieved via this route. However, the movement of Giggs in combination with Berbatov penetrated this area at will in the second half and combined with excellent central movement from Javier Hernandez meant that Blackpool were exposed on their right flank all too often and the defensive line were left static by the perpetual movement of Hernandez.
It was a brave performance from Blackpool who will remember the 2-0 half time lead for years to come, but Ferguson had great quality on his bench and used it to devastating effect to make his starting 4-3-3 much more dynamic. Ian Holloway will now turn his attention to the next two matches and try to get Blackpool picking up some points to help them towards the ‘unachievable’ dream!