Month: August 2011

Dawning of a new era

Anyone who has watched Blackpool since Ian Holloway took charge will know what to expect. Attacking football is what he wants and that is what he has been getting from his players. Everyone should expect more of the same this season, but before speculating about how Blackpool’s play may shape up this season let’s take a look at the players he has brought. The following observations are made from brief viewing in pre-season and what is known about the player from previous clubs.

On the defensive

In defence, there have been three new additions. Paul Bignot will act as cover at right back, he appears to be comfortable moving forward both on and off the ball, but at this stage it is unclear just how many starts he might be given or what his defensive ability is like. Matt Hill brings experience and versatility, covering both left and centre backs. He has been given some playing time in pre-season at left centre back partnering Ian Evatt. It has been speculated on this blog previously that perhaps Holloway was looking for a left-sided centre back to given better balance and smoother circulation of the ball along the back line. However, it appears that Hill has been utilised centrally because another summer recruit, Bob Harris is likely to be cover at left back. Hill seems competent enough to handle both positions and his height should only be an issue should a team see that as a target to exploit. However, only time will tell if that really is a weakness or not.

Bob Harris may well not get a lot of game time this season, but he will be asked to place as much pressure on Stephen Crainey as he can. At first he was possibly Holloway’s first choice to replace Crainey if he had left the club as expected. However, now Crainey remains Harris will have to use his limited opportunities to make it impossible for him to be dropped. He should get his chance when Crainey picks up an injury and when he does he will be advancing forward comfortably and will provide quality ball in to the ball and may well pack a decent shot.

The day before the season kicks off Miguel Llera was brought in, a left footed centre back of similar stature and build to Ian Evatt, perhaps without his aerial ability, but appears competent enough on the ball and comfortable moving forward.

Critical area

Midfield sees the greatest changes and given that gaining control of the centre is so crucial in football then this is where Holloway has made his critical moves. Barry Ferguson has come in to the club and he will be expected to sit in deep midfield as two midfielders move in front of him. It is likely that he will hold and not rotate in a three man midfield as Blackpool tended to do when Adam, Vaughan and Southern lined up. Ferguson has most probably been bought for more than his footballing ability, but to also bring experience, knowledge of the game and leadership on the pitch. It’s likely that he’ll take the captain’s armband and lead the team out. Also in midfield is Angel Martinez, who from a brief stint in pre-season against Sheffield United is competent on the ball and likes to sit centrally. He may well act as cover for Ferguson in that holding role. Bojan Djordic may well play as a wide forward when the season starts, however, judging his preseason games, he appears to suit the central and deeper areas of the pitch which might lend him to backing up Elliot Grandin when Blackpool hold two midfielders deeper and allow one to push high up the pitch.

Back of the net

Up front Kevin Phillips is likely to start the season as the central striker, whether he adapts to this system at this stage of his career will be interesting. He seems comfortable playing on the shoulder of defenders and less about dropping deeper and linking up with the midfielders. He’ll also be expected to switch with the left and right forwards during the game and this might push him out of his comfort zone. Strangely for a striker with so many career goals, this season might be his biggest challenge.

Craig Sutherland has come back to the UK after playing college ‘soccer’ in the United States and he has impressed in pre-season. He appears to understand where is supposed to run from his wide forward position as his goal against Sheffield United confirms as well as being composed and accurate when shooting. Whether he can play centrally and hold the ball up and link play remains to be seen.

Coming in from Liverpool is Gerard Bruna, who has stated his preferred position is as a ‘Number 10’, given that it’s rare that Blackpool fill this position it will be interesting to see how he handles the possibility of fitting in to the system as a wide forward. However, should Blackpool lack creativity in central areas, then he may well drop deeper and sit at the head of a midfield triangle in a 4-2-3-1. Also, coming in from Liverpool is Tom Ince, who appears to favour the wide left forward role, however, he will be expected to rotate centrally and to the right in the system. Upon rather brief inspection, he may well have good pace if shown the space, however, he passing, crossing and decision making will be under scrutiny if he wants to break in to the first eleven.

Shaping up

Given the recruitment that has gone on, how does that reflect on the way that Blackpool will shape up when they take to the field against Hull tonight. It would appear that Barry Ferguson is a guaranteed starter and will captain the side. What about the other new recruits?

Could this line up be the way that Ian Holloway will start off his season?

It’s likely that only Kevin Phillips from the other new arrivals will start the game again Hull, however, a few may come in to the game from the bench. Perhaps Tom Ince or Gerado Bruna might get on late in the game out wide left to show what they can do regardless of the game situation as could Craig Sutherland. It’s unlikely that either Matt Hill or Miguel Llera will play a part in defence.

The role of Barry Ferguson might well be very interesting. As the full backs will keep pushing up, it’s likely that he’ll ensure that cover is provided at the back. Last season it could be a regular occurrence to see all three midfielders caught high up the pitch. Therefore, this might be the biggest change to witness when the Tangerine take to the field again Hull. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Holloway rotates him in a three man midfield, with either Ludo Sylvestre or Keith Southern sitting deeper and trying to use Ferguson’s skills at ball retention higher up the field to build pressure in the final third. Should Sylvestre be selected it will be intriguing to see how he takes to the midfield now that Charlie Adam has departed. The last time those two started a game (Manchester City away) there was a sense that they were taking each others space and tripping each other up. If selected, Sylvestre may well have the main playmaking duties bestowed upon him. He clearly has an eye for a pass and could get Championship defences on the turn with consistency making him a danger in any game.

Alternate

Ian Holloway may decide that he wants to move from the standard 4-3-3 that he re-found towards the end of last season and ask Elliot Grandin to start much further up the pitch in something resembling a 4-2-1-3 shape as you can see below.  Should that be the case then it’s likely that Sylvestre will make way and Blackpool’s play will revolve around Grandin and his composure in possession trying to link play with the forwards. However, Grandin struggles to receive and turn with the ball at times meaning he can be nullified if you force him away from goal. However, if teams let him turn and run directly then he could enjoy some great success in this league.

Subtle changes in midfield perhaps? Sylvestre for Grandin?

What new players?

As is stands it appears that there is little potential impact on the first eleven from the new recruits. In truth this might be the case, however, it will be down to them to take their chances when they get them. There is still continuity to the Premier League team now Crainey and Gilks are back on board. Should any of the other new players get a chance against Hull, it will because of either late injuries or impressing with performances on the training pitch.

Kick off

What should be expected from the trip to Hull? Nigel Pearson will most probably try to jam the midfield with numbers and seek to spoil any rhythm that Blackpool try to build up. Expect Barry Ferguson to be pressured from the first whistle and for Hull to break at speed to catch Blackpool on the counter. It will be interesting to see how Blackpool create and score goals this season and this match will give some great indications as to what will happen. Gary Taylor-Fletcher may well be the key player this season and Hull will need to track his movement and pass on marking duties from defence to midfield as he goes in search of the ball from his wide right position. Pearson will hope that Robert Koren sees as much of the ball as possible whilst Blackpool will need to be vigilant and deny him time and space on the ball to pick a pass or release a shot on goal.

Whatever happens tonight this season will certainly be entertaining and full of attacking football again.

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Holloway's biggest task – Catch up

It seems like yesterday that Blackpool were pushing Manchester United as hard as they could on the final day of last season before eventually being relegated, however, all that is in the past and on Friday night Blackpool face Hull in their first game of the new season.

Catching up

Last season finished with an article on the blog that tried to unpick what might be going on at Bloomfield Road over the summer break and to show the extent of the task that Ian Holloway faced. This summer has seen some high profile departures, some surprises and some interesting new recruits. Initially, it appeared that Blackpool would have to bring in around ten players to rebuild their squad and bring in players as replacements for key players. Whilst all this was going on it was speculated that Holloway may be trying to strike a balance of experience and youth throughout the squad. This post will pick up where we left off setting out how the squad looks now and if there may be any more new faces coming down to the sea side.

First eleven

To start things off let’s see where we were when the last post was written. A few assumptions were made about the players that might be a part of the squad and that left Blackpool with a threadbare squad of just fourteen players. When trying to pick a team from those there were some glaring gaps, particularly in goal and left back. It is at this point that the first observation of the summer is to be made. The assumption back in June was that both Stephen Crainey and Matthew Gilks wouldn’t renew their contracts and would move elsewhere. However, the club managed to persuade both of these players to sign new contracts and in doing so ensured that the critical vacancies were filled quickly and with a minimum of fuss. This could well be the best bit of business that the club do all season, it ensures continuity of play, continuity in the changing room and retains their experience. Valuable experience of the Premier League, but both were a part of the side who were promoted the season before last. All of a sudden, as you can see blow, just with those players back on board the projected first eleven started to shape up well.

Not taking in to account any of Blackpool's summer recruits, just the returns of Crainey & Gilks

Before delving any deeper at this stage lets just lay down the players who currently form a part of Ian Holloway’s ‘match day’ squad. These are the players that it would be safe to assume would be the first picks, eliminating some of the younger professionals, assuming that they’ll play League Cup games and reserve team games or departing on loan.

As you can see Blackpool have a squad of 25 players and there are plenty of options across the pitch. When Crainey and Gilks agreed their contracts there were still plenty of vacancies to be filled. A quick look at the currentl squad shows how those vacancies have been filled and the players that Ian Holloway at his disposal appear to cover all his requirements. This point is regardless of player quality and subjective opinion on the matter. This is just about the profile of positions vacant and assumed quotas. The positional analysis of the squad is below with some assumptions around certain players and their first position i.e. Alex Baptiste is counted as a centre back, but may well start at right back or Gerado Bruna is listed as a forward when he could in fact play as a central attacking midfielder.

It looks like Holloway has covered all his bases and in fact he may be oversubscribed up front. However, that might change if players start to leave. For example, Stephen Husband has been listed as a midfielder here, but it may be very likely that he goes out on loan as could someone like Craig Sutherland, should he be short of game experience as the season progresses. There’s clearly good postional coverage across the field for Blackpool, giving Holloway plenty of options and flexilibility. In addition to that there are players in there that can cover more than one position. The one area of doubt might be hidden however, as Matt Hill was counted as a centre back and there’s a chance that his acquisition was in anticipation of losing Stephen Crainey. He has been tried at centre back in pre-season as the Bob Harris from Queen of the South appears to be the second choice left back. Should anyone else be signing before now and the transfer window then a centre back might still come in, leaving Matt Hill with some work to cement a place in the first team squad. In terms of experience Blackpool were lacking across the board after the exodus at the end of the season, below is a table showing the spread of ages across the squad.

It appears that there is a slight imbalance in the 22 to 25 and 31+ groups, however, given that there are a few players around the age of 30 and have a good level of experience behind them then that is something that Holloway might be happy with. However, given the earlier point about a centre back in addition to this then should a centre back be purchased then it would be no surprise if they were around the 32/33 year old mark as well.

As you have hopefully seen, Blackpool have a good base to start the season with. The key to further recruitment may well centre around a new centre back as discussed or more than likely further recruitment may be dictated by their performances early in the season or players offered on loan by Premier League clubs.

This round up the first post of the new season and was wholly intended to pick up where we left off last season. Before the new season kicks off there will be a post in addition to this reviewing the players that have come in and how Blackpool might line up this season.

 

Note: Since this article was originally written Blackpool have signed Tom Ince and Miguel Llera, a forward and centre back.

2011/12 Season Visualiser

“If Blackpool’s fixture list was a patchwork of colours, what would it look like?”
The above question probably isn’t one you’ve spent the summer pondering, but indulge me here…if the fixtures were colour-coded by difficulty, what would we be presented with? The answer is the season visualiser, devised by the brains over at Experimental 3-6-1. The theory is simple: each game is illustrated by a colour – anywhere between a strong green and a deep red, with every shade of yellow in between. This means a quick scan of the fixture list can identify potential tricky spells, as well as periods where the team can aim to capitalise on supposedly easier matches.

How does it work?
At this point, let me hand over to the man behind the science to explain in his own words:

An algorithm calculates the probable outcome of each match based on:

(1) The ratio between two teams’ promotion odds, which serves as the best readily-available proxy for their relative strength
(2) The proportion of points each team gained at home last season, which provides an indication of how the venue will affect a team’s chances of victory

(1) is weighted more highly than (2), so there’s no way that, say, Crewe racking up almost 70% of their points tally from home matches last season will cause the algorithm to conclude that facing Crawley at home is easier than a trip to Macclesfield.

The greenest fixtures represent the (theoretically) easiest and their reddest the hardest, relative to other games. Yellow is the midpoint of the colour range, so fixtures of this hue are of relatively average difficulty for the team.

Of course, this is not an exact science – how easy or difficult a particular fixture is could be debated ad infinitum, but using primarily the bookmakers’ odds is as objective a view as one can hope for.

The Season Visualiser

Over at Experimental 3-6-1 they have compiled the season visualiser for every team in the Football League, but below you can see the data for just Blackpool’s 2011/12 fixtures.

At the green end of the scale, the season visualiser highlights the home games against Doncaster and Barnsley as the most winnable fixtures, while at the opposite end of the spectrum, the two fixtures with the deepest shade of red are the trips to West Ham and Leicester. These are all fair assumptions, the two South Yorkshire sides look set for a tough season battling relegation, while big-spending Leicester and Allardyce’s Hammers are most people’s favourites for automatic promotion.

The above graphic offers the opportunity to see where runs of green should offer the ability to rack up the points, whereas the bunched red and orange colours pinpoint potentially trickier times. However, this is a lot of information to take in at once. What if we were to break the season visualiser down into month segments? What shape would the season begin to take then?

By taking a monthly average of the values pertaining to each fixture, the chart above has assigned a colour to each month – once again with red indicating the potentially most difficult month, and strong green illustrating the theoretically easiest month. This perhaps offers a more telling insight into our season, and particularly highlights how important a good start could be. 
A failure to take early points in August, one of our more straight-forward months fixture-wise, could mean we will spend the season forever playing catch-up. An upturn in difficulty looks set to coincide with the clocks going back in October, and we could be headed for a dark autumn / early winter if we start slowly.
January appears to be the kindest month according to the season visualiser, so it’s to be hoped ‘Pool do not suffer a New Year hangover at a time when points could be there for the taking. The final month of the season also provides decent point-scoring opportunities, but games against Forest, Leeds, Burnley and Millwall to finish the season will hardly be easy pickings.
If you buy into the over-used Blackpool cliché about our seasons being a rollercoaster ride, then you may prefer the below graphic which illustrates the same point in a different way. This graph shows the potential ups-and-downs we may experience during the season

Note: the colours on the graph do not provide an exact match to those from the monthly visualiser, but do give an indication of how this can be viewed in terms of peaks and troughs.

Picking out the points

Moving away from the abstract colours and graphs, what can we pull out of this data in terms of targets? Using the numbers behind the colours, we can form a weighted table for points targets at the end of each month. The table below takes into consideration the supposed relative difficulty of each fixture and offers a points target that Blackpool should be looking to hit, based on one of three end of season outcomes: survival, a play-off place or automatic promotion. The targets have been set at the generally accepted average points totals required for each of the three landmarks. For example, to be on course for a play-off place at the end of December, ‘Pool should be aiming to have accumulated 38 points.

Conclusions

Based on the information yielded from the season visualiser, what should be looking at? At what points in the season is it important for Blackpool to perform?
  • A strong start could be vital. With the following months all the way until January looking harder on paper, the way ‘Pool begin the season could be more important than ever
  • With January shaping up to potentially be the easiest calendar month, early movement in the winter transfer window could be crucial
  • Whatever the situation is going into April, it will be important to retain focus. A kinder set of fixtures to end the season could allow the Seasiders to make up ground on the teams ahead of them
How much stock you put into all this depends on your view of the bookmakers’ odds. The old saying goes that you’ll never meet a poor bookie so the way the teams have been ranked probably isn’t far off the mark, but this has all been calculated before all squads have been assembled, so no doubt there will be some fluctuations in odds even just a month into the season.
It will be fascinating to see if reality matches up to the science though, and I’ll be following up on this theory on a regular basis throughout the course of the season. Will our form match up to the graph? Will November be as difficult a month as the visualiser suggests? I can’t wait to find out when the season gets underway.

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Credits: Thanks must go to @GreenwichGull, the man behind Experimental 3-6-1 for his assistance, in not only inspiring the idea for this article with his original post, but also providing the data which allowed me to create the various charts and graphs. E-3-6-1 is a highly recommended read, so why not head over there and see what else is on offer?

A new season, a new home for Tangerine Dreaming…..

Hello everyone and welcome to the new home of Tangerine Dreaming.

You should notice right away that this new site looks different from the old one, however it’ll contain the very same kind of content.

Expect analysis of Blackpool’s forthcoming campaign back in the Championship and the occasional article speculating about where they may go in the future or unpicking trends or aspects of players performances as the season builds to its climax next May.

Feel free to browse the site if you like and spread the word if you like what you see. You can access all the key content up at the top, ordered in to categories that should make sense. All last seasons posts are here should you wish to reflect on what has past.

Thanks to everyone which has supported the blog since it started last October and hopefully you’ll enjoy what’s to come. If you’re wondering what to expect before the season starts then they will be a couple of articles to set the scene for the new season as well the occasional piece cropping up on other sites.

I also want to thank Michael Kinlan for spending many hours working to create this new site. Using his powers of patience as well as creativity trying to bring to together the vague thoughts I had in to a coherent whole. If you want to contact Michael then you can follow him on Twitter here – @mickkinlan.

Also, if you’re interested in my off site thoughts about Blackpool FC, football and other things then you can always follow me on Twitter or on Facebook. You can use the icons to the right to track me down on those there things.

For now I hope you enjoy this new place and please drop me line below if you have any comments or feedback as it would be good to hear from you.

Keep dreaming,

John.