Having a clear strategy and executing it is absolutely crucial in football. In this match Nigel Clough came to Blackpool with a clear strategy, his players clearly understood what was expected of them and they carried out the strategy perfectly to record a deserved victory.
Blackpool set up with three up front and three in midfield with Elliot Grandin again pushing quite high up the field. Derby matched Blackpool’s three men in the centre of the pitch, played a lone striker and two wide men who tried to support their striker as best as possible, but asked to sit in behind the ball when they didn’t have the ball.
Derby came with a simple, but very effective defensive strategy to try to stop Blackpool playing and hoping to break at speed to steal something on the break. In possession their wide men made runs to support the striker as did Craig Bryson. When they gained field position towards the Blackpool defensive third their full backs stepped up, in particularly John Brayford from right back.
It’s all in the execution
First and foremost all bar one of Derby’s players appeared to be instructed to sit in behind the ball to form a bank for four players and a bank of five players, filling in the spaces afforded to Blackpool which made it hard for Blackpool to pass through them. However, the roles of two players were pivotal in executing their strategy.
Firstly, Craig Bryson played a slightly more advanced role than the other central midfielders and it appeared that his brief was to apply pressure to Barry Ferguson in the deep to hurry him in to moving the ball and hopefully breaking Blackpool down high up the pitch. He worked tirelessly off the ball and his work rate doubled in possession as he advanced to support the striker when they gained possession.
Secondly, Jamie Ward on the right side of midfield appeared to be asked to sit in behind the ball and most importantly to track the runs of Alex Baptiste to support Kevin Kilbane at left back. In doing this he enabled Derby to control the threat of Baptiste, who in the first two games of the season has been excellent moving forward and had been the catalyst for Blackpool asserting dominance in those games. Not so here as Baptiste had his element of surprise taken from him and although he did ok when advancing, Derby clearly knew what to expect.
Variety is the spice of life
Blackpool gained some good field position for large periods of the game, but couldn’t get the Derby defence to break down or even on the turn with any kind of regularity. This was largely due to the Derby defensive approach, but also the dominant performance of Jason Shackell who was rarely beaten in the air or on the ground. However, Blackpool’s endeavours were hindered quite considerably by their own approach. They failed to turn good possession in to chances and goals for a couple of key reasons. Firstly, as they advanced in the final third their movement of the ball was slow and predictable and rarely saw ball cut in to the channels and behind the defence. Secondly, only on rare occasions did they have players willing to make off the ball runs to get beyond the Derby defensive line.
Throughout the Premier League season very few teams came to Bloomfield Road happy for a draw, however, this season this situation may well become the norm. It will be important that Blackpool add variety to their point of attack and gain a better awareness of when their passing and movement becomes a little one-paced. This needs players with a good sense of tempo and on the evidence of this match alone, Gary Taylor-Fletcher was really the only player to consistently understand that the pace of pass and movement had to be increased. Added to this, Blackpool had few players in this match to create and try through balls behind the defence. Again Taylor-Fletcher is important here, but so was Elliot Grandin, who attempted to cut balls, but appears to fall short when adding the required weight to the pass.
On the evidence of this game alone Blackpool may be short of a creator in midfield and a striker to dominate a defence. Or perhaps they need to work less on passing and movement patterns in training and more towards gaining an appreciation of when to change both game plans and game tempo. Or both? Whatever path they take this game will be important in the context of their season as it marks a clear shift of attitude towards the Tangerines from opposition teams. A failure to find a way forward will seriously harm any chances they have for promotion. Derby on the other hand will be delighted with a perfectly executed game plan and if every game panned out in the same fashion then they’d be a dominant force in the Championship. However, football is rarely that predictable and as the season progresses they’ll hope that such execution remains from game to game as player performance and selection inevitably vary.