Month: February 2011

Blackpool 3 – 1 Spurs

Spurs came to Bloomfield Road fresh from their Champions League excellence, whilst Ian Holloway had ten days to work with his squad since the draw with Aston Villa. Both managers faced selection dilemmas due to injuries to key personnel. However, it was the in-game changes that held the key to this game as Blackpool rode their luck to secure the three points.

Setting up

Blackpool set up as a 4-1-2-3 v 4-4-2 from Spurs.

Had Blackpool set up in their more familiar 4-2-3-1 system then they may well have enjoyed the kind of success they’ve had against other teams who play 4-4-2, playing between their lines as highlighted in previous articles. However, this wasn’t the case as Holloway chose to replace Elliot Grandin with Ludovic Sylvestre in the midfield and accommodated him by inverting the midfield triangle. This meant that Sylvestre acted more like an anchor man whilst Adam and Vaughan matched up Spurs’ two central midfielders. This made Blackpool’s 4-3-3 resemble something more like a 4-1-2-3. The forward three for Blackpool saw Sergei Kornilenko make his debut and link up with DJ Campbell and James Beattie.

Harry Redknapp opted for a 4-4-2 and chose to go with Stephen Pienaar on the left of midfield in the continued absence of Gareth Bale, in combination with a central midfield pairing of Wilson Palacios and Luka Modric. Pienaar performed the role that he played when at Everton, drifting inside to close out the extra space in midfield and cutting on to his right foot when in advanced positions. Spurs’ front two were ever so slightly staggered as Pavlyuchenko dropped a little deeper than Defoe, but in reality he didn’t create or link up play that much as Modric dictated the game through his excellent use of the ball from the deep.

Countering a dangerous threat

Blackpool had the better of the first half in terms of goals, however, Spurs looked very composed on the ball and worked themselves in to some good positions in the attacking third although their final ball often let them down. This may have been down to the change in Blackpool’s shape. Ian Holloway used Sylvestre as a more recognised anchor man and helped in stifling Spurs as they advanced on the Blackpool defence. This left Blackpool short of the more advanced option that Grandin offers, however, when DJ Campbell dropped deep to receive the ball he helped to link the midfield and attack. The first goal was brought about by a clumsy challenge from Sebastien Bassong resulting in a penalty. Whilst the second goal was a classic counter attack, Campbell received ball from deep, linked the play and eventually finished off the move. However, a combination of excellent defence from Blackpool and poor shooting ensured that Spurs’ best chances went without reward.

Swinging on the subs

Jermaine Jenas was introduced for Palacios at half time and appeared to have a brief to increase Spurs’ passing tempo and whilst he didn’t have the drive of Palacios’ work rate and pressure, his partnership with Modric saw Spurs move the ball around the pitch much quicker. This helped to pull Blackpool from one side of the pitch to the other and cranked open gaps in their back line which they exploited at times, but failed to convert the chances.

At this stage that Spurs were in complete control of possession and in the ascendancy until the 73rd minute when Redknapp brought on Peter Crouch moving Jermaine Jenas back to right back. This saw Spurs switch to a 4-2-4 but they began to become more direct in their approach and ultimately this move lost any impetus that Spurs had. It was the Blackpool substitute Keith Southern who worked hard to pressurise the Spurs midfield and after he won the ball in the midfield a combination of poor defending and instinctive finishing saw Blackpool put the outcome beyond doubt.

Getting it right

At Goodison Park recently Ian Holloway admitted to making poor decision for his substitutions whilst in the lead, that time he tried to change his system and got it very wrong. Here he freshened up his side and deserves great credit for utilising Keith Southern to stop Spurs’ flowing football. In fact Southern won all four of his tackles and was safe in possession, misplacing two of his thirteen passes. The third goal involved all three substitutes as Brett Ormerod poked home for his landmark goal.

Jenas Impact

In the first half Spurs held good possession of the ball, but failed to move Blackpool’s defence out of shape. Jenas was introduced and helped to move the ball around quickly and efficiently as you can see by how many passes he had in half an hour misplacing only one. When Crouch was introduced Jenas was pushed to right back, he was solid, but Spurs seemed to lose their tempo a little and his central replacement (Kranjcar) was wasteful, shooting when a pass would’ve been a better option.

Top half - Jenas in the centre helping in dictate the tempo, misplacing just 1 pass. Bottom half - He was moved to right back and Spurs lost some momentum.

Inviting Pressure

Blackpool struggled to play out from the back and distribution from the keeper proved to be just another pass to a Spurs player which only helped them to dominate in the passing battle. Richard Kingson was successful with only 16/48 passes. In the previous article the goal kicking had been highlighted as an issue as Blackpool’s pass completion had dropped recently. In this match Blackpool’s outfield players were much better on the ball and pass completion picked up to the 70% mark, however, it would’ve been higher and Blackpool more controlled if Kingson had been more efficient in his distribution.

Streaks of red across this chalkboard as Kingson gave the ball away to Spurs.

Clear it!

As Spurs applied wave after wave of pressure Blackpool were forced to clear time after time which they did exceptionally well 32 times out of 46 with 10 of those being made by Craig Cathcart alone who excelled at the heart of the Blackpool defence.

32 out of 46 times Blackpool cleared their lines relieving the pressure from Spurs.

Moving upwards

In their passing and build up play Spurs dominated, however Blackpool were clinical in front of goal, defended strongly and attacked with greater composure. Spurs will recover and go on to bigger and better things, and Blackpool take another step closer to safety.

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Cornering the Goals Market

Traditionally set-pieces have never been all that productive for Blackpool. Down the years, Blackpool’s free-kicks and corners have normally been wasted, yet other teams always seemed to score against ‘Pool from dead ball situations. You would have to go back to the early ’90s when David Eyres took the corners to remember a time when you thought ‘Pool had a genuine chance of grabbing a goal. Not any longer.

Out of nowhere, Blackpool have established themselves as the Premier League’s most dangerous team from corner kicks. Going into the home game against Aston Villa, Blackpool had the record of scoring the most goals from corners – 10 – while their opponents had the worst record in terms of conceding from corner situations. True to form, ‘Pool scored their 11th goal of the season from a corner, Elliot Grandin chipping in with his first goal in English football with a near post header.

Corners in the Premier League

How exactly do Blackpool’s corner statistics stack up against the rest of the Premier League then? As already stated, ‘Pool are top of the pile, but how close are the other sides to their goal tally from corner kicks?

Blackpool’s 11 goals from corners edges out current Premier League leaders Manchester United by one, but some teams have scored as few as one goal from corner situations. Roberto Martinez’s Wigan will be unhappy of a return of just one goal from corners while if any proof were needed of Bolton’s style changing from the days of Sam Allardyce, this is surely it. In total 109 goals have been scored from corner situations in the top flight, an average of 5.45 per team. Blackpool therefore have managed more than twice the league average, an impressive feat.

Having scored from the most goals from corners, you’d expect the number of corner-kicks taken by ‘Pool to among the highest in the division. The graph below does not illustrate this however.

10 teams have had more corner kicks than the Seasiders, who have averaged five corners per fixture – a total of 130. Arsenal have racked up an incredible 177 corners, which makes their return of only five goals from these situations a somewhat meagre outcome. In contrast, Wigan have won a little over 100 corners, which goes some way to explaining their sole goal from corner scenarios.
If we look at the graph below, we can see, expressed as a percentage, how often teams score from corner kick situations, with Blackpool coming out on top once more.

‘Pool currently score from 8.46% of their corners, when the league average stands at 3.99%. Man Utd are over a full percentage point behind at 7.35%, with Blackburn Rovers the only other side to score from over 7% of their corners. Bolton and Wigan fare poorly again, converting fewer than 1% of their corners.
Blackpool Corner Takers in Focus
Now we have established Blackpool’s superiority at corners, it’s time to see who the key players are for the Seasiders when a corner is won. The following table identifies the nine different corner takers so far this season and their individual stats.
As you can see from the table, Charlie Adam has taken exactly half of Blackpool’s 130 corners, at the most successful conversion rate – 12.31%. David Vaughan’s 27 corners have resulted in just one goal, while Grandin is more successful managing a conversion rate of 11.76%, although both goals scored from his corners came in one match at the Reebok Stadium. Between the three regular midfielders they have taken 84% of Blackpool’s corners – other players have taken a handful without any tangible results.
Short Corners – Wasted?
A common train of thought among ‘a certain breed’ of football fan is that short corners are a waste of time, and that teams would be much better ‘getting the ball in the mixer’. Does this sentiment ring true though? Analysing Blackpool’s use of corners in the table below, this is proven to be a myth.
Blackpool have scored from 12% of their short corners, but from fewer than 8% of their corners hit into the box first time. In recent weeks it has been Charlie Adam’s inswinging corner that has drawn most attention, but the ability to switch things up and from time to time use a short corner could prove fruitful as Blackpool enter the run-in.
Near Post Danger Area
 
Arguably the most dangerous area for Blackpool’s corners has been the near post area. Be they short or long, eight of the Seasiders’ goals from corners have come from those aimed at the near post. The animation below highlight five of those instances.
One danger here is that ‘Pool are becoming over-reliant on dominating the near post from their corners. Other teams are sure to be picking this up, so it may require a different, or at least varied approach going forward. With the signings of James Beattie and Sergei Kornilenko, the aerial threat the Seasiders pose should be greater than it was previously. Rather than winning the ball at the near post, ‘Pool may have more ability to win contested headers at the far post – something that may be worth working on in training.

Conclusions

Taking all of this information into account, there are a few key points to consider.

  • Even the Premier League has its weaknesses
    • The oft-touted ‘best league in the world’ likes to paint the image of superiority over its European rivals, yet even at this top level, so many teams fall down to the simple corner. What makes this even more incredible is that Blackpool are hardly built to succeed in this area. Holloway’s team is largely founded with an emphasis on slick passing, not the hustle-and-bustle of physicality of other more agricultural Premier League sides. Despite this, ‘Pool have been able to exploit teams defensively from corner kicks to notch up 11 goals in this manner, proving that some of these teams aren’t quite as perfect as is made out.
  • Corners allow Charlie Adam to demonstrate his value
    • Adam has won plaudits from many pundits outside Blackpool for his performances this season, but those closer to the club will acknowledge some disappointment at his lack of goals, in particular goals from open play – his first coming in February at Goodison Park. From corner kicks however, he has contributed towards eight goals, with one memorable direct strike against West Ham. In the aftermath of the 3-2 home defeat to Man Utd, Sir Alex Ferguson famously claimed Adam’s corners alone are worth £10m – and if Adam can provide more assists from this area in the coming weeks to help keep Blackpool up, it would be hard to argue with him.
  • It might be wise to make more use of the short corner
    • A higher success rate from short corners would appear to encourage taking them more often. However, short corners are often a cause of circumstance – slack marking for instance – and may not be appropriate in all cases. When the opposing team is alert and doubles up on the short corners, an opportunity to get the ball into the box can be lost when going down this route. Nevertheless, it is food for thought and may persuade Blackpool to look for short corner opportunities more regularly.
  • Corners could be the key to survival
    • OK, so this is a bold claim. 11 goals is not insignificant though, and represents over 28% of all the Seasiders’ goals this season. If Blackpool had only scored from a league average five or six corners, then the current goal difference advantage would be wiped out, as well as taking off crucial points. If ‘Pool can continue their good form from corners, combined with the goals coming from open play, avoiding the drop will be a lot more realistic.

Whether Blackpool’s success from corner kicks will continue is as yet unclear. If nothing else though, it should spark a sense of excitement when a corner is won. Going back to the start of this article, I cited David Eyres as a deadly corner taker. In my formative days following Blackpool, an early memory is being sat in the West Stand with Eyres standing over a corner. Such was the expectation that something might happen, fans in the seats would stamp their feet, shaking the old wooden stands to their core. An old tradition, but one that should perhaps return when Charlie Adam steps up to swing his trusty left boot from the corner spot.

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Acknowledgement: 
Sincere thanks must go to the helpful team at Sidan Media, who run the scientific predictions site KickOff.co.uk. Sidan provided much of the data used in this article and without their help this post would have been nowhere near as comprehensive. Follow them on Twitter at @kickoffcouk.

    What's in a pass – Revisited

    Back in January this blog took a look at the passing of Blackpool and the role that it plays in their overall game plan. Then Blackpool were on 25 points and 8 games later they have only mustered up further 4 points. This decline is on the radars of the mainstream media and the following clichés are being warmed up; ‘the honeymoon is over’ and ‘running out of steam’. However, can a focus on Blackpool’s passing help to understand more about why Blackpool have only clocked up 4 points from a possible 21 in their last 8 games?

    The decline?

    Just for clarity purposes, here is a chart showing how Blackpool’s points per game has progressed throughout the season and as you can see the line tails off towards the end as the most recent run of defeats have taken their toll.

    Blackpool's average points since the match against Arsenal in week 2.

    Pass Incompletion

    In the previous article Blackpool’s passing was picked out as a key strength and at that time they had a pass completion rate higher than Liverpool under Roy Hodgson. However, if we plot the game pass completion rates for each game on a graph, what do we see?

    From left to right see how the line gradually tails downwards as Blackpool have completed less and less passes.

    As you can see Blackpool’s pass completion has been gradually eroding in recent weeks. In fact for the games prior to their last win Blackpool’s pass completion was 75% and in the last six games it has dropped to 70%.

    Player Focus

    Recent articles have focused on some individual player performance over the course of the season, most recently with Ian Evatt, Charlie Adam and David Vaughan. Below is a chart showing their pass completion % for the last 6 games set against that of the games before that.

    You can see above how Charlie Adam and Ian Evatt's pass completion has dropped in the last 6 games.

    You can clearly see that in the games where Blackpool’s pass completion has begun to disintegrate, David Vaughan has been consistently excellent, even pushing up his pass completion above 85%. Whilst Adam has dropped from 71% to 60% and Evatt has gone from 68% to 75%.

    This tends to fit in to the fact that Blackpool’s pass completion has started to drop for two key reasons. Team putting players under more pressure by closing them down and that Blackpool’s players are still learning to improve their decision-making at this level i.e. when to pass and what pass to make.

    For example, teams seem to really pressure the back line and the keeper now, in order to make it harder for them to play out from the back. This is further backed up when looking at the completion rate for goal kicks. In the last six games it has dropped to 57% from 64% previously. Earlier on in the season goal kicks were often taken short, however, forwards are alert to that threat now and seek to cover the edge of the area making interceptions and forcing passing errors. See the chalkboard below from Blackpool’s most recent game against Aston Villa. Notice how 9 of the 20 interceptions made by Villa were in Blackpool’s own half.

    As Villa pressed Blackpool they made 20 interceptions, 9 of them in the Blackpool half.

    Pep talk

    This week Ian Holloway has talked about how he wants to learn from Josep Guardiola to improve his side. It is possible that he feels he can learn to improve his side’s ball retention by seeing how Barcelona play and that this learning could well be applied to allow his side to pass the ball better under pressure, improving their pass completion and possibly win more games. On average, in the games that Blackpool win, their pass completion is 1% higher than those they lose. Small margins on the surface, but at the top-level of football, small margins might make a big difference especially as Blackpool try to stay in the Premier League.

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    Seaside Strategy – Aston Villa Home

    Aston Villa threatened to blow Blackpool away early on in this encounter, but in a game that ebbed and flowed a share of the spoils was probably what both sides deserved. Villa threatened often with their lightning pace on the break, but ‘Pool may be a little disappointed that they were unable to break Villa’s resolve, especially after they were reduced to ten men with the dismissal of Jean Makoun. The Seasiders grew stronger as the game went on, but ultimately never looked like finding the elusive winning goal.

    In terms of how the two teams lined up, it was a meeting of minds with the two managers fielding similar 4-2-1-3 systems. After a tough couple of weeks for Neal Eardley, Alex Baptiste was moved to right back with the fit-again Craig Cathcart partnering Ian Evatt in the heart of the ‘Pool defence. Elsewhere Ian Holloway freshened up his attack bringing back Luke Varney and Marlon Harewood in favour of the two new signings Jason Puncheon and James Beattie.
    The average formation position diagram below sheds some light on how well the two teams kept to their respective systems.

    Blackpool’s average position chart is fairly standard, with perhaps only Luke Varney (16) not quite where you’d expect him to be. Varney’s performance was an improvement on the ones that led to him being rested, but still wasn’t at the level we saw earlier in the season – Holloway would surely like to see him higher up the pitch. Varney will also be disappointed with his header wide shortly after Blackpool’s equaliser. Varney’s average position may be explained partly however by the necessity to help our David Carney (29), who was often caught out of position early on.
    The chart above also shows the pressure ‘Pool’s full-backs had to endure, Gabriel Agbonlahor (11) and Stewart Downing (6) pushing right up. With Ashley Young (7) roaming in the hole behind Darren Bent (39, hidden behind Ashley Young on the diagram) the Blackpool defence had their work cut out, but can take heart from how they did adapt to largely nullify this threat in the second half.

    For the first 20 minutes though, Blackpool were being cut open, despite the equaliser from Elliot Grandin and Varney’s near miss at the other end. Villa’s main tactic was to get the ball wide to Agbonlahor and Downing (and also Young, occupying the ‘central winger’ role) and attack at pace. The chalkboard below illustrates this point, with Aston Villa’s passes for the first 20 minutes on the top chalkboard, and Blackpool’s passes on the lower chalkboard.

     by Guardian Chalkboards

    In contrast to Villa’s use of width on both flanks, ‘Pool appeared to focus solely on the right in the opening stages of the first half, with Carney and Varney seeing very little of the ball.  The Blackpool full-backs Baptiste and Carney both found themselves overrun in this period, with Baptiste out of position for Agbonlahor’s goal. Villa also had more of the possession in this spell, managing 69 successful passes to ‘Pool’s 47. Fortunately ‘Pool did finally settle down and began to assert their influence on the game, but were grateful for a Richard Kingson save from Downing as well as the upright which the former Middlesbrough man shaved with a separate strike from outside the area on 31 minutes.
    After the break it was the Seasiders who took hold of proceedings, having the better of the possession and the goalmouth action. Blackpool completed 148 passes to Villa’s 86, but it was in the shots department where the difference was most obvious. As the chalkboard below shows, ‘Pool managed 13 shots in the second half, with only two from the visiting side.

     by Guardian Chalkboards

    The telling statistic gleaned from the above however, is that Blackpool failed to force Brad Friedel into a save, not managing to find the target with any of their 13 attempts. Very few of these shots can be classified as clear-cut chances however, as the resolute Villa backline restricted ‘Pool to shots from distance and on other occasions put their bodies on the line to block several attempts. Also visible on the chalkboard is the weekly halfway line attempt from Charlie Adam. It has been said many times that “one of these weeks it’ll come off”, but I’m far from convinced. On this effort Adam surrendered a chance to break in a 3-on-3 situation to indulge in his speculative attempt – Holloway appeared less than impressed with his captain.
    The red card for Jean Makoun for his two-footed lunge on DJ Campbell once more changed the flow of the game. As already noted by Tangerine Dreaming, this saw Villa revert to a 4-4-1 formation, packing defence and midfield, soaking up the pressure, and using pace to hit on the counter. Blackpool have displayed their inability to shut up shop with eleven men on numerous occasions this season, but this was a shining example of how to do it, even with the numerical disadvantage. The chalkboard below shows Aston Villa’s duels following Makoun’s dismissal.

     by Guardian Chalkboards

    Villa won 20 of their 32 duels after the 70 minute mark, but significantly won almost every tackle in the defensive quarter of the pitch. James Collins in particular was in imperious form, and breaking down the Villa defence proved too difficult a task for a tiring Blackpool. Despite being down to 10 men Villa could have even stolen all three points, looking dangerous when counter-attacking. Whether Holloway might have had more joy from deploying Beattie towards the end remains to be seen, but a final front three of Campbell, Puncheon and Matt Phillips failed to make the crucial breakthrough.
    On the back of five straight defeats, it was important to get something from this game, but it’s hard not to feel like it was an opportunity missed when playing against 10 men for the final 20 minutes. It was however a performance full of spirit and on another day this Blackpool side would have let slip a late goal. Holloway’s side now have over a week to rest ahead of another home game, this time entertaining Spurs. As the last remaining game in hand, anything from this fixture would be a big boost for the rest of the run-in.

    Blackpool v Aston Villa Review

    This game turned out to be a fair result as both teams had chances to score more than the one goal a piece. Both managers threw very few surprises in to the mix as tactically this was a very plain game.

    Equals

    Villa more defintion between defence and attack. Blackpool more of a blended approach.

    From a formation point of view this was 4-2-3-1 v 4-2-3-1, however, they were applied slightly differently as Gerard Houllier prefers to have his two midfielders sit deeper and hold their positions. On the other hand Ian Holloway likes a balance of defence and attack from his two with David Vaughan more likely to sit and hold. A flex in the Aston Villa side was the movement of Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor, which sometimes gave them the look of a 4-4-1-1. The latter was deployed out left, but would make runs wide and inside and Young would often move to support Darren Bent in attack. Finally, Kyle Walker was given permission to attack and he did so at speed, however, at times his runs would be on the inside and he ran in to the more congested central areas.

    Start up

    The first half saw both team have chances, Villa looking to counter and using Stuart Downing to great effect on the right cutting in on to his left. However, the Villa goal was a familiar sight for Blackpool fans as the Blackpool defence was caught out of position whilst the game was in transition. A good link up between Bent and Agbonlahor exploited the vacant right back area after Alex Baptiste had been high up the pitch involved in an attack.

    David Vaughan found a lot of space at times, especially if Ashley Young didn’t track back and as Houllier persisted with two deep midfielders Vaughan started to take control of Blackpool’s passing and played some good balls in to the channels, he only misplaced 4 passes from 48. The  Blackpool goal came from what is also becoming a familiar sight for both teams, a goal from a corner. According to Opta before this match Blackpool had scored the most goals from corners in the Premier League, whilst Aston Villa had conceded the most.

    Seconds out

    The second half saw both teams get in to good attacking positions, however, Blackpool were the team that retained the better possession and created the most chances. Blackpool seemed to hesitate in making decisions in the final third and often looked unsure of what to do and their shooting seemed to reflect that (the goal being the only time they hit the target). After a red card saw Jean Makoun depart Villa switch to a 4-4-1 looking to hit Blackpool on the break, but in truth, both centre back partnerships looked very solid indeed.

    Grandin then out

    Whilst Blackpool had Elliot Grandin on the pitch they looked more fluid going forward, this in part may have been something to do with his efficiency with the ball, misplacing only one pass before his injury. Jason Puncheon came on to play that role before Andy Reid came on and in to the role on 72 minutes. The chalkboards below show how Grandin performed in the role much better than Puncheon.

    Puncheon in the midfield, before being moved wide left.

    Stubborn

    Gerard Houllier persisted in playing to holding midfielders, however, the chalkboard below showed how only one of them (Reo-Coker) was effective, leaving questions over having Jean Makoun on the field at the same time, where a more attack minded midfielder might have given Villa more options in the final third. You can see how Makoun only won 4 of his 15 duels whilst Reo-Coker won 10 of his 15.

    Two holding midfielders really necessary?

    All about the centre backs

    After both goals were scored the game was characterised by Ian Evatt and Richard Dunne dominating the game and helping to snuff out the attacks. See their chalkboards below. Evatt lost only one duel all afternoon, whilst Dunne lost only 2 of 9 and those that he lost were outside of any danger zone.

    Big strong centre backs gave the strikers little change.

    Moving on

    The result was fair for both teams, Houllier might look at changing his approach in making one of his holding midfielders more progressive and the substition of Michael Bradley might offer him that in the coming weeks. Ian Holloway will be happy to move on to the next game with plenty of time to train up his side and get them motivated for the Spurs game on the 22nd February.

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    Dissecting the defence

    Blackpool’s first season has been characterised by attacking football as the Tangerines have found goals relatively easy to come by. However, it is their defence that regularly comes under scrutiny and more so since their run of five defeats after the Liverpool victory. This post will look at the Blackpool defence and explore as many facets of it as possible in order to establish what is behind Blackpool’s defence and where have things been going wrong?

    Facts & Figures

    Blackpool have conceded 49 goals at an average of 1.96 per game. It has been well publicised that Blackpool tend to concede late in games and the following table breaks down the time periods in which Blackpool concede goals (up to and including the Everton game).

    Notice how Blackpool have conceded 14 goals in the final quarter of games.

    The reasons for late concessions can be speculated upon and none more so than in the recent post about the Everton game. In this game Holloway tried to shut down the defence and reverted to a five man defence which back fired mainly through a combination of positive attacking from Everton, but poor defensive organisation. A multitude of other reasons can be examined; however, this would involve a lot of conjecture about fitness levels, quality of the opposition, experience and the like.

    Personnel

    Blackpool play with a back four  and it would be fair to say that (based on the most appearances) that Blackpool`s first choice back four, from left back to right back would be; Stephen Crainey, Ian Evatt, Craig Cathcart and Neil Eardley. Alex Baptiste covers at right and centre back and David Carney covers the left back spot. Dekel Keinan had been acting as back up for the centre back position before his recent move to Cardiff City. It is also important to understand that Holloway has used Matthew Phillips at right back at times this season, which underlines something about his defensive philosophy as Phillips is primarily a forward. This was covered in December through an extensive focus on the Blackpool full backs. where it was established that Holloway uses his full backs to attack as the best form of defence and by pushing up his full backs he exerts great pressure on the opposition in their own half and the final third of the pitch.

    Blackpool haven’t been able to select a consistent defensive line up for many reasons, injuries being the key one. This instability in selection cannot help the overall performance especially from a unit that needs time to gel and build up communications.

    Evo-Lution!

    Ian Evatt joined Blackpool under Simon Grayson, a traditional ‘big’ English centre-back that wasn’t afraid to get stuck in. Since Holloway took over, Evatt has evolved and progressed in to a centre back that passes accurately, steps out of defence and where possible attempts to trigger attacks. He personifies so much about where Ian Holloway has brought Blackpool. Before his tenure, a ball running towards the touch line and out of play may well have been left to go out for a throw in. Now Evatt will control the ball, roll his foot over it, move with it and distribute it safely as Blackpool build their play with considered passing from the back line. Let’s take a look at Evatt’s statistics this season.

    He does his stuff he does!

    The stand out figures here are his pass completion of 76%, which is good for a centre back and forms a key part of the passing game that Holloway has brought to Blackpool. Other stand out stats to focus on are his tackle success of 63% and within that his aerial duels win percentage of 61%. What isn’t shown here is the volume of tackles that he has lost this season, in total he has lost 46 duels this season at a rate of 2 per match. Here lies the crux of any defenders work, it not always the tackles you win that help the team, but the consequences of what happens when you lose a duel? Does your opponent punish you or not?

    To sum up Ian Evatt’s development under Holloway, look not to the superb performances he has put in this season, but look to the goal he scored against Coventry at Bloomfield Road last season. Solid technique, breaking out from defence, good passing ability and the ability and awareness to curl a shot in to the goal.

    Shaping up

    The media have criticised Blackpool’s defence at times this season and Ian Holloway stated that he wanted to attack and not defend in the Premier League. However, Blackpool can defend and the following sequence sheds some light on the way they organise their back line when coming under attack. Firstly, a sequence from the Liverpool game, showing attacks from the left, and right. Clearly when you freeze the action you can see that they set themselves very well and in these instances they fended off danger.

    As Liverpool advance down their left, note how Blackpool's back line is spaced and cover in a line across the field of play.

    What is also key here and is a common when Blackpool is under attack is how David Vaughan (white dots) tracks back to support the right back. This also happened for Everton’s first goal in last weeks match. Likewise as you’ll see below, when the attack comes from the other side, Charlie Adam tracks back to support the left back.

    Here Stephen Crainey closes out the space out wide whilst Ian Evatt tracks his runner in to the corner area.

    Pick any match and Blackpool’s defensive shape can be impressive, here’s another example to back this up from the Wolves game. As a long ball is hit from deep in the Wolves half, the defence coped perfectly well to see off the danger. Note that the four defenders are relatively evenly spread across the pitch.

    This time the attack comes aerially against Wolves in to the Blackpool right back area. Eardley get's positioned in order to make a challenge should be required to.

    An observation from a few games this season is that Neil Eardley stands off his man and gives him too much space as can be seen from the Everton game. However, given the examples above, it can’t be ascertained if this is the fault of one person given that above you can see that Ian Evatt covers one runner in behind whilst Adam and Vaughan work hard to track back. When Blackpool fail to defend, it is purely a case of failing to defend as a team or as we will see below, being punished by excellent opposition.

    Coping in transition

    When looking at Blackpool’s defensive shape, the biggest question hangs over their ability to cope with a side that is counter attacking them. In such transition phases sides either have a basic shape in place at all times to counter that or have plans for getting back in to shape; mainly requiring a lot of energy, pace and discipline in order to recover. However, quick counters and unexpected passes from deep can catch Blackpool out. Look at the following shots below from the Liverpool game. The back line is retreating, no offside trap can be sprung, they are responding to the fact the Torres has crept in behind Stephen Crainey and space has opened up on the left.

    Liverpool break quickly and the intelligent movement of Torres is too much for Blackpool.

    Against Manchester United they were undone twice by balls from Paul Scholes played from deep. This caught them off guard, on one occasion playing a dangerous offside trap against Javier Hernandez who has excellent pace and movement to escape many top quality defences. Anticipation of the pass and covering the runner may have ensured a more composed response to what was an early warning of the Manchester United comeback.

    Realising that an unexpected ball in being played from deep, Blackpool try to play offside and the poor organisation causes a chance for Man Utd.
    Look how Craig Cathcart loses his spacing from his right back and the two defenders leave space for Man Utd to attack.

    Above you can see how the spacing in the defence has been lost as an early pass from deep has been lofted over the defence. Where Hernandez (black) is, is exactly where Cathcart needs to position himself instead of being dragged in to the right back area.

    It’s fair to say that in predictable situations Blackpool can and do defend well, the biggest problem they face is the unpredictable and in the Premier League there is so much more of that due to the quality of the opposition. Anticipation of danger goes up a level, reactions, pace of response; all of these become so much more important at this higher level. It may be no coincidence that the five clean sheets have come against three teams who had poor attacks on the day (Wigan, West Ham and Sunderland) and two teams who had one game plan based on direct approaches to target men (Newcastle and Stoke).

    Added to this is that unpredictable factor has been heightened by the fact that 4 goals have been conceded whilst the team had a player off for treatment. Defensive positions weren’t covered adequately, caused issues and goals were lost.

    Not what you do, it’s what you don’t do

    It would be easy to try and show the duels that Blackpool make on a chalkboard, it will show duels being won all over the pitch in the main with many players contributing to that effort. However, a quick look at the chalkboards from the Stoke game (clean sheet) and the Everton game (five goals against) give a little illustration of where defence can go wrong. The chalkboard here is of the duels that Blackpool lost in both games. The key factor here is to note where they are lost. In the Stoke game, only two tackles were lost in the final third, against Everton that number rises to seven.

    Note where the tackles are lost in the lower chalkboard as Blackpool's defence concede five goals.

    This factor of where you lose your tackles (not necessarily where you win them) can be crucial. Lose too many tackles too close to the goal and the attackers may have to do less in order to score. It also gives you less space and possibly time to recover. Fail in the tackle further from the goal and the danger is further away, simple.

    Attack is the best form of defence

    As mentioned in the post on Blackpool’s full backs and in other posts, Blackpool build their game on passing and Holloway sees that attacking teams as his best way of defending. As Blackpool have hit five defeats on the trot it is interesting to note that their pass count has dropped as well as completion rate. Quite simply they were keeping the ball better, for longer earlier in the season and now they are not. Teams appear to be working harder now to close down the space and specifically to stop the ‘keeper distributing from the back. In the games since the Liverpool match Blackpool’s average match pass count stands at 441 with a completion of 70%. Prior to that game it stood at 475 with a completion rate of 75%.

    Consistency

    One factor above centered on the selection of a consistent back line and this hasn’t been helped by injuries to all three goal keepers. Matthew Gilks started the season the first choice playing 12 games, conceding 23 and making 48 saves in the process. Since being injured at half time at West Ham Richard Kingson has come in playing 12, conceding 21 and making 61 saves. Both have performed well, but the latter, recently making mistakes leading to goals against West Brom and West Ham.

    Tightening up

    Blackpool will concede more goals as this season progresses, but should Blackpool get back to winning ways, it may be due to improvement in ball retention. Defenders make mistakes, they all do, however, Blackpool will be hoping that they aren’t making them in the danger areas and if they do that they either recover from them or they aren’t punished. When the opposition is predictable Blackpool look assured; they’ll be looking to improve and find that assurance when unpredictability strikes.

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    Seaside Strategy – Everton Away

    An all-action eight goal thriller. Blackpool continue to provide more bang than their buck in the entertainment stakes, but it’s hard not to yearn for a scrappy 1-0 win. ‘Pool slid to their fifth consecutive defeat at Goodison Park and while Ian Holloway’s men continue to rack up the goals, a defence leakier than the Welsh national emblem means survival is starting to look trickier by the week. The Seasiders bounced back from poor first half performance to take a stunning 3-2 lead, only to collapse under the weight of endless Everton pressure.

    Blackpool endured a tough opening 45 minutes and were highly fortunate to go in at half-time with the scores level at 1-1. Everton were rightly furious at the decision to blow for a foul on Seamus Coleman just before half-time, seconds before Louis Saha went on to bag what should have been his second goal of the game. Tangerine Dreaming has identified Marouane Fellaini’s impact in stifling ‘Pool’s midfield in the first half, in particular Charlie Adam. 
    What else caused the Seasiders to struggle though? The chalkboard below compares the number of successful passes in the first half at Goodison Park against those made in the previous match versus West Ham.

     by Guardian Chalkboards

    By all accounts it was hardly a scintillating first half against the Hammers last week, but the number of successful passes still dwarves the figure from Saturday’s game. ‘Pool only completed 114 passes in the opening 45 minutes, a startlingly low figure. A failure to hold onto the ball and make it work for them handed the initiative to the Toffees who exploited Blackpool’s defensive frailties on numerous occasions. 
    Nowhere is this issue more pronounced than in an examination of Paul Rachubka’s chalkboard below.

     by Guardian Chalkboards

    For many, the return of Rachukba between the sticks was a welcome sight, following a string of error’s from Richard Kingson. However, while none of Everton’s five goals can be directly attributed to Rachubka, Holloway must be concerned with his distribution. The USA born goalkeeper managed to find a tangerine (or white, in this instance) shirt only four times out of 21 attempts  in the first half – a woeful 19% completion rate. Also noticeable is Rachubka’s failure to play the short ball even once. 
    A key facet of Holloway’s system has been to play the ball out from the back, but by opting to go long so frequently, ‘Pool gave the ball away cheaply. In the second half Rachubka managed a more respectable 50% pass completion rate, but still opted to go long more often than not. Rachubka may be less accident prone than his Ghanaian counterpart, but unless Holloway can train his number 1 (in squad number terms) to make the angle for the short ball, he may quickly find himself back watching from the sidelines.
    Blackpool suffered an early set-back almost immediately after the break, but thereafter enjoyed their best spell of the game. Elliot Grandin and Jason Puncheon began to combine well, with Blackpool’s counter-attacks testing, and overcoming, Everton’s defence. Holloway now has a variety of forward options and Puncheon impressed on his debut, getting into dangerous forward positions and causing problems with his pace.
    At 3-2, the momentum was with Blackpool, but the scoreline presented Holloway with a dilemma. So often ‘Pool have forfeited winning positions, with different strategies all failing at various times. Against Man Utd, Holloway sought to continue to attack, throwing on both Matt Phillips and Marlon Harewood. As we all know, that strategy backfired as the team from Salford turned the game on its head with three quick goals. Holloway tried to emulate the win over Everton’s city rivals by packing the defence and midfield, but as Tangerine Dreaming points out, it resulted in handing Everton the advantage – Pool’s defence was at sixes and sevens despite their superior numbers. 
    It is a decision easy to criticise in hindsight, and one Holloway must surely regret. Positive changes, or even keeping things as they were could have seen ‘Pool return with at least a share of the points, if not all three, but ultimately defensive lapses have cost the Seasiders again. There are enough positive signs in Blackpool’s attacking ability to retain hope, but the failure to strengthen the defence despite Dekel Keinan’s departure could come back to haunt the Seasiders.