Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blackpool Runs Deep

photo by MrB-MMXvia PhotoRee

Correpsondent Ed returns, with a semi-serious column on one of his favorite teams:
Here are a few questions to consider:  Which team has more road wins this season, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, or Blackpool?  Which of these same teams has the most goals away from home?  Oh, and which of those teams is quickly becoming the story of the year?  The answers are – and these should be obvious to all of you who are paying attention – Blackpool, Blackpool, and of course, Blackpool.

This weekend, Blackpool disposed of Stoke City.  I use the words “disposed of” because I actually sat down to watch the game (low definition, as always with Blackpool; in fact so low that it was broadcast with the score and time off the screen) with the idea that Blackpool should beat Stoke despite the fact that Stoke was the favorite, the game was at the Brittania, and Stoke was coming off three wins and two draws in their last five.  My reasoning was simple:  Blackpool is a better team.   

In these pages, I’ve written about Blackpool in a somewhat fanciful way – see, e.g., Blackpool Drops the Adam Bomb and more recently, Et tu, Blackpool.   But I think it’s time to give these guys the serious analysis they deserve and take a deeper look at their success and the reasons for it.  So, here’s five thoughts on the Seasiders in a most uncolorful / accountant-like way:

1.   Charlie Adam.  Or “Adams” if you’re like most EPL announcers, who inexplicably don’t know the name of the best player on the team, and arguably one of the best players in the entire EPL.  And yes I did say he’s one of the best in the EPL.  Who would you prefer at center mid, Gareth Barry?  Anyone watching would have to conclude that Barry is a poor man’s Adam with a rich man’s price tag.  Of course, Adam is the franchise at Blackpool.  He controls and usually dominates the center of the pitch, and his footwork and vision are unparalleled.  Adam stretches the field with exceptionally accurate sideline to sideline passes.  He also doesn’t miss the runner, and hits them with urgency and precision.  In this game of constant movement, timing is critical, and Adam has it in spades.  When Adam misses, it’s not because he’s late, it’s usually because he’s anticipating something that doesn’t end up happening.  Adam may lack full flight speed, but his footwork provides him the space he needs.  I recall his double nutmeg of a frantic and ravenous Carlos Tevez in the game where Blackpool outplayed City but ended up losing on two controversial goals.  Clearly, for Blackpool to continue to succeed Adam needs to stay: (1)  healthy, and (2) at Blackpool.  The latter might be tougher the former right now because rumors swirl that Everton is interested in him.  And why shouldn’t they be?  He’s better than Arteta and Fellaini, and consequently the team he captains is considerably higher than the Toffees in the league table.   A team that would be a better fit, however, is Aston Villa, but that’s a different matter.  Ultimately, it’s up to Blackpool owner Owen Oysten to keep this guy, and the fact that they took Adam to arbitration over what would seem to be a richly deserved bonus – and lost -- should cause concern for all Tangerine fans. 

2.   Dudley Junior Campbell.  That’s DJ Campbell to you and I.  Maybe for the first time this year, DJ played at Stoke at the level they needed him bring.  He needs to be more like Spurs’ Defoe; obviously he’s not going to be as good as Defoe, but his speed needs to be a constant threat and he needs to execute an accurate and quick release on shots in the scoring zone.  I appreciate this may be perceived as a tall order, but for most of the season, I’ve felt he’s missed many more opportunities than he’s converted, and he’s generally acted the part of the guy who hasn’t belonged in the EPL.  Because the Tangerines alignment puts so much pressure on their defense, DJ also needs to be able to hold the ball on clearances.  Against Stoke he did this continually, and with solid and determined footwork gave his midfield a chance to advance.  The hope for DJ is that his play against Stoke was not an aberration but part of his learning how to succeed at the EPL level.   At 29, he’s got to do this sooner rather than later.  

3.   The Defense.  This section cold also be known, more cynically, as “why they’ll never get higher than the middle of the pack.”  It’s not all their fault, as their structure – a true 4-3-3 means they have little help from midfielders and are often caught in numbers on the counterattack.  It pains me to say this as I think like most of the squad he leaves everything on the field, but Eardley is simply too slow for right back.  At the center back, the 21 year old former Man United man, Craig Cathcart, is not yet forceful enough at 6’2” and 160 lbs., though in a few years he will be.  The other two backs are also neither fast nor big, though I’ve been impressed with their passing.  However, they also lack the ability to win headers in the box, something that Adam is constantly tracking back to do.  Ultimately, Blackpool need more talent in the back, but until then their 12th man will continue to have to be the woodwork.  

4.   The 4-3-3.  This alignment works for Blackpool for two principal reasons:  (1) It gives them confidence and passion.  Playing defense all day and chasing down better players simply isn’t fun.  Playing offense, going on runs, and attacking the goal against even the best teams is.  Anyone who’s played knows how much easier it is sprint down a field late in a game in an attempt to finish a counter than it is to track back and run down an opposing team’s attacker.  (2)  You’ve got to score to win.  Too obvious?  What I mean is that Blackpool, like many teams at their level, doesn’t have a dominant striker who can put it in the goal on his own.  See, for example, Newcastle’s Andy Carroll.  By unleashing their strong midfielders – Adam and Vaughan – into the attack, they are squeezing the most out of the talent they have.  Oh and one more thing, this alignment makes for great viewing. 

5.   The Coach.  I am loathe to give coaches too much credit as I usually think the players are the reasons teams win or lose.  However, in addition to assembling a good group of players, Ian Holloway deserves much of the credit for Blackpool's success.  Consider the team on breaks down the wing to the endline --  at the center of the field waiting to receive the cross is usually a picture perfect alignment of one man short side, another far post and another at the top of the five yard box.  Their set plays are at once creative and precisely executed.  It helps, I think, that there is never a debate as to who is to take the kick – something I never really understand at the pro level – but either way they clearly work on these frequently.  Holloway also lets them play the free-flowing game for which they are built.  Against even superior opposition, Blackpool's ability to control the ball and put together tight passes paves the way for goals.  Perhaps most importantly, Holloway has this team playing every game like it’s their last.   I suspect this might be because they wonder deep down whether or not they’re imposters.  

Blackpool’s next game is against Spurs, a game that would have and could have been a terrific matchup of two teams that play an aggressive end to end style.  Unfortunately, the game has lost some of its promise with Charlie Adam out on suspension due to his five yellow cards for the year.  It will certainly be interesting to see how Blackpool survive without Adam, though odds are they will be pressed.

But even if you don’t watch Blackpool this week, next time you see that they’re on give them a little love and tune in.  Unlike most of those Man United games that fail to live up to their hype, with Blackpool you won’t be disappointed. 

This is farlieonfootie for December 15.

No comments:

Post a Comment