On 22nd February Blackpool FC submitted their accounts to Companies House for the financial year ending 31st May 2010. While these accounts don’t factor in the riches bestowed upon the club upon promotion to the Premier League, I’d like to examine the financial standing of … Continue reading Financially Speaking (Part One)
As a coach Steve Kean may well have had aspirations to manage at the highest level, perhaps he had ideas of his own that one day he’d weave in to his own team unit, or as has happened, he’d be thrust in to the managerial hot seat, not really understanding what his philosophy was and revert to the team’s default settings as applied by his former boss.
On the day it became too much for Blackpool to withstand for a full match as a 2-0 lead resolved itself to a 2-2 draw. Both sides will be happy with the outcome, especially given the peculiar performances of the referee and one of his assistants. However, as much as Blackburn are repeating their play under Allardyce, Blackpool are failing to covert an advantage in to three points and (according to Opta) have now conceded 20 goals in the last 15 minutes of games this season.
The match up
During the week Ian Holloway talked about changing his approach, however, going in to this game, he set his team up in the same way as usual, however, there was a more cautious approach off the ball as his 4-2-3-1 shaped in to more of a 4-5-1 getting 10 men behind the ball when defending. Steve Kean had his side mapped out in an approximate 4-3-3. However, out of possession they reverted to a 4-1-4-1 with Steven N’Zonzi holding a deeper position than Brett Emerton and Jermaine Jones, and the wide forwards tucking in deeper than their more advanced position when their side had the ball.
Both game plans were uncomplicated and easy to spot. Kean’s game plan appeared to be two fold, firstly, get the ball to Junior Hoillet’s feet allowing him to run at the Blackpool defence. Secondly, to deliver high ball from back to front to gain territorial advantage, aiming to win the ball high up the pitch either on the first, or subsequent attempts. Holloway set his team up to be more solid out of possession to ensure that they were defensively more robust and looked to counter Blackburn quickly through short sharp passing and fast off the ball running.
Back to front
Paul Robinson’s distribution is the main observation from the game. The chalkboard below shows his passes for the game. It’s plainly clear that he (as under Allardyce) is still under instruction to hit the ball long at every attempt. It’s fair to say that he is well drilled and control’s his distance well, rarely did he go to long and after plenty of practice he started to put it just beyond the Blackpool defence, who couldn’t help but drop deeper to try and deal with the ball.
As Blackburn went direct with their aerial bombardment Blackpool had to deal with and try to win their aerial duels. They ended up losing 16 of their 30 aerial duels, however, the key here is that for the first 70 minutes they didn’t lose one in that key area, the penalty box. However, as they either tired, lost concentration, lost organisation or a combination of all three they served to lose 3 duels in the box as Blackburn’s bombardment took its took toll.
Just for the record
As Blackpool conceded another late goal, the recriminations centred on Kingson and his defence. However, Blackburn knew what they were doing and the ball from Robinson at the death was in the perfect area to cause doubt for Blackpool’s defensive unit.
As an illustration of the problem Blackburn caused Blackpool then look at the image below from earlier in the bombardment. The ball isn’t as deep (as the next example), the defensive line doesn’t drop and Kingson can stay back in case Blackburn win the duel.
Then take a look at the image from the lead up to the final goal below.
The ball is deeper, the defence then drops. Here the communication between the defensive unit is called in to question. It appears that Kingson feels it’s his ball to collect, perhaps he shouts, if so the defence must stop and let him collect; dropping too deep crowds his space. He should win the duel and should there be any contact then the benefit of the doubt would go for Kingson. If Kingson hasn’t called then he has made an error in coming for the ball and should trust his players to do what they had been doing all game. It’s interesting to note with these two examples, is that the person who made the first clearance (Charlie Adam) wasn’t on the pitch when the second example took place.
As noted earlier, both teams will be happy with a point from the fixture. Blackburn should be safe in the Premier League, they know what they’re good at, but teams will sting them regularly on the break and they’ll get some beatings before the season is over. Blackpool on the other hand had some great moments on the break, but the main concern remains focused on their defensive unit. If they can keep a clean sheet or two between now and the end of the season then they may well be a part of the elite division next season.
Blackpool have attacked this season and it’s easy to look at the drive and incisive passing of Charlie Adam or the goals of DJ Campbell as explanations behind that. However, Blackpool’s attacking is more sophisticated than to rely on two players and it is far removed from the Tony Pulis description of roulette football. Only when things fail can you gain an understanding of why they work so well.
Already 1-0 down to Wolves, Ian Holloway looked to his bench after twenty minutes of the game and decided enough was enough, he had made the wrong decision and by the 28th minute of the game Sergei Kornilenko touched hands with Luke Varney as the latter replaced him on the field of play. Post match Ian Holloway said;
“I took him off for tactical reasons. I didn’t think my centre forwards were in the right place, both James Beattie and Sergei,”
The purpose of this post is to illustrate the point that Holloway made. The focus of the post will be the role of Kornilenko and is by no way a criticism of him. Holloway admits the mistake himself and that Kornilenko and Beattie are both new to the Blackpool system and by the evidence of this game are still learning.
Fish out of water
The period of focus here is the first 20 minutes of the game and in that period Kornilenko made 7 passes and 4 of them found the opposition. As he became involved in play it is easy to see why he had to come off. Take his involvement in the 4th minute. As the ball was played forward he drifted inside to a central position. You can see from the picture below he has drifted inside and offers Blackpool no width. The zone you can see is exactly where he should be taking up his position.
Repeat to fade
Almost straight after his first positional error it crops up again. In the 5th minute he takes up a wide position upon receipt of the ball, again though, his instincts mean he doesn’t make the right movement. As illustrated below, he should follow the line to exploit the space.
As he lays the ball off he then makes the move inside taking away the forward width that helps to stretch the opposition defence, as he goes inside he offers no passing option and the move breaks down. You can see where he moved to below, right beside DJ Campbell in the centre forward position.
Once Kornilenko realises that he’s drifting inside he starts holding a wider position across the width of the pitch, however, his position has another reference point, the length of the pitch. Below you can see he is almost in a winger position and not the forward position that Blackpool’s system needs. DJ Campbell is too far away for a link up and Kornilenko ends up hitting a hopeful long ball to the opposition. Both Southern and Vaughan are ahead of him at this point and this shows the overall impact of getting the forward play wrong. It might seem insignificant, but it impacts the whole team from front to back.
By the 13th minute Kornilenko takes up good wide position off the ball, when the ball eventually breaks, he is able to support the attack and set up Eardley to deliver a (poor) cross in to the box. At this stage Holloway’s pitch side communication must be working, the positioning is getting better and supporting the team’s play as a consequence.
Ordem e Progresso
On the quarter game mark, again the forwards start in good positions (below) and you can see how, as the midfield breaks Blackpool’s 4-3-3 becomes apparent. Earlier in the game the poor forward positioning meant that Blackpool’s formation was poor and Wolves exploited this. Here, the ball moves across to Kornilenko at the top of the picture, however, his instinct as a central striker dominant and he stops to hold up the ball with his back to goal, he becomes isolated and ends up playing a hopeful ball similar to the one played in the 7th minute.
As the game progresses in to the 18th minute, Kornilenko’s instincts are way too dominant, not only as seen in the previous move where he held the ball up, by this time the forward line has lost any shape it had, and Blackpool end up in a mess. The forwards starting positions have been lost. This isn’t necessarily bad. A feature of Blackpool’s forward play is the movement. From here the forward could cross run in to the flanks and get behind the defence or even make direct lateral runs to the wings.
The problem here is the both Beattie and Kornilenko want to play through the middle and neither is supposed to be there. The central striker in the formation at this stage of the game was DJ Campbell, who as you will see below drops deep to receive the ball. This is a common move for Campbell; usually he can drop deep, receive the ball, give it and make a run through the central area. In this instance he is obstructed by his fellow forwards, the move breaks down and so does Holloway’s patience. The picture below demonstrates perfectly why the poor movement up front bring’s Blackpool’s system to a halt. The system is attacking, all the players want to push forward and the forward set the tone. If they move and occupy the flanks the team can structure themselves around them and inter play with them. However, Kornilenko goes and clusters the centre and it makes it easy for Wolves to defend.
Back to the drawing board
Holloway knew he made mistakes here and two recent additions to the Blackpool squad show that it’s far from easy to adapt to his system and three forwards can be a crowd. Blackpool went in to their next game versus Chelsea with DJ Campbell suspended and fielded a lone striker in Beattie. Perhaps this shows where Holloway will look to focus and as the 4-3-3 comes out again Blackburn next week perhaps the key selection dilemma will centre on the other forwards. Will Kornilenko have learnt the role over by then or will players such as Luke Varney and Gary Taylor-Fletcher come back in as tried as tested components of the system that has worked so well this season and last? Or will Kornilenko prove to be the man for the central role?
“We are going to try to keep our defence a little deeper, bring the midfield a little deeper, and then hopefully counter-attack them”. Ian Holloway.
Ian Holloway had made no secret of his plan prior to the game and for the most part it worked well, however, individual errors in defence and poor movement from his forwards ensured that chances created weren’t clear cut as Chelsea controlled large parts of the match and deserved their comfortable win.
Blackpool had a selection dilemma ahead of the game with Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell both suspended. Holloway chose an unfamiliar line-up with David Carney, Jason Puncheon and Andy Reid slotting in to the midfield and Stephen Crainey coming in at left back. With the ball Blackpool shaped up in a 4-2-3-1, however, out of possession the team sat deep and the forwards dropped back leaving James Beattie as a lone forward and Blackpool shaped in to a 4-5-1. It was Holloway’s intention to sit deep and try to hit Chelsea on the counter, the selection of David Carney on the left wing hinted at giving extra defensive protection down that flank. As a part of this defensive approach Keith Southern and David Vaughan both sat deep out of possession, but with the ball both broke forward with David Vaughan often becoming the spare man in midfield and more advanced than Southern.
Chelsea set up in a 4-4-2 but they applied it with very aggressive positioning so it was different to a regular 4-4-2, however, this may have been due to the fact that Blackpool were happy to let Chelsea have the ball and invited them on to them. Chelsea’s midfield four sat very narrow with Ramires on the right and Zhirkov on the left tucking in tight and the width was provided by both full backs pushing up high in to midfield making almost a six in midfield. As Chelsea advanced in to the attacking third it appeared as if Michael Essien’s brief was to drop deep to cover defence. However, Chelsea in the pass were very one paced and they lacked any dynamism which wasn’t helped by Torres and Drogba being very static and flat up front. The introduction of Solomon Kalou injected the right amount of movement and change in pace of pass to provide the difference between the two teams.
Chelsea enjoyed good spells of sustained possession, however, rarely threatened to open Blackpool up, it was poor marking from a corner that notched their first goal. After that Blackpool enjoyed their best period of the game with both Southern and Vaughan finding their rhythm in the pass and in breaking up the opposition. However, Blackpool were very static in their forward movement and James Beattie struggled to ascertain any dominance in the air which could have given them a platform to build on winning 3 of his 7 duels.
The second half again saw Chelsea control the possession for large parts, but it was the enforced substitution of Salomon Kalou for Didier Drogba which changed the game. Kalou dropped deeper, made direct forward runs, gave short passes and moved which essentially lead to much more dynamism in attack from Chelsea which caused Blackpool’s defence to be pulled out of position leaving them exposed to error.
Blackpool’s late flurry came from a double substitution which saw Holloway revert to three forwards giving a more varied point of attack which really started to cause Chelsea problems. Stephen Crainey also started to step up in to attack as Blackpool finished this game as they start and play most.
Applying the press
A key observation of both teams is how they differed in the pressing of their opponents. Blackpool normally press all over the pitch and their defending starts with the forwards. In this match they let Chelsea have the ball and only pressed hard when Chelsea advanced to within 35 yards of the goal. Whilst Chelsea pressed from the front, almost hunting in packs to expose Blackpool’s players on the ball and a perfect example of this came in the build up to the penalty. Both Ashley Cole and Yuri Zhirkov pressed Jason Puncheon, forcing the error in possession.
When Blackpool found their rhythm after the opening goal they started to break up Chelsea, all but 2 of their 8 interceptions came in the 25 mins up to half time. Apart from that Blackpool let Chelsea dominate on the ball. You can see the difference in the two teams pressing in the Chalkboards below.
Nine to go!
It should be clear to most observers of the Premier League that Blackpool have a first eleven that is worthy of staying in this league, however, the real question marks hang over their strength in depth. Ian Holloway will be pleased with some performances in this match, particularly from Jason Puncheon who appears to listen to his manager and adapt to game situations. Blackpool will be near full strength for the away trip to Blackburn later in the month and should provide a stern test for their Lancashire rivals. Chelsea on the other hand are a side who can and will beat anyone on their day and may still have a large influence on how this Premier League turns out by game week 38.
Part one of this two-part post touched on the good things that Blackpool have sustained over their twenty-eight games this season and those are things that will help to ensure that Blackpool give as good as they get through to the season end. However, out of the original ten ways for Blackpool to stay in the Premier League, there are four critical elements that Blackpool are struggling with. This post will touch upon those and their impact on the chances of Blackpool achieving the improbable dream.
The original article was written at the time that Blackpool were starting to find some resolve in defence; a solid performance against Wolves and a good 70 minutes against Bolton was followed up with two back to back clean sheets against Stoke and Sunderland. However, since then Blackpool have really struggled to get their basics right and this has constantly dragged down otherwise strong performances. This was covered at length in a recent article called dissecting the defence. Intended to uncover how Blackpool’s defence worked, it appropriately defined what the opposition are doing to Blackpool. A combination of poor basics and poor positioning has been under pinned by injuries to key personnel and Ian Holloway has struggled to keep a regular back four together. Stephen Crainey has missed the last six games and it would be no surprise should he return, and Blackpool recover their composure. He may lack pace over short distance to recover position, but he makes up for that with assurance in possession of the ball, strength in the tackle and adventure on the break.
In fact since the original article was written goals are being conceded at a rate exceeding the earlier part of the season rising from 1.93 to a nice and round 2.00 goals per game. A point of interest to note is that in the period of Crainey’s absence the goals conceded per game jumped to almost another goal per game at 2.83.
Again this has been rolled out on the blog quite a few times recently and none more so when it was defined that there had been a noticeable drop in Blackpool’s pass completion rate. The impact of this means that opposition teams are now seeing more of the ball and Blackpool are keeping it less and consequently losing their grip on games. Since the original post, pass completion has dropped from 75% to 72% for total passes. In number of pass terms this equates to Blackpool conceding on average a total of 34 less completed passes per game.
One observation though; note how it has picked up recently. The signs of a recovery? Monday’s game against Chelsea will be an interesting benchmark!
Points not drying up
Well they did finally and it is now important for Blackpool to find their rhythm in collecting points again. A repeat of the recent five consecutive defeats at this stage of the season would be potentially catastrophic. Look at the table below to see how Blackpool had been progressing in points mapped against Hull’s progress from their first season in the Premier League. Notice the flat line on Hull’s tally, if Blackpool can avoid stringing multiple defeats together then that tally line will keep climbing and they’ll get closer to safety.
Stay alert for 90 minutes
This is clearly a huge weakness for Blackpool and one that hasn’t gone away. Speculation can go on all day long about fitness levels, experience and ability however, Blackpool are vulnerable as the game skips on to the final quarter. The chart below shows that Blackpool have conceded 17 goals in the final quarter which accounts for 31% of the total goals they’ve conceded. Prior to the last article Blackpool had conceded 9 goals in the last quarter and the last thirteen games they’ve done the same, leaking a further 8 goals, so no improvement there; and as a result games have been lost from leading positions in that period. Most notably against Manchester United and Everton.
Can it be done?
These are very critical factors and quite clearly should Blackpool get stuck in a rut again, it will be due to defensive frailties, poor ball retention leading to intolerable opposition pressure in the final quarter of games. Just getting some defensive solidity and better passing for a handful of the last ten games will surely be enough (in tandem with those aspects from part one) to keep Blackpool where some people doubted they could be for a second season.
Back in December this blog put together ten ways for Blackpool to stay in the Barclays Premier League. With ten games of the season remaining it is time to look back at those ten ways to see how Blackpool measure up against them and what that might mean for their quest towards the improbable dream.
The original article picked out the aforementioned ten ways by highlighting the things that had given Blackpool a good start to the season ranging from their attacking approach to the lack of consideration by other teams to the way that Blackpool approach the game. After running through each aspect it appears that Blackpool are still doing a lot of the right things even though their recent form has been poor.
Since the article was written, Blackpool has played a total of thirteen games and it’s these games that will be scrutinised in order to give us a progress report. A quick glance at those games shows that Blackpool; won four, drew one and lost eight. Their previous fifteen games (prior to the last article) saw them win five, draw four and lose six.
Should Blackpool not lose any of their next two games then their records in the two halves of the thirty games played this season will look remarkably similar and belie any suggestions that Blackpool are slipping to relegation. When looking at the ten ways, it appears that Blackpool are still successfully plodding their way through six of them and this helps to account for the positive results of the last thirteen games, whilst the negative aspects of Blackpool recent play can be largely catered for with the other four.
Attack Minded Approach
Anyone who has seen Blackpool this year will testify to their attacking commitment and this has certainly not dwindled. From attacking for the (never to be) fourth goal at Goodison Park against Everton, to the pressing Manchester United up against the wall for 60 minutes and robbing them of two goals. In fact, in the last thirteen games Blackpool have scored at a rate of 1.46 goals a game which is only marginally down on their 1.53 goals from the previous fifteen games. See below for a comparison against Blackpool’s oft favoured comparators Hull and Burnley and see how their goal scoring compared in their inaugural Premier League campaigns.
Part of what Ian Holloway has brought to the Premier League with his Blackpool side is his tried and tested 4-3-3. He hasn’t swayed much from this formation and hasn’t tried to drop more numbers in to defence or midfield to close out the space. In fact only when protecting leads (most notably versus Liverpool & Everton) and against Spurs from the start of the match has this been adjusted. In the main it works for his players and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
These are still an active piece of Blackpool’s approach, if a little over used, they still help to stretch the play and set up attacks for Blackpool and help in unsettling the opposition. However, if anything they can be over played and lead to Blackpool’s heading up the list of long balls played as detailed recently in the BBC tactics blog. If you want to read more about these then Up The Pool covered them and their impact in vast detail.
DJ Campbell’s goals
It was speculated earlier in the season that should DJ Campbell get the ball at his feet in the space between penalty spot and goal line then he will start scoring. In the first fifteen games of the season Campbell had netted twice and endured a couple of hardworking if fruitless games, the match against Bolton springs to mind. However, since then he has amassed 7 goals in the last 13 games to vastly exceed all expectations of him. At this rate he might get close to 13 goals this season which would have a huge impact on Blackpool’s attempts at staying up. See below for the Chalkboards from the goals that he’s scored in the last thirteen games and if you read the original article, note how all of them are in his favoured zone (but arguably any striker’s favourite zone).
Counter Intelligence & Plan B
One aspect that many Blackpool fans were concerned with earlier in the season centred on ‘being found out’ that teams will know how to play against us and counter it. In the earlier part of the season, teams who played with a holding midfielder generally had greater success against Blackpool whilst Birmingham were the only team to make match specific changes to their approach to counter Blackpool. In the last thirteen games it could be said that Birmingham are still the only team to actively counter Blackpool by changing their shape as they brought their diamond from the St Andrews game to Bloomfield Road and secure the three points. One thing this has meant is that Ian Holloway has still not had a reason to come up with a Plan B, he can continue instilling his tactics in to his side without having to vary too much and potentially distort the qualities of his side.
Six Steps On
This post has now ascertained that out of those original ten ways, six of them are still pertinent. This might have led to quite a dry post, however, in the second part as the negative aspects of recent performances come to light then this should lead to a few interesting insights. Check back on the blog in the next couple of days to read the second and final part of this post.
You can read the second part now – Part Two