Category: Uncategorized

Dawning of a new era

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

On the defensive

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

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

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

Critical area

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

Back of the net

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

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

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

Shaping up

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

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

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

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

Alternate

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

Subtle changes in midfield perhaps? Sylvestre for Grandin?

What new players?

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

Kick off

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

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

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Holloway's biggest task – Catch up

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

Catching up

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

First eleven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

Charlie Adam – An Honest Appraisal

Charlie Adam will move on from Blackpool this summer and he will begin the new season at a new club. His time at Blackpool was a tremendous success for him and the club and he will be remembered as one of the finest players to grace the pitch at Bloomfield Road.

This article will openly and honestly assess his ability and hopefully give fans of his prospective new club an idea of the player away from limited highlights that may have been packaged up by your regular media outlets.

Information:

Charlie Adam - Blackpool's Number 26

Full name: Charles Graham Adam

Date of birth: 10th December 1985

Height: 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)

Place of birth: Dundee, Scotland

Current club: Blackpool Football Club

Previous clubs: Rangers, Ross County (loan), St Mirren (loan)

 

Made to measure

To start here’s a quick look at his key statistics from the season.

Those may be the stats that give a feel for what Charlie Adam is all about, however, that is within the context of Blackpool’s team structure and the season they had and it is important to keep them in that context. What cannot be detailed here is where this places Adam in the context of his Premier League peers as that data isn’t readily available for the purposes of this article.

However, here are some observations that will add depth to the understanding of the player and what he will bring to his new club.

Passing

He is equally adept at finding both corners of the pitch with long penetrating passes either lofted or drilled low and flat, although the pass from left to right is his most natural play. He can execute them through a normal passing technique or via a higher risk volley pass which can be very potent when executed accurately. His first time passing (without looking up) can be sublime and well disguised, however, these carry a high tariff and don’t always work. If intercepted early enough then he can compromise his own team’s shape in the defensive phase. His passing over a short range is excellent and very reliable. His passing is equally excellent regardless of pitch location, edge of the box passing can be as good as passing from the deep. Near the edge of the box he will attempt a diagonal ball cut between and behind defenders getting them to turn.

He does however, need time on the ball in order to pick his pass and if a team puts him under pressure, he can be caught in possession by an astute opponent. If his awareness allows him to sense danger he will surge forward to create space to release the pass. However, his accuracy can suffer in these situations as his focus tends to be disturbed.

Below you can see how his pass completion fluctuated throughout the season from a high of 81% to a low of 45%.

Note: Where the line is thicker it means the number of successful passes was higher.

Pace

He has pace, a common misconception is that he isn’t quick. He’s certainly not a hundred metre runner, however, his pace over the first few metres is enough to take him away from most opponents especially given his upper body strength and ability to fend off tacklers (he has a take on success rate of 49%). However, this pace cannot be sustained over distance and will look to a drag of the ball or a nutmeg to beat his man rather than engage in a foot race.

Strength & Stamina

Physically he looks strongly built, if anything he may be carrying too much body fat which would improve given the right circumstances as Blackpool’s approach to fitness conditioning isn’t comparable to an established Premier League team. However, his stamina doesn’t appear to be an issue. He is strong in head to heads, tough in the tackle, a decent leap is met with a good sense of timing and a strong neck gives him above average aerial power which he utilises more in his own box rather than the attacking one, more due to his positioning and role within the Blackpool team. He doesn’t appear to be overly susceptible to injury, tends to pick up very occasional knocks as opposed to serious injuries either by overuse or accident.

Shooting & set pieces

He is excellent at delivering set pieces. Wide free kicks are better delivered from wide on the right hand side and generally hits them just above head height swinging inwards. His free kick delivery from wide left have a tendency to be hit low towards feet and behind the defensive line, swinging away from goal. He generally takes the majority of his corners from the right side, in-swinging, although has a tendency to over hit the ball. His striking of the corner can be inconsistent with a scuffed low and running corner being the key fault. His goal against West Ham was scored in this fashion, but it wasn’t deliberate as his celebration would confirm.

His direct free kicks are especially dangerous, he is able to force a powerful strike hard and low or hard and at wall height or float and curl in to the corners. He is at his most dangerous when the kick is right of centre with the strike curling to the top right corner. His penalties used to show a tendency to be struck low to the right corner, however, recently his penalties have shown his variation, with occasional strikes to the left making him hard to read. His placement shows reliability and will often strike them with power to evade the ‘keepers dive.

Mentality

He is a team player and selfless with it, he has filled in when the team are short of cover and has played centre forward, centre back and left back in games albeit for short periods. He leads his team by example, interacts with the crowd as well as appearing to be very vocal towards his team mates. He appears equally spirited between his own team and the opposition and plays hard, but fair. He appears to take time to recover from mistakes and possibly has highly critical self talk that might impinge on him delivering over a course of a match when a mistake has occurred. For example, an early misplaced pass or the own goal at home to Blackburn or being caught in possession prior to Birmingham’s second goal at St Andrews.

His disciplinary record is marked by his persistent collecting of yellow cards (11 this season), however, it is rare that he loses his temper, even though he was sent off on his Blackpool for a stamp on an opponent. He does appear to have moments of passion where his focus is lost and can lead him in to the occasional rash challenge.

Technical ability

He has good close control, the ball rarely escapes him. He is strong at taking the ball down with the chest and will shield the ball well. He is however, very left footed, passing and shooting accuracy suffer when he uses his right foot. An opponent who can make him turn on to his right side will enjoy an advantage.

Positional play

Within Blackpool’s 4-2-3-1 formation, he forms a part of the deeper two midfielders, but is more progressive than his partner and acts as a link from holding midfielder to the man at the tip of the midfield triangle. When Blackpool play their flatter 4-3-3 he will normally gravitate towards the centre left of the midfield three.

He can set up plays from the middle and left of the pitch (1 & 2), but is given license to support the attack in the final third (4) and can easily play in that more advanced role. He tracks back well to close out space in the defence and will support his left back when under attack, covering runs in behind. He can hold the deeper position (3), although it tends to be against his natural attacking instinct. He made some of his early appearances for Rangers wide left (5), although his lack of pace means he wouldn’t necessarily penetrate the opposition back line, but his delivery from out wide could be utilised more often as well as his link up passing to bring others in to the game.

As revealed in the programme notes for the game at home against Manchester United it is interesting to note that he believes his best position to be at centre half (6) and this hints at the possibility of him covering as a sweeper in some schemes. He is adept at dropping deep between the centre backs when then spread to cover full back raiding forward. From this position he will comfortably hit long diagonal passes (left to right is the most common) or revert to short passes.

Should he be employed in a 4-4-2 then he can be exposed against the opposition central midfield pair, should they work hard to pressurise him and to cut off the link from his midfield partner. It would be unwise to utilise him in this formation given his propensity for needing more time on the ball. A midfield three gives him support and passing options as well as cover for when he breaks forward.

Awareness and vision

He has an excellent understanding of the pitch in front of him and where the space is in front of him in which to pass the ball. He can often see the plays that his Blackpool team mates cannot which can lead to misplaced passes. Should he be surrounded with players of a greater understanding, anticipation and pace his passes may link up more often. However, his vision tends to be limited and doesn’t possess a good awareness of a full 360 degrees which often means he is unaware of what is going on behind him, which not only reduces his passing options, but leaves him susceptible to a timely intervention by an opponent from behind.

Conclusion

Adam is a good central midfielder, with excellent passing range, good technical ability but at times tries to repeat the extravagant pass a little too often. He has great value to his set piece delivery and is tough and good spirited. Physically strong, but requires a better base fitness which might improve his speed and stamina. His vision needs improvement as do his reactions to working in tighter spaces. What is possible is that his drive, desire, ambition and determination to learn and develop suggests that he will improve given the right conditions.

Manchester United v Blackpool – Tangerine Theatre of Dreams

The final game of the season and the champions host Blackpool in what could be their last Premier League game. The outcome of this game alone will not necessarily control Blackpool’s destiny unless the Tangerines achieve the impossible and win at Old Trafford.

Given that Sir Alex Ferguson may well rest several of his players in advance of their Champions League final against Barcelona then their line up is a matter of guess-work. However, after the possible line ups have been introduced, this article will focus on some of the theoretical battles that may emerge during the game that may well go a long way to deciding if the Tangerines are still dreaming come the start of the 2011/12 season.

Line ups

How will Manchester United line up? Here's it's somewhere between a 4-4-2 and 4-3-3. Will Anderson play?

The Manchester United line up is going to be tricky to call and as a result, their shape difficult to fix. The suggestion above sees their shape being a loose 4-4-2 with Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov up front. Quite possibly Darren Fletcher may come in to the centre where his energy would benefit a 4-4-2 against a 4-3-3. Nani may well line up on either flank, but wherever he lines up it can be taken as a given that he will push forward and attack. If Anderson plays then his role may well be pivotal to their approach. Should he sit narrow as above then that will help Man United match up against Blackpool’s midfield three, the teams who’ve done something similar against Blackpool’s 4-3-3 have had the most success this season. Ian Holloway will play the eleven who started the match against Bolton in his usual 4-3-3 with his new-found flatter shape in midfield.

Strategically thinking

It is possible that both teams will have the same attacking philosophy and the game will be wide open with play stretched across the length and width of the pitch allowing space to open up everywhere. Holloway may ask his full backs to commit to the attack and in addition, his centre backs to step up and launch attacks. In fact Blackpool will go all out for a win in this fixture, Holloway will not be thinking of a cagey opening 20 minutes keeping things tight and building from there. That just doesn’t happen with this Blackpool side. Ferguson might have a loose strategy within this game. An emphasis on attack, yes, but perhaps he might ask the likes of Darren Fletcher to rehearse patterns of movement that might be explored in the Champions League final. He might be happy for Patrice Evra to progress forward for left back and ask his centre backs to cover for him.

This article will now pick out three battles that might prove pivotal in the final breakdown.

Battle down the flanks

Both sides will utilise their wide men to break down each others defences, however, it is the application of Blackpool’s full backs that could be crucial. Under Ian Holloway Blackpool’s full backs have progressed in to attack on many occasions and as Blackpool go on an all out attack in this game then Stephen Crainey and Neil Eardley will progress high up the pitch. This will present a problem for Blackpool as it has done on occasion this season. As you can see below Manchester United might try to work a position for a midfielder to exploit through balls in behind Stephen Crainey to release Nani, who in turn will be in the perfect position to find his forwards in the box.

Holloway will be well aware of this threat and he could counter this basically, by asking his full backs to recover their position quickly and for David Vaughan and Charlie Adam to track back and support from midfield. However, he may well ask his full backs to attack relentlessly so that Ferguson’s wide men are running back to their own goal more often than not. This ploy hangs off Blackpool being able to gain a foothold in the midfield first in order to set up attacking plays which leads on to the next key battle.

Flower of Scotland

As most observers will know, Charlie Adam has had a good season for Blackpool and has created and scored goals all throughout the season. When he has struggled it is because teams deny him the space to work on the ball. Ferguson might field Darren Fletcher in the centre of midfield to close down that space to panic Adam and hurry him up in to making mistakes. Ferguson might do this to assert control in this game, but he might have very specific plans for Fletcher (fitness withstanding) to take in to the Champions League final to counter Barcelona’s fluid midfield.

If this doesn’t prove to be the case and Adam settles in to the game and finds his passing rhythm, he will attempt his long diagonal passes and he will also be a threat with his set piece delivery. However, he will look to break in to the attacking third down the left side. With the support of Stephen Crainey he can build himself in to one of his favoured positions to deliver deft balls over and in between the defence to release DJ Campbell through on goals. You can see this demonstrated below.

After Crainey breaks forward, Adam will join him looking to play angled cross balls in to the box for DJ Campbell runs.

This was the position that Blackpool built themselves in to last week against Bolton and Manchester United’s defensive line will have to be alive to this threat and not get caught on their heels like Bolton did last week.

Masterful movement

One of the observations of the meeting between these two teams at Bloomfield Road was the intelligent movement of Berbatov. He appeared to work himself in between the right full back and right-sided centre back. At the time of the game Blackpool were suffering when teams attacked their right back area, so it might have been a game specific plan, but more likely it is down to Berbatov’s instinct. This is again something that Blackpool will have to be wary of and as a demonstration of the point, you can see how it might look below.

Where has Berbatov gone?

Berbatov will keep moving and should he peel off the shoulder of a defender in to space, then it will may well be a ball from deep that he latches on to. Blackpool’s defence have struggled to read teams that play clever balls from deep and they will need to be alert to the threat that when that happens, Berbatov will be on the move and will have to be tracked. Paul Scholes will look to put on a passing masterclass and he averages eight long balls per game and it is likely that the Scholes/Berbatov combination could prove lethal.

Game on

This will be a tremendous game, Ferguson may well see this as a chance to rehearse some set moves against a team that line up in a 4-3-3, which could be useful for their Champions League aspirations. Blackpool on the other hand will try all game long to keep scoring and win or lose this game, they will not necessarily fall. If Blackpool do fall, then it will be with their heads held high and with a very proud set of supporters who’ve enjoyed a season that they’ve been dreaming about for years.

Check out previews from a Manchester United perspective over on;

Stretford-End.com – Preview

Can they score? – Preview

Stretford End Arising – Preview

Blackpool v Bolton Preview

Bolton come to Bloomfield Road in a poor run of form having lost their last three games, whilst Blackpool will have taken great heart from a strong showing against Spurs last week.

Line ups

The positioning and application of Johan Elmander could be pivotal??

Ian Holloway has a fully fit squad to choose from, but may well opt for giving Jason Puncheon a start over Sergei Kornilenko upfront. Last week against Spurs, Puncheon looked better on the ball and understand his running patterns much better than Kornilenko and certainly seemed to link up well with DJ Campbell.

For Bolton, Owen Coyle is likely to use the same eleven that lost at home to Sunderland last week, however, Bolton’s shape may be hard to call. The reason behind this is the arrival of Daniel Sturridge and the injury to Stuart Holden which has led to a slight change of shape. When these two sides met back in November Coyle favoured a standard 4-4-2, however, he likes to utilise both Elmander and Sturridge in addition to their captain Kevin Davies. The upshot of this is that when the team is being more aggressive they show a clear split in attack and defence as shown by their average positions from the Sunderland game. In that game Coyle asked Muamba and Elmader to form more of a diamond formation. An aggressive move, but it might be a step too far for an away game against an attacking Blackpool side. However, as they sit tighter and defend as they did for large periods against Arsenal they hold average position much more akin to a standard 4-4-2 with Johan Elmander sitting in central midfield alongside Fabrice Muamba.

Elmander (9) can sit tight as well as push higher up and adapt to game circumstances. Diagrams courtesy of http://www.whoscored.com.

However, that tends to be Coyle’s play at home and away from home he tends to field Elmander wide right favouring Mark Davies (injured for this game) or Tamir Cohen in central midfield or another option (Ricardo Gardner at Blackburn). Would it be a risk to field Elmander centrally? If Coyle thinks that, then Cohen will possibly start if fit.

New Statesman

Stuart Holden has been of vital importance to Bolton this season with his energy and mobility to move around the pitch offering passing options, but more importantly to close down the opposition and win ball. Without him in the midfield Bolton have looked exposed, non more so than when these two teams met at the Reebok back in November. Blackpool found it very easy to play through Muamba and Mark Davies with Elliot Grandin often finding a lot of time and space to build attacks. Holden had average 4.5 tackles per game and with Muamba chipping in with 3 per game they formed a strong combination. Since Holden’s injury Coyle’s midfield selection has been varied and it appears that no one has replaced Holden’s tackle contribution and the upshot of this is that Bolton lack that bite they once had.

Goal threat

As much as Stuart Holden helped to bond Bolton’s midfield, then Daniel Sturridge has been excellent since coming in from Chelsea. Looking at Bolton’s attacking statistics, he starts to dominate the key areas such as shots per game, dribbles and most importantly goals. With 7 goals since his arrival he will shoot on sight and should Bolton score in this game, then it’s very likely that he will be the source. He favours his left foot and should the ball not settle naturally on that foot then he will seek to get the ball to his left before releasing his shot (5 of his 7 goals have been scored with his left foot). Holloway may well ask Alex Baptiste to pick him up as he advances and try to steer him wide and away from goal whilst trying to stop him getting the ball on to his left foot.

Captain Marvel

Last time out Ian Evatt picked up Kevin Davies and coped admirably, and he has been in good form of late as Blackpool have attained a more robust defensive line. In the last three games against recognised strong aerial teams (Newcastle, Stoke & Spurs) he has managed to win 57% of his aerial duels. If he can replicate that level of performance against Davies then that will go a long way to putting Blackpool in a strong position. With the return of Matthew Gilks in goal and the move of Alex Baptiste to centre back Blackpool look more resilient defensively. Evatt and Baptiste seem to work better together as a partnership as Baptiste has the pace to act as a cover whereas Craig Cathcart is perhaps too similar to Evatt and has also made three errors leading directly to goals being conceded and points lost.

Game on

Some observers have made the comment that Bolton are already on their holidays, however, it would be surprising if that really is the case. Bolton will battle hard for every ball and Daniel Sturridge is playing like he wants to prove a point to Chelsea or perhaps a prospective new employer. Blackpool know that they must win this game to have a realistic chance of survival, should they fall short here then it won’t be because Ian Holloway has tried to defend. Expect an all out attacking performance from his team.

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Preview – v Spurs @ White Hart Lane

Kick off: 17:30 GMT  Coverage: ESPN in the UK & Fox Sports Channel in the US

Coming in to this match, neither side is in sparkling form, but that might make for an exciting match. Covered live on ESPN and kicking off at 17:30 GMT both managers have key selection and tactical decisions that could make this a high scoring occasion. Here’s a few of those decisions analysed and dissected.

Setting up

The battle could be played out down the right hand side of the above image. Crucial.

Harry’s selection headache

Ian Holloway has a fully fit squad to choose from and on the face of it he may stick with the same eleven as last time out against Stoke. Harry Redknapp is the manager with the key selection decision with his first choice at left back, Benoît Assou-Ekotto injured. Whoever Harry selects in that position will be important as Ian Holloway may try to second guess his choice and make his own selection and tactical decisions based on that. What can Redknapp do?

  • Attacking full back – He can choose to go for Gareth Bale at left back, which gives him an attacking angle from deep, but would need responsibility from elsewhere to cover his forward runs.
  • Regular full back – He could opt for a more defensive choice from a centre back that he has at his disposal such as Sebastien Bassong, William Gallas or Vedran Corluka, which would give his more of a flatter defensive line and less exposed down that flank when Spurs are attacking.

What could Redknapp be thinking?

By playing Bale at left back and advancing it gives his side greater width, however, Blackpool spread their forwards high and wide, so when Bale attacks, Blackpool may well have a player in the space waiting for the counter. Given that aspect, should he pick Bale at left back then he must be confident that either a centre back will cover, or his team can recover their overall shape before Blackpool’s threat emerges.

Bale at left back is a different proposition than Bale in a left wing position and that will be something that Holloway will be aware of and part of him would most probably like to see Bale in a deeper starting position, even if he does advance when Spurs have possession. Should Bale come in at left back then Redknapp’s choice of personnel on his left wing will interesting. The selection of Steven Pienaar would make sense, the fact he cuts inside gives two benefits for Spurs. Firstly, assistance in adding numbers centrally to counter Blackpool’s possible numerical superiority given they will field a 4-3-3. Secondly, he will create the space through his movement inside for Bale to run in to and leave Bale 1 v 1 with Blackpool’s right back (Neil Eardley). Effectively this would be a good strategy for Redknapp to pursue at it achieves two key aims, restrict the time and space afforded to Blackpool’s midfield three and get Bale 1 v 1 at every possible opportunity.

Choose your weapons

Should Redknapp opt for Bale at left back then that would signal his attacking intentions, however, start him on the left wing and he may well be compensating for the threat that Blackpool have as much as using Bale in his strongest position. However, assuming Bale starts at left back and pushes up as then Ian Holloway will relish the opportunities that offers. He will know that there will be left in the wake of Bale’s surges and he may well look to play Spurs on the counter and in doing so his choice of player at right forward may be crucial. In fact Holloway’s forward line is about the only selection doubt he has.

In recent weeks he has opted for the trio of Matthew Phillips, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and DJ Campbell. In selecting Phillips he would be looking to use his pace on the counter to exploit the space on the right hand side. However, that recent forward selection has presented Holloway with his own issues. The trio lack a little balance. It tends to see Campbell start out on the left and Taylor-Fletcher through the middle and it gives the forward line a right-sided bias which hasn’t shown work or even be an obvious ploy. Another aspect that has shown detriment to the fielding of this trio is that both Campbell and Taylor-Flecther like to drop deep and it may be no coincidence that Blackpool’s last two performances have been very inert in the final third. Should Holloway opt for that forward line then he must have very specific instructions for them to avoid the drift to the right and deep. However, that may not be too bad in itself as it would serve two purposes. Firstly, the potential to overload and combine down the right flank. Secondly, to help build counter attacks from the deep with the forwards involved, working the ball up field. Given the second goal that Blackpool scored against Spurs at Bloomfield Road it should give Redknapp a little warning of what Holloway may be looking to do again.

Normality

Finally, on the subject of Spurs’ left side, then should Bale play left wing and a more defensive option comes in, then their will still be space for Blackpool to exploit, but they may exploit it slightly differently. As Bale is advanced the Spurs full back will need to be aware of Blackpool’s midfield, possibly Keith Southern, aiming to run in to that space to set up plays. Or alternatively Blackpool may play long diagonals either over the full back or to head. Should this be the case, then Taylor-Fletcher may take up the wide right position whilst Phillips goes to the left. Blackpool will look to set up play from a Taylor-Fletcher header and advance from there. Should that be the case then Redknapp might look to field his more aerially able defender in that position.

Shape-shifting

In the last match Holloway changed his midfield shape slightly to add a little more of a defensive aspect to his side setting up in a 4-1-2-3 as opposed to the 4-3-3 he is likely to play in this game. Recently Blackpool have deployed a much flatter midfield three with each player sharing responsibilities for attack and defence. This will certainly help Blackpool to gain numerical advantage over Rednapp’s preference for a 4-4-1-1, however, it might need one or more of those midfielders to pay particular attention to Rafael van der Vaart who is likely to play off either Peter Crouch or Roman Pavlyuchenko. Redknapp may spoil that battle altogether if he decides to bring in Jermaine Defoe in a two-man strike force. Should he do that then Blackpool may well enjoy some prolonged periods of possession and Spurs would look to Sandro and Modric to keep their discipline and press sensibly to disrupt the Blackpool midfield. However, should van der Vaart take to the pitch then Holloway may well ask his midfield to shape up more like the 4-1-2-3 from the Bloomfield Road match, with David Vaughan dropping in to a holding role.

So much more

The Spurs left back selection may well have a critical impact on the outcome of the game. Aside from that, Blackpool won’t push their full backs up as far as they would normally do, given Spurs’ strength down the flanks. And this article hasn’t even touched on the potential impact of Aaron Lennon and how Spurs might look to get him in either a foot race or released via a pass and in behind Stephen Crainey. Also missing in this article is the crucial role of Charlie Adam, out of form of late, but will Redknapp plan to stifle him. The way that the match shapes up, he may well get plenty of space to operate in which he would relish and given his recent pep talk with Holloway then he may well form a key part of some strong passing moves in the Blackpool midfield.

Get set!

It would be a huge surprise if this match ends up in a dull stalemate and in fact it should be a fantastic spectacle, Holloway will go for broke hoping that next weeks match against Bolton might give his side the most realistic chance for a final three points and possible safety. Spurs on the other hand may go out with a limited but refreshing brief of ‘relax, play their own game and to express themselves’ all over the pitch. Now that their battle for fourth place is all but over then Spurs may just play without fear and they have some class acts who may well flourish under those conditions.