This tactical analysis will cover a thrilling match at Bloomfield Road containing seven goals, two dubious penalties and a controversial disallowed goal. Blackpool had scored just three goals in their previous five league games going into Saturday, however took the spoils thanks to four goals against a defensively shaky Peterborough side. Peterborough could have gone second with a win, however we will instead look at an analysis of how Blackpool were able to claim three points which moved them to within a point of the playoff places.
Blackpool lined up in a 3-5-2 formation. Ben Heneghan played in the middle of a back three with James Husband at left centre back and Ryan Edwards at right centre back. Jay Spearing marshalled the centre of midfield as a ‘six’ in front of defence, with Matthew Virtue-Thick playing as a box-to-box ‘eight’ and Kaikai in an advanced ‘ten’ position. Out wide, League One’s top assister Liam Feeney played as a right wing-back with Calum MacDonald in the left wing-back role. Upfront Nathan Delfouneso played as a deep-lying striker with Armand Gnanduillet the target man.
Peterborough United played in a narrow 4-1-2-1-2 midfield diamond. Frankie Kent and Mark Beevers played at the heart of the defence, with Niall Mason at right-back and Dan Butler at left-back. Louis Reed played at the bottom of the diamond with Josh Knight on the right of midfield and George Boyd on the opposite side. In front of them, Marcus Maddison had a free role at the top of the diamond, with League One’s joint top scorers Mo Eisa and Ivan Toney forming a two-man attack.
Blackpool’s low block to stifle Posh front three
The key to beating Peterborough is in stopping a front three of Maddison, Toney and Eisa who have scored 33 of Peterborough’s 39 league goals. Blackpool had a clear tactic to contain Peterborough’s dangerous trio. They sat in a low block, aimed at restricting the Posh attackers space and also preventing any opportunities to counter-attack.
We can see this low block in action above. Blackpool gave Peterborough space to play in front of the midfield trio (red box) but gave hardly any lateral or horizontal space between the midfield three and defence for Boyd, Maddison, Toney or Eisa to play in.
We can also see how the three centre backs gave Blackpool extra numbers when dealing with Peterborough’s front two and runners from midfield. Feeney has broken from defence to press the ball. However, Blackpool are still able to operate in a back four, with right centre back Ryan Edwards able to pick up Boyd’s run from deep. Despite two of the defensive players breaking from position to cover the ball or runs, they still have two centre backs to mark Toney and Eisa with left wing-back MacDonald spare at the back post.
The low block also served to restrict space in central areas forcing Peterborough to attack out wide. With eight players evenly spread across their defensive third Blackpool were then able to create a defensive overload around the ball without sacrificing their defensive solidity in other areas of the pitch. We can see this in action below as they create a 4v3 defensive overload down their right flank while still having players to cover central areas (red) and the switch of play (purple).
When Peterborough did get close to the Blackpool area and in potential shooting positions Blackpool did an excellent job of getting large numbers around the ball. Blackpool’s eight-man low black allowed them to regularly get eight players, and sometimes nine, behind the ball when it was in the final third of the pitch. Again we can see this in effect below, as Maddison shoots there are eight Blackpool players inside the box, including three in blocking positions, with the shot unable to make it past the first two players.
This approach had two main effects. The first was that it prevented both Boyd and Maddison, Peterborough’s two most creative players, the space they look for in between the opposition midfield and defensive line in order to create chances. Despite having ten assists and 46 key passes between them this season, their creative influence was largely nullified with just two key passes between them. This forced Posh to use their less creative full-backs as the main source of attacks.
The second noticeable outcome was how frequently Blackpool were able to block shots on goal. Blackpool blocked five of 14 non-penalty shots including four of seven shots from open play. This defence in numbers approach restricted Peterborough to just four shots on target and none from inside the six-yard box.
Despite conceding three goals in the game Blackpool had great success in frustrating Posh and blunting their attacking output. The penalty decision for Peterborough’s third goal was probably an incorrect call, while Mo Eisa’s opener was a finish of supreme quality when Blackpool had many players back in blocking positions. It was perhaps only the second Peterborough goal, where Dan Butler was given too much freedom to drive forward down the Blackpool left and Toney’s incredible bravery allowed him to beat his marker to the resulting cross, which was preventable. Aside from the goals Peterborough also only had one additional shot on target.
This is reflected in the xG count. Where, penalty aside, Posh managed an xG tally of just 1.1, way down on their recent numbers.
Blackpool focus attacks down wings
Blackpool had a clear plan to attack Peterborough down the wings. The narrow nature of the Posh midfield meant that when Blackpool were able to quickly transfer the balls into wide areas they were frequently able to isolate the Peterborough fullbacks or create wide overloads to exploit.
The key to the success of this ploy was the speed at which Blackpool were able to get the ball to their wide players. Blackpool hit 26% of their passes long, with a view to getting the ball high and wide as frequently as possible. Their initial target was to create a wide overload and attack down that side. We saw them do this to great effect down the left-hand side in the build-up to their second goal. The clip below shows how they were able to create a 3v2 overload out wide. MacDonald was then able to play a one-two with Virtue-Thick, get to the byline and whip in a dangerous cross, which Pym could only parry to the feet of Gnanduillet to score.
When the overload was not possible, Blackpool quickly switched the ball to the opposite flank in one touchline-to-touchline pass. When the ball was on the left the right wing-back would stay close to the far touchline and vice versa. They knew that the furthest Peterborough midfielder would have had to tuck in to cover central space as Reed tracked across from his central position. This left either Knight or Boyd too much ground to cover to get out to the opposite side of the pitch when the ball was switched, leaving the Blackpool wing-back in a 1v1 against the Peterborough full-back.
We see the switch of play in action above, Peterborough manage to get a 4v3 overload around the ball down their left with right-back Mason, centre-back Kent and midfielders Reed and Knight around the ball. Notice how central left-sided midfield George Boyd (circled) has had to come to allow for superiority around the ball. This opens up space on the opposite flank.
In one pass, the ball is switched left to right as Feeney is isolated against Posh left-back Dan Butler.
It was also noticeable that despite Feeney, who has seven assists to his name this season, possessing their greatest wide attacking threat on the right, Blackpool did not noticeably favour this side of attack. They attacked evenly down both sides with 36% of attacks going down their right and 39% down the left. This approach kept the Peterborough players honest, forcing them to track across to both wings and making the quick switch even more effective.
We saw this ploy used time and time again and it allowed Blackpool to deliver an astonishing 30 crosses (9% of total attempted passes), into the box. Although only 20% of the crosses were successful, Blackpool’s second and fourth goals came from crosses into the box. Moreover, even the unsuccessful deliveries were effective in gaining corners or attacking throw-ins deep inside the Peterborough half to maintain attacking pressure.
In the end Blackpool’s width forced Darren Ferguson into a tactical rethink. He switched to a 3-4-1-2 formation after 67 minutes with Peterborough trailing 3-2 in an attempt to counter Blackpool’s dominance of wide areas.
Up front Armand Gnanduillet was a constant thorn in the Posh side. A tall, physical striker he was the focal point of many Blackpool attacks pinning himself high against the Posh centre backs winning eight/thirteen aerial duels. His success in the air and in holding up the ball against the Posh defenders was key to Blackpool being able to spend a third of the game in the Posh half.
Gnanduillet had six shots in the game, scored twice to take his season total to eight goals, and bullied centre back Frankie Kent from a long Alnwick goal kick before forcing right back Niall Mason to put the ball into his own net for the opening goal. It was a brilliant all-round attacking display from the big forward and one which was essential to Blackpool’s success going forward.
Butler Posh’s main outlet
With Peterborough’s most influential attacking players denied space to operate by Blackpool’s deep defensive block, the attacking onus was placed on Peterborough’s full backs to provide an attacking outlet.
As a result of both Butler’s more attacking nature than Mason at right-back, and with Blackpool right wing-back Liam Feeney being more effective going forward than in defence, Posh had a clear plan to focus their attacks down their left-hand side.
This resulted in Dan Butler being Peterborough’s most influential player. Butler enjoyed more possession than any other player on the pitch, spending 10.3% of the active game time on the ball. His attacking output in the game was impressive, attempting five crosses completing two key passes and registering one assist. This was despite being converted to a left-sided centre back in the 67th minute which stunted his attacking output. Below we see an example of Butler’s forward drive in the build to Peterborough’s second goal.
Here we see a familiar picture with Butler on the ball in space. With few forward passing options because of Blackpool’s deep block we decides to run at Feeney.
His burst forward creates just enough space from which to cross, and his low whipped cross behind the Blackpool defence is perfect for Toney to attack and score from with a low diving header.
In defence Butler also played well. Blocking four crosses and limiting danger man Liam Feeney to just one successful cross out of 11 attempts. He was unfortunate that it was his own goal which gave Blackpool the win and marred an otherwise impressive performance.
Butler was brought in from Newport County after earning rave reviews for his forward drives from left-back. He has had a frustrating start to life at Peterborough, more often than not finding himself on the bench. On Saturday he was given a starting-berth in Frazer Blake-Tracey’s absence and did his hopes of a regular first team spot no harm as he was arguably Peterborough’s best player both in attack and defence.
Despite controversy and fortune surrounding all of their goals, Simon Grayson’s side were deserved winners. Grayson had a plan to both nullify Peterborough strengths and expose their weaknesses and executed it fantastically. They will also take great confidence from the fact that they scored four goals (even if two were own goals) and had a striker in Gnanduillet who delivered arguably his best performance of the season given their recent troubles scoring.
For Posh it may be time for Darren Ferguson to rethink his formation. In recent matches, opposition sides have had a clear tactic to expose Peterborough’s narrow shape out wide. In four of Peterborough’s five most recent games Ferguson has changed formation with his side either level or behind, and although this tactic was unsuccessful on Saturday, Posh had taken seven points from the other three games in which he changed shape. He may decide it is now time to start in a different formation, with a 3-4-1-2 a likely alternative as it both gets his three best attacking players on the pitch in their favoured positions and provides the side greater width, leaving them less vulnerable out wide.