Blackpool will be coming into Saturday’s League One curtain raiser at Home Park looking to start their season as they began their last campaign rather than how they finished it. Neil Critchley’s side won all three of their opening games last season and only suffered three defeats before mid-December. However they ended the campaign with just three wins in 10 matches. Argyle however will be looking for their first opening day win at this level since a 1-0 victory over Southampton in 2010. Their last two League One campaigns have gotten off to notoriously bad starts.
Manager Critchley looks set to hand league debuts to a number of new signings including forward Jerry Yates, who arrived from Championship side Rotherham this summer for an undisclosed fee.
Attacking midfield duo CJ Hamilton and Keshi Anderson should also be set to make their debuts for the club.
Left-back James Husband, however, looks set to miss the clash. The 26-year-old will probably be replaced by former Manchester United player Demetri Mitchell, who could play a competitive league match for the first time since February 2019.
Predicted Line-Up (4-2-3-1)
Turton, Nottingham, Ekpiteta, Mitchell
Ward, Robson, Anderson
Hamilton, Yates, Kaikai
Style of Play
Playing predominantly in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation, it has been all change for Neil Critchley’s side over the summer as the former Liverpool U23 manager stamps his authority on the Seasiders’ squad. Fresh blood has been added to the side going forward with all of the club’s 11 new signings being under the age of 25. Despite such a high number of new signings, it’s important to note that the club has also seen 17 players move on.
The club lost top scorer Armand Gnanduillet, despite their best efforts to keep hold of the 15 goal forward. The Ivory Coast man has been replaced by Yates who scored 13 goals in 31 appearances for League Two Swindon on loan last season. The 23-year-old and Gnanduillet are completely different players, but this will be much down to manager Neil Critchley’s altering of how he wants the side to play. Rather than a physical, experienced side, the 41-year-old has opted for a younger, more energetic and technical approach which has been thoroughly demonstrated in the clubs signings this summer.
To say that Blackpool have a plethora of options going forward is something of an understatement. Yates is joined by fellow new signings Keshi Anderson (Swindon), CJ Hamilton (Mansfield) and Bez Lubala (Crawley). The quartet all plied their trade in League Two last season, and Critchley can also call on veteran Liam Feeney who assisted the most goals in League One last season (15). They all possess an abundance of pace and should prove to be a nightmare for defences this coming season.
Their versatility, particularly that of Lubala and Hamilton who can play anywhere across the midfield as well as up front, means that they will be effectively interchangeable. The latter in particular should benefit from this, having played in a Mansfield system tailored to Nicky Maynard last season, meaning Hamilton only had five goal contributions (2G, 3A) to show for his efforts from 33 League Two appearances.
The midfield three will see Keshi Anderson push forward whilst the likes of Ethan Robson and Grant Ward will play holding roles. Robson is a tough-tackling, no nonsense type of player who also likes to dribble the ball up the pitch and keep the ball on the floor, looking for a pass rather than trying to hoof the ball. This will suit the Blackpool style of play as they try and dominate possession rather than hit the ball long to a targetman like Gnanduillet or Delfouneso in the way that they did last season. Grant plays less centrally and likes to drift out to the right, often almost doubling up as a second right-winger when Blackpool look to overload the opposition final third. Whilst the other two are concrete in terms of their offensive and defensive roles, Grant is a bit more box-to-box and contributes at both ends of the pitch.
Much will be expected of Sullay Kaikai after what has been a very stop-start career to date. Six different loan spells in as many years saw the Englishman leave Crystal Palace last year for Holland with NAC Breda. The tricky winger returned to the EFL last summer with the Seasiders after just a few months abroad.
The 25-year-old will be looking to make a real impact following a season largely disrupted by injury. The former Cambridge man recorded a respectable seven goals and assists in 22 League One appearances last season, and Blackpool’s form suffered considerably following his injury. The Seasiders won just three of their final 10 games of the season, for which Kaikai was absent from as they finished in mid-table.
A fairly pacey winger with trickery and an eye for a pass, Kaikai looks as though he will fit well into the philosophy that Neil Critchley is trying to implement at the club. With numerous attacking signings brought into the club this season, the Englishman will be hoping to recapture his form at Shrewsbury which saw him record 18 goal contributions in just 28 appearances at New Meadow.
Whilst Blackpool have assembled a strong and competitive squad this season, there is absolutely no guarantee that Critchley’s side will hit the ground running. The Seasiders have already played twice this season, failing to score or concede in normal time, albeit in the EFL Trophy and League Cup against Barrow and Stoke respectively. The turnover at the club this summer has seen 11 new signings to date as well as 17 departures and that twinned with Critchley adopting a new playing style is going to take some time to gel. Once the players are on the same page there’s no doubt that they should be looking at the League One Play-Offs as a minimum. For Argyle, this is certainly the most convenient time they could be playing Blackpool.
Plymouth Argyle will come into the side without forward Ryan Hardie who is on-loan from the Seasiders. The Scot will be replaced by Frank Nouble who scored the winner in last weekend’s EFL Cup First Round tie with Championship side QPR. With the myriad of attacking talent at Blackpool’s disposal, Argyle will be thankful to be playing them whilst they are still attempting to gel. With both sides likely to be heavily attacking, it is likely that similar to the QPR game that there will be plenty of goals involved.
Whilst a cagey first-half is to be expected from the two sides, the second-half should see the game open up a lot more and Argyle have already shown that they have a lot of quality going forward as well. I expect this to end in a 2-2 draw.