Month: April 2011

Statuesque – Fulham 3 – 0 Blackpool

Bobby Zamora showed Blackpool’s forwards how to be incisive and decisive as Fulham controlled the key areas of the pitch and the game to record a deserved victory. For all the possession that Blackpool had, their forwards were too static, reducing their attacking options.

Setting Up

Arguably the initiative was handed to Mark Hughes through Ian Holloway’s team selection. The key decision seemed to centre on the inclusion of James Beattie in order to add extra height against a Fulham side whom he thought possessed great height and aerial ability. This was a strange move as Holloway normally tends to veer towards the positive selection based on his team’s strengths instead of countering the opposition.

Fulham set up in a standard 4-4-2 but their work within that framework closed out any space Blackpool might have normally found against a 4-4-2.

Controlling the middle

Fulham controlled the space in midfield superbly to gain control of the game. Their midfield four sat narrow and applied pressure to the Blackpool midfield to disrupt their flow. You can see from the picture below how the midfield sat narrow out of possession with Dickson Etuhu and Danny Murphy closing the space in the centre and Clint Dempsey and Damien Duff moving in off their wings.

Fulham sat narrow off the ball in midfield bringing in their wingers to support their two central midfielders.

Etuhu had a particularly good game working hard in the tackle especially in the first half. In total he made 9 tackles winning 7 of them with 5 of those coming in the first half.

Stuck in the mud

The picture above serves to illustrate the second key point of the game, the static nature of the Blackpool’s statuesque forwards. Arguably the key points of Blackpool’s game are good possession of the ball, linking up with effervescent movement up front, leading to excellent passing opportunities and subsequently chances at goal. The picture above shows the three Blackpool forwards all but stood still, two of them out of the game and the one offering to receive the pass is doing so whilst strolling away from the goal.

Arguably Blackpool’s forwards only made two runs of great note and they both led to chances. Both runs were usual fayre for Blackpool but such a rarity in this game that they deserve to be picked out as illustrations of  good movement. Firstly, Brett Ormerod runs across the pitch in behind the defence, before curving his run as he reads the pass from Craig Cathcart. You can see his run tracked below.

Ormerod making a rare insightful run.

The second run was made by James Beattie, presumably fresh from half-time instructions from his manager to make runs in to space instead of standing still. Here he pulls off in to the right wing before heading down the line and then inside the box to narrowly miss the target.

Resembling the Jacko statue outside Craven Cottage Beattie rarely moved intelligently, when he did he nearly scored.

Great movement, but two examples in a game which Blackpool comprehensively dominated in the passing game is a poor return. Of Blackpool’s passes, 56% of the successful passes were in the middle third and 27% in the defensive third leaving only 17% of total completed passes in the final third. A whopping 442 passes were in the defensive and middle thirds and Fulham was more than happy in letting them dominate.

Got to be starting something? Yes. But not creating or finishing.

Combination

A combination of good possession and lack of  options in attack was all too familiar in this game. The chalkboard below was the story of Blackpool’s afternoon. You can see that a nice passing move commences in the 5th minute along the back line, in to midfield before a hopeful punt up field from Stephen Crainey conceded possession.

Pass and move. Tiki-taka. Boof-hoof!

Home straight

Blackpool now have four home games on the spin and these games will most probably decide their Premier League fate. Holloway came back from Spain this week full of ideas and in time it will be seen whether he has learned anything from that experience. However, he will now be focusing on ensuring that his statues from Craven Cottage don’t pop up again next week at Bloomfield Road against Arsenal.

Seaside Strategy – Fulham Away

A flat game at Craven Cottage saw Fulham rather easily claim all three points against a sloppy Blackpool. An inability to hold onto the ball in the first half meant ‘Pool contributed to their own demise and once they went behind, Ian Holloway’s men never looked like getting back in it. Holloway himself is sure to be at the forefront of the post-match discussion as his team selection backfired. James Beattie and Brett Ormerod returned in place of Luke Varney and Jason Puncheon, two of the star performers a fortnight ago at Ewood Park. The theory behind this decision was sound – Beattie was there to give Blackpool more height at set-pieces while Ormerod would offer more defensive cover. 
Ultimately though, the lack of pace and movement up front left the Seasiders horribly exposed, particularly once they fell behind. ‘Pool had commendably been trying to pass the ball around, but some poor first touches and misplaced passes contrived to give Bobby Zamora a simple one-on-one chance, James Beattie playing the decisive through ball to the opposing striker as he attempted to find Cathcart. Blackpool also showed their vulnerability from set-pieces as Fulham added two more goals from free-kick situations to put the game beyond the Seasiders.

Looking at the average position chart below, it is easy to see the difference between the two sides, particularly in the forward areas.
It is true that Blackpool’s front three do rotate from time to time, but the chart shows a horribly condensed forward line. For all the possession the Seasiders enjoyed at times – in fact ‘Pool bossed the overall possession 66% to 34% (Edit – ESPN Soccernet stats, 54% v 46% according to the BBC) – it was their usage of the ball in Fulham’s half which was way below par. Too often ‘Pool sought to find a way through the congested middle of the park and the lack of movement gave the likes of Charlie Adam and David Vaughan very few options. 

Adam did manage to complete a few of his searching long diagonals, but when he did the players on the receiving end were offered little support, often being forced back and losing the forward momentum. It was noticeable how languid Blackpool’s attacks were, and goes against what Holloway supposedly learned on his Spanish jaunt.

The likes of Spain and Barcelona move the ball quickly and precisely and force their opponents to chase the game, whereas Blackpool today were happy to roll the ball around with very little urgency.
The chalkboard above shows how Blackpool dominated the possession, and it has been Holloway’s mantra to keep the ball to frustrate opponents. In terms of successful passes, Blackpool outscored the home side by more than double – 533 to Fulham’s 255. However, when you look more closely in the areas in which the two sides had the ball, it’s a little easier to understand the 3-0 scoreline. The significant majority of the Seasiders’ passes were restricted to the first two thirds of the pitch – essentially harmless passes. Meanwhile Fulham made their usage of the ball count with a lot more cut and thrust about their play.

It’s easy to criticise team selection in hindsight, but Ian Holloway must surely rue not playing to his own team’s strengths. Leaving out Puncheon and Varney handed the initiative to Fulham and ‘Pool never really recovered from Beattie’s mistake which handed the hosts the lead. Keeping the ball is all well and good, but it’s important to hurt sides when you have it. Barcelona’s domination of possession is accentuated by the way they keep the ball in the opposing half and keep the other team pegged back. Blackpool gave the ball away cheaply in these advanced areas and never really threatened a well-drilled defensive unit.

With four consecutive home games to come, it is to be hoped Blackpool return to a high pressure approach, and pace in forward areas is key to this. DJ Campbell will be back after suspension and is a player the Seasiders have missed sorely. Now is not the time for Blackpool fans to feel sorry for themselves. While the home record is often dismissed, it is rare that ‘Pool have not put up a good show in front of their own fans (only the West Ham, Sunderland and Birmingham games spring to mind). An attacking approach against Arsenal, Wigan, Newcastle and Stoke over the course of the next month can yield positive results – it’s time to keep the faith in that approach.