Month: February 2011

Clinical Deficiencies – Everton v Blackpool

Louis Saha gave a masterclass in clinical finishing either side of Blackpool clinically punishing two mistakes made by Everton players. However, it was a double defensive substitution by Ian Holloway that failed to snuff out Everton’s attacks that swung the game back in David Moyes’ favour.

Setting Up

The opening play saw Holloway pitting his 4-3-3 against the 4-1-4-1 of David Moyes, who had Marouane Fellaini in the holding role in a system that had stifled Blackpool earlier in the season at Bloomfield Road. James Beattie started in the front three, alongside Jason Puncheon and DJ Campbell who dropped deep from the centre to receive the ball.

Moyes has watched Blackpool a lot this season and knows he needs to block the space with a holding midfielder and lined up 4-1-4-1 against Holloway's 4-3-3.

In effect there appeared to be three key dynamics that lead to Everton’s win which are discussed below.

Right back to where we started

Prior to this game starting Blackpool had conceded 16 goals in their last 5 games since beating Liverpool. 13 of them have germinated in the right back area as teams appear to have spotted and exploited a real weakness in the Blackpool defence.

This season Everton have been exceptional down their left hand side, so this match had the potent combination of Blackpool’s weakness matching up with Everton’s strength and this was key in this game with all 5 of Everton’s goals coming via this channel.

Taking Everton’s first goal step by step you can see how their defence is drawn out of shape by some simple Everton passing and movement.

Neil Eardley shows Bilyaletdinov plenty of space to turn and run.
David Vaughan has to track the Everton runner who has exploited the space that Eardley leaves behind him.
Eardley does recover his ground, but commits to the challenge and is beaten easily by Bilyaletdinov and the Blackpool defence has conceded 20 yards of space for him to attack.
Blackpool's centre backs are unable to doing anything to stop the cut back cross ball.

Everton focused their passing down their left hand side and completed 60% of their passes in open play down the left hand side.

This blog recently discussed the importance of Blackpool’s full backs in their open sense of adventure, however, it appears that teams understand this to be as much of a weakness too. As the full backs attack they leave space behind and recently it appears the space isn’t being covered effectively. Should Blackpool stay in the Premier League then Holloway will have worked hard with his full backs to sustain their attacking potency whilst ensuring defensive stability.

Keeping it tight till switching it off

Without doubt Everton controlled the space on the pitch very effectively for the most part, however, after going 2-1 up the appeared to push for a third to kill the game off. In doing so they started to lose a little of their shape and Blackpool exploited this very well in transition and capitalised on mistakes.

As a result of Marouane Fellaini sitting in a 4-1-4-1 Blackpool were strangled and even on the rare occasion when Elliot Grandin was able to get goal side of Fellaini, he ended up not being able to find a team-mate.

Here you can see that Grandin has escaped Fellaini in a very rare first half occurrence, but fails to make it pay.

Fellaini closed out Charlie Adam effectively in the first half, even when he was in the deep. Look at the shot below as Fellaini makes up several yards to close Adam down which forces Adam in to an error and leads to Everton’s build up for their first goal.

Fellaini is aware of Adam dropping deep, sensing danger he steps out of position to close Adam down in the space marked by the red dot.
Fellaini has closed out Adam and he hits a wayward pass handing possession to Everton who go on to score.

In fact Charlie Adam was stifled in the first half and had a pass completion of only 48%. As he was gradually afforded more space in the second half it increased to 67%. As further demonstration of how Everton disrupted Blackpool’s passing their completion was 64% in the first half and in the second it was 68%. It is interesting to note that for Blackpool’s period of goal scoring (between 61 and 65) it increased to 78%.

The Chalkboard below shows how Fellaini contested 11 duels and won 10 in the whole match, however, 8 of those were in the first half and he and won 7 of those as he dominated the midfield. As Fellaini stopped being dominant in his duels Blackpool enjoyed their success. Was this just a coincidence?

Fellaini had a great game in the tackle, however, in the second half as the game swung towards Blackpool he failed to win duels. As he started to win them again on the 73 minute mark Everton started to control again.

Concession of the advantage!

At 3-2 Blackpool appeared to have Everton exposed to the counter and it was at this point Holloway tried to change the dynamic, seemingly to shut the game out. In his post match interview he likened his move to the one made against Liverpool to shut out the result. However, the two moves were completely different, against Liverpool his switch came with 5 minutes remaining, whilst he had a full 20 minutes to control here. Also, he went to a 4-1-4-1 against Liverpool whilst against Everton he went to a very unfamiliar looking 5-4-1. In doing so, he conceded his small advantage in favour of asking Everton to try to break them down. Everton did, through a combination of defensive mistakes, dis-organisation and naivety. The shots below show how Blackpool struggled to organise themselves in to a coherent 5 man defence. Firstly, the centre backs are drawn narrow and inside the Everton attackers and secondly in the run up to the Everton fourth goal, as the third centre back (Rob Edwards) is out of position with Neil Eardley behind him.

Blackpool struggle to space their 3 centre backs allowing themselves to be drawn inside the Everton attackers leaving plenty of space either side of the three.
From another angle Blackpool's defence is totally out of shape as Beckford puts Everton ahead.

As further evidence of how the defensive move didn’t pay off, see the chalkboard below and notice how Blackpool fail to win any duels as Everton pick off three unanswered goals. 

Above, even when Blackpool went defensive, it never paid off, losing 1 tackles in a 10 minute period. Prior and before that they worked hard in the tackle even though they lost 24 of their 53 challenges.

Ding Dong

This was a battle launched firmly on a robust Everton side shutting out Blackpool’s attacking space, before stinging them down their flawed right hand area. However, after handing Blackpool space on the counter Ian Holloway will move on to the next game knowing that his team are still potent, and will hope to find a better way of controlling the game against Aston Villa should he find his team holding the advantage.

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Seaside Strategy – West Ham United Home

It had been billed in some quarters as a ‘must-win’ game, and while not quite that crucial, the home defeat to West Ham last night is a major set-back. With four straight defeats, three of those at Bloomfield Road, ‘Pool now find themselves unerringly close to the bottom three. A win would have seen the Seasiders go 10 points clear of West Ham, instead of the four point gap that now exists. It’s nothing to be ashamed of necessarily – after all some pundits would have had you believe ‘Pool would have been all but relegated by this point – but from what appeared to be building up to a comfortable mid-table finish, Ian Holloway’s men are now in a relegation fight.
There are a number of reasons for last night’s defeat, but an absence of luck probably isn’t one of them. Questionable team selection, poor individual performances and sloppy mistakes resulted in a first half as bad as any witnessed on the Fylde coast this season. Holloway made two changes from the team that tested Manchester United to the limit last week, the casualties being Elliot Grandin and Ian Evatt. David Carney and new signing Andy Reid were the beneficiaries, but the decision to drop Evatt, thus unsettling the defence, seemed to spectacularly backfire. 
The return of Carney was to be expected, with Alex Baptiste the square peg in a round hole at left-back when the side from Old Trafford were the visitors. Evatt however has been a lynchpin of ‘Pool’s backline, and aside from being caught out at the Emirates has excelled despite the step-up to the Premier League. Rumours of off-field antics could explain Evatt being dropped, but it meant a defensive unit that looked like strangers. In addition to Reid not quite being a like-for-like replacement for Elliot Grandin (as highlighted by Tangerine Dreaming), Blackpool were unbalanced.
The diagrams below show the average positions of the Blackpool and West Ham players and display a stark contrast.

Where the Hammers set-up offers clarity, ostensibly a rigid 4-4-2, the average positions of the Blackpool players helps identify why the Seasiders struggled to match their opponents from East London. Neal Eardley (5) is horribly exposed, and would explain why Victor Obinna (33) gave him such a hard time. Eardley typically relies on support from Gary Taylor-Fletcher (12, hidden behind 44, Beattie) and the absent Grandin. On Wednesday night Taylor-Fletcher was often found drifting inside, while Reid (43) as a left-footer did not give the former Oldham right-back adequate protection.
The average position map also shows a severe lack of width to Blackpool’s attacking play. Luke Varney (16), whose form has worryingly nosedived in recent weeks (highlighted in my West Brom review), failed to get into his usual positions out wide high up the pitch with Carney (29) playing just as high up as his sound-alike teammate. Equally Taylor-Fletcher did not provide any sort of width on the right, nullifying ‘Pool’s usage of those famous long diagonals.
Referring again to Tangerine Dreaming, the Guardian chalkboard of Blackpool’s passes from open play highlight the lack of width to the Seasiders’ performance, with Tangerine Dreaming citing Carney’s lack of adventure in getting forward as another explanation. In terms of the formation and the roles of players filling in for regular members of the team, Holloway has some work to do on the training ground.
Despite the poor first half performance, ‘Pool did not throw in the towel and sought to take the game to West Ham after the break. Attacking changes were made on hour mark in the form of Marlon Harewood and a debut for James Beattie, replacing the tiring Reid and disappointing Varney. This naturally resulted in a more basic gameplan – Blackpool being more direct with big targetmen to aim for. In terms of sheer numbers, this saw ‘Pool have 12 shots to West Ham’s two, as shown by the diagram below.

Despite the quantity of shots, in terms of clear-cut chances ‘Pool had very few, rarely testing Rob Green in the West Ham goal. The closest the Seasiders came was Eardley’s free-kick, other chances being speculative shots from distance or goalmouth scrambles. For all Blackpool’s pressure, they lacked the creativity in the final third to break down a resolute West Ham defence. To witness just how well the Hammers defended, one need only look at the number of second half clearances made by Avram Grant’s side.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

An incredible 26 successful clearances were made in the final 45 minutes, with a further 13 attempted. West Ham don’t do anything spectacular in terms of tactics, but Grant clearly had them well-drilled, which when combined with superb individual performances from the likes of Obinna, made them very effective. The Hammers were good value for their three points and few Blackpool fans would have gone home feeling hard done to.
Blackpool move onto Goodison Park on Saturday and Holloway will be eager to halt the slide. This result however is sure to give him a selection headache against Everton, and I for one wouldn’t care to predict what the starting line-up will be on Saturday. Changes do need to be made however, Varney and Richard Kingson two names that instantly spring to mind. Kingson’s errors are beginning to add up and are proving costly. As for Varney, he is vulnerable with the increase in attacking options at Holloway’s disposal. Another game coming around so quickly is possibly the best thing, as it shouldn’t allow the negativity following this defeat to linger. A positive result there would quickly dispel the nervousness that is beginning to creep in.

The lost fluency – Blackpool v West Ham

West Ham outworked Blackpool in the central area of the pitch to record a deserved victory as Ian Holloway shuffled his team selection which ultimately appeared to disrupt the fluency that they have found at many stages this season.

Setting up 

4-3-3 v 4-4-2, West Ham’s Obinna being the player who drifted the most from either side.

This was a clear 4-3-3 v 4-4-2 battle and for the first time this season Blackpool were undone by a flat and very plain 4-4-2 with few defining features. There was two clear reasons for this.

1. Mark Noble and Scott Parker worked hard to deny Blackpool’s midfield enough space to operate and when they won the ball they were economical with it. The consequence of this was that Blackpool’s pass completion dropped to 71%. Between Noble and Parker they attempted 100 passes completing 77% compared to Vaughan and Adam who attempted 123 passes completing 69% of them.

2. When David Vaughan and Charlie Adam found space; Andy Reid was struggling early on to understand his role in a new team and was often too static. This appeared to be backed up as Ian Holloway appeared to have a lengthy discussion with him around the 20 minute mark. After about half an hour he was swapped with Gary Taylor-Fletcher. Assuming Reid was told to play a central winger role as defined by Zonal Marking the other month, then by looking at the chalkboard below you can see how Reid stayed in central area more opposed to the way that Grandin drifted to the flanks in the previous game against Man Utd. Added to this Reid misplaced 8 of his 19 passes in open play.

Assuming both Reid and Grandin are assigned the same role then you can see the difference from the opening 30 mins of the last two games. Reid appears to stick in middle as Grandin drifts to the wing.

A final point on Blackpool’s formation, as is becoming normal when chasing a game, Blackpool moved more in to a 4-2-4 as Holloway made his usual aggressive substitutions.

Back line changes

Ian Holloway made his first call of the night by picking a defensive line that had never played together before. David Carney came back from the Asian Cup Final (where he went for a jog instead of marking Tadanari Lee, who scored the winning goal) and in to the left back spot with Alex Baptiste moving in to centre back as Ian Evatt was dropped to the bench. The back line didn’t settle and Holloway brought on Evatt on at the break to replace Craig Cathcart. The impact of these changes saw Carney sit back more than Stephen Crainey would have done, whilst West Ham (as previous clubs have done) appeared to target an apparent weakness in Blackpool’s right back area.

In previous games both Sunderland and Manchester United have opened up Blackpool down their right side, this isn’t to say that it’s the right back who is causing the issue as the right-sided centre back has a duty of cover as well. It appears that there is a lack of cohesion at times down that flank and West Ham were the latest side to benefit. What causes this appears to be three things. Firstly, the right back (Eardley in this case) misses tackles. Secondly the right back loses position and doesn’t recover quick enough. Finally, the centre back not anticipating danger and being able to cover adequately enough.

With Carney not having the sense of adventure that Crainey brings to the team it appeared to reduce Blackpool’s attacking dynamic down the left and Blackpool enjoyed more success from the right flank. You can see from the Chalkboard below where Blackpool lacked some balance in their passing.

Blackpool struggled all game to get in to good positions in the final third. Here you can see how few passes were completed in the final third on the left flank. Possibly Carney lacked the adventure that Crainey brings??

Moving on

Mistakes were all too common for Blackpool in this match, but West Ham showed up like a team who are used to working hard to battle against relegation and duly got their reward along with a mercurial performance from Victor Obinna. Ian Holloway will have a think about his strategy for integrating his new players in to his side and work hard towards an invigorated Blackpool performance to push Everton all the way this Saturday.

Season So Far – Slippery Slope?

As we enter February on the back of the worst run of the season, the games become ever more crucial for Blackpool. In the last mini-review on 3rd January I’d surmised that we were ahead of the game in terms of the number of points on the board and felt that even as few as five points would be a good return from the rest of the January fixtures against Birmingham, Liverpool, West Brom, Sunderland and Man Utd. After all, with four of those matches at home, five points would be the minimum the Seasiders would chalk up, right? Wrong.

Disappointing home defeats to Birmingham and Sunderland were unexpected, and while the double over Liverpool was completed, narrow losses at the Hawthorns and against the champions-elect have seen ‘Pool walk away empty-handed from five of the last six games. All of these defeats were only by the one goal, some consolation in the form of the side’s goal difference, but it’s a run Ian Holloway and his team will be looking to arrest before the situation starts to look bleak.
Who’s up next then for the Seasiders? Let’s examine the next batch of fixtures for the month of February:
  • West Ham United (h)
  • Everton (a)
  • Aston Villa (h)
  • Tottenham Hotspur (h)
  • Wolverhampton Wanderers (a)
The two games that bookend this month are without a doubt the obvious ‘six-pointers’ and victory in these games would probably be a satisfactory return. This would take Blackpool onto 34 points by the end of February, while at the same time helping to deny their rivals catching up. West Ham’s activity in the transfer market could give them a lift, while Wolves will be expecting nothing less than three points when they entertain ‘Pool at Molineux. Failure to win at least one of these two games would be a concern, while two defeats does not bear thinking about.
The trip to Goodison Park is unlikely to be easy, with the Toffees’ form sure to pick up at some point you would imagine. Aston Villa, with the help of Darren Bent, look to have improved in recent weeks and following the war of words between Holloway and Gerard Houllier, that could be a hard-fought encounter. The mid-week visit of Spurs is perhaps the hardest of the lot,  and any points taken from this match must be considered a bonus.
I’ve said on so many occasions this season that a certain run of fixtures could be season-defining, and each time the statement feels truer. Halting the decline is a must, and one would hope that the reinforcements added by Holloway will help ‘Pool achieve this. Blackpool have yet to go more than three games without a win all season, something only Man City and Arsenal can match or better, but that record is in danger when the Hammers come to Bloomfield Road this evening. Preserving this record would go a long way to reaching an acceptable points tally by the end of the month, and in turn survival.

Incoming (Part II)

It’s that time once again to reflect on Blackpool’s transfer window activity and take a look at the individuals brought in by Ian Holloway in the increasingly nervous survival battle. 12 players were signed during the last transfer window, with a fairly even split between success stories and disappointments. With Dekel Keinan having already departed for Cardiff and long-term injuries to Chris Basham and the mysterious Malaury Martin, Holloway has reacted by signing a further five players during January, four of them on deadline day itself. Let’s run through them one by one.

Salaheddine Sbai – free from Nimes
Sbai was the first signature captured, signing a few days before the end of the window. Little is known about Sbai, with Holloway himself admitting he was signed based on DVD footage alone. The Moroccan international is primarily a left-back, although it is believed he can fill in at centre-back. The YouTube footage of Sbai reveals him to be quite a slender build, so it’s unlikely he will be utilised in the centre of the defence unless there are a few injuries. Sbai is a probable starter against West Ham, but with David Carney returning from international duty this week, and Stephen Crainey’s injury only likely to keep him out for a couple of weeks, it’s hard to know how much of a role Sbai will play between now and the end of the season. The unfortunate man out of the three options is Carney, who had it not been for the Asian Cup, could have established himself as first choice left-back.
Andy Reid – undisclosed from Sunderland
Reid should be a familiar name to most, and is a player with experience of both Premier League and international football. Reid has often been mocked for his heavy build, but his quality is undeniable. He arrives on an initial six month contract from Wearside, but at still only 28 is probably a player Holloway would like to nail down beyond the summer is Premier League survival is attained. In many ways Reid could have been seen as a replacement for Charlie Adam, with his on the ball ability and set-pieces among his strong points. Reid has struggled to make an impact this season at Sunderland, but if Holloway can get him firing, Reid will surely be an excellent addition.
James Beattie – loan from Rangers
Perhaps the biggest name of all the new signings Beattie brings bags of experience and a proven goalscoring record. It can be argued that Beattie is another player who has lost his way in recent years, but the same can be said for most of the Blackpool squad. Beattie reportedly earns a fair whack and one would expect that Blackpool are covering 50% at best of his wages. His signature is a coup for Ian Holloway and if he can get back amongst the goals in his native North West he will be a real asset. However, like Marlon Harewood, it remains to be seen how he may affect the balance of the side. With DJ Campbell excelling in the central striker role, it would be a shame to see the in-form striker shifted out wide to accommodate Beattie who is unlikely to be effective from a wide position.
Sergei Kornilenko – loan from Zenit St Petersburg
Belarussian striker Kornilenko was by far the most outlandish signing ‘Pool made on deadline day, but should not be underestimated. While he is unfamiliar to most, the consensus among Eastern European football experts seems to be positive. Jonathan Wilson, author of Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football, rates Kornilenko as a “big lad who will put himself about”, while Russian football expert James Appell is quoted as saying it could turn out to be a “fantastic deal” for the Seasiders. Both however have raised concerns over the language barrier and warned that players from that part of the world struggle to settle. If ‘Pool can make him welcome though, he could be a revelation. The YouTube clip above points to him being something of a poacher and a strong aerial presence. Again though, you’d expect a player of his style to be more suited to a central role rather than on the left of a front three – Kornilenko is left-footed.
Jason Puncheon – loan from Southampton
Less than a month ago Puncheon was part of the Saints side that knocked an unfamiliar Blackpool XI out of the FA Cup, but obviously impressed enough to earn himself a loan move to the seaside yesterday, believed to be with a view to a permanent deal. At just 24 Puncheon has already featured for five league clubs, with spells in non-league to boot. A recent loan spell with Championship side Millwall saw the midfielder rack up five goals in seven appearances and is a player with an eye for goal. Normally operating as a winger, it will be interesting to see where Holloway envisages Puncheon playing, but my suspicion is that he will provide competition for Elliot Grandin in the hole. Grandin has often drifted wide, in what Zonal Marking has identified as a ‘central winger’ role, and it is this position that could fit Puncheon too. The last player Blackpool signed from a team that had just knocked them out of the FA Cup was Keith Russell from Hednesford Town back in 1996 – it’s fair to say Puncheon has to be an improvement on him.
Arguably the most significant outcome of the transfer window was the news that bids for Charlie Adam had not matched ‘Pool’s valuation (contrary to what ‘Arry Redknapp might have you believe), thus keeping him at Bloomfield Road until at least the summer. That drama is for another blog post altogether, but the additions are bound to be welcomed by the majority of Blackpool fans. Ian Holloway now has the depth of attacking options he has been craving, and will no longer be forced to rely on the declining Brett Ormerod as a main alternative from the bench. Everyone associated with the club can be proud of their efforts in the transfer market, and Blackpool appear to have given themselves the best shot possible at staying up. The remaining 15 games will be the proof of this particular transfer pudding.