Category: Tactical Insights

Seaside Strategy – Bolton Wanderers Home

If you were to try to explain to someone the best and worst of Blackpool’s debut Premier League season, the easiest thing would be to point them in the direction of a recording of Saturday’s game against Bolton. It was playground football at its finest – end-to-end, mistake-ridden and hugely enjoyable. The momentum rocked back and forth between the two sides and after 90 minutes ‘Pool just edged out their opponents to recreate the 4-3 scoreline of that famous 1953 cup final. The weekend’s other results were a bit of a mixed bag, but the significance of this victory could come close to the Matthews Final if the Seasiders can achieve the unthinkable at Old Trafford.

Tactically, the game was a little all over the place. As many expected, ‘Pool lined up with the side that began the second half at White Hart Lane – Jason Puncheon replacing Sergei Kornilenko in the starting XI. This change gave Blackpool a fluid front three who caused a lot of problems for Wanderers’ defence. Neither side really controlled the match for any prolonged period, the ebb and flow switching as often as the goals poured in. 
In order to break down the match into something a little more digestible however, it’s interesting to look more closely at the contribution of Alex Baptiste. The former Mansfield man’s peformance can almost be seen as a microcosm of how Blackpool as a whole played on the day. Allow me to explain. While Baptiste was involved in the goals conceded, he also displayed an attacking zest, embodying the Blackpool ethos this season – get forward in numbers and at pace.
In terms of his defensive duties, it can be said that Baptiste did not have the best of days. For the first goal, as shown in the screen-grab below, the centre-back was unfortunate as the floated free-kick ricocheted unkindly off his body into the path of a grateful Kevin Davies, who made no mistake with his first time finish.

  

As the ‘Pool defence endured a torrid time, Daniel Sturridge had a clear opportunity to take a 3-2 lead before half-time. Ian Evatt miscontrolled the ball as he intercepted a Bolton pass, gifting the ball to Kevin Davies. The still below shows four tangerine shirts with their eyes on the ball, as Sturridge worked himself some space in behind Stephen Crainey. Only a great save from Matt Gilks rescued the situation for the Seasiders. This is just one example of how Blackpool have created their own problems defensively this season, a pattern that was most noticeable in the home game against Arsenal.

In spite of these defensive frailties though, Blackpool once again looked the dangerous outfit of old, with some exciting attacking football. Time and time again they broke forward rapidly in numbers, and often in the form of unlikely suspects. Baptiste was popping up all over the pitch, as shown in the chalkboard below.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

It’s not unusual for a Blackpool centre-back to be found way over the halfway line, but typically it has been Ian Evatt to fulfill this role. On Saturday it was Baptiste who was given the licence to drive forward, which he did on several occasions. The capture below shows one example in the 58th minute, when Baptiste picked up the ball inside his own half before surging forward to the edge of the Bolton 18 yard box. It might not be the most risk-averse strategy to employ, but Ian Holloway’s willingness to encourage his defenders to attack does take teams by surprise. Overloading opponents with seven or eight bodies when attacking has been the most exciting facet of watching Blackpool this season, and thankfully it was rewarded against Bolton.

  
Picking out another individual, I can’t conclude this post without paying tribute to the performance of DJ Campbell, who turned in another display justifying his price tag and then some. Chalkboards don’t tell half the story when it comes to analysing his performance. Campbell has quietly established himself as a player who belongs at this level and the progress in his all-round game has been revelatory. For want of a better way of charting his display at the weekend though, the chalkboard below does shed some light.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

While starting the game on the left of the ‘Pool attack, Campbell moved across the whole front line, neatly interchanging with Puncheon and Taylor-Fletcher. In the area where strikers are primarily judged, Campbell has also now racked up 13 Premier League goals. Campbell was clinical against Bolton, scoring both of his two shots – at least that’s the story the chalkboard tells. For the observant amongst you, there was also his header which came back off the bar mid-way through the first half. Even then, it was a highly effective outing for the club’s record signing who continues to impress.

As well as the all-important three points, this win will give Holloway and his players huge belief having gone for so long without winning a game – and they’re sure going to need a lot of belief if they are to pull off a result at Old Trafford. What happens now is unclear – the odds are heavily stacked against the Seasiders if the bookies are to be believed – but 10 league wins and 39 points is an achievement beyond what many, myself included, had predicted for the Seasiders. If ‘Pool are to go down, they can take enormous pride out of the last few weeks to have turned things around and in doing so giving them a chance to survive on the last day. Will it be the end of Blackpool’s dream, or merely the beginning? I can’t wait to find out.

Seaside Strategy – Tottenham Hotspur Away

One point gained or two points dropped? This will only become clear at season’s end, but undoubtedly it was a point more than many expected away at a team who reached the quarter final stage of the Champions League. Incredibly this means Blackpool are now unbeaten in three games, but the failure to take maximum points from any of these games means ‘Pool have once more dropped into the relegation zone. Charlie Adam scored from the spot (at the second time of asking), but another late goal conceded, this time from Jermain Defoe, meant Ian Holloway’s side were denied only their third win in 2011.

In terms of how the match was played, it was reminiscent of many a Blackpool match so far this season – end-to-end action, lots of chances for both sides and a very open game. Zonal Marking covered the game at some length, although in contrast to their formation diagram, I’d argue the Seasiders’ midfield three played a lot flatter, and that Sergei Kornilenko began through the middle, with DJ Campbell occupying the left front role. The decision to bring the Belarussian into the side was an odd one, and to be honest didn’t really work. Since his impressive debut against Spurs in the reverse fixture at Bloomfield Road, Kornilenko has not been able to replicate those early promising signs. The chalkboard below shows his lack of a goal threat.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Fortunately, his withdrawal at half-time resulted in the long overdue introduction of Jason Puncheon. It has been something of a mystery as to why Puncheon’s chances have been kept to a minimum, but his second half display at White Hart Lane vindicated those who had been calling for his inclusion. Initially operating from a wide left position, but chopping and changing flanks with Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Puncheon was able to add more pace to the ‘Pool forward line and was particularly effective on the counter-attack. The chalkboard below shows his passes in the wide areas and his shots at goal.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

It is Puncheon’s attempts on goal that interest me most, and he is undeniably a goal threat. Puncheon has already made his mark with goals against Everton and Chelsea, and arguably should have added to his tally against Spurs. In the latter stages, as the game became stretched, Puncheon had three chances, two before the equaliser and one in the very last moments of the game. Although he was unable to seal the three points with a third goal of his Blackpool career, on another day it could have been a different story. On this performance, one would expect to see Puncheon start in the crucial home encounter against Bolton.

One final observation I’d like to make about Saturday’s game is the tighter looking defence, with Ian Evatt being particularly deserving of some credit. Aside from a strange exclusion in the home game against West Ham, Evatt has started every game for the Seasiders this season and has adapted well to life in the top flight. He has had off-days, but by and large he’s been a reliable performer. The chalkboard below shows how Evatt won all seven of his duels in the Blackpool half, snuffing out the threat posed by Roman Pavlyuchenko and Jermain Defoe.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Unfortunately, as always seems to be the case, the ‘Pool defence could not hold firm in the dying minutes. It’s easy to see the thought process behind bringing on Craig Cathcart after Adam’s goal, but it perhaps unsettled a Blackpool back four that until that point had just about being coping. Shutting up shop hasn’t worked for ‘Pool this season and failure to hold onto leads has cost them dear. A better option might have been to pack the midfield and cut off the supply, rather than go to an unfamiliar back five.

Being churlish you would say that ‘Pool sacrificed two vital points in their relegation battle. That would take away from an excellent performance however, in an entertaining game that showed Blackpool can compete at this level on their day, even with such slender resources. It’s inconceivable to think that anything other than a win against Bolton next week can keep Blackpool up, but to even be in this position in a fantastic achievement. All ‘Pool fans should have that in their minds as we enter the final two weeks. The dream is still attainable, and that should be applauded. Up the ‘Pool!

Seaside Strategy – Newcastle United Home

In the build-up to this key fixture, Ian Holloway sat his players down to watch video of what had made them successful last season and in the first half of their debut Premier League campaign. Although the Seasiders had turned to footage of their Championship performances, it was nevertheless surprising to see the Blackpool starting 11 feature no fewer than 10 of last season’s regulars – Matt Phillips, signed from Wycombe Wanderers in August 2010, was the only exception. This back-to-basics approach seemed to pay off however, with a level of performance rarely witnessed since the turn of the year. Despite giving away yet another early goal, ‘Pool fought back and arguably deserved to claim all three points, denied by the woodwork and some questionable refereeing decisions.
Blackpool lined up in a more traditional flat 4-3-3 formation, with last season’s successful midfield trio of Charlie Adam, David Vaughan and Keith Southern reunited for only the second time this season. Elsewhere Matt Phillips came in for a first start in months, while Craig Cathcart was dropped in favour of Alex Baptiste. The average position charts below show a much clearer gameplan than in recent weeks.
A return to old values seemed to steady the ship from a Blackpool perspective, with the players much more aware of their responsibilities. Contrast this diagram with the average position chart from the Fulham game and the difference is there for all to see. The midfield three knitted together neatly, with Vaughan making a very welcome return from injury to turn in another man of the match display. Up top Gary Taylor-Fletcher, DJ Campbell and Phillips worked tirelessly, although it could be argued that Campbell found it a little harder to influence the game operating as he did on the left.
In contrast Newcastle stuck to a fairly rigid 4-4-2 with Peter Løvenkrands playing slightly withdrawn off Shola Ameobi. Blackpool largely coped well with the Magpies who were probably feeling the after-effects of their creditable draw with champions-elect Manchester United. The ‘Pool defence looked as solid as it has all season, Matt Gilks having little to do aside from pick the ball out of the net on 17 minutes. Again the damage was self-inflicted as Charlie Adam lost concentration for the second time in seven days to gift Newcastle an early lead, albeit well-dispatched by the veteran Dane.

Joey Barton and Jonas Gutierrez were below their best and, despite being suspended midweek, a fresh Kevin Nolan did not have his usual impact. As ‘Pool pressed for the elusive winner in the second half, Alan Pardew appeared to be settling for a point to virtually assure Newcastle’s Premier League status for 2011/12, taking off the goalscorer and replacing him with Stephen Ireland. This change saw the Magpies adopt a more defensive 4-5-1 formation, with Nolan and Ireland taking it in turns to support Ameobi going forward. This change helped stifle Holloway’s charges and the visitors saw out the last 10-15 minutes without too much trouble when a home onslaught may have been expected.

Although the most important statistic could not separate the sides, elsewhere ‘Pool’s dominance cannot be disputed. The Seasiders outpassed their visitors 366 to 250 with a completion rate of 73% to Newcastle’s 65%. In the shots department ‘Pool managed 17 attempts to the Magpies’ 11, but ultimately could not convert their performance into the three points it warranted.
Analysing individual performances, Vaughan’s return saw him complete more passes than anyone else on the pitch, demonstrating the role he performs for the side – the glue, if you will. Charlie Adam also seemed to benefit from Vaughan’s recovery. Tangerine Dreaming highlighted last week how Adam’s performances have dipped in recent weeks with his pass completion dropping to a lowly 53% against the Latics. The chalkboard below however shows how he appeared to regain some of his form, as well as displaying the impact of Vaughan.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Vaughan completed an impressive 81% of his passes on his return to action and while Charlie Adam was less economical with a ratio of 68%, that was nevertheless a huge improvement on recent weeks. Adam also attempts more passes in the final third and can be forgiven for misplacing the odd attempted assist. It will concern ‘Pool fans though that it is still Adam’s wont to give the ball away cheaply in dangerous situations – a defensive lapse in the 85th minute saw Adam lay the ball off to nobody in his own area when the ball should have been cleared without hesitation.

In singling out another individual, I would like to praise the contribution of Neal Eardley who had one of his best outings in a tangerine shirt. Eardley was sacrificed in the middle of Blackpool’s slump, presumably in a bid to shore up the team’s leaky defence by replacing him with the more defensively-minded Alex Baptiste. This change didn’t stop the goals pouring in, and it can be argued it limited the Seasiders in an attacking sense. Yesterday Eardley did well to both receive the ball quickly from Gilks, and support Phillips going forward down the right flank, as the chalkboard below illustrates.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

In addition to the attacking dimension provided by Eardley, and Crainey on the other flank, the former Oldham man also ably marshalled Gutierrez, restricting the Argentinian and the usually excellent Jose Enrique behind him to very few successful crosses. Craig Cathcart has made a significant impact at Bloomfield Road this season and the young Northern Irish international is sure to have a big future, but him being left out is probably overdue, and may have happened sooner if Holloway had more options at the back – Dekel Keinan’s departure still seems strange. That argument is for the end of the season however, and for the last four games you would expect Holloway to stick with the current back four, barring any injuries or suspensions.

Like many others, I went into this game thinking nothing less than a win would suffice, but as it happened, the other results on Saturday helped Blackpool climb out of the relegation zone on goal difference. It was not perhaps a great result, but every point matters at this stage. A win against Stoke next week would pile the pressure on our relegation rivals who all have tricky fixtures, but it’s now becoming clear this fight will go right to the wire. The display at Bloomfield Road yesterday showed me the players have the spirit for the battle – now all they need is Lady Luck to swing their way.

Seaside Strategy – Arsenal Home

Another home match against a top team, another plucky effort without any reward. It’s hard to argue against Arsenal being worthy winners – the Gunners could have had a five or six goal advantage in the first half alone – but had key moments gone the other way, the end result could have been different. As it was, Arsenal kept 11 men on the pitch, Lee Mason failed to give a stonewall penalty and Keith Southern failed to properly connect with a free header from six yards out. Blackpool can take heart from the way they rattled Arsenal early in the second half, but ultimately ‘Pool contributed to their own downfall.
In terms of where Blackpool went wrong, Zonal Marking covered it pretty succinctly. A suicidally high defensive line was begging for trouble against an Arsenal side who exploit space so masterfully. When combined with a relative lack of pace in the Blackpool back-line, the Gunners had free reign and but for some profligate finishing and the woodwork, Arsenal would have been out of sight by half-time. The still below is just one example of Robin Van Persie getting in behind the ‘Pool offside trap, but it still didn’t prevent Ian Evatt and Alex Baptiste raising their arms in vain.

In the build-up to the first goal, ‘Pool were undone in similar circumstances. However, on this occasion while the Blackpool defenders were ball-watching, Abou Diaby was allowed to stroll in at the back post for a simple tap-in. It could be argued that Diaby’s run should have been tracked by a midfielder, but Ian Evatt failed to look over his shoulder once and this will surely have been looked at in the team post-mortem.

Trying to look for positives, January signing Jason Puncheon once again impressed. This time rather than playing in the forward three, he occupied the advanced midfield role typically belonging to Elliot Grandin. Of all the January signings, it is Puncheon who has shone where the others have disappointed. Ian Holloway is likely to have a battle on his hands to retain his services in the summer, as his performances have no doubt alerted other teams to his ability. In this game Puncheon showed his versatility by slotting in neatly for the absent Grandin. Puncheon got around the pitch well, and as the chalkboard below shows, achieved a high pass completion rate. 

 by Guardian Chalkboards

The on-loan Southampton man also displayed a cutting edge with an incisive pass to DJ Campbell in the build-up to Blackpool’s goal. However, despite the positives in Puncheon’s performance, there are still raw edges to Puncheon’s game. While the Seasiders started strongly and pressured the visitors in the first 10-15 minutes, Puncheon gave the ball away and within seconds ‘Pool were a goal down. The chalkboard below illustrates this.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

All in all this was not a game Blackpool were expected to take anything from. The previous day’s results had almost turned this into a ‘freebie’ of sorts, with anything being a bonus. The three home games to come will likely decide the Seasiders’ fate, but ‘Pool can learn from this defeat in both a defensive and attacking sense. Not all Premier League attacks are as quick or as clever as Arsenal’s, but this is a cautionary tale in operating such a high defensive line and may cause Holloway to rethink that strategy. 
In a more optimistic light, Blackpool continue to score goals at home, having done so in every league game since August ’09 and if this record can survive until the end of the season, ‘Pool have a great chance of retaining their top flight status. Of course, the odd clean sheet here and there would make this task a whole lot simpler. Fingers crossed ‘Pool can get that particular monkey off their back in a few days time at home to Wigan.

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.

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.

————————————————————————————————————————

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.

    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.

    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.

    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.