Tag: David Vaughan

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.

Blackpool's Core Problem

The Blackpool Five

Good and great football teams have a core set of players who hold the team structure together, it is often referred to as the spine of the team. Throughout their promotion season from the Championship Blackpool had a spine of players who pulled together to make Blackpool a fantastic attacking team and gave them great consistency in the run in which saw them come from nowhere to secure promotion.

When the Premier League season kicked off that spine still remained, however, the supporting figures were either not up to standard, inconsistent, ageing or too new to Ian Holloway’s methods to provide strength in depth. As the season progressed players integrated in to the side and some of the newer players became ‘first choice’ options. However, none of these players served to be a genuine replacement when any of the spine missed games. Did that really matter? Did losing key players have any impact on Blackpool’s results?

Spinal matters

Ian Evatt, Stephen Crainey, David Vaughan, Charlie Adam and DJ Campbell could be defined as being the spine of the Blackpool side. When these five players lined up for Blackpool the whole team appeared to play with much more verve, vigor and assurance. However, what was the record for the games when these players lined up against those matches when they didn’t?

With all the spine present Blackpool gained 27 of their 39 points in 21 games at a rate of 1.29 points per game which should they have stayed together in the side and completed all 38 games, Blackpool would have racked up 49 points. They won 33% of the games they lined up in.

In the other 17 games when that spine was removed either in whole or in part, Blackpool racked up 12 points at a rate of 0.71 points per game which is half a point down on the games when the spine of the team was in place. Blackpool won only 18% of these games.

Stockpiles

This is a crucial set of facts when you consider Blackpool’s fate. They clearly didn’t have either the quality of back up players or the ability or time to integrate them in to the side with restricted playing opportunities or a planned approach to squad rotation. Injuries played a large part in disrupting the spine of the team as well as suspensions. David Vaughan picked up hip injury that kept him out of three games back to back and Stephen Crainey suffered with an ankle ligament injury that kept him out for six games. Then DJ Campbell got sent off against Wolves and missed three matches whilst Charlie Adam’s persistent bookings meant he missed three matches through suspension. What is really important to note is that of that spine it is very likely that on the opening day of the new season Blackpool will only have Ian Evatt left.

What can Blackpool and other teams learn from this experience?

Should Blackpool ever get back to the Premier League then it will be because they again have a solid spine, but they will need to ensure that their spine isn’t compromised and spend time considering how that spine will be best replaced in the case of injury and suspension. Blackpool will hope to recruit potential peripheral players to serve as shadows or to recruit first team players in other positions with the calibre to flex their field position and game approach.

With the break up of the spine as Blackpool move in to the Championship then the true perspective of the task ahead of Holloway is huge, his inherited squad was never completed and developed to his satisfaction. It’s no exaggeration to say that he has to build from the ground up again. To think that this might take two years is a realistic prospect given the club’s approach to recruitment. However, should it take two years then surely prior to any eventual promotion, Ian Holloway will have plans in place to thoroughly develop his squad further to cope with the rigors of a full season in the Premier League.

Tangerine Dreaming Awards – 2010/11

Just brilliant!

After an amazing season in the Premier League it’s now time to start reflecting on a superb experience. First up are the awards picking out a few points from the season. The awards are entirely subjective and not formed through consultation and aren’t necessarily backed up with facts. However, (where applicable) further end of season articles will serve to cover the whys, wherefores and the greater detail etc.

TD  Blackpool player of the season

  1. David Vaughan
  2. Stephen Crainey
  3. Ian Evatt
The ‘Spotter’s Badge’ for doing your homework

Alex McLeish employed a restrictive diamond formation both home and away against Blackpool and the upshot was the the centre space was virtually eliminated and Blackpool were too slow to react to find space elsewhere
. McLeish was the first manager to clearly spend time thinking about playing Blackpool and it paid off reducing Ian Holloway’s men to two stale performances.
 

Reactionary tactical move of the year by an opposition manager

Mick McCarthy win this one in moving Michael Mancienne to right back to counter the threat of Luke Varney from Blackpool’s long diagonal balls. McCarthy sent his team out at Bloomfield Road with Kevin Foley at right back and Michael Mancienne in a holding midfield role. Blackpool enjoyed early success from that route and McCarthy was quick to change and it was a change that sparked a chain reaction, leading to the game being a close encounter as the match progressed.

Last throw of the dice award for manager who didn’t really know what to do

Owen Coyle spent the first half of the game against Blackpool at the Reebok seeing his 4-4-2 structure being exposed time after time. He didn’t seem to recognise what was going on until the second half when he decided to send on Martin Petrov, Rodrigo Moreno and Ivan Klasnic. Their passing as a team became better and eventually secured a draw, however, it was really ‘the kitchen sink’ treatment not by design, more through sheer panic. Still, it worked.

Best visiting player to Bloomfield Road

  1. Ryan Giggs – His speed and movement seemed to spark Manchester United in to life when the game was threatening to get away from them. Incisive, quick runs and thoughtful passing saw Blackpool opened up time after time.
  2. David Silva – his technical abilities are supreme, but the fact he ghosted around Bloomfield was a sight to behold. Space exists for Silva to fill. Enough said.
  3. Luka Modric – Just a brilliant footballer and didn’t deserve to be on the losing side at all at Bloomfield Road. Short, consistent passing all game long combined with a sense of when to make a break forward and get beyond the defensive line.

Hypnotic Passing Award

Luka Modric – see above. It was a privilege and pleasure to witness him pass the ball over 180 minutes this season.

The ‘surprised they were not relegated’ award

Bolton’s season was plastered together by two players. A brave statement which won’t be backed up here, but Stuart Holden’s energy held their flat midfield together at times, when he got injured Daniel Sturridge’s opportunism and desire to prove a point picked up some valuable points to keep them afloat.

Inexplicable tactical decision

At 3-2 up away against a good Premier League team may well require some tactical tweaks to contain, or you could try and keep the status quo. Ian Holloway chose to do something that went against his philosophy against Everton and did something that wasn’t thought through or drilled in training. He made two defensive substitutions, turning Blackpool in to a 5-4-1 and chaos ensued with Blackpool losing the match 5-3. 

Stroke of genius award for innovation

Ian Holloway gets this to make up for the previous one. His decision to go to a 3-5-2 when 3-0 down to Wigan led to a much flatter midfield three and convinced him that he had to return to his midfield set up that guided them through the Championship.

‘The Turnaround’ award for team better than their previous attempt at playing Blackpool

When Blackpool romped home 4-0 at the DW Stadium earlier in the season Wigan looked disjointed and had their fragile confidence shattered by poor goalkeeping from Chris Kirkland. Oh, and they didn’t have Charles N’Zogbia. Martinez made a great decision in dropping Kirkland soon after and the re-integration of N’Zogbia, gave them a direct goal threat as well as unpredictability in the final third. When Wigan (complete with the Frenchman and Ali Al-Habsi in goal) came to Bloomfield Road in April they were a different side, dictated the game and looked like a team focused on their game plan and their greater plan of staying in the Premier League.

Award for taking men on with considerable ease

Opposition players are just obstacles for Carlos Tevez to get around. In doing so against Blackpool he just kept taking men out of the game making it very hard to defend against a very strong team.

The Red Mist award for taking man and ball

Gonzalo Jara – When you’ve just seen your side reduced to ten men with a debatable decision, the last thing you should do is take man and ball when the game is stuck in the corner and no danger is apparent. Not Jara, he acted first, thought last and then had a shower.

Pass of the season

Charlie Adam’s first time passing can sometimes be played out of the vision of some Blackpool players. Adam is likely to pass at any moment, over any range and at any pace. Adam’s first time pass away to West Brom was perfectly executed and showed vision and inspiration that becomes hard to defend against but easy to admire.

Blackpool goal of the season

  1. DJ Campbell v Spurs – This goal was a classic counter attack, fast running, clever touches, turning a defence on it’s heels and a composed finish by Campbell all combined with a little good fortune.
  2. Luke Varney v Wolves – Superbly struck volley stunning Wolves and most spectators at Bloomfield.
  3. Charlie Adam v Blackburn – At 1-0 up, Adam clipped a perfect free-kick out of the reach of Paul Robinson to make it 2-0 at Ewood Park.

Opposition goal of the season

David Silva’s turn and shot at Bloomfield Road was a sight to behold. Crafty, cunning, balanced and one of those goals that even the Blackpool players probably wanted to applaud.

Moving on

Those were a few awards to remember just a small collection of memories of Blackpool’s season in the Premier League. Check back here later in the week for a few posts looking back at the season that was.

Keep dreaming……

There’s little point in conducting a detailed post-mortem on the game at Old Trafford, by now everyone knows the outcome, everyone knows the consequences of that outcome. Blackpool fans worldwide are cycling through the emotions that hit us all in times of heartbreak and despair. Hearts are broken but dreams were made and our dreams will never die. The dreaming continues and the pain will subside, the sadness fades with each passing hour and hours become days, weeks become months and soon the optimism will return. The tide has gone out by the seaside, but it will soon return and a fresh patch of wet sand will emerge and the footprints on that sand will be of the next generation of Blackpool players to take this club on to its next chapter.

Tangerines, still dreaming!

The game at Old Trafford summed up the season that Blackpool had, excellent on the ball, chances being created, goals being scored. Drive, determination, passion and commitment graced that pitch, however, the defensive frailty that has been apparent all season long came back to kill them off. Manchester United eased up a gear or two and with that the Blackpool defensive line was pulled back to front and side to side, twisted and turned inside out, till the pressure became too much to bear.

As predicted the game was open, even if the line ups were too hard to call given the pressures that the hosts had elsewhere. Blackpool may well have broken the deadlock early on, decisive passing and drive first put Keith Southern and then Gary Taylor-Fletcher within yards of the goal, only for composure to evaporate in front of the Stretford End.

The first Manchester United goal was picked out in the preview, Berbatov pulling out to the wide right to latch on to a ball from the deep. Park Ji-Sung finishing superbly after being given a yard by Ian Evatt. Give a yard to a footballer at this level and you might as well give him ten. Blackpool responded, in truth Manchester United looked happy to let them have the ball and Blackpool were happy to have it, caressing it about the pitch, working it along their back line and in to midfield. However, as they stepped in to the final third the Manchester back line snapped at the Blackpool heels and refused to let them turn on goal.

Blackpool did get chances, but they had to work ridiculously hard for them. Their midfield three took it in turns to step higher up the pitch to pressurise Scholes in the deep and Fletcher roaming free. The goals came from familiar routes for Blackpool, a set piece and then a deft passing move. Charlie Adam and Gary Taylor-Fletcher getting the goals, the former drawing plaudits all season long, but really it’s the latter whom encapsulates what has been so good about Blackpool this season. Taylor-Fletcher when standing next to the athletic physiques of a Premier League footballer looks like your average bloke, but his mind is razor sharp and he plays strongly with an imagination that many a footballer just can never possess.

As the game wore on Sir Alex Ferguson made a few changes bringing on talent that showed he is a winner and his team are winners too and that is what happened. Stephen Crainey had pushed Nani back and away from goal, and stopped him from running at him in a one on one situation. However, Ferguson switching his wide men proved to cause enough doubt in the mind of Neil Eardley at times, forgetting his assignment and affording too much space to a critical attacking threat. Which added to Eardley’s cheap concession of the ball assisted in the pressure being ratcheted up to a notch that caused the defensive line to buckle and the game was lost.

Great season. Great players. Great memories.

Having a final game against Manchester United was perfect in so many ways, a contrast on many levels and in so many ways (too many for this post). After the Blackpool squad trudged with dejection towards the tunnel, the preparations for a party were just beginning and not long after, came the procession. It was led by a celebration of the Manchester United backroom staff and after all twenty-something of their coaches came on to the pitch it was apparent that football at this level needs structures around the first team that nurtures and supports each player week in week out. Before the season started Ian Holloway had an assistant, a physio and a part time goalkeeping coach. Last minute shuffling and recruitment upped those numbers marginally so that another coach came in, someone could offer guidance around fitness, analyse performance and train goalkeepers on a full time basis. It was breathtaking to see Manchester United’s troupe of coaches walking out on to the pitch, to the casual observer you’d have thought it was their first team. They were professional and they were bristling with pride, content and satisfied with a season of work. It’s a testament to the work that Ferguson puts in, team talks and tactics are a fraction of what he has built and listening to Holloway’s press conference afterwards, you can see that he has aspirations to build Blackpool back up, but build them as a club to sustain Premier League football.

This has come too soon for a club of Blackpool’s size, they weren’t supposed to get promoted, the club officials didn’t expect a manager to bond and blend a side together and turn them from potential League One material to a side who could grace the biggest stages in the land. Some teams prepare ‘projects’ designed to get in to the Premier League, they invest in fat fees and salaries and park up at a freshly built stadium complete with sponsorship from multinationals and backed with the drive and commitment of a board intent on breaking in to a market or the Premier League as it is also known.

Now Blackpool’s return to the Football League has been confirmed you’ll note that this blog post has changed somewhat, it might be more (or less) fluent and less focused on the rational. There may be a little more narrative, a little opinion or two. That is a conscious choice, perhaps an acknowledgement that to ‘chalkboard’ this match is a little futile. I could probably back up my earlier observations if I had the energy, in fact you might have noticed that I’ve slipped in to the first person for the first time on the blog. I hope you’ll allow me to do that for now. I hope you have enjoyed what I’ve tried to do on the blog this season, I’ve enjoyed every minute of doing this and every single minute of the season. Each season comes and goes, but this one was that little bit special. Going to those grounds you normally see on tv, hearing those familiar voices talk about your club, your players.

I’d normally take in a couple of Premier League games with my regulation Blackpool medicine and I was always fascinated with the speed and technical precision of the game at the highest level. I once saw Arsenal draw 1-1 with Liverpool at Anfield, I remember seeing Cesc Fabregas dominate the game with supreme passing, movement and awareness of tempo. In the same game I remember thinking that Kolo Toure was carrying a lot of timber for a footballer but still shifted at a rate of knots that left me gawping. A game at Bloomfield wasn’t like this. We’d marvel at the maverick genius of Wesley Hoolahan or roll on a Nolan (never sure which one) at the start of a season for a comedic kick off. The hope would come once a year that we might play Liverpool or Manchester United in a cup game, occasionally we drew a big club and the fever swept the coast. However, in the back of my mind I could never imagine our players trotting out at Anfield, they weren’t good enough, strong enough, quick enough or big enough. Our shirts weren’t tailored the same, not made by Adidas or Nike, we didn’t have drinks crates on the side lines. All those seemingly silly things stood out as a contrast, the Premier League was about supreme talent in stadiums rich with tradition and history.

I never seriously thought I’d be here after a season of seeing my team in the Premier League and I never thought I’d feel so sad about leaving it. At the start of the season I was happy to have a good season and return to the Championship. However, we football supporters become consumed in anything that we are doing in the moment and those moments captivated me and I realised that our team was capable of playing Premier League football, they were as good, were as fast as other teams and when they shot at goal they could swerve it and move the ball in the air. With all that was the realisation that I cared, I cared because I wanted another season and another season in this league. Why? One reason, the gap isn’t that far, these footballers aren’t on another planet. They are beatable, they are humans, they just work in the confines of greater structures and have been exposed to different levels of conditioning. Sat this season in Anfield, not far from where I saw that Liverpool v Arsenal game I saw my team turn in a near faultless first half to put Liverpool behind by two goals. It was unreal, surreal, but yet reading the results and watching it later made it real and it was real. We deserved that game, we deserved every game we won with the exception of one (Spurs at home), we played on the front foot, we attacked. We lost more than we won, but the sadness lingers around those results that we couldn’t close out from winning positions. Holloway tried a plan B, but for a plan B it helps if you have a deep squad and another mind or two to assist you with the strategy and another mind or two to help practice that.

However, right now I feel sad that we couldn’t achieve the impossible. We gave it everything, but it wasn’t quite enough. This world doesn’t always reward the aesthetic or the cultured aspect of humanity, life is tough, life is nasty, brutish and short (thanks Hobbes). I believe in the good of this life, the beauty of this world, for purity and joy. For art and for science. Cynicism and treachery hold no place in my soul. Being upfront and passionate are integral, bullying and physicality are traits best rid out of the world. For Blackpool, we tried to do things differently, perhaps we have set a precedent, perhaps clubs will learn from what we did. Looking at Swansea then perhaps there has already been a shift in the way clubs are thinking. Hopefully, more clubs will come up and try and cultivate footballers rather than athletes and try to string patterns of play together that see the ball hug the grass. Perhaps not, as a Premier League season is nasty, it can be brutish and for Blackpool it was short.

Gone, but never forgotten. True footballers.

I’m sad that this signals the end of an era. Of the starting eleven yesterday, eight of the players were brought to the club prior to Ian Holloway’s arrival. We’ve seen those players flourish under his tutelage and become ‘proper’ footballers like what you see on the telly an’ all. It’s sad that I’ll never see David Vaughan do his pre-match shuttle runs, or chase a lost cause or exchange passes with Charlie Adam whilst in a tangerine shirt. Sad for the loss of all the players, whilst knowing that they have brilliant chances to further their careers elsewhere.

I hope you’ve kept reading this post as it wandered down the page from match report to quasi diary entry with flickered notes of emotion, stifled by the rawness of this moment and the lack of ability on my behalf to write as lucidly as a more seasoned author might. I hope you’ve enjoyed all I’ve tried to do on this blog and I hope you enjoy the posts that come in the next couple of weeks as I put forward my highlights of the season and review from a tactical and statistical point of view where things went right and wrong for Blackpool. I may wake from this dream soon, but only briefly before I close my eyes again and dream once more.

Goodnight,

John.

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.

Narrow Margins – Blackpool 1 – 1 Newcastle

A much improved Blackpool team worked hard and dominated Newcastle for large parts of the game as the Tangerines gained another Premier League point. An early strike by Peter Lovenkrands was cancelled out by a DJ Campbell flick, but in truth Blackpool had the better chances and would’ve hoped to have converted again to secure the three points.

Line Ups

Newcastle's 4-4-2 with Barton sitting in narrow matching up against Blackpool's 4-3-3.

This match saw Blackpool’s 4-3-3 go up against Newcastle’s 4-4-2, but as will be noted later on, it wasn’t a straight forward 4-4-2. Ian Holloway brought Matthew Phillips in to his attack and David Vaughan returned in to the centre of midfield, whilst Alex Baptiste took over from Craig Cathcart in the centre of defence. Although DJ Campbell started on the left of the attack, as usual the front three interchanged positions throughout the game, Campbell generally being better through the middle. Newcastle brought Kevin Nolan in to the centre of midfield after his suspension. Earlier in the season Blackpool had enjoyed good success against teams playing regular 4-4-2 as Elliot Grandin as the central midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 was able to drift in to the space between the opposition midfield and defence. Here Ian Holloway rolled out his Championship midfield triumvirate who appear to hold a much flatter field position, but subtly rotate attacking and defensive roles. It was a fluidity that perplexed many Championship teams last year and in this match it appeared to spark in to life again.

Modifications

Newcastle on the other hand covered the space in front of their defence that Blackpool like to exploit by getting Cheik Tiote to sit deeper than Kevin Nolan in the centre of midfield. Jonas Gutierrez was told to stretch the width of the pitch on the left-wing, whilst Joey Barton sat much narrower in-field on the right, presumably to deny the space afforded to Blackpool’s midfield in order to help Newcastle control that area of the pitch. In truth this never seemed to work as Barton appeared to be off the pace of the game and was physically dominated at times by Keith Southern and Charlie Adam. This also left plenty of space wide on the left that allowed Stephen Crainey to attack from left back and put in a couple of dangerous crosses and passes in the final third.

Signal left

Newcastle defended deep but in truth Blackpool did dominate the possession in the game. When in possession it appeared that Newcastle either by design or by consequence of their own strength focused their play down their left. Other recent Blackpool opponents have taken the same approach deliberately, as a key perceived weakness of Blackpool is the right back area. You can see below where Newcastle attempted the majority of their duels, notice how many they lost wide left and in the middle and final third.

The string of red dots on the left wing showed that if Newcastle did target that area, then they enjoyed little success.

In fact Newcastle lost the battle of duels only winning 22 out of 62 challenges. This proved pivotal as Blackpool were strong on the ground and in the air winning 16 more challenges to clock up 38 out of 61 successes. This will have been from the fielding of the flatter midfield three in combination with the relentless pressing that Blackpool applied to keep Newcastle under pressure. In recent weeks Blackpool triangulated midfield has been thwarted by stern opposition midfield, but also by poor play by Elliot Grandin. It is vital in the triangular version of Blackpool’s system that the player at the tip of the triangle moves effectively to find space and then is efficient with his distribution to link up with the forward line. When this fails to happen the player becomes isolated and effectively Blackpool become a two-man central midfield.

Re-Vaughan

Having David Vaughan back in the side, not only gave Blackpool more passing stability and reliability, but he came back tackling as tenacious as ever and made surging runs from deep midfield that Newcastle on occasion found difficult to track. Should he remain fit for the last four games then Blackpool will take this relegation battle down to the wire. You can see below how his steady passing was complimented by him winning 6 out of 6 of his duels.

All round midfield performance from David Vaughan.

Back to front

Blackpool’s defence has been inconsistent all season long, however, at the heart of that defence is Ian Evatt, who turned in a solid defensive display yesterday. However, it was his timed runs from defence as well as his passing that really caught the eye. By breaking from the back Newcastle (already struggling against numerical weakness) were overloaded and Evatt drove in to the final third and triggered moves that led to chances for Blackpool. Look at his passing chalkboard below and you can see how he progresses right in to the final third.

Another dimension to Blackpool's play as Ian Evatt steps out of defence.

Held up

Even though Newcastle at times struggled to gain a foothold in this game, they did carry a threat going forward when they had the ball. Enrique and Gutierrez were direct with their running and worked hard to get the ball in to the right areas for their forwards. However, it was Ameobi who struggled to find his feet, quite literally early in the game as he inexplicably lost his footing when a scoring opportunity beckoned. Aerially he performed solidly, but when acting as a platform for Newcastle to build attacks on, all too often he failed to link up with a team-mate. You can see how many mis-placed passes there are on his chalkboard below.

Linking the play was a trouble for Ameobi with too many red streaks here leading to plays breaking down.

Moving on

Newcastle seemed content with seeing out the game as the last ten minutes came on the clock, they are safe for another season of Premier League football and that might have showed a little. Moving in to next season they clearly have a stable base on which to build. Cheik Tiote provides a lovely balance for their midfield and Enrique breaks with purpose from the back. However, the holding and link up play up front will need to be much better should Alan Pardew stick with the same system. Ian Holloway on the other hand will be much happier to see his ‘old’ midfield trio find their feet for the first time in a Premier League match and should they progress and dominate other midfields like they did here then maybe Blackpool will defy the odds and stay up.

Error Prone – Blackpool 1 – 3 Wigan

Wigan took the points as they turned in a composed performance, taking advantage of chances handed to them by Blackpool. Blackpool on the other hand will want to forget this error strewn match as Ian Holloway continues his search for a settled first eleven.

Setting up

Overloading the apparent weakness.

The team selection for Blackpool centred on the return of Matt Gilks in goal and the restoration of Neil Eardley at right back with Elliot Grandin coming in to the midfield. For Blackpool the problem from the Arsenal game remained how to compensate for the loss of David Vaughan. In truth no one really covered his position providing Blackpool with the same gap in their balance that caused them problems against Arsenal i.e. there’s not enough cover for the defence nor disruption of the opposition midfield. Wigan were somewhere between a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-5-1, with Steve Gohouri coming in for the suspended Maynor Figueroa. Roberto Martinez asked Ben Watson and James McCarthy to sit deeper than Mohamed Diame who appeared to be asked to play higher up the pitch. Presumably to apply pressure to Charlie Adam in the deep.

Plain speaking

Tactically the game itself was pretty plain from Blackpool’s perspective. Presumably the individual errors took away and coherency from their play and didn’t allow them to execute their game plan. One element that was clearly not apparent, which seemed obvious, was to target the left back Steve Gohouri who may have found an appearance at left back somewhat uncomfortable.

However, it was Martinez who made the most distinctive tactical moves. Firstly, as mentioned above, stationing Diame higher up the pitch to pressurise Charlie Adam and deny him the space that he thrives on. The other tactical element that Martinez appeared to bring to the game was to focus Wigan’s play down their left flank. Blackpool’s right back area is one of concern for Ian Holloway and his constant switching between Eardley and Alex Baptiste shows his doubt about the position. Whilst Wigan didn’t really get a lot of joy down the left, they were confident on passing the ball about in that zone of the pitch, Tom Cleverley, N’Zogbia and Diame all focused their passing and running in to that area and that can be seen in the high concentration of passes on the chalkboard below.

Left, left, left, right, left (repeat to fade)

Back to three

The major piece of tactical intrigue from Ian Holloway came when the game was dead, therefore the value of his change must be tempered by that fact, however, it is well worth noting what he tried. After his triple substitution failed to change the game within his normal framework he pushed Neil Eardley in to central midfield turning Blackpool in to a 3-5-2. Arguably Blackpool’s system has been exposed in recent weeks as the player at the tip of the midfield triangle has either been squeezed out of play by the opposition or the player hasn’t played well. If either of these or both happen then Blackpool’s system becomes more predictable. The shift to a 3-5-3 flattened the midfield three bringing in Eardley who is more competent on the ball in to the area of the pitch that Blackpool had surrendered to Wigan through poor displays from Keith Southern and Charlie Adam. The shift to this system gave Blackpool more control and composure in the centre. Whether this system would work elsewhere isn’t clear, what is clear is that Neil Eardley could well play more games in the centre of midfield and this is something that has been toyed with for a while as Holloway tried him in central midfield during pre-season.

Watson in control

Another point to note is that while Charlie Adam is heading to the PFA Awards he will be left to reflect on a game where he was outplayed by Ben Watson. Watson dominated the centre of the pitch winning all 9 of his duels, passing efficiently and breaking up play with 4 interceptions.

Wigan gained control of the centre through Ben Watson.

All too often since the turn of the year has Charlie Adam been wasteful in possession which could be through his own drop in performance, opposition pressure or lack of cohesion from his team mates taking away the platform which he usually performs well upon. From the chalkboard below the red streaks of failed passes dominate as his pass completion drop to 53%

Keeping it simple

Charlie Adam was wasteful and Ben Watson showed how to retain possession and stringing his side together. However, as individual performances go Tom Cleveley was safe in possession and Charles N’Zogbia showed the direct running and link up play that make him a very dangerous player when he wants to be.

No bite

The final point to make is that without David Vaughan Blackpool are even weaker in defensive passages of play and struggle to break up the opposition. Wigan were superb in their passing, but also superb in breaking up Blackpool’s play with 19 interceptions. Blackpool’s error will have contributed to this, but Blackpool had no answer to this only being able to make 9 interceptions themselves.

No contest. A fine smattering versus a splutter.

Moving on

Blackpool need to be much better off and on the ball in their final few games working harder to disrupt teams as well as cutting out errors and recovering better from those that they make. Wigan will be happy with three points, but they will have harder tests than this and will need Ben Watson, Charles N’Zogbia and Tom Cleverley to keep building play in the final third order to threaten better teams.