FA Cup Preview – The Definitive Tactical Lowdown on Blackpool

Saturday sees us entertain Blackpool in a re run of the most exciting game seen at Goodison last season. To preview the 5th Round Clash we’ve teamed up with the excellent Tangerine Dreaming website for a Q&A  to get an insight into Ian Holloway’s promotion contenders…

 

From the looks of the ‘goals for’ column in the Championship, Blackpool are still a team who like to entertain. How are things shaping up defensively?

Defensively we are ok. We are playing against a poorer standard of attacking football each week so the challenge is less difficult. We can still be picked apart by any diligent team. We still play a high defensive line, so direct passes from the middle third can catch us
out. The channel between right back and centre back is still worth probing to test our positioning and concentration. If anything our balance in the team has changed ever so slightly. At times last season we’d attack with 8 and defend with 2, but this season, more often that not we are 4 to 6 in favour of attack. It’s likely that we will line up with two young centre backs at Goodison and whilst they show great promise they are still learning to play with each other.

System wise, in our meetings at home and away last season it was predominantly 4-3-3 from Holloway. Is this still the case?

The formation has tended to move towards a 4-2-3-1 from the 4-3-3, but the four players in attack are ultra attacking and it really tends to
look more like a 4-2-4. When that happens we can dominate teams with relentless pressure, however, it can be easy for a gap of 10 to 15
yards to develop between midfield and attack and if a team can force the team to divide Blackpool can be dominated in the middle. The 4-3-3 still comes out and arguably the flatter shape in midfield lends itself to some of our better performances this season.

Last season the diagonal ball was one of your key attacking weapons. Has your offensive strategy changed in the Championship?

It still happens, but with less accuracy and frequency. Ian Holloway has openly admitted that he wants his team to pass more and more and manipulate the ball around the pitch. A team being alert to the long diagonal could set up well for second balls and reclaim possession quite easily. Offensively we are still as aggressive and the kitchen sink is fully installed at Bloomfield Road. Away from home we still seek to dominate possession, but we are more suited to counter given the pace we have in attack.

The gap between Charlie Adam’s teeth was a large one to fill. Who has supplemented this creative void?

Arguably no one has filled it and that has possibly given Blackpool a number of problems. Elliot Grandin had the ability on the ball to be devastating, but he has now returned to France for personal reasons. The loss of Adam has probably led to the move towards the more aggressive approach of playing four forwards in the 4-2-3-1. The balance of the team as well as the creativity hasn’t been dealt with. Gary Taylor-Fletcher is very clever on the ball and can create excellently around the box, but the signing of John Fleck may help to
fill that void. He has yet to string games together, but he has an excellent passing range, aggressive attitude and ability to get a shot off early. Should he start against Everton then Moyes will be well aware of his threat and would be wise to hassle him early on before he
can settle in to a rhythm.

People will be familiar with Kevin Phillips but less so with his namesake Matthew Phillips, who has bagged 3 hatricks already this season. What can we expect from him?

Let him turn and give him five or ten yards and he will hurt most defences. He can score and create from anywhere in the final third. He is still refining his game, but his strengths will see him reach the top echelons of the Premier League if he continues on his current trajectory. If he starts, he will line up in the wide left forward position and seek to cut inside to get his shot away. Very few players
will beat him for pace, he is strong and tricky also. However, get tight to him, stop him from turning and he has little in his skill set to be able to effectively turn and beat a man. Likely that he’ll lay the ball off and move in to space. However, his movement off the ball
is still developing and more often than not in those circumstances he can take himself out of the game.

Can we expect a full strength line up from Holloway or is the promotion push likely to compromise his selection?

Who knows what Holloway’s full strength line up looks like? He is so hard to call in respect to his selection. He loves a good bit of trial and error.

How has the Premiership cash cow positively impacted Blackpool?

Finances are virtually an impenetrable subject at Bloomfield Road. Karl Oyston assures fans that the future of the club is secure and there’s little doubt about that. The legacy elements mooted when we were in the Premier League i.e. new training ground have yet to materialise. However, our transfer policy continues to frustrate, even if it may be built on sound business logic. Quietly the money has been spent wisely up to now, securing new contracts for established players, bringing in quality like Barry Ferguson and Kevin Phillips. However, most importantly we are in a strong negotiating position should clubs come looking at our players as we don’t need to sell in order to get the cash. Hence the way the approaches from Bolton and Cardiff were handled in January when they made bids for Matthew
Phillips.

Given our recent upturn in form, how do you see Blackpool hurting us?

That’s a tough one. We can break very quickly so he may set up to counter at speed. If Baines advances Holloway’s use of wide forwards staying high may seek to exploit that. If Holloway starts with Barry Ferguson, Chris Basham and Ludo Sylvestre then we will likely try to control large parts of possession and perhaps we can pull Everton out of shape before trying to get Matt Phillips or LuaLua behind the defence.

Who would you say is Blackpool’s weak link that we could exploit?

Not a weak link per se, but applying pressure to Barry Ferguson would serve to hamper our passing rhythm as well as allowing you to win the ball high up the pitch. Again, LuaLua can be wasteful in possession, he’s very much a low percentage footballer. He can inspire, but making plans to pressure him and cut out his passing angles and Blackpool’s creativity will suffer.

Score prediction?

Everton 4-2 Blackpool

Mr Bong is away for the weekend so will be unable to deliver any post match analysis.  If your looking for some tactical deconstruction I’d recommend you check out the Tangerine Dreaming site for their unbiased astute thoughts on the cup tie.

Everton 2-0 Chelsea: 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1. Cech Distribution

Part of the game plan when out of possession was to stop Chelsea playing out from the back. Cech’s obviously a top class keeper but if he has a weakness its distribution. Straq has his limitations as a player but in terms of effort and sheer belligerence it’d be difficult to think of any player in modern times who shows as much of these qualities as the Argentine. He is circled below cutting off the angle for the pass to Cole – a ball Chelsea use a fair bit to compensate for Cech’s shortcomings on the ball. With this option closed off and Cahill positioned to cut off a central ball, Cech goes long – and straight to Donovan. In total Cech made 22 long balls, with just 13 finding an opponent. He averages 6 per game usually.

2.Bainaar

The Baines-Pienaar axis have picked up were they left off 12 months ago and gave Chelsea problems throughout with some signature Bainaar manoeuvres.  Bosingwa – a player much better offensively – had a torrid time yesterday although in fairness he wasn’t afforded much support down the right flank from Sturridge or any of Chelsea’s midfield trio. Firstly, his poor throw was intercepted by Pienaar and then he was caught ball watching in the same move as Pienaar ghosted into the 18 yard box to control and slam a half volley into Cech’s net.  The duo were at the heart of all that was good for the Blues yesterday both in terms of defence and attack.

 3. Counter Attack

Chelsea’s use of a high defensive line was mentioned in the preview and was evident yesterday. With Pienaar and Donovan though we have more options for counter attack than at the start of the campaign. The pair made a combined 6 dribbles and their ability to break quickly at pace was very useful against a Chelsea side looking to squeeze play further up field.  A mention should also go to Jonny Heitinga, who enabled us to turn defensive situations into attacking ones seamlessly with long deliveries to the 2 creative men on  the flanks, averaging 70% success from his diagonals. Donovan has 93 assists in his time in the MLS and his incredibly productive loan spell continued here when the US star capitalised on Neville’s reducer on Ashley Cole to roll in the Straq for the clincher. It was Donovan’s 9th assist from the 17 domestic games he has played for us over his 2 loan spells.

 4. The Wall

Our 3 midfielders Cahill, Fellaini and Gibson provided a superb screen for the defence. Their average position (left) shows the 3 in close proximity. In total the trio made 6 interceptions, 8 clearances and 10 tackles to frustrate Chelsea. Our visitor’s strength is playing through teams but our solidity through the centre pushed them outside as they made a whopping 33 crosses. Regular readers of the blog will be aware that this is a favoured defensive tactic of DM against sides with limited aerial threat… allowing the opposition to whip the ball in whilst we flood the 18 yard box . Mata – the leagues most creative player – tried 8 crosses with none reaching a colleague. The below screenshot shows a typical Chelsea offensive situation with our midfield trio positioned well to push Chelsea out wide.

5. Final Thought

This was a really well deserved win for the Blues and leaves us in good shape heading into the crucial final third of the season. In a nutshell, the new boys have given us the brains to compliment the brawn we have in abundance at the club. We are now unbeaten in 6 and 3 points better off than this stage last season.

Everton Scout Report: Chelsea Deconstructed in 5 Points

1.Last time out

The reverse fixture at the Bridge witnessed a pretty dire game from a toffee perspective as a combination of Mata’s brilliance and some shite defending cost us dear. Chelsea’s aggressive high line and pressing penned us deep into our own half for the most part with our slow build up play from the back constantly exposed. Our right side was particularly dodgy with all 3 goals sourced from this flank as Coleman and Hibbert had an evening to forget.

2.Strengths

Chelsea’s offensive make up is certainly their key strength. Mata is the main positive to come out of the AVB revolution and he showed at the Bridge earlier this season the damage he could do as he ripped us apart. Unsurprisingly, the former Valencia man is statistically the most creative player in the league as shown in the table (left).

Whilst Torres can’t buy a goal at the moment his moody mate Sturridge – one of the most direct players in the league- certainly can. The forward has slotted in his last 2 against us for Bolton and Chelsea and he is their top scorer with 9. Chelsea average 18.1 shots per game on their travels which is the highest in the division.

3.Weaknesses

Defensive frailties have undermined their attempts to put more pressure on the top 3. Initially the problem appeared Terry’s inability to adapt to a higher defensive line that had been used in previous regimes. The line looks to have been tweaked given that Chelsea caught opponents offside on average 1.5 times in their last 6 games – less than half the  figure of their first 6 games (3.3) which is  indicative of a deeper defensive line. Neither Terry or Cole are any longer in their prime and when you factor in that Bosingwa/Luiz are both better on the ball then defending of it you have problems.

I’d fancy us to get a goal from a cross. Baines looked more threatening last week than at any stage of the season with Pienaar affording him more space to scheme. Donovan has also assisted 5 in 8 games and has great delivery from wide areas. Whoever starts in the 2 forward positions for us (presumably Cahill + Straq/Victor/Jelavich) there is a significant aerial threat from crosses to harm Chelsea. Luiz aerially has only won 58% of his battles so is susceptible if we can get the right quality into the box.

4.Selection/Tactics

In defence, Luiz and either Ivanovic or Cahill will partner each other at the back. Chelsea’s shape will be 4-2-3-1 ish – the average position chart (left) shows their positioning last week with the red circles defensive mids and the yellow attacking mids. Perennial slotter against us Frank Lampard would appear ‘set’ to return – which is a shame –  however our visitors have other problems with Ramires, Drogba and Terry all out. Mata should play more centrally with Malouda wide left and Sturridge the reluctant right sided forward. The much maligned Torres will start through the middle. On the subject of the former Kop darling turned figure of hate, he is clearly struggling for confidence. After witnessing him manically run 20 yards to close down a defender last week I’d argue that he seems to have regressed to the mindset an English striker – Brian Deane for example – and is a shadow of the player who used to conserve his energy for short bursts onto opposing keepers.
5. Strategy

AVB has chopped and changed things tactically throughout the campaign. The high defensive line has been modified but is still relatively high (like ourselves at home) which keeps opponents at arms length and reduces the shots conceded as shown in the chart (left). Chelsea will look to press and be aggressive in their work when we are on the ball so we will need to be quicker and more fluid in possession than we were at the JJB last week.  Whilst  the high line/ pressing combination is effective in gaining territorial dominance it can leave you exposed in behind and with Donovan, Drenthe and Anichebe all potentially figuring at some stage we have decent options for fast break situations. When playing counter attacking situations themselves, Chelsea have players like Luiz who can ping a long diagonal and turn defence into attack in an instant as Newcastle discovered to their cost when Sturridge had a field day. His own battle against Baines at both ends of the pitch could be pivotal.

Predicted Everton Line up: 4-4-1-1 Howard, Neville, Baines, Distin, Heitinga, Gibson, Fellaini, Donovan, Pienaar, Cahill, Anichebe

Prediction: Everton 1 Chelsea 1

Bet: Chelsea H/T Draw F/T

Wigan 1-1 Everton – 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1.Wigan Wingbacks

Wigan played with 3 centre backs with their wingbacks providing the width down the flanks. The image (left) of their average positions show the centre backs (red) and wingbacks (yellow). The Latic’s kept a pretty high line leading to us being caught offside with great regularity. Their attacks were focused most down the left flank with Beausejour as left wing back  Wigan’s most potent player – creating 2 chances – 1 of which leading to the calamitous second half opener for the Latics.

2.Aerial Trouble

As noted in the preview, Wigan have a weakness in the air with only Swansea winning fewer aerial duels per game. Despite this, they won 69% of the aerial duels against us yesterday. Sadly, when we did play more direct balls the accuracy wasn’t great (just 36% accuracy) and the longer balls were directed too close to Caldwell, a player who has limitations on the deck but is Wigan’s best header. As a result of this, Caldwell won 100% of his headers (11 out of 11). The decision to push our best header (Fellaini) further forward following Cahill’s injury was probably done to improve our ability to hold up the ball in the final third. Stracqualursi was very good on the ball (92% pass completion 2nd only to Gibson on 93%) but the Argentine lost all of his aerial duels.

3. Pienaar is still Ace

The South Afircan schemer played like he had never been away and his link up play with Baines – a feature of our play down the years – was class throughout. The below image is an example of the dynamic with Pienaar (circled) cutting inside taking his marker with him, enabling Baines to steam up the line.

We didn’t produce much but between them the pair crafted 6 of the 7 chances we created. Pienaar ‘s pass completion was 89% – comfortably above our team average – and in the process made 70 touches, second only to Fellaini (100)

 4. Lack of Incision

Whilst our play outside the box was OK, we found it difficult to work the ball into the box. The chalkboard (left) shows our passes completed with only a few balls played successfully into the Wigan 18 yard box in the 90minutes. As noted in previous posts, we tend to score most of our goals later on in games with 46%  coming in the last 15 minutes of games. Anichebe’s  headed finish from a delicious Baines delivery made the Nigerian our top scorer with 4 goals despite limited game time this season.

5.Final thought

Wigan’s goal sprung us into action and we really need to be more proactive; we have conceded first in 62% of games this season with just 1 first half goal in our last 13 league games. We need to attack teams from the off rather than being reactive. It wasn’t a great display by us on a shocking pitch and a draw was a fair result on the balance of play. Beating the league’s top side and then failing to beat the league’s bottom side in one week pretty much encapsulates life as an Evertonian.

Deconstructing the Man City win, Jelavic, Saha, Pienaar & Wigan

1.Man City Victory

 Defensive Approach

The victory over City was very much a triumph for grit and determination. City made more than double the amount of passes as we did (660 v 310) and posted a significantly higher pass completion ( 85% v 68%) which resulted in an overall 68% swell of the ball, yet created little. We worked incredibly hard off the ball; making 17 interceptions with notable mentions for the heroic Heitinga and Hibbert who jointly made 22 clearances. The defensive duo were sublime; whereas many opposition centre backs this season have been caught following City strikers away from goal and thus enabling space for midfielders like Silva to exploit, the duo held their positions superbly as shown below with great support by the midfield.

Despite their obvious quality and having a lot of the ball, City failed to penetrate our backline into any clear cut chances. The protection afforded to Tim Howard this season has been constant with only Liverpool having conceded fewer shots on target in the league this season (80) … 1 less than us (81).

One of the key battles was snuffing the incisive Silva. Last time out Moyes used Rodwell man to man but this time there was no one player deployed – instead the midfield 5 took it in terms to pick him up, playing deep and compact making it difficult for Silva or his midfield colleagues to play through us with only 1 of City’s 7 through balls penetrating.  City were increasingly frustrated – Silva is class in the final third at threaded passes but they maybe lack a Modric type player who can ping passes from deep as neither of their centre mids or centre backs are great at distributing. Unable to go through us, City sent on Kolorov and looked to use crosses to get the ball into the box quicker. They usually make 19 crosses per game but made a huge 34 against us as we pushed them out to the flanks were they are less potent.

Attacking Strategy

When we didn’t have the ball we were compact and tight, and when we got the ball we made the pitch big, attacking down the flanks with pace through Drenthe and Donovan who gave width and pace. We did well to win the ball back in City’s half by narrowing angles and hassling City’s defenders – notably Lescott who whilst being a good defender has a weakness in distribution. Below shows 3 players hassling him and eventually winning the ball back.

The goal was a really well worked effort with Drenthe’s dribble and subsequent speedy burst away from  Gareth Barry reminiscent of the City slouch during his calamitous World Cup experience against Germany in 2010. Drenthe combined with Baines whose cross found Donovan who laid on his 5th assist in 7 games for Gibson who rocketed in his first Blue goal following a deflection of the hapless Barry.

Mancini’s after match comments –designed specifically to take attention away from the players – should not be interpreted as him thinking of us as a soft touch. Why would he? After all we have beaten them 5 times in 6 since he took over and City’s focus is clearly on securing the title. This was a well deserved victory and was reminiscent of all that has been good with Everton in the Moyes era.

 2. Jelavic

Some quick thoughts on our new striker…..Technique wise, NJ is accomplished on the ball with a decent range of passing and he possesses good vision with 12 assists in 2 seasons.  Moyes is always looking for a target man who can hold up the ball and enable time for attacking midfielders to get forward – hence the decision to get rid of Beckford and the loan acquisition of the less talented but harder working Stracqualursi. NJ’s physical build and good first touch means we get this. NJ possesses a decent goal scoring record with a 48% shooting accuracy during his time at Ibrox resulting in him easily achieving the benchmark 1 in 2 ratio strikers look to achieve. From looking at some of the VT he scores a decent variety of goals but service will be crucial.  His physicality is good in terms of hold up play but less so in terms of speed and ability to get in behind defences. The way we play though isn’t usually setup for counter attack so perhaps this isn’t a big deal. His work rate is good though and he will give opposing defences more to think about than the departed Saha. The overall verdict would be that he is a good buy with more quality than Straq and Cahill, better work rate than Saha and a bigger goal threat than all 3 he improves the squad for sure.

 3. Saha

Louis Saha will not be missed by many fans but I feel he has given decent value to the club during his time at L4.He of course registered the quickest Cup Final goal in history and also crucially got the ¼ final winner against Boro the same year. Overall, he registered a 1 in 3 ratio in his time at the club which for a player who cost nothing in a transfer fee isn’t too bad.  However, in the last 18 months his impact has become increasingly minimal. Whereas with Cahill you get application and general snide behaviour to unsettle opponents when he isn’t scoring, with Saha you don’t get much apart from goals,  with no assists in 2 seasons. Just because Saha won’t chase opponents like the admirable Straq did in the City win doesn’t however mean he doesn’t have good movement or commitment; sometimes it’s best for strikers to save energy for short sharp bursts rather than running themselves into the ground. With just 1 goal from 50 shots this season though he has look of a player who is on the way out at this level and a move was probably in the best interests of both parties.

4. The Return of Stevie P

The final piece of business to be completed by the Toffees was the return of a former favourite and one of the best players I’ve seen play for the club, Steven Pienaar. Criminally underused by Diry Arry  – failing to complete a single 90 minutes once for Tottenham in the top flight after doing so in 38 of his last 48 Everton games – The South African should be warmly received at L4. His passing stats and chances created figures from his first spell are a big improvement on our existing wide-men so, like Jelavic, he improves our options.

The big beneficiary of course will be Leighton Baines and, to a lesser extent, Tim Cahill . In the 3-4 season’s LB/SP played together they amassed a whopping 50+ assists between them with Pienaar’s quick darts inside dragging his fullback and enabling Baines the freedom of the flank to get in deliveries – usually for Cahill (circled) to dispatch a feature of our play (as shown above). Whilst Pienaar is effective on the right or through the middle, he must start wide left to reinvigorate Baines who has had 9 left sided midfield partners already this season and needs the consistency of his old mate Pienaar to bring the best out of him. With his creativity and Gibson’s goals, we certainly have more of potency in the midfield ranks than pre transfer window.

5.  And finally…..Wigan Preview

Saturday sees us visit the JJB for a clash with Roberto Martinez and his Wigan side who currently prop up the table. Unsurprisingly for a team in their position, the Latics have the worst home record, defensive record and goals scored record in the top flight and this would appear an ideal opportunity for us to secure back to back wins and build momentum.

In terms of players to watch, Victor Moses is pretty much like for like for their former maverick Charles N’Zogbia and although his end product has been minimal, he has the raw materials to become a superb player.  He has made the most dribbles this season (64) but is the  4th most disposed (58) player in the league. The Latics attack predominantly down the left although fullback Stam (circled 23 from recent avg position chart) is a decent attacking fullback and will provide great width so Baines will need to be aware of his forays forward. Wigan like to shoot from long range with 56% of their efforts coming from outside the box – the highest % in the top flight.

Whilst they have only scored 3 fewer than us, Wigan’s back line is incredibly shaky and Gary Caldwell is undeniably the weak link. Wigan have given away the most (8) penalties this season & Gary Caldwell the most by a player (4). The clumsy grafter has a dire disciplinary record because of this with 7 yellow 1 red card so far, with Wigan making more fouls per game than any side – with players like Drenthe and Donovan running at pace we can surely get some joy here. Wigan have a weakness aerially with only Swansea having won fewer headed duels than Wigan. In terms of selection, after his superb shift against City, I’d expect Straq to retain his slot, with Jelavic starting from the bench, probably along with Pienaar.