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TD Focus: Phillips & Ince

Although Blackpool narrowly missed out on winning promotion to the Premier League the signs for next season are promising. This is in large part to the two wide players who excelled last season and the prospect of them staying next season gives hope to Blackpool that they will make an even stronger challenge for promotion. Those two wide men are the focus of this article, looking at their qualities and where they still need to develop.

No Doubting Thomas

Ince (20) joined Blackpool from Liverpool around the same time as Gerardo Bruna and the difference in development between the two could not be further apart. Ince has grown with each game and is now one of Blackpool’s key attacking weapons, whilst Bruna mopes around Bloomfield Road like a man who really doesn’t love the game anymore.

First impressions of Ince were of a young player with pace and a trick, but perhaps running too much with his head down, narrowing his field of vision. Taking his place as one of the two wide forwards, normally as an inverted winger on the right, he appears to have developed with the game time he has had. His first touch is solid, but inconsistent, his passing also lacks consistency, both in range and execution.

However, he has good acceleration and sustains his pace well to beat men. His tricks are a little readable and could do with adding more subtlety and disguise to elevate his one v one play. On the evidence of his goals (particularly against Doncaster at home) he can hit powerful shots and allied to that his delivery from wide free kicks and corners can be useful. He could do with developing more variety to his delivery and perhaps developing his pace of delivery and craft to move the ball with more bias towards the end of its flight.

It appears that he is mentally strong and doesn’t appear to lose his composure the closer he gets to the opposition goal. He appears to need to increase his field of vision to appreciate his options earlier which will also help with his decision-making. Overall, his development is on an upward trajectory increasing more than any other Blackpool player and if he keep developing at this rate he will outgrow this Blackpool side should they fail to gain promotion next season. He is assisted by the fact Ian Holloway knows how to develop talent and he suits the system that Blackpool play. In addition to settling in to either wide forward position and has even dropped deeper and centrally at times and realistically he could also be deployed as a very effective attacking left back. However, there’s no reason why over time he couldn’t develop in to a central role, but all the signs are that he is a potentially dangerous attacking wide player.

One area of his game that can be detrimental to his development and the flow of his team is the upon receiving the ball. He has a habit of turning back away from goal in order to protect the ball from the opponent. On the face of it this isn’t necessarily a bad move, however, it appears totally instinctive. What makes it worse is that he does this even when not being marked, leading to attacks slowing down and removing his vision from the field of play that he is being asked to attack. This may well be a consequence of being deployed as an inverted winger and not being comfortable letting the ball run across his body on to his weaker right foot, however, it’s something that he needs to use with more discretion. In doing so, he will become a little more direct in his attacking play and cause even more stress for the opposition.

Where he goes from here will be interesting. He appears ambitious and will want to move on at the earliest opportunity, however, his long-term career may well be best served with at least another season by the seaside under Ian Holloway.

Express Yourself

Phillips (21) started the season being touted as ‘one to watch’ in the Championship and in terms of development appeared to be some way ahead of Ince. He ended the season as a player elected in to the Championship team of the season and being capped by Scotland. However, his development hasn’t been as evident as that of Ince, but that may be more to do with the fact that his skill set was in a more advanced state after an excellent schooling at Wycombe as well as a season in the Premier League behind him.

There’s no point in delaying the key observation about Phillips’ main weakness as it has been, and will be, very critical to where his career path leads. If he conquers it, then there really is no limit to where he can be in three years time, fail to do so and he may sparkle in fits and fade more often. Quite simply it appears that Phillips has issues with confidence or belief in himself which affects his game play from time to time. Whilst not being overly dominant at this stage of his career, it is likely to affect him more and more should he fail to develop the mental side to his game. This emanates less so in his tendency to ‘drop his head’, but more so in the way that he tries to force things in order to prove that he can do the almost impossible. He was surprisingly loaned out to Sheffield United earlier in the season after a poor start to the season, when he was being closely monitored by the opposition and not really getting involved in games. The loan spell served to get him in to a quality League One side where he could flourish in games where he was clearly above the level of the opponent he faced. He scored five goals and came back to Blackpool with complete belief in himself that he could do anything. In the ‘afterburn’ of that loan spell he scored a further twelve goals, before settling in to a greater level of consistency in the end of season run in.

If a team lets Phillips impose himself on a game, then he will, however, he is tested to the limits of his belief when those margins are squeezed. Let him turn and give him five or ten yards and he will hurt most defences in any English league. He can score and create from anywhere in the final third. When he starts, he lines up in the wide left forward position and seeks to cut inside to get his shot away. Very few players will beat him for pace, he is also strong and tricky. His step overs can be a little readable and he does have a tendency to sit back on his heels as he does this, which doesn’t give him a dynamic body position in which to drive forward in to a darting run taking away that vital split second needed in to advanced attacking areas where space is tight.

He can be stopped a little too easily when teams get tight to him, stop him from turning and he has little in his skill set to be able to effectively turn and beat a man. Should he be able to develop attacks when under such close attention then this will form a critical part of his next development stage. This needs to be aided by an improvement in his first touch. To the casual observer his touch may not be questioned, however, he has a noticeable flaw under closer scrutiny. In wanting to keep his head up he doesn’t always watch the ball on to his foot, which in itself isn’t a major issue, top players don’t need to watch the ball on to their foot, but they must use their all round sense and technique to keep the ball under control. Quite often the ball will bounce upwards upon Phillips’ first touch leading to him needed a further touch to full control the ball before executing his next move. This is critical when being closely marked, but also when he gets space it can interrupt his flow. Should he polish up this first touch then defences will need to be on full alert as he will be up to full speed earlier, or getting his powerful shot away earlier. Or as seen in the playoff final delivering a defence splitting through ball from the middle third.

Whilst he is generally deployed as the wide left forward, he can play wide right too, as well as right wing and right back. However, his future may well lie in the central striking role. He hardly occupies that central space at the moment, but when he has he has shown that his hold up play is developing. Again the skills his may seek to develop his wide play may also benefit his future as a central striker.

Good things come….

Blackpool may only need to recruit three players this summer, however, that number may flex if a team comes up with the cash to force a sale for either of these young players. At this stage it is unlikely to happen, although dynamics away from Blackpool are hard to control and agents don’t always act with the players best interests in mind. Starting the new season at Blackpool should be the way to go for these two excellent young players. Do so and it’s highly likely that they’ll be playing Premier League football with Blackpool or some other team.

What is the golden rule?

Before the recent 2-0 win over Ipswich Ian Holloway stated that he had laid down a golden rule for his centre backs Ian Evatt and Craig Cathcart to follow. This post will take a speculative look at trying to establish what that rule is.

Evatt knows the golden rule now!

Golden rule

What exactly did Holloway state before the Ipswich game that has prompted this post? Here are some of his quotes from the Blackpool Gazette when he had said he studied the goal that was conceded against Crystal Palace in the previous match;

“ I’ve looked at it and come up with something I think is really relevant from a coaching point of view.

“I have explained it and I think it is a golden rule both my centre-halves will have in their brains now.

“I don’t think they’ll ever forget it and I’m hoping it will make it easier for them to be centre-halves.”

Rewind and review

As Holloway came up with this rule after watching the goal that was conceded against Palace, this post will take a look back at that concession and lay down what happened, before coming up with ideas about the ‘golden rule’.

The goal was scored by Glenn Murray running on to a cross ball from the left wing. Murray met the ball at the near post finishing smartly in the small space to Matt Gilks’ right hand side. Here’s a step by step summary;

Step 1 – The ball is played out to Dean Moxey on the left wing. He has Brett Ormerod (marked in red in the picture below) covering him moderately, but he has enough space to swing a foot at the ball to cross it.

Step 2 – As the ball is played Alex Baptiste (blue) is positioned in behind Ormerod, but the ball evades him and enters the box.

Ormerod highlighted as red, Baptiste in blue and Cathcart in the centre in pink.

Step 3 – Ian Evatt (yellow) starts to track the run that Murray has started to make to the front post. Craig Cathcart (pink)  is positioned in behind Baptiste as the ball heads towards the six yard box.

The run that Evatt (yellow) makes to track Murray is highlighted in yellow

Step 4 – Murray finishes neatly as Evatt lunges to make a tackle ending up in a heap near the front post.

Evatt (yellow) did all he could and Cathcart (pink) watches the ball ripple the net.

That was the goal that was, step by step. On the face of it a good run by Murray, but clearly a poor goal for Blackpool to concede. Why poor though? Firstly, Moxey was given too much time to cross, the ball wasn’t cut out by the first man, nor was it cut out at the second time of asking and finally an unsuccessful challenge for the ball before the goal was scored. All in all Blackpool missed four chances to stop the goal. However, what can be learnt here when searching for the golden rule?

Elimination

First and foremost the job that Ormerod did can be discarded as he isn’t a centre back. The same goes for Baptiste as in this game as he lined up at right back. That leaves just Cathcart and Evatt and their roles in the concession. Before the steps to the goal above, both centre backs were reasonably well positioned, Cathcart however, ends up spare as his man drops off him he stands facing the ball on the left and watches the ball being crossed, evading Baptiste and turns and virtually stands to watch the ball roll in behind him and in to the six yard box. Evatt on the other hand realises that Murray is making a run across him and follows the run remaining active all the time. It would be very easy just from this basic review to blame Cathcart for ball watching. However, Holloway is clearly stressing that this rule applies to both centre backs and they should work as a team. So what could this rule be?

Goal-den ruling

The rule could be many things, however, for Holloway to be so forthright it must be something he has had to think about in detail, so right away it surely cannot be, ‘don’t ball watch’. That is too simple and it is an assumed defensive duty of any player. Add to that, ‘ensure your striker doesn’t get his shot away’, or ‘stay on your feet’. It might be, ‘ensure the first man cuts out the cross ball’. However, given that Baptiste was the first man, that can’t apply here.

With the aid of a diagram, let’s consider the shape of the centre backs and their movement during this goal. It is this which will hold the key for the rule.

The positions of Evatt (yellow) and Cathcart (pink) and their movements.

The first observation to make is that Cathcart’s position as the ball is crossed is poor. He isn’t in line with Baptiste, in fact he is in front of him. He is also in front of Evatt. This is of interest as he has effectively removed himself from being able to defend the type of cross which is played. This leads on to the first attempt at defining the golden rule. Could it be; ‘Keep your full back positioned in front or level with you at all times’?

The second observation to make is the positions of both centre backs after the goal has been scored. Evatt ends up as the right-sided centre back and Cathcart to his left. Their movement crosses over each other and which might mean the golden rule is defined as; ‘Never cross over’. This is a little more complex than the first rule as it involves better communications between the centre backs to pass over the marking duties from one to another. Given this goal was so close to the goal line and at speed, it would be excessive to expect marking to be passed in that situation and entirely reasonable for Evatt to track his man.

This gives us two potential ideas of what the golden rule is, with the first being the most simple and the easiest for them to follow. The second may well be possible, but further from the goal. Effectively that would be zonal marking with neither defender straying too far in to each other’s zone and therefore never-ending up crossing over.

However, the first rule may be more to the point. As it is, it’s overly simplistic and needs to be developed. The key could be that in combination with keeping position in relation to the full back they should also position themselves in relation to the goal when a cross is coming from the wing. So Cathcart by the terms of the first rule should be positioned deeper, however, Holloway may want him more in line with the front post as well to defend that position better. This gives him more time to adjust to the cross and in addition to being deeper he can see the cross coming in to the box with the ball being in front of him. Also, it removes the space that the striker can attack with a run to the front post.

The Rule

In conclusion, the rule will only ever be known within the Blackpool team and management, but surely it must be a rule about positioning and especially in relation to a cross ball. Effectively Cathcart was out of the game in the process of the goal being scored and that rule must ensure that both centre backs are able to defend at any point a cross is made. Yes, ball watching is unforgivable as was the case with Cathcart, but it is his ball watching in relation to his colleagues, the ball and the pitch which is the problem. Every player ball watches, but he must be in the correct position to watch and then act. Therefore, it’s possible that Ian Holloway will have set down the rule of

‘When defending a cross never be in front of your full back and if the cross comes from your side of the pitch stand in line with the front post’.

This would ensure that the centre back sees the ball coming in front of him and can deal with the danger and should an opponent attack the ball, then he will be covering the goal at the front post and it would take something special to make a goal.

That’s that

So in all, it’s not a catchy rule, it’s certainly common sense, but it may also not even be right. Whatever the rule is, it must be about positioning as everything else seems too simple. However, sometimes the simple things are the most effective, but whatever it is Blackpool kept a clean sheet against Ipswich and if more clean sheets start to appear then the golden rule will be worth its weight in gold.

 

If you have your theories about the golden rule then use the comments section below to share them.

 

Hull 0 -1 Blackpool – Gaining Control

Blackpool start the season with a win and a clean sheet, but at times Hull were threatening and had they shown more composure in front of goal then they may have secured a draw.

Setting up

Hull set up in a standard 4-4-2, with Robbie Brady starting wide left supported by a central midfield duo of Paul McKenna and Tom Cairney with Robert Koren holding position on the right flank. Up front Dele Adebola and Matty Fryatt were given starts. For Blackpool Craig Cathcart lined up in the middle of defence with Alex Baptiste at right back. Barry Ferguson anchored the midfield with Keith Southern and Elliot Grandin supporting him as Ian Holloway set up in his normal 4-3-3. Up front Kevin Phillips held the central striker role supported by Gary Taylor-Fletcher on the right and Brett Ormerod on the left.

 

4-3-3 up against a 4-4-2. Similar feeling for Blackpool

Opening up

Tactically the game appeared pretty straight forward. Hull looked to close Blackpool down quickly and high up the pitch. In possession they either went high and long to Adebola or worked the ball to the flanks. Blackpool on the other hand sought to control possession in midfield, but went long from back to front quite often wide right to the head of Taylor-Fletcher.

Hull had the best of the early part of the match. They looked to try and make Blackpool rush their possession and in particular both McKenna and Cairney stepped up when required to pressurise Ferguson in the deep. Brady was the main threat throughout the game and Hull tried where they could to  get him one v one where possible and subsequently he was able to get in to some good crossing and shooting positions. Hull looked to get Liam Rosenior forward from right full back but in truth he struggled to break in behind the Blackpool defence when he had space to exploit.

As the first half progressed Blackpool controlled the centre of the pitch winning tackles and loose balls to assert their dominance. Elliot Grandin found himself in good forward positions between the Hull defence and midfield but struggled to pick the right pass. Even though Hull worked exceptionally hard in closing down Ferguson, he was well supported by Grandin and Southern as well as the defence providing him with passing options so Blackpool were rarely exposed in midfield.

In forward positions Blackpool weren’t very fluid in their movement, Taylor-Fletcher often staying high and wide and not necessarily backing up Blackpool’s suggested game plan of exposing Joe Dudgeon to the high ball. As the half progressed Taylor-Fletcher went in search of the ball and Blackpool instantly looked more potent around the final third.

Change of ends, change of sides

Even though Hull had chances in the first half, Blackpool held the advantage in the critical centre of the pitch and that remained in the second half. Pearson’s main change in the second period was to swap over Koren and Brady around 58 minutes. Brady continued to look dangerous, but less could be said of Koren. Brady caused trouble for Blackpool all game long and his two footed ability makes him hard to read. His delivery was reasonably good and varied, and will take a shot on even with the most limited opportunity. However, Hull’s strikers lost their composure when they could have scored but they were also let down through a lack of guile in their forward movement which made them predictable at times. When Brady wasn’t creating, their main chances tended to come from some poor organisational and positional play from the Blackpool back line.

Two factors

Even though Blackpool enjoyed a numerical advantage in the centre of the pitch they generally exerted better pressure for two reasons. The use of Baptiste and the introduction of Billy Clarke. Alex Baptiste had a strong game from full back and from the half hour mark added some excellent progressive running to support the attack and occasionally was the furthest man forward. He defended excellently, rarely being beaten and also made a last ditch tackle. He has given Holloway the ideal solution after the last minute debacle over Neal Eardley and his contractual issues and is probably first choice at right back again.

Keith Southern and Barry Ferguson dominated with good passing and link up play with Grandin however only once Billy Clarke came on did Blackpool start to threaten in the final third. Clarke’s movement opened up the forward line and gave Blackpool’s midfielders plenty of options and their forwards better spaces to run in to and it was from his deft flick that Blackpool made their winner.

Moving on

Hull looked dangerous at times and when teams are matched man for man with them they’ll enjoy some great success and if they can generate composure in front of goal then they’ll have a strong season. Blackpool on the other hand will hope to move better in the final third and work their high defensive line with more anticipation and composure. Three points is a most welcome start for Blackpool, but there will be greater challenges ahead.

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.

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.

Ian Holloway's Biggest Task

Pondering the future......

Well, that was the season that was.

The season where Blackpool almost achieved the impossible, when they won many friends and played some unforgettable football. As the season ended an era was brought to a close and Blackpool will enter the new season with a new first choice eleven and new expectations.

The end of each season sees the gradual whittling away of a squad; players being released and sold on. Blackpool have already said goodbye to a swathe of players and added to this, it is likely Charlie Adam will leave along with others.

Taking stock

Before going in to the details about where Blackpool go from here, it’s worth establishing who is considered a part of the squad for the purposes of this article. Players such as Ashley Eastham, Tom Barkhuizen, Louis Almond, Chris Kettings, Adam Dodd and Liam Thomsett should be considered as potential loanees unless any have made significant strides in their development and impress in pre-season. Also factored in here is the ‘worst case scenario’ that DJ Campbell leaves as well as both Stephen Crainey and Matthew Gilks rejecting their contract offers.  The current squad is detailed below.

This is the assumed Blackpool squad - June 2011

In total, that gives Blackpool a ‘skeleton’ squad of fourteen players and clearly this needs to be built upon. If they were to play a game right now, how would Blackpool shape up?

Shaping up

Obvious gaps to fill

As you can see Blackpool have obvious gaps that will require filling. This also places little consideration on striking a balance in midfield between craft and steel as well as assuming that Ludovic Sylvestre will still be around for week one of the new season.

There are considerable doubts about his future and that of Elliot Grandin. However, Sylvestre has been featured here for two reasons. Firstly, he has the passing ability and vision of Charlie Adam even if he is lacking in Adam’s drive, aggression and direct goal threat. Secondly, because back in March Ian Holloway singled him out as a player he considered to be integral to Blackpool’s future. However, given that Blackpool are playing Championship football this season and he struggled to grasp the language, then it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him depart.

Building the foundations

When Ian Holloway arrived at Blackpool he talked about having a squad of twenty-four players made up of different ages bracketed in to four broad categories. Apprentices, young, senior and experienced professionals*. You can see the assumed quotas for each age profile below which gives a measure against the vacancies in each bracket.

Apprentice (18-21), Young (21-25), Senior (25-30), Experienced (30+)

During his time in charge of Blackpool this may have flexed from time to time but it’s safe to assume that he will be building his squad around similar principles as well as ensuring that he has at least two players to cover each position on the field. You can see below the current squad composition compared against positional vacancies.

Blackpool need at least ten players, you can see above where the positions need filling.

What does this mean for Blackpool’s recruitment this summer? Given they’ve got a squad of approximately fourteen players then they’re about ten short of where Holloway will want to be and on the chart above you can see what positions need to be recruited.

Filling station

What types of players may be expected to arrive on the scene at Bloomfield Road given the situation outlined above?

Obviously a goalkeeper and a left back are priorities. Given Holloway’s system then the keeper needs to be comfortable with the ball at his feet and the left back needs to be comfortable pushing high up the pitch. In the centre of defence an experienced defender might be targeted and he may be left footed which might ensure a switch for Ian Evatt away from his left centre back role. A left footed centre back would serve two purposes, give better balance to the back line and facilitate a smoother recycling of the ball across the back line. Another factor that Holloway might seek in this new centre back is pace in order to give him more comfort in playing a high line.

Further up the pitch the requirements become more widespread and it’s fair to say that a mixed bag will be arriving at the seaside, however, high-profile direct replacements for Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell may well dictate how the rest of the recruitment pans out.

Another thing to consider is internal shuffles along the lines of when Holloway took over and he converted David Vaughan from left wing/back to central midfielder. A possible move along these lines would be Neal Eardley in to central midfield. He has the technical skills and a good passing range to operate in that position. He was tried out in central midfield in the last pre-season, at the time it was assumed that was to build up positional awareness and stamina, however, Holloway deployed him in that role against Wigan for the final moments of that game. Should this be the case then a right back may well be recruited to cover that shuffle.

This is not an exhaustive analysis but serves to show the process that will be being pursued.

Tactical development

Finally, what should be expected from Blackpool when they take to playing again? It’s fair to say that their formation will start the same. However, arguably Blackpool start this season with more formation options than a year ago. Holloway will likely start with either his 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3 and he may also bring a 3-5-2 in to play more often. Perhaps when he feels that a team has countered his 4-2-3-1 and isolated the attacking players and when he needs added lateral midfield width to break from deeper areas especially when the opposition are fielding one man up front.

Strategy wise it is safe to assume that Holloway will keep attacking from the first minute and perhaps he’ll cast off his attempts to stifle a game as that proved to be fatal at times last season. Tactically he may also ask his team to play the same, however, ‘build up play’ may be more around short passing in the deep and less about stretching the play due to the loss of Adam’s passing abilities.

Defensively he may well persist with the high line and offside trap, however, knowing when to use it has been an issue in the past and not having the players with the right positioning, anticipation and pace to play in such a way does temper the effectiveness of the tactic. It might be that Holloway works with the defensive unit to build more lines of cover in so that they sit a little bit deeper and he may look at his defensive phase and decide to work on a different scale. At times Blackpool were working to 5 or 6 men behind the ball in the defensive phase last year, whilst he might ask them to work more towards 7, 8 or 9 for added security.

The biggest tactical lessons that Ian Holloway may well have learnt from the Premier League is to understand how he wants his team to shape up in the attack to defence transition of the game. Any team who purposely broke up a Blackpool attack and attacked directly themselves gained an advantage as did teams who cleared wildly, only to see that Blackpool had pushed to high up and lost position. Perhaps Holloway may well attack in fewer numbers. Or perhaps, he will ensure that his players are more well-drilled in recovering their shape.

Summer break

The task ahead of Ian Holloway and Blackpool is quite significant and this should help to put that task in to perspective. It’s likely that he will have identified his key targets by now, however, identifying those targets and bringing them in are two very different strands. The key to the whole of this process is for the recruitment to happen swiftly and smoothly giving Holloway maximum time with his new squad to ensure a strong start to the new season.

This is the final post of this season and it will act as a marker for the new season when the blog returns in late July. Thank you for your support and for reading the blog over the course of the season. Thanks also to everyone who has helped me with aspects of the blog and thanks to anyone who has spread the message of the blog via forums, websites, social media and word of mouth.

*This is from memory and no written record is available to back this up.