Tag: Kevin Phillips

Blackpool's Best Eleven

Ian Holloway hasn’t picked a consistent eleven all season. This is a light-hearted look at why that might be the case and why it’s not just a case of picking the best players.

Picking the best team from a squad of players is no easy task. If it was a simple task of listing the best players then that could lead to several complications. If that’s not the best starting point then what might be a good place to begin in a quest to find the ‘best’ starting eleven?

Natural instincts

How about understanding the way the player naturally orients himself on the field of play? This can be a very eye-opening exercise. This takes in to account their approach, mentality and where they thrive on the pitch. Obviously the final team selection takes in to many other facets such as the opponent and game objectives. The diagram below takes (entirely subjectively) a view on where each Blackpool player is naturally drawn to and excels. This gives us our starting point.

This paints an interesting picture and starts to show where Blackpool may be lacking. There are obvious points for debate based on the subjectivity at hand. For example, Ian Evatt generally lines up in the left centre back position and here he has been placed at right centre back. Arguably his one footedness doesn’t help him on the left and his more natural position should be on the right. Neal Eardley is placed much higher up the field than his right back role, mainly because he shows more of the traits of a wide midfielder than an orthodox full back. Even though they are different players both Kevin Phillips and Roman Bednar appear to enjoy the role of centre forward, not that they can’t play together, but they do like to occupy some of the same spaces. Gary Taylor-Fletcher always appears to drop in behind the striker when he starts as a forward and even when given a midfield role he drifts high up the field. Lomano LuaLua has been placed very high up the pitch; this is the area where he looks most comfortable.

Pointless

It might seem a little pointless just dropping the players on to a pitch diagram, however, that arguably gives a starting base to select the best eleven. The next logical step might be to now play fantasy football and just pick the eleven best players giving bias to the 4-3-3 scheme used by Ian Holloway. The diagram below illustrates these subjective picks.

There are reasons for going with certain players here. The centre back positions are a constant source for debate at Blackpool. The selection of Wilson and Evatt is merely a nod to the former being the best covering defender and Evatt the best positional stopper for want of better terminology. Alex Baptiste is kept at right back as he remains the best right back on the books and his positional ability is still a little questionable for the centre positions. In midfield, the trio of Barry Ferguson, Ludovic Sylvestre and Chris Basham get the nod. Basham’s technical ability gives him the edge over Keith Southern. Up front, Taylor-Fletcher as a creative force and goalscorer gets the selection alongside Matthew Phillips and LuaLua. Of course this is all entirely debatable decision-making, but it hopefully it starts to illustrate the difficult task of trying to select a best eleven.

Balancing act

The next consideration is balance, as the diagram above shows how awkward that line up is in reality. The diagram below adds some balance between left and right, attack and defence to give another attempt at the best Blackpool eleven.

The key movers here are John Fleck and Kevin Phillips. Essentially the reasons for their inclusion now is to shift the team to the left a little more hopefully to give them better balance in their point of attack between left, right and centre. John Fleck is an interesting inclusion at this point; arguably he is the most natural left-sided attacking player. Although he has rarely played in his natural role whilst at Blackpool, where he is positioned here is potentially his optimum position. It is where he would excel with his ability to pick a pass and shoot on sight. For the sake of formation this is a kind of 4-3-3 of sorts, but woefully lacking width.

There are clear issues of balance within this Blackpool squad whilst there are excellent options with the players at hand. It does serve to illustrate why Holloway may be moving away from his trusty 4-3-3. Fielding a midfield three lacks balance due to the lack of left-sided midfielders in the squad. Sylvestre is very right footed and will always gravitate to that side. Fielding two deeper midfielders eases the selection issue for Ian Holloway but still gives his issues with finding the right blend up front with few combinations giving him width, pace and creativity as well as pure finishing ability.

Right on

This is just a very simple look at how to choose a best eleven without even weighing in the other considerable factors. Making these decisions is at the core of the manager’s role and as Ian Holloway has found the right blend in the past, there’s no reason he can’t right now. Blackpool fans everywhere will hope he has asked and answered all the pertinent questions to lead the Tangerines to a strong end of season and back to the Premier League.

Goal Analysis – Doncaster

After previously unpicking two opposition goals in recent weeks this time the focus turns on to a goal scored by Blackpool.

The final goal in the 3-1 victory over Doncaster had points of interest from both an attacking and defending point of view. The first two goals scored on the night came from Gary Taylor-Fletcher, the first from a brilliant long curved pass over the Doncaster defence from Neal Eardley and the second self-created with quick feet and craft.

Double Phase

The goal was a product of two phases of play. The first phase being an attacking free kick for Blackpool and the second, reclaimed possession from the free kick resulting in the goal. The start of the first phase is pictured below.

Whilst Doncaster do win the header at the free kick they don’t clear the ball to safety and nor does the man on the edge of the box (highlighted) react quick enough to the loose ball. Not in the picture above is the man who is responsible for initiating phase two, Barry Ferguson.

Fergie Time & Again

Ferguson has been fantastic for Blackpool this season, his technique is of a very high standard which makes errors on his first touch very rare. His positional sense is superb and allied with great vision and leadership he is able to organise the team around his position. He is generally first to collect orders from Holloway and distribute them and at attacking set pieces you can see him pointing to his players advising them where to go. Such is his quality of positional work it often escapes notice. It takes a goal such as this to really appreciate his role in the Blackpool team. In attack, he supports the team and provides the back up when attacks either break down or fizzle out.

In the picture above you can see that he was perfectly positioned to pick up on the loose ball and in a split second Ferguson has possession of the ball and without any hassle the ball has started on its path towards the back of the net. It looks simple, but in reality that kind of play is hard to do, you need to be in the right position, you then need the required technique to secure the ball and move it on. Poorer players could have lost possession in such a situation and left their team open to a fast break.

Fab-Trio

The Blackpool goal then lends itself to three more excellent pieces of work.

  1. A brilliant through ball from Kevin Phillips allowing Alex Baptiste to advance.
  2. A hard and accurate shot from Baptiste. He knows he need to either shoot or cross. His run and position isn’t that dissimilar to the goal he scored against Crystal Palace earlier in the season and here he makes the keeper make a save.
  3. Nouha Dicko understands his position well and knows he needs to both make himself available for a cross and in position to poach any loose ball that may rebound. He does the latter superbly well to put the game beyond Doncaster.

Back Baps

Arguably, the key element of those three is the role that Baptiste plays. It has been said on this blog this season that Blackpool look their most potent when Baptiste steps in to attack. The main reasons for this is that at several points this season Blackpool have been stymied and tend to struggle for creative ideas around the final third, often slowing the tempo of the game too much and having poor movement ahead of the ball. In such cases it’s important for midfielders to make runs beyond the ball and if that doesn’t happen then the defence can do the same. In doing so, they can create overloading situations against the opposition defence and in turn get behind the defensive line which can be vital in any football match.

Turn & Face

It is that last sentence that leads to the final point to be made about the goal. It’s is a great example of why an attacking team needs to turn a defensive line around and get them running towards their goal. It pushes them closer to their own goal, but also only very good defenders can recover their awareness of the match situation to deal with the imminent threats. Here, Doncaster have only just turned to face their goal when the shot comes in from Baptiste and they have little time to understand where the Blackpool players are and react before the ball is in the net.

Moving On

You can view this goal and the others from the match against Doncaster over on the BBC website through the link below

Doncaster 1-3 Blackpool

Overall this was a good team goal and a good three points for Blackpool as they move on to an FA Cup clash with Everton. A preview of that game can be found on the link below.

Everton v Blackpool – FA Cup 5th Round – 18th March 2012