Part one of this two-part post touched on the good things that Blackpool have sustained over their twenty-eight games this season and those are things that will help to ensure that Blackpool give as good as they get through to the season end. However, out of the original ten ways for Blackpool to stay in the Premier League, there are four critical elements that Blackpool are struggling with. This post will touch upon those and their impact on the chances of Blackpool achieving the improbable dream.
The original article was written at the time that Blackpool were starting to find some resolve in defence; a solid performance against Wolves and a good 70 minutes against Bolton was followed up with two back to back clean sheets against Stoke and Sunderland. However, since then Blackpool have really struggled to get their basics right and this has constantly dragged down otherwise strong performances. This was covered at length in a recent article called dissecting the defence. Intended to uncover how Blackpool’s defence worked, it appropriately defined what the opposition are doing to Blackpool. A combination of poor basics and poor positioning has been under pinned by injuries to key personnel and Ian Holloway has struggled to keep a regular back four together. Stephen Crainey has missed the last six games and it would be no surprise should he return, and Blackpool recover their composure. He may lack pace over short distance to recover position, but he makes up for that with assurance in possession of the ball, strength in the tackle and adventure on the break.
In fact since the original article was written goals are being conceded at a rate exceeding the earlier part of the season rising from 1.93 to a nice and round 2.00 goals per game. A point of interest to note is that in the period of Crainey’s absence the goals conceded per game jumped to almost another goal per game at 2.83.
Again this has been rolled out on the blog quite a few times recently and none more so when it was defined that there had been a noticeable drop in Blackpool’s pass completion rate. The impact of this means that opposition teams are now seeing more of the ball and Blackpool are keeping it less and consequently losing their grip on games. Since the original post, pass completion has dropped from 75% to 72% for total passes. In number of pass terms this equates to Blackpool conceding on average a total of 34 less completed passes per game.
One observation though; note how it has picked up recently. The signs of a recovery? Monday’s game against Chelsea will be an interesting benchmark!
Points not drying up
Well they did finally and it is now important for Blackpool to find their rhythm in collecting points again. A repeat of the recent five consecutive defeats at this stage of the season would be potentially catastrophic. Look at the table below to see how Blackpool had been progressing in points mapped against Hull’s progress from their first season in the Premier League. Notice the flat line on Hull’s tally, if Blackpool can avoid stringing multiple defeats together then that tally line will keep climbing and they’ll get closer to safety.
Stay alert for 90 minutes
This is clearly a huge weakness for Blackpool and one that hasn’t gone away. Speculation can go on all day long about fitness levels, experience and ability however, Blackpool are vulnerable as the game skips on to the final quarter. The chart below shows that Blackpool have conceded 17 goals in the final quarter which accounts for 31% of the total goals they’ve conceded. Prior to the last article Blackpool had conceded 9 goals in the last quarter and the last thirteen games they’ve done the same, leaking a further 8 goals, so no improvement there; and as a result games have been lost from leading positions in that period. Most notably against Manchester United and Everton.
Can it be done?
These are very critical factors and quite clearly should Blackpool get stuck in a rut again, it will be due to defensive frailties, poor ball retention leading to intolerable opposition pressure in the final quarter of games. Just getting some defensive solidity and better passing for a handful of the last ten games will surely be enough (in tandem with those aspects from part one) to keep Blackpool where some people doubted they could be for a second season.
The original article picked out the aforementioned ten ways by highlighting the things that had given Blackpool a good start to the season ranging from their attacking approach to the lack of consideration by other teams to the way that Blackpool approach the game. After running through each aspect it appears that Blackpool are still doing a lot of the right things even though their recent form has been poor.
Since the article was written, Blackpool has played a total of thirteen games and it’s these games that will be scrutinised in order to give us a progress report. A quick glance at those games shows that Blackpool; won four, drew one and lost eight. Their previous fifteen games (prior to the last article) saw them win five, draw four and lose six.
Should Blackpool not lose any of their next two games then their records in the two halves of the thirty games played this season will look remarkably similar and belie any suggestions that Blackpool are slipping to relegation. When looking at the ten ways, it appears that Blackpool are still successfully plodding their way through six of them and this helps to account for the positive results of the last thirteen games, whilst the negative aspects of Blackpool recent play can be largely catered for with the other four.
Attack Minded Approach
Anyone who has seen Blackpool this year will testify to their attacking commitment and this has certainly not dwindled. From attacking for the (never to be) fourth goal at Goodison Park against Everton, to the pressing Manchester United up against the wall for 60 minutes and robbing them of two goals. In fact, in the last thirteen games Blackpool have scored at a rate of 1.46 goals a game which is only marginally down on their 1.53 goals from the previous fifteen games. See below for a comparison against Blackpool’s oft favoured comparators Hull and Burnley and see how their goal scoring compared in their inaugural Premier League campaigns.
Part of what Ian Holloway has brought to the Premier League with his Blackpool side is his tried and tested 4-3-3. He hasn’t swayed much from this formation and hasn’t tried to drop more numbers in to defence or midfield to close out the space. In fact only when protecting leads (most notably versus Liverpool & Everton) and against Spurs from the start of the match has this been adjusted. In the main it works for his players and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
It was speculated earlier in the season that should DJ Campbell get the ball at his feet in the space between penalty spot and goal line then he will start scoring. In the first fifteen games of the season Campbell had netted twice and endured a couple of hardworking if fruitless games, the match against Bolton springs to mind. However, since then he has amassed 7 goals in the last 13 games to vastly exceed all expectations of him. At this rate he might get close to 13 goals this season which would have a huge impact on Blackpool’s attempts at staying up. See below for the Chalkboards from the goals that he’s scored in the last thirteen games and if you read the original article, note how all of them are in his favoured zone (but arguably any striker’s favourite zone).
Counter Intelligence & Plan B
One aspect that many Blackpool fans were concerned with earlier in the season centred on ‘being found out’ that teams will know how to play against us and counter it. In the earlier part of the season, teams who played with a holding midfielder generally had greater success against Blackpool whilst Birmingham were the only team to make match specific changes to their approach to counter Blackpool. In the last thirteen games it could be said that Birmingham are still the only team to actively counter Blackpool by changing their shape as they brought their diamond from the St Andrews game to Bloomfield Road and secure the three points. One thing this has meant is that Ian Holloway has still not had a reason to come up with a Plan B, he can continue instilling his tactics in to his side without having to vary too much and potentially distort the qualities of his side.
Six Steps On
This post has now ascertained that out of those original ten ways, six of them are still pertinent. This might have led to quite a dry post, however, in the second part as the negative aspects of recent performances come to light then this should lead to a few interesting insights. Check back on the blog in the next couple of days to read the second and final part of this post.
Just for clarity purposes, here is a chart showing how Blackpool’s points per game has progressed throughout the season and as you can see the line tails off towards the end as the most recent run of defeats have taken their toll.
In the previous article Blackpool’s passing was picked out as a key strength and at that time they had a pass completion rate higher than Liverpool under Roy Hodgson. However, if we plot the game pass completion rates for each game on a graph, what do we see?
As you can see Blackpool’s pass completion has been gradually eroding in recent weeks. In fact for the games prior to their last win Blackpool’s pass completion was 75% and in the last six games it has dropped to 70%.
Recent articles have focused on some individual player performance over the course of the season, most recently with Ian Evatt, Charlie Adam and David Vaughan. Below is a chart showing their pass completion % for the last 6 games set against that of the games before that.
You can clearly see that in the games where Blackpool’s pass completion has begun to disintegrate, David Vaughan has been consistently excellent, even pushing up his pass completion above 85%. Whilst Adam has dropped from 71% to 60% and Evatt has gone from 68% to 75%.
This tends to fit in to the fact that Blackpool’s pass completion has started to drop for two key reasons. Team putting players under more pressure by closing them down and that Blackpool’s players are still learning to improve their decision-making at this level i.e. when to pass and what pass to make.
For example, teams seem to really pressure the back line and the keeper now, in order to make it harder for them to play out from the back. This is further backed up when looking at the completion rate for goal kicks. In the last six games it has dropped to 57% from 64% previously. Earlier on in the season goal kicks were often taken short, however, forwards are alert to that threat now and seek to cover the edge of the area making interceptions and forcing passing errors. See the chalkboard below from Blackpool’s most recent game against Aston Villa. Notice how 9 of the 20 interceptions made by Villa were in Blackpool’s own half.
This week Ian Holloway has talked about how he wants to learn from Josep Guardiola to improve his side. It is possible that he feels he can learn to improve his side’s ball retention by seeing how Barcelona play and that this learning could well be applied to allow his side to pass the ball better under pressure, improving their pass completion and possibly win more games. On average, in the games that Blackpool win, their pass completion is 1% higher than those they lose. Small margins on the surface, but at the top-level of football, small margins might make a big difference especially as Blackpool try to stay in the Premier League.
Blackpool’s first season has been characterised by attacking football as the Tangerines have found goals relatively easy to come by. However, it is their defence that regularly comes under scrutiny and more so since their run of five defeats after the Liverpool victory. This post will look at the Blackpool defence and explore as many facets of it as possible in order to establish what is behind Blackpool’s defence and where have things been going wrong?
Facts & Figures
Blackpool have conceded 49 goals at an average of 1.96 per game. It has been well publicised that Blackpool tend to concede late in games and the following table breaks down the time periods in which Blackpool concede goals (up to and including the Everton game).
The reasons for late concessions can be speculated upon and none more so than in the recent post about the Everton game. In this game Holloway tried to shut down the defence and reverted to a five man defence which back fired mainly through a combination of positive attacking from Everton, but poor defensive organisation. A multitude of other reasons can be examined; however, this would involve a lot of conjecture about fitness levels, quality of the opposition, experience and the like.
Blackpool play with a back four and it would be fair to say that (based on the most appearances) that Blackpool`s first choice back four, from left back to right back would be; Stephen Crainey, Ian Evatt, Craig Cathcart and Neil Eardley. Alex Baptiste covers at right and centre back and David Carney covers the left back spot. Dekel Keinan had been acting as back up for the centre back position before his recent move to Cardiff City. It is also important to understand that Holloway has used Matthew Phillips at right back at times this season, which underlines something about his defensive philosophy as Phillips is primarily a forward. This was covered in December through an extensive focus on the Blackpool full backs. where it was established that Holloway uses his full backs to attack as the best form of defence and by pushing up his full backs he exerts great pressure on the opposition in their own half and the final third of the pitch.
Blackpool haven’t been able to select a consistent defensive line up for many reasons, injuries being the key one. This instability in selection cannot help the overall performance especially from a unit that needs time to gel and build up communications.
Ian Evatt joined Blackpool under Simon Grayson, a traditional ‘big’ English centre-back that wasn’t afraid to get stuck in. Since Holloway took over, Evatt has evolved and progressed in to a centre back that passes accurately, steps out of defence and where possible attempts to trigger attacks. He personifies so much about where Ian Holloway has brought Blackpool. Before his tenure, a ball running towards the touch line and out of play may well have been left to go out for a throw in. Now Evatt will control the ball, roll his foot over it, move with it and distribute it safely as Blackpool build their play with considered passing from the back line. Let’s take a look at Evatt’s statistics this season.
The stand out figures here are his pass completion of 76%, which is good for a centre back and forms a key part of the passing game that Holloway has brought to Blackpool. Other stand out stats to focus on are his tackle success of 63% and within that his aerial duels win percentage of 61%. What isn’t shown here is the volume of tackles that he has lost this season, in total he has lost 46 duels this season at a rate of 2 per match. Here lies the crux of any defenders work, it not always the tackles you win that help the team, but the consequences of what happens when you lose a duel? Does your opponent punish you or not?
To sum up Ian Evatt’s development under Holloway, look not to the superb performances he has put in this season, but look to the goal he scored against Coventry at Bloomfield Road last season. Solid technique, breaking out from defence, good passing ability and the ability and awareness to curl a shot in to the goal.
The media have criticised Blackpool’s defence at times this season and Ian Holloway stated that he wanted to attack and not defend in the Premier League. However, Blackpool can defend and the following sequence sheds some light on the way they organise their back line when coming under attack. Firstly, a sequence from the Liverpool game, showing attacks from the left, and right. Clearly when you freeze the action you can see that they set themselves very well and in these instances they fended off danger.
What is also key here and is a common when Blackpool is under attack is how David Vaughan (white dots) tracks back to support the right back. This also happened for Everton’s first goal in last weeks match. Likewise as you’ll see below, when the attack comes from the other side, Charlie Adam tracks back to support the left back.
Pick any match and Blackpool’s defensive shape can be impressive, here’s another example to back this up from the Wolves game. As a long ball is hit from deep in the Wolves half, the defence coped perfectly well to see off the danger. Note that the four defenders are relatively evenly spread across the pitch.
An observation from a few games this season is that Neil Eardley stands off his man and gives him too much space as can be seen from the Everton game. However, given the examples above, it can’t be ascertained if this is the fault of one person given that above you can see that Ian Evatt covers one runner in behind whilst Adam and Vaughan work hard to track back. When Blackpool fail to defend, it is purely a case of failing to defend as a team or as we will see below, being punished by excellent opposition.
Coping in transition
When looking at Blackpool’s defensive shape, the biggest question hangs over their ability to cope with a side that is counter attacking them. In such transition phases sides either have a basic shape in place at all times to counter that or have plans for getting back in to shape; mainly requiring a lot of energy, pace and discipline in order to recover. However, quick counters and unexpected passes from deep can catch Blackpool out. Look at the following shots below from the Liverpool game. The back line is retreating, no offside trap can be sprung, they are responding to the fact the Torres has crept in behind Stephen Crainey and space has opened up on the left.
Against Manchester United they were undone twice by balls from Paul Scholes played from deep. This caught them off guard, on one occasion playing a dangerous offside trap against Javier Hernandez who has excellent pace and movement to escape many top quality defences. Anticipation of the pass and covering the runner may have ensured a more composed response to what was an early warning of the Manchester United comeback.
Above you can see how the spacing in the defence has been lost as an early pass from deep has been lofted over the defence. Where Hernandez (black) is, is exactly where Cathcart needs to position himself instead of being dragged in to the right back area.
It’s fair to say that in predictable situations Blackpool can and do defend well, the biggest problem they face is the unpredictable and in the Premier League there is so much more of that due to the quality of the opposition. Anticipation of danger goes up a level, reactions, pace of response; all of these become so much more important at this higher level. It may be no coincidence that the five clean sheets have come against three teams who had poor attacks on the day (Wigan, West Ham and Sunderland) and two teams who had one game plan based on direct approaches to target men (Newcastle and Stoke).
Added to this is that unpredictable factor has been heightened by the fact that 4 goals have been conceded whilst the team had a player off for treatment. Defensive positions weren’t covered adequately, caused issues and goals were lost.
Not what you do, it’s what you don’t do
It would be easy to try and show the duels that Blackpool make on a chalkboard, it will show duels being won all over the pitch in the main with many players contributing to that effort. However, a quick look at the chalkboards from the Stoke game (clean sheet) and the Everton game (five goals against) give a little illustration of where defence can go wrong. The chalkboard here is of the duels that Blackpool lost in both games. The key factor here is to note where they are lost. In the Stoke game, only two tackles were lost in the final third, against Everton that number rises to seven.
This factor of where you lose your tackles (not necessarily where you win them) can be crucial. Lose too many tackles too close to the goal and the attackers may have to do less in order to score. It also gives you less space and possibly time to recover. Fail in the tackle further from the goal and the danger is further away, simple.
Attack is the best form of defence
As mentioned in the post on Blackpool’s full backs and in other posts, Blackpool build their game on passing and Holloway sees that attacking teams as his best way of defending. As Blackpool have hit five defeats on the trot it is interesting to note that their pass count has dropped as well as completion rate. Quite simply they were keeping the ball better, for longer earlier in the season and now they are not. Teams appear to be working harder now to close down the space and specifically to stop the ‘keeper distributing from the back. In the games since the Liverpool match Blackpool’s average match pass count stands at 441 with a completion of 70%. Prior to that game it stood at 475 with a completion rate of 75%.
One factor above centered on the selection of a consistent back line and this hasn’t been helped by injuries to all three goal keepers. Matthew Gilks started the season the first choice playing 12 games, conceding 23 and making 48 saves in the process. Since being injured at half time at West Ham Richard Kingson has come in playing 12, conceding 21 and making 61 saves. Both have performed well, but the latter, recently making mistakes leading to goals against West Brom and West Ham.
Blackpool will concede more goals as this season progresses, but should Blackpool get back to winning ways, it may be due to improvement in ball retention. Defenders make mistakes, they all do, however, Blackpool will be hoping that they aren’t making them in the danger areas and if they do that they either recover from them or they aren’t punished. When the opposition is predictable Blackpool look assured; they’ll be looking to improve and find that assurance when unpredictability strikes.
This truly was a game of two halves, a bold Blackpool took full advantage of an error strewn Manchester United before two well judged and well-timed substitutions from Alex Ferguson swung the game in the second half.
The formations at the start of the game saw 4-3-3 go up against 4-3-3. The key being that they were applied slightly differently as Blackpool pushed Elliot Grandin up in to his advanced role while Manchester United pulled Paul Scholes deep to sit and hold in front of the defensive line. The fact that out of possession Grandin didn’t always drop back in to a three often gave Man Utd a spare man in midfield which explains their overall dominance on the ball (429 completed passes to 287). However, errors by Man Utd were rife in the first half and Ferguson appeared unhappy with Rooney being kept quiet out wide left and midway through the first half he opted for his first formation shift.
Ferguson went to a 4-4-2 to try to shake things up, moving Darron Gibson out to the left and bringing Wayne Rooney in centrally. In shifting to a 4-4-2 Ferguson tried to accommodate the two players that didn’t have the best of games. Needless to say that the 4-4-2 made no difference in the first half except to afford more space to Blackpool who used it well and could have extended their lead.
The second half saw Ferguson shift back to a 4-3-3 but given the free role assigned to Ryan Giggs the formation had a staggered feel to it as Giggs shuttled inside, outside, backwards and forwards.
As Blackpool possession broke down Man Utd more often than not had a spare man as Elliot Grandin wasn’t dropping back quick enough. This spare man was Paul Scholes and he knitted the formation together with some great passing ability (see below). In truth Man Utd’s 4-3-3 became more fluid with the running and movement of both Giggs and Hernandez away from the static nature of their 4-3-3 whilst Rooney and Gibson were on the pitch.
Standing in admiration
Man Utd found a rhythm in the second half and their passing and movement meant Blackpool were over run and couldn’t get near to Man Utd as they scored 3 goals in a 16 minute period. Look at the chalkboard for Blackpool’s interceptions for the whole match compared against them in that 20 minute spell where the lead was lost.
While the hype has been about Charlie Adam this week and the way that he pulls the strings for Blackpool with his superb passing range, on the night there was only one player on the pitch who dominated. Paul Scholes was composed in possession, making the right decisions at the right times and barely wasting a pass. Added to this he broke forward when he sensed the opportunity was there. Wherever Adam finishes his season he will surely look to learn from a midfielder like Scholes in order to adapt his game for certain occasions and when to spread play and when to keep things simple. See below and compare the passing chalkboards for the two players Scholes completed 88% of his passes whilst Adam was down at 55%.
After the Rafael head injury it appeared that Holloway knew Man United were in the ascendancy and tried to change things through personnel switches. He pulled Matty Phillips to right back, Eardley went to left back, Alex Baptiste went in to midfield and Grandin took up a forward position. Praise to Holloway for attempting to change the game in this way, but in truth it couldn’t stem the tide against a rampant Man U.
A right weakness
Ferguson appeared to have one element of his game plan that he stuck to which was apparent from the kick off, but only bore fruit in the second half. This was to target Blackpool’s right back position (not necessarily Neil Eardley) possibly backed up by Sunderland’s success in that area. Berbatov constantly peeled off in to that area when Man U had possession and Wayne Rooney stepped up to try to overload Eardley as Man U searched for early and quick ball in to that area. In the first half a mixture of good defending and woeful ball control and interplay by Man U meant that nothing was achieved via this route. However, the movement of Giggs in combination with Berbatov penetrated this area at will in the second half and combined with excellent central movement from Javier Hernandez meant that Blackpool were exposed on their right flank all too often and the defensive line were left static by the perpetual movement of Hernandez.
It was a brave performance from Blackpool who will remember the 2-0 half time lead for years to come, but Ferguson had great quality on his bench and used it to devastating effect to make his starting 4-3-3 much more dynamic. Ian Holloway will now turn his attention to the next two matches and try to get Blackpool picking up some points to help them towards the ‘unachievable’ dream!
This season and last, Blackpool has been lauded for their adventurous approach to playing the beautiful game. The majority of the mainstream media point to the influence Charlie Adam has had on the way that Blackpool play. However, one player doesn’t make a team and Holloway has reshaped the way that Blackpool play and there are facets of that play that help make watching Blackpool a superbly enjoyable experience. For the focus of this article the spot light will shine on the full backs. What role do they play? How have they been playing and where (if any) has adjustment (in role) been made for life in the Premiership?
The key protagonists who play the role of full back are currently Stephen Crainey and Neal Eardley, covering left and right respectively. The current back up is Alex John-Baptiste (right) and David Carney (left) with the clubs most loyal player, Danny Coid currently out on loan at Rotherham. It is unlikely that Coid will return to play a major part in our inaugural Premier League season, which is a shame, as injuries have robbed a technically gifted, composed, team player, of what promised to be a successful career. So the aforementioned group of four are the full backs at the club. If anything, Baptiste and Crainey are the most defensive from the four, Baptiste featured in the centre back position in the run to the play offs last season and an injury has curtailed his appearances this season. Crainey has also filled in at centre back, however, normally to cover a red card (See FA Cup 3rd game against Ipswich last year) or as Holloway throws another forward on and shuffles to three at the back (See West Brom earlier in the season). Carney has played on the wing for previous clubs and country and for Blackpool (see Newcastle earlier in the season when he played wide left to help stretch the play towards the end of the game). Neal Eardley is more of a modern full back, who likes to progress forward, possesses a good range of passing and can unleash a well placed shot. When it comes to Neal Eardley it’s important to understand the role that Seamus Coleman played in his development. Coleman arrived last season and shaped that full back role for himself in the run in. His commitment to pushing forward, anticipating passes, combined with an ability to dribble, beat a man and cut inside in to dangerous positions showed everything you’d expect from an attacking full back. Just one look at Coleman’s goal against Scunthorpe last year and you’ll see what he brought to the team. However, this served a dual purpose, firstly in giving Holloway someone who could perfectly play his desired full back role, but secondly it helped to sharpen the focus and desire of Eardley, who last season had been disciplined for behaviour that was unacceptable for Holloway. Two other players were a part of his downfall and they were also swiftly dealt with by Holloway. Judging by Eardley’s attitude this season, he appears to have focused his energy on working hard and putting what he already knew alongside the inspiration given by Coleman to cement his place at right full back after Baptiste’s injury.
It has been discussed on this blog that Holloway has set roles for each of his team members to stick to, which all forms a part of his variant 4-3-3 system and the performance against Villa seemed to underpin that as the team with 10 changes from the previous game still shaped up and performed like a Blackpool side managed by Holloway. However, taking this further on, Holloway has the youth and reserve teams playing the same system as he stamps his signature across all levels. Indeed it is this long sighted approach that leads a lot of Blackpool fans to realise that Holloway is committed to this club in the long-term and vice versa.
In basic terms the standard duty of a full back is;
To stop crosses getting in to the box.
Tackle your opponent so that they don’t get in behind the defensive line.
Clear danger from loose balls or shots.
In addition to this Holloway appears to want his full backs to
Retain their width at all times
Push up in to midfield when in possession of the ball and further in to attack if the opportunity develops
Let’s run with that last idea as it’s the one that has been most noticeable during Holloway’s reign. It appears that Blackpool use the full backs to apply pressure to team and force them deeper and deeper as Blackpool control possession. Certainly last season and even in to this season, the full backs will advance from their defensive positions for large periods of the game and drop in to what could be described as a midfield five as the team (in attack) morphs in to a pressured 2-5-3. This is crudely illustrated below, but the outline does play out in reality as you can see in the subsequent screen shot from the play off final.
This is fundamental to Blackpool’s adventurous style of play and is certainly not a new idea, but the sustained forward movement of the full backs helps to occupy the opposition, give Blackpool more passing options and the way they then link up with the attack and midfield adds an extra dimension to the play. The second leg play off semi final saw Crainey link up superbly and he was integral to the second goal at the City Ground, and this is a fine example of how Blackpool’s full backs can step up to midfield, attack and be devastating.
This pattern has not abated now the team is in the highest division and is a part of what people reference as a ‘breath of fresh air’. The full backs are still advancing forward and there is little mention at Bloomfield road of full backs retaining their defensive position so Blackpool keep their defensive shape. In fact probably the most defining image of Stephen Crainey’s season has been the cross for Gary Taylor-Fletcher at the Emirates, which demonstrated that home or away Holloway did intend to attack the Premiership.
An example of a full back that has a brief to hold his position and not advance forward. No passes in the final third and only 24% of his passes are in the opposition half.
For the purposes of this next analysis, Stephen Crainey is the focus, mainly because he has been a virtual ever-present this season and also because it took an absolute age to graft these stats together, so the thought of doing the same for Eardley and Baptiste was crippling and will be left for a rainy day.
Let’s look at Crainey’s basic stats and see how he’s doing. It would be safe to assume that in the breakdown of his stats any strengths and weaknesses could be spotted. First up, from a passing perspective, Crainey uses the ball wisely and well, racking up an open play pass completion rate of 83% which is higher than the team average of 78%. Added to this he sees a lot of the ball too, in fact in the game against West Brom (admittedly they were down to nine men) Crainey got close to the magic 100 pass mark, racking up 99 at a completion rate of 94%. This is an essential component for any full back, but especially one who advances in to midfield and sometimes attack. Should his pass completion drop then it’s safe to assume he’ll either have given the ball away high up the pitch leaving exploitable space in behind him or in his own half which should only lead to opposition pressure.
In the tackle Crainey had a perfect start to the season taking him 5 games to lose his first duel, however, since then he rarely loses his battles and this is testament to his overall ability to improve. At the start of the season he was considered by some fans to be a potential weakness in the back line. At times he appears to be slow to get up to full running pace and given that he has a remit to attack it was feared he couldn’t cover ground backwards to track wingers runs and teams would be able to get decent ball in to the box from their wide right. At this moment he has a tackle success rate of 60%.
Location, Location, Location
Crainey not only passes the ball well, but where he passes the ball from shows where he holds his field position and helps to add great depth to the understanding of the role he plays. As stated earlier Holloway wants his full backs to stay wide, when looking at the heat maps of Crainey’s passing this wide element to his game is perfectly backed up. In fact 87% of his passes took place in the flank zones. Added to this to back up the pressure aspect of his game, Crainey’s passing heat maps also show that the majority of his passes take place in the opposition half. This helps to back up the attacking nature of the team as a whole, but also of the full back as well. In some games as much as 69% of his passes were made in the opposition half.
However, since the West Ham game a small change was detected in Holloway’s approach and since then it appears that the full back role has been tempered somewhat so that Blackpool aren’t left as vulnerable as they have been at times this season. In fact in his last three games he has spent more of his time in his own half, which hints at a curbing of the attack minded full back. It will be interesting to note it this trends continues to emerge. If so, could Blackpool start conceding less, scoring less and becoming less of a ‘breath of fresh air’.
It has been mentioned that the full backs advance to add an extra dimension to the team, however, a by-product of that is also starting to emerge. This was first noted from a post by Zonal Marking on the emergence of the sweeper again in the modern game. If you read that article and notice the diagram of how the full backs pushing up means that the centre backs have to spread and a central midfield player drops to cover, then the same applies to a degree with Blackpool. This goes some way to explain why not many teams have been able to exploit the space left behind by Blackpool’s advancing full backs. On another point, the diagram below backs up this move, as you can see that Evatt and Baptiste spread wide while Crainey and Coleman advance, with Adam dropping in to defence to either pick up the ball from a centre back or act as cover for a quick break.
An interesting point to note on this for the future of Blackpool and Charlie Adam is that he is totally comfortable dropping that deep and can only help to add a further dimension to club and player. In fact Adam himself said (in the match day programme for the postponed Manchester United game) that he sees his favourite position as that of a centre back. Perhaps watch out for Adam to feature more and more as a modern-day sweeper, giving assurance and cover to defence whilst adding creativity and link up play in attack.
If Blackpool move in to 2011 still developing and improving, perhaps an added defensive resilience will be added to the full back area in addition to their positive forward movement, the implications of this may well see Blackpool continue to perform above expectations. Holloway will hope that Crainey will sign a new deal and not leave on a free in the summer, however, should he leave, then Holloway will be looking for an endurance athlete, with a midfielder’s passing ability, attacking anticipation and a superb sense of positioning. Not sure that is available in the UK for the budget Blackpool have, but Holloway will hope that Gary Penrice will have something fitting that bill from Eastern Europe.
Harry Redknapp divides opinion across the country, but one thing is for sure, he guided his Spurs team in to the Champions League and along with that managed to progress in to the second phase. Yet again another quality side visits Bloomfield Road, however, Ian Holloway will be hoping that his own side will deliver another quality performance to try and upset another side that are ‘bigger and better’.
Redknapp has gone on record to say that tactics don’t matter and it’s about the players (apologies for the link as it does go to the gutter aka the Sun newspaper site), but he is more of a tactician than he likes to make out. He will shift and change dependant on circumstance whether pre or in game or due to player availability. If he fails to make any consideration for Blackpool then there is a danger that his side may struggle to beat Blackpool.
Dependant on the fitness of Rafael van der Vaart Spurs will either line up in a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1, the latter favoured should the Dutchman be fit to start. However, even if Jermaine Defoe starts then the latter formation may still be employed as Defoe does has a tendency to drop goal side of any deeper lying midfielders. In Blackpool’s case Defoe may be asked to drop in front of David Vaughan. If so, then that will be interesting as at one point against Stoke last week Kenwyne Jones did exactly the same, putting Vaughan under pressure and lead to concession of possession.
To back up some of Spurs’ formation flexibility Tom Williams did a great summary of how they’ve varied their approach in the Champions league, which shows that Redknapp can be unpredictable. However, should he go for a flat 4-4-2 he will need his players to be on top of their game to overwhelm Blackpool and in part this will go some way to backing up his claim about players counting over tactics. Arsenal have a similar four band line up and his three band system managed to over come them, by going deep and narrow. Not saying Blackpool are in the class of Arsenal here, just that theoretically, as Blackpool have seen already this season, not many teams playing a regular 4-4-2 have enjoyed much success against them. Will Blackpool once again enjoy exploiting the space between the Spurs defence and midfield and it will be interesting to see if Redknapp makes any concession to Holloway and assign a man to track Elliot Grandin.
Suspension of disbelief
Blackpool’s key selection issue will be around, the man to replace Charlie Adam. There was a huge amount of buzz around Holloway’s team selection against Villa, however, the logic of that performance may well be justified come 5pm on Sunday. Let’s look at who could replace Adam.
First up is the most obvious candidate, Ludovic Sylvestre, acknowledged by some at the club as Blackpool’s best passer of the ball. Holloway, may also choose to bring in Keith Southern as a holding option, which could free up David Vaughan to come in to Charlie’s more advanced role.
Tale of the tape
The Villa game saw Sylvestre make 77 passes with a completion rate of 88% and Southern with 62 at a rate of 79%. In the tackle Sylvestre won 2 out of 2 while Southern won 1 out of 2. Southern came up with 1 interception to Sylvestre’s 2. Just based on performance based around stats then surely Sylvestre (if fit) will get the nod. However, Holloway may take a look at the positional side of this, given that the midfield three this year is staggered, Vaughan sitting deep, followed by a more advanced Charlie Adam then Elliot Grandin. In the Villa game, did anyone take up Charlie’s more advanced position? On the average position diagram Sylvestre held a more central position and as high up as Adam when he came on, whereas Southern was ever so slightly deeper.
The choice could be determined with reference back to the discussion from the other week around the perfect midfield combination. In that article it was set out that in a midfield three the perfect combination would be a ball winner, a passer and an attacking creator. So when we look at the creativity, neither Southern or Sylvestre made any of the goals, but who made the most passes in to the opposition box. When looking at their Chalkboards you can see that Sylvestre edges that whereas Southern’s intended passes in to the box failed. So it appears that the general feeling of Sylvestre being Adam’s replacement comes out in the final analysis. Should he play then this is his real chance to cement a place in the team. However, should Holloway go with Southern he may be making a concession for the Spurs threat by using him to pick up Van der Vaart. Sylvestre also has the ability to deliver quality set pieces and scored a free kick earlier in the season in the Carling up against MK Dons. However, Holloway is unpredictable, he may also opt for Jason Euell to replace Adam, but there was little in his display against Villa that suggested he’d come in and compliment the midfield.
Spurs will attack down the flanks and given that they will be outnumbered in midfield this may be their best way of creating chances. Aaron Lennon is a very quick right winger who will look to get in behind Stephen Crainey. However, without doubt everyone knows that Gareth Bale poses a great threat to any team he plays against. However, he can be tamed as Everton proved earlier this season. Admittedly the game came after a European night and Blackpool don’t have that factor to benefit them. You can see on the chalkboard below that Bale had a miserable game against Everton not making any of his crosses count and towards the end of the game he was moved to the right wing to escape the attention of Neville. However, Everton were canny and Bale wasn’t shackled by one man only and in fact played Seamus Coleman (a right back) in a right midfield position helped to deny Bale the space he needed. Holloway may ask Gary Taylor-Fletcher to drop slightly deeper to replicate this.
Again the aerial question is posed as Spurs have Peter Crouch in their ranks and may start or be used off the bench to great effect. There is some what of a mis-truth around Crouch as some people perceive him to be weak in the air. Zonal Marking did a superb review of his aerial ability in order to break down that myth and clearly when reading it, he will need to be handled with caution should he take the field. However, Blackpool have not lost the aerial battle in their last two games and should not fear his threat if they perform to the best of their ability.
Holloway will hope to make the right decision on replacing Adam, it’s something that was going to have to happen at some point this season and win or lose Holloway will have an even better understanding of his squad that can only help the team later on in the season.
Blackpool head to the Reebok stadium for the first time, looking to match a Bolton side who are impressing people across the land with their performances over the past few weeks. Most are acknowledging that they aren’t the side of Allardyce or Megson any more and Owen Coyle has them passing the ball around in a more attractive, and on recent results, effective fashion.
Ian Holloway has a couple of choices to make from a selection point of view, namely who will play as the central striker and who will play at the head of the midfield triangle in the 4-2-1-3 or the 4-2-3-1, if the two wide forwards pull back a little. It’s likely that DJ Campbell will play in the central striker role and Elliot Grandin will return in midfield, although Gary Taylor-Fletcher may be an option for a deeper role than he normally plays.
Bolton appear to line up in a 4-4-2, the full backs don’t push too far forward and Fabrice Muamba will hold a slightly deeper position than his midfield partner Stuart Holden, who will look to break forward to support the attack. On the wings, both Matthew Taylor and Chung-Yong Lee will push forward and will cross early and from deep for the target men in the forward line. Both forwards will drop deep to receive the ball and when out of possession will also drop back to add numbers to midfield to assist in breaking up the opposition play.
As with Wolves last week, this site discussed the theoretical issues of a 4-4-2 coming up against a 4-2-3-1 and again that could pose a problem for Bolton. Last week Wolves took steps to move away from that by setting out in a 4-5-1, however, there’s no precedent to suggest that Coyle will make a shift in formation and that may well play in to Ian Holloway’s hands. Coyle employs a style within his 4-4-2 that will help to level out the formation disadvantage. What is this style?
First of all, he may well have his side passing the ball with panache and style, but he is still fond of having his keeper and defenders skipping out midfield with long balls which will help them counter Blackpool’s potential midfield dominance given that Bolton will be outnumbered in that department by three to two. See the chalkboards below and how Jussi Jääskeläinen made just 3 of his 37 passes short, the rest sent long. On the other hand Richard Kingson went short on 19 of his 51 passes last week against Wolves.
Also, out of possession Bolton will work hard to close down the Blackpool team and close out any space, every player has a remit to press the opposition and will not allow Blackpool any time to ponder on the ball. Blackpool will need to find their passing rhythm early and in tight spaces or face a tough battle to assert dominance in midfield. However, should they do this then the midfield two of Holden and Muamba might be easily bypassed leaving Grandin in plenty of space to operate. Given this, then Coyle may ask Muamba to drop deeper than normal to cover that space. However, this again is fraught with problems as it may leave either Adam or Vaughan with plenty of space to operate. Thus igniting the issue of playing 4-4-2 against 4-2-3-1. Coyle will surely start to rely more on the long ball this Saturday to bypass Blackpool’s midfield and Blackpool will face a similar challenge to that which they faced against Newcastle earlier in the season.
Bolton will hope to win the battle of the tackle as they did against Newcastle and Wolves in their last two games, in particular they are hard to dominate aerially (Zat Knight and Gary Cahill are very dominant in the air at the back) and Blackpool will be happy to concede defeat the air, if they pick up on the second balls and use them to construct thoughtful and patient attacks as they did up at Newcastle. Also, look at the following chalkboards and notice that Bolton (against Newcastle) made 21 interceptions and conceded 17 free-kicks in and around the midfield area, this will disrupt even the most fluent of passing teams and allow Bolton to assert themselves on the game. This doesn’t suggest for one minute that Bolton foul tactically in the midfield in order to reset themselves positionally, but the commitment of those fouls in and around such a key area can help to disrupt an attacking team. Bolton will be happy to give away fouls around the half way line and invite the long ball in to the box knowing that they will win most of the headers in that area. Andy Carroll only won half of his headers last week against Bolton’s back line and he is widely noted as being excellent in the air, so DJ Campbell will not be getting his head to too many high balls.
Kevin Davies is the Bolton talisman and will seek to pull out wide to make passing plays or flick headers for willing runners. More impressive recently, has been the form of Johan Elmander, who since he has a new contract to win somewhere has suddenly found some superb form. He is both a threat in the air and on the ground and will also seek to take players on, beat them and take them out of the game in order to isolate opposing defenders and create numerical advantage. Look at this chalkboard from Newcastle and seek how many times Elmander took on and beat Newcastle players boosting both his team and their supporters.
This could be the start of a very tough period of games for Blackpool and points may well be very hard to come by, this will be a very difficult game against one of the form teams in the league and the favourites for this match. However, Blackpool fear no one and will attack. Something from the game at the Reebok will be a fantastic achievement for the Tangerines.
Both sides have been praised for their approaches to playing football this season. Blackpool will attack any team and Wolves for that matter too. Both sides like to pass the ball about and try and work the opposition out of position. This game could though, come down to the decisions that Mick McCarthy has to make.
With exception of Chelsea away Ian Holloway keeps his formation the same, whilst Mick McCarthy has over the past few weeks shown that he will adapt his formation for his opposition. McCarthy last week opted for a 4-4-2 against Bolton and a 4-5-1 against Arsenal in the previous game. Here’s where a critical decision lies, did McCarthy make the call for a five man midfield based on the perceived quality of opposition or did he do it from a counter formation point of view. For example, did he see the fact that Arsenal line up in a 4-2-3-1 and counter that by trying to crowd the midfield. Should Wolves form in to a 4-4-2 then that will be very interesting as either McCarthy doesn’t neccessarily counter the opposition formation or that he genuinely belives his 4-4-2 will overcome Holloway’s modfied 4-3-3. Theoretically, he would be playing in to the hands of Holloway should he go 4-4-2 as that leaves plenty of space for Blackpool to operate in in between the Wolves defence and midfield. This is illustrated below, as Blackpool triangulate their midfield three, with one player at the head (usually Grandin) which leaves Blackpool able to play through the Wolves midfield and for Grandin to float in to space.
The way to counter that would be to drop a central midfielder to cover, a centre back to step up or for pressure from Wolves’ two central midfielders on Adam and Vaughan in order to win the ball high up the pitch and set up attacks. The other way for a 4-4-2 to succeed against a 4-3-3 is the way that both Newcastle and Sunderland worked against Arsenal and Chelsea respectively. They pressed the opposition all over the pitch to deny them any space and the two forwards dropped deep to ensure all eleven men were goal side of the ball.
If McCarthy brings out his 4-5-1 then that will signal his intent to stifle the Blackpool midfield, who if given space have shown they can dominate teams at this level with metronomic and incisive passing. By packing the midfield with more men, McCarthy will hope to crowd out Blackpool and disrupt their rhythm. However, as with the opening 20 minutes against Arsenal the other week, playing a five man midfield requires an understanding of when to break out to support the forward player. Should the midfield remain static then that isolates the front man and ultimately invites pressure back on to them. Where Wolves got it right against Arsenal (given that they had enough chances to win the game) was that Milijas eventually realised he had to break out from midfield to support attacks and Jarvis and Hunt got forward superbly on the wings. See the image below and how that space that Blackpool had may well evaporate should McCarthy go with a 4-5-1.
This leads on to the final dynamic, what should happen if McCarthy calls for a 4-3-3 approach and match Blackpool, this could easily happen as he has the players at his disposal to do so. That would be fascinating, it might well see the likes of Adam, Vaughan, Henry, Mancienne (if selected) forced deeper to cover the central attacking midfielder leaving the most critical battle in the wide areas. Wolves could enjoy that factor given the form of Matt Jarvis and the precise delivery from Stephen Hunt. Holloway may well ask his full backs to site deeper should this happen and if so Blackpool will have to be very careful not to get dragged too deep as a unit and invite Wolves to attack them. Holloway would look to his own wide men for the same and given the pace of Varney and (if selected as most fans are crying out for) Matty Phillips then Wolves’ full backs may well be under pressure. Given the injuries that McCarthy has to deal with in defence then his full back choices may be the most critical. He’ll be aware of the pace Blackpool have in wide areas and will need good mobility from his full backs to nullify the threat.
The injuries that McCarthy is contending with may well be critical in this battle. His defensive selections should dictate how his defence plays. If he goes for the likes of Steven Mouyokolo as a centre back then his defence may play a normal to deep line to counter the pace and mobility of Blackpool’s forward line. Likewise Holloway may look at that and think that he needs more physicality against a strong defender and opt for Harewood to start. The problem for McCarthy comes back to the 4-4-2 problem. If he wants his defence to play deeper than normal to cover the pace that Blackpool have then that could open up more space between defence and midfield for Blackpool to exploit. In fact given his defensive options then McCarthy’s formation may be dictated from the back. A less mobile defensive back line that sits deeper might see McCarthy go for the 4-5-1 with one midfielder given the remit to drop in to the space and cover.
That was very heavy on theory, looking back at Wolves’ last two games there are a couple of interesting aspects to be aware of. Arsenal appeared to defend resolutely and of course they had an inspirational performance from Lukas Fabianski to thank, but also they defended Wolves’ crosses superbly. Look below and see the amount of unsuccessful crosses that Wolves’ had. Blackpool will need to do they basics well, cut out the inevitable crosses and clear their back line.
Against Bolton, Wolves, who have a reputation for being tough in the tackle, were out fought in that area by a Bolton team perceived to have ‘gone soft’ under the stewardship of Owen Coyle. Look below at how Wolves were second best all over the park. In fact Gary Cahill and Zat Knight were dominant in the air. Cathcart and Evatt will need to look at emulating that for Blackpool to gain an advantage.
So Blackpool will be hoping to win the battle of the tackle and stop the crosses hitting their targets and that may well go a long way to deciding the outcome of this game. Holloway and McCarthy will both enjoy this match up and this is surely what Holloway imagined his work would be like when he got Blackpool promoted. He will hope to counter the decisions that McCarthy makes in order to bring some more Premiership points to Blackpool’s already impressive tally.
Previously the focus of this blog has turned on Elliot Grandin to ramble about his contribution to Blackpool’s Premier League campaign. This time the focus goes on to DJ Campbell. His goals at the end of last season were vital in the promotion and this season he has scored a further two times in the highest league.
Some of DJ’s key qualities are his movement off the ball to find space, his ability to peel off a defender and ghost to the back post to pick up on loose ball, his pace over the first five yards and the fact the his is genuinely two footed.
Last season DJ scored 11 times in 18 games at strike ratio of one goal to each 1.6 games. This season that ratio stands at one goal per 4.5 games.
When looking at the basic facts people might question why DJ has failed to score more goals in the Premier League. Let’s try and see what might be behind that. Most of this might be obvious, but it never harms anyone to set down the details behind the stats.
The goals DJ scored in that wonderful spell in the Championship have been roughly plotted on the diagram below to demonstrate the range and position that his goals were scored from.
What is clear here is that he failed to score a goal from outside the penalty spot. Close range goals are the bread and butter for a goal poacher and DJ’s instincts allow him to hold his position in the box and pick up the pieces that are either fed from his team mates or given to him by defensive mistakes. When breaking his goals down even further you can see 6 of those goals came from a direct assist from a team mate and the other 5 came from picking up on rebounded shots or defensive errors. In the Premier League these ‘scraps’ are few and far between so if you take those out of the equation then he scored 6 in 18 games at a ratio of 3 games per goal. This is more like DJ’s return in the Premier League.
Added to the fact that defences make less mistakes in the Premier League is that space is more limited. Just a very rough view point of his goals last season you can see that around about 7 of those you could say he was unmarked. This is credit to DJ in losing his marker, but it can also be down to poor defending. The fact is that it is rare for you to find space in the box in a Premiership game and being left unmarked is equally as rare. Added to this the quality of ‘keeper is much higher in this league and some of those goals that came from rebounds last season simply will happen less often this year.
This season DJ has had 19 shots and hit the target 6 times, so this is something that he may well look to improve as the season goes on. However, Blackpool as a team need to try and work the ball in to his favourite positions as up to now they’ve struggled to do that. Look at these two chalkboards to see how DJ has struggled in front of goal at times.
How does DJ measure up against someone like Didier Drogba? Drogba has had 45 attempts on goal finding the net on 6 occasions which is a conversion rate of 7.5 chances for every goal. DJ needs 9 chances to get each of his goals. Clearly if he gets more chances from his team and/or he creates more for himself then more goals will come.
As the season goes on and if DJ stays fit, he will score goals. He has proved that, he will never get bundles of goals at this level, but who does? What he will do is serve the team well and continue at this rate and he could end up with at least 8 goals come May. Find more space and work harder to improve and he may well get to 12 or 13. If he does that then he’ll have worked his way to becoming one of the best strikers in the country and if Blackpool stay up, he will be one of the key reasons for that happening.