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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.

How a 3-5-2 might save Blackpool from relegation?

Wigan Athletic had just gone 3-0 up at Bloomfield Road, only minutes earlier Ian Holloway had made a treble substitution in order to salvage something from the game, with three goals needed Holloway had a rethink. That rethink may just have saved Blackpool’s season, but why?

Shuffle

Holloway shuffled his players and set them up in a 3-5-2 moving from their usual 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 shape. On the face of this, it might have been an act of desperation, however, on further inspection it appeared to be a shrewd move. By moving Neil Eardley from right back in to the centre of midfield, Blackpool still maintained a three-man central midfield, but the structure changed and it is this change of structure that sparked a recollection in the mind of Ian Holloway. Without knowing it (or perhaps he did know it), he had brought back the midfield set up that served Blackpool so well in the Championship, albeit flanked by two wingers or wing backs (depending on your interpretation). In this case however, that point is irrelevant.

Showing Blackpool shuffling in to a 3-5-2 in front of Wigan's midfield.

For the match against Wigan, Blackpool set up with their midfield three in a triangulated fashion as they’ve done for the majority of the season with the exception of maybe Spurs at home (more 4-1-2-3 then). The tip of the triangle is furthest up the pitch and that player looks to receive the ball in advanced positions before making passes out to the flanks and on occasion in to the channels beyond the opposition defence. This formation on a number of occasions has served Blackpool very well, especially against teams who set up in a standard 4-4-2.

This means that the player (usually Elliot Grandin) will play in behind the opposition central midfield and in front of the defence and few teams, when he has played well, have picked him up effectively. However, against Wigan and in recent weeks, due to either a loss of form, recovery from injury, better opposition or a combination of all three, he has largely been ineffective. In fact Wigan cancelled out Blackpool by inverting their midfield triangle as demonstrated below.

Wigan going man for man in midfield.

You can see in the screen shot below how this played out in reality as Wigan closed down Adam and Vaughan denying them the space or the angle to make the pass to Grandin. Grandin has plenty of space, but Watson is ready to close down once Grandin gets the ball.

Wigan midfield (blue) closing down Vaughan and Adam in the centre. Grandin free and has that space to roam in, however, Watson (blue) is deep and waiting, but it would be difficult form Adam and Vaughan to get through their counterparts.

When Blackpool played Fulham at Craven Cottage Blackpool saw plenty of ball in the centre of the pitch but rarely got the ball through to Grandin because of the hard work put in by Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu. When Grandin saw the ball his touches lacked quality, fluency and sharpness. The Fulham game was a warning that went unheeded. Against Wigan a bland and ineffective first 73 minutes meant a change was needed. When the switch to 3-5-2 was made Grandin had already been withdrawn. Earlier in the game, he again had been poor. Wigan, setting up with a four banded system, filled the space in front of the defence denying the space for Grandin to work in. Wigan effectively cancelled out Blackpool’s shape and worked harder off the ball to press Blackpool and forced them in to making errors.

Flat attack

The 3-5-2 flattened Blackpool’s shape in midfield and they began to control the game, whether this was more down to the game situation of Wigan being three goals to the good is hard to say. However, Neil Eardley looked assured on the ball, gave bite in the tackle and made up for the absence of David Vaughan. Keith Southern worked the right hand side of the three and Charlie Adam the left. All of a sudden Wigan’s formation was out of step and Blackpool could over run Wigan’s more advanced midfielders and make runs from deep that were hard to track. At that moment Ian Holloway had regained the qualities of his Championship midfield. You can see how the Blackpool midfield set up in the 3-5-2 and the runs they were able to make putting stress on Wigan’s deeper midfielder who had to watch and track runs from deep.

Flattened out and breaking out.

Old habits die hard

The Championship midfield was fluid, Adam, Vaughan and Southern rotating position, all getting on the ball at different stages and different positions, covering for each other, making untracked runs from deep, working midfield passing triangles getting the opposition to chase and pulled out of shape. This is essentially what Ian Holloway reverted to against Newcastle, inspired by the shape within the 3-5-2 he pulled his Championship triumvirate back in to the game in his tried and tested 4-3-3.

It’s important to understand why Blackpool had changed their midfield set up for their Premier League campaign as it wasn’t necessarily by design. A pre-season injury to Keith Southern left Ian Holloway with a selection dilemma, Elliot Grandin had been brought in (presumably) as a winger/wide forward, but given Southern’s injury, thrust Grandin in to the role. The thumping of Wigan on the first day of the season would have given Holloway heart and little reason to change and from there on, the selection stuck. Once Southern regained fitness and looked like becoming a starter, he struggled to find his form in the Premier League, possibly due to lack of game time, but more so, perhaps because of the change of midfield shape and the changing of expectations of the midfield role.

Familiar ground

Against Newcastle he seemed more assured in familiar company, as if he knew what to do and where to go, statistically he probably had his best game (winning 6 tackles against his season average of 1.5) and the important aspect is the fact that all three midfielders know when to cover each other. Previously had Southern played with Grandin in the side, if he has pressed high up the pitch and been taken out with a good pass or two, with Grandin also being advanced that Blackpool had two men out of the game. With this system, he knows he can go to the man on the ball as there will be two behind him, and should Adam press high up, then he’ll drop back and cover.

Against Newcastle’s two central midfielders Blackpool bossed them through sheer weight in numbers, but also better use of the ball. However, had the triangulated shape been in practice and Nolan and Tiote may well have shut Grandin out and given Newcastle the advantage. However, it was rare that they could do this with the flatter Blackpool midfield, time and space were restricted and once Blackpool gained possession they had good passing angles and great midfield running that more than once threatened to open Newcastle up.

Pastures new

Effectively Ian Holloway has made subtle midfield changes to gain better control of the centre from teams who know what to expect from Blackpool. Earlier in the season few teams closed them down and very few paid special attention to Charlie Adam, giving him acres of space to play in. Given the turn of the year, teams have started to focus on Adam and working hard in the centre of midfield to sit narrow and close out the passing angles to Grandin. This effectively strangled Blackpool and in combination with a few games strewn with poor forward movement and defensive errors largely explains why Blackpool have gone so long without getting wins. Given that Stoke and Bolton, two proponents of the 4-4-2 are next up at Bloomfield Road it will be interesting to see how they cope with the change of shape knowing that their two central midfielders will be outnumbered in a slightly different way than they were earlier on in the season.

The long and the short of it

A feature of Blackpool’s football under Ian Holloway has been the quick tap free kick as they start another passing sequence instead of a clogging of a high ball forward deep in to the opposition half. When Craig Cathcart made an error in gifting a quickly taken free kick to Wigan in the run up to their opening goal, not only were Blackpool on their way to a 3-1 defeat, but it encapsulated where Blackpool may have been going wrong of late.

Territorial

When speaking about Cathcart’s error in his column in the Independent on Sunday Ian Holloway made the following statement which has revealed something rather interesting;

‘We had a set-piece in the middle of the pitch and I’m sat in the dugout expecting us to wait till we get our big men forward, then hit a high ball into the box and put our opponents under pressure’.

This seems a rather odd statement from Holloway given his penchant for passing football. It sounds very much like he wants to get the ball in the box and work things out from there, not a very sophisticated approach. Cathcart can be blamed for such a poor pass in gifting Wigan the lead, but at the heart of that he is caught between two minds, two philosophies and one of them just doesn’t resonate with Blackpool. It would appear that Ian Holloway has been working on long ball free kicks as a clear set piece, usually involving Ian Evatt taking up a position in the opposition box whilst Charlie Adam delivers the high free kick.

Spanish Inquisition

There’s nothing wrong in this approach per se, but it doesn’t seem to be right given that Blackpool are on the slide and they’re aiming for the Spanish nirvana of tiki-taka. Early season games were characterised by quickly taken free kicks and sustained periods of possession. As stated on this blog previously Blackpool’s passing has been declining for some time now, many a reason could be behind this, but what if the key here is that they are giving the ball away too cheaply through long free kicks. If that is the case, then answers are needed to the following two questions;

1. Have Blackpool taken more long free kicks over recent weeks?

2. What is the impact of a long free kick on Blackpool’s matches?

Increasingly long

In order to establish if Blackpool are taking more longer free kicks, each free kick they’ve taken this season has been looked at and characterised in to short, long in to the box and other. In doing so the following pattern emerged.

Going long more often as the season progresses.

As you can see the number of long free kicks* that Blackpool have taken over the course of the season has grown and grown. As an observer, the Liverpool game appeared to be the first time that Blackpool consciously halted play prior to the taking of a free kick so that Ian Evatt could take up his position in the box. It may have always been a part of Blackpool’s game plan, but it was the Liverpool game that made it appear more pronounced and the statistics seems to back that up. In fact in the last four games Blackpool have 15 attempted long free kicks, to put that in to perspective it took them twenty-two games to amount that many from the start of the season. To further back up this increased long approach the % of free kicks hit long prior to the Liverpool game averaged out at 8% and has risen to 25% since then.

Transition to extinction

So Blackpool are going long from their free kicks which is not an issue on the face of it as many teams employ this approach. It gives you territorial advantage, a chance to pick up a knock down, a chance to score, a chance to build play in the final third. All of these are valid reasons for doing so, however, there’s something not right about this when it comes to Blackpool. It flies in the face of Holloway’s philosophy of short passing, but tactically it is a decision he has made and clearly now expects. Perhaps it grew from the fact that Blackpool started to score goals from set pieces, more than any other team in the Premier League prior to the Aston Villa game back in February. In fact the winning goal against Liverpool came from a high ball (not a free kick) in to the box which Ian Evatt knocked back for DJ Campbell to score.

What this approach also does is make a poor defence even poorer due to the removal of a key defensive player. A centre back going up for a corner can always be a risk, but cover is always provided. A free kick will mean that Blackpool will almost double the amount of times they need to provide defensive cover. Just a quick glance at the second goal that Sunderland scored at Bloomfield Road gives you the perfect example of where this risk has been punished. Teams in the Premier League spend hours rehearsing what they will do in transition as their defence turns in to attack. Blackpool are poor in their attack to defence transition and this has been exploited time after time by clinical teams this season.

Tapping up

Whilst Ian Holloway might be intending to do the right thing with long free kicks, it may well be weakening his side leaving them exposed to attack and in possession of the ball for less time. If Blackpool continue this long approach then they will be hoping that it helps them win games, at the moment that case seems to be some distance off and in fact Blackpool may well have start to taking short free kicks again to build play and also to give them more defensive assurance. However, should their long free kicks persist then they best be working on getting their shape back quickly as you can be sure that every manager between now and the end of the season will be working very hard to exploit Blackpool in transition passages of play.

*For the purposes of this article a long free kick was defined as a free kick that is taken from the defensive and middle thirds, landing in to the opponents penalty area.

'Statting' the narrative

The tactical elements of this game were covered very succinctly over on Zonal Marking, so this post is a brief look at the passing stats of the game and using them to back up the narrative set down by Zonal Marking.

The Narrative

Blackpool started brightly without ever troubling Arsenal who went on to score two goals before half-time. After half time Blackpool came out fast and worked hard and troubled Arsenal. Blackpool scored, then Arsenal reasserted their dominance scoring a third goal to put the game out of reach.

If you look at the pass completions of both sides and plot them on a graph against the time of the match does this show up?

Blackpool (tangerine) v Arsenal (red)

Yes it does, is the simple answer. You can see for yourself that Arsenal dominate in the pass, completing more passes than Blackpool and at a higher completion rate, then half time comes along and the lines scramble as Arsenal fall apart and Blackpool come back in to the game. Then the pattern is restored.

Vaughan Free

The other observation from the game centres around the lack of David Vaughan in the Blackpool side. This is something that Blackpool will have to cope with again in the game this Saturday and possibly for longer. Keith Southern came in to the side, a more recognised defensive minded midfielder. However, a replacement for David Vaughan he was not. Admittedly, a game against a team like Arsenal isn’t the best comparator, but Blackpool lacked midfield bite in the form of tackles on the ground and the interceptions that Vaughan contributes so effectively.

Wait! The match stats show that Blackpool had 8 interceptions! That’s about par for the course you say (Blackpool have averaged 11 interceptions per game this season). The key here is how many occurred late on the game when the match was dead. Only 2 of those 8 occurred in the key period of the game. Arsenal in comparison intercepted Blackpool steadily throughout the game to record 24 in total. See the chalkboard below.

Of Blackpools 8 match interceptions, 6 of them occurred in the last 7 mins.

Also, looking at the tackle count, the team won 30 and lost 31 tackles, however, Vaughan’s replacement, Southern chipped in with only 1 won tackle (aerial) and Adam and Jason Puncheon who formed the rest of the midfield three chipped in with 2 and 2 respectively. Vaughan on average has won 4 tackles per match this season. A big gap in the Blackpool midfield that needs to be filled when Wigan take to the Bloomfield Road pitch on Saturday.

Finally, if the interceptions and tackles don’t wash, then a quick glance at the first Arsenal goal (and the second to an extent) shows the absence of a midfielder tracking a midfield runner. Vaughan is usually so well positioned and as mentioned in a previous post, will track back to cover runs from the opposition midfield.

Mind the gap

Charlie Adam may well be going to the PFA awards dinner on Sunday, but the man on the treatment table holds the key to Blackpool’s survival in the Premier League. His level of performance has been exceptional, should Ian Holloway be to replace his industry and quality in his starting eleven then maybe the loss of Vaughan will not rock the boat too much. Fail to replace Vaughan and Blackpool will lose him forever (he is out of contract in the summer) as they face the new season in the Championship.

*Credit to Graham MacAree from We Ain’t Got No History for his help on Tableau, check out his blog and follow him on Twitter.

Intercepting a chalkboard

This is what happens when you make too many interceptions

There are many aspects of football that fascinate, from wonder goals to the angled pass that opens up a seemingly impenetrable defence, however, very few people would say that the interception is something that stands out in 90 minutes of action. However, the humble interception is something that can be crucial, perfectly timed and treated with care can turn defence in to attack. With the availability of chalkboards, many writers have asserted the importance of interceptions as being a critical factor in the outcome of games. The location and frequency of them being the facets to hold in high regard. Intercept high up the pitch and the assumption is that the opposition is on the back foot and you have less distance to go to the opposition goal, keep on intercepting time after time and the opposition will struggle to get their rhythm going. What a chalkboard doesn’t tell you is the outcome of the interception. An interception that leads to a counter attack or retention of possession may possibly hold more weight than an interception that gives the ball back to the opposition, thus conceding any advantage you have just gained.

Definition

This post attempts to understand the outcome of the interceptions that you can see on the chalkboard below from the recent Fulham v Blackpool game. Why is this even important? It might be entirely erroneous, it might even be disregarded as irrelevant nonsense, however, it might just help to add that little bit of qualitative analysis to a graphic that can often tell a story that may or may not be apparent.

What is important to note is that this may not be the greatest example of how effective the interception is within a game, this is merely an illustration of trying to assign value to interceptions.

The interceptions in question

Video killed the interception

Looking at the video of the match each interception was viewed and assessed for its outcome, did the interceptor allow his team to retain possession and progress or was the ball given back to the opposition. The former was given a positive outcome and the latter, a negative outcome.

Location, location, location

What can be see immediately is that Fulham had more interceptions than Blackpool. You can see that they enjoyed one in the attacking third, but the majority occurred in the middle third and had 6 more in that third than Blackpool could muster. This was one factor cited in the match review which served to back up Fulham’s control of the central ground. Was that a hasty comment? An interception is what it is and they will have certainly disrupted Blackpool’s flow in the middle third, however, only 4 of those 10 had a positive outcome for Fulham. However, on the flip side, 6 of them were turned back over to Blackpool.

In the context of this game, those positive outcomes might be very important, however, outside of this game you would assume that the better a team and the better they perform then you might expect to see that ratio increase as defence turns to attack or possession once gained, becomes harder to surrender. What you can see below is the positive or negative outcomes assigned for each interceptions.

You could say that Blackpool’s inability to turn their interceptions to their advantage may well have an impact on their attempts to gain a foothold in the game. The majority of their interceptions were in the defensive third, so even though the chalkboard says they made an interception it really had less value than it might seem. In fact all 10 of their interceptions ended up back in the possession of Fulham without them gaining any advantage at all.

Making sense of it all

This might have proved nothing and been a waste of time, however, hopefully it sparks some interest and appreciation of the dimensions that chalkboards portray, but also of the nature of the interception within the game. The transistion phase is something mooted quite often in relation to football, the interception is one aspect of this and perhaps a team that uses the interceptions wisely may well enjoy more success. Obviously this example cannot prove that, but perhaps with the right inclination and time then this approach could be used across a wider sample involving teams of differing quality by someone with more intelligence. Whatever happens, Blackpool were wasteful when they intercepted in this game and lost the chance to catch Fulham out of position and gain an advantage.

Statuesque – Fulham 3 – 0 Blackpool

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

Setting Up

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

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

Controlling the middle

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

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

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

Stuck in the mud

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

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

Ormerod making a rare insightful run.

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

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

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

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

Combination

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

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

Home straight

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

Three's a crowd!

Blackpool have attacked this season and it’s easy to look at the drive and incisive passing of Charlie Adam or the goals of DJ Campbell as explanations behind that. However, Blackpool’s attacking is more sophisticated than to rely on two players and it is far removed from the Tony Pulis description of roulette football. Only when things fail can you gain an understanding of why they work so well.

Admission

Already 1-0 down to Wolves, Ian Holloway looked to his bench after twenty minutes of the game and decided enough was enough, he had made the wrong decision and by the 28th minute of the game Sergei Kornilenko touched hands with Luke Varney as the latter replaced him on the field of play. Post match Ian Holloway said;

“I took him off for tactical reasons. I didn’t think my centre forwards were in the right place, both James Beattie and Sergei,”

The purpose of this post is to illustrate the point that Holloway made. The focus of the post will be the role of Kornilenko and is by no way a criticism of him. Holloway admits the mistake himself and that Kornilenko and Beattie are both new to the Blackpool system and by the evidence of this game are still learning.

Fish out of water

The period of focus here is the first 20 minutes of the game and in that period Kornilenko made 7 passes and 4 of them found the opposition. As he became involved in play it is easy to see why he had to come off. Take his involvement in the 4th minute. As the ball was played forward he drifted inside to a central position. You can see from the picture below he has drifted inside and offers Blackpool no width. The zone you can see is exactly where he should be taking up his position.

The tangerine zone highlighted is where Korni should be. The white dot indicates the location of the ball.

Repeat to fade

Almost straight after his first positional error it crops up again. In the 5th minute he takes up a wide position upon receipt of the ball, again though, his instincts mean he doesn’t make the right movement. As illustrated below, he should follow the line to exploit the space.

Much better position for Korni, he must move along that line to help Blackpool's system function.

As he lays the ball off he then makes the move inside taking away the forward width that helps to stretch the opposition defence, as he goes inside he offers no passing option and the move breaks down. You can see where he moved to below, right beside DJ Campbell in the centre forward position.

He's there again, the man with the centre in his eye.

Winging it

Once Kornilenko realises that he’s drifting inside he starts holding a wider position across the width of the pitch, however, his position has another reference point, the length of the pitch. Below you can see he is almost in a winger position and not the forward position that Blackpool’s system needs. DJ Campbell is too far away for a link up and Kornilenko ends up hitting a hopeful long ball to the opposition. Both Southern and Vaughan are ahead of him at this point and this shows the overall impact of getting the forward play wrong. It might seem insignificant, but it impacts the whole team from front to back.

Korni is in a wing position and two midfielders (white) advance ahead of Korni where they should support him in an advanced position.

Getting there

By the 13th minute Kornilenko takes up good wide position off the ball, when the ball eventually breaks, he is able to support the attack and set up Eardley to deliver a (poor) cross in to the box. At this stage Holloway’s pitch side communication must be working, the positioning is getting better and supporting the team’s play as a consequence.

The forwards highlighted are spaced better and at the top Korni is where he should be. Finally.

Ordem e Progresso

On the quarter game mark, again the forwards start in good positions (below) and you can see how, as the midfield breaks Blackpool’s 4-3-3 becomes apparent. Earlier in the game the poor forward positioning meant that Blackpool’s formation was poor and Wolves exploited this. Here, the ball moves across to Kornilenko at the top of the picture, however, his instinct as a central striker dominant and he stops to hold up the ball with his back to goal, he becomes isolated and ends up playing a hopeful ball similar to the one played in the 7th minute.

Starting position is good. Move comes to nothing.

Gravity Issues

As the game progresses in to the 18th minute, Kornilenko’s instincts are way too dominant, not only as seen in the previous move where he held the ball up, by this time the forward line has lost any shape it had, and Blackpool end up in  a mess. The forwards starting positions have been lost. This isn’t necessarily bad. A feature of Blackpool’s forward play is the movement. From here the forward could cross run in to the flanks and get behind the defence or even make direct lateral runs to the wings.

Clustered up.

The problem here is the both Beattie and Kornilenko want to play through the middle and neither is supposed to be there. The central striker in the formation at this stage of the game was DJ Campbell, who as you will see below drops deep to receive the ball. This is a common move for Campbell; usually he can drop deep, receive the ball, give it and make a run through the central area. In this instance he is obstructed by his fellow forwards, the move breaks down and so does Holloway’s patience. The picture below demonstrates perfectly why the poor movement up front bring’s Blackpool’s system to a halt. The system is attacking, all the players want to push forward and the forward set the tone. If they move and occupy the flanks the team can structure themselves around them and inter play with them. However, Kornilenko goes and clusters the centre and it makes it easy for Wolves to defend.

Beattie and Korni want to stay in the centre and renders Blackpool's forward line static.

Back to the drawing board

Holloway knew he made mistakes here and two recent additions to the Blackpool squad show that it’s far from easy to adapt to his system and three forwards can be a crowd. Blackpool went in to their next game versus Chelsea with DJ Campbell suspended and fielded a lone striker in Beattie. Perhaps this shows where Holloway will look to focus and as the 4-3-3 comes out again Blackburn next week perhaps the key selection dilemma will centre on the other forwards. Will Kornilenko have learnt the role over by then or will players such as Luke Varney and Gary Taylor-Fletcher come back in as tried as tested components of the system that has worked so well this season and last? Or will Kornilenko prove to be the man for the central role?