Blackpool came into this season as one of the favourites for promotion. Their signings looked good, their squad looked good, but they’ve lost three of their opening four games and sit 21st in the table.
Neil Critchley’s side started the season with a 1-0 defeat to Plymouth Argyle, despite having significantly more possession and more shots. They then hosted Swindon Town, who they beat 2-0 thanks to a CJ Hamilton brace.
Next up the Tangerines travelled to Gillingham and, again, had more possession and more shots, but lost the game.
In their most recent game, a 3-2 defeat to Lincoln City, they led 2-1 until with six minutes to play James Husband was sent off. Late goals from Jorge Grant and Lewis Montsma turned the game around leaving Blackpool in the relegation zone.
Despite on paper having a squad that looks full of good players, Blackpool have made just two changes to their starting XI in their four games so far. Bez Lubala came in for Sullay Kaikai after one game, and James Husband replaced Michael Nottingham for the defeat to Lincoln.
There were some high-profile departures from the club in the summer, the most notable being Armand Gnanduillet. The Ivorian striker had a 1-in-3 strike rate in his time at the club, last season managing 1-in-2 with 18 goals in 36 games.
The signings of Oliver Sarkic and Jerry Yates suggested a change in style from Gnanduillet’s days, but Blackpool had a gap that needed filling and neither appear to have done that so far.
Only five teams have scored fewer goals in the opening four games than Blackpool, yet only Portsmouth (72) have had more shots than Blackpool (64) this season, though they have scored as many as Sunderland who are currently fourth.
Change that to looking at shots on target and Blackpool slip to midtable, with only 17 of those 64 shots hitting the target, a figure beaten by 10 clubs. The reason for this is that many of these shots are coming from long range and either go off target or are easy for the keeper to save if they are on target. This is not surprising looking at their personnel however, with Keshi Anderson, CJ Hamilton, Bez Lubala and Ethan Robson who all like to shoot from range.
There are also only five teams who have conceded more than Blackpool so far this season, but there are actually only three teams who have faced less shots than Neil Critchley’s side this season.
Blackpool have made three signings over the last two weeks, all of which have been defenders, suggesting Critchley sees this as being a weak point in the side, but the low number of shots faced suggests the defence is actually quite strong, despite the number of goals conceded.
Another interesting stat is that only Milton Keynes (67.5%) have averaged higher possession than Blackpool (57.25%) so far this season, but if this possession is just leading to shots from distance then it is being wasted.
With the pace Blackpool possess in their front line you would probably expect a counter attacking style from them, but this has not been the case so far this season. Instead Blackpool have looked to keep the ball and build up play, but this does not play to the strengths of the forwards at the club.
In midfield the signings of Ethan Robson and Jordan Williams suggested a possession-based style for this season, though the two are yet to start together for Blackpool in the league.
Manager Neil Critchley was appointed at the start of March, just before lockdown, and has managed a record of one win in nine games so far, with four draws and four defeats. The majority of his managerial experience has come from Premier League 2, with Liverpool’s U23s.
Under Neil Critchley the U23s played good football, keeping the ball for large spells, using wide areas quite often, before either having a player put a cross in or cut inside and shoot from distance. A similar style looks to have been implemented at Blackpool, but the wide players at his disposal now are more inclined to cut inside and shoot from distance.
Blackpool’s style feels predictable. If you limit them to shots from distance, they’re not afraid to take them and while they have players who are good at shooting from range it has not worked out for them so far this season.
A change in style could be the answer, but new signings Luke Garbutt and Jordan Gabriel could also be the missing pieces. Both are quick and like to get forward. Demetri Mitchell and Ollie Turton are both good players, but Garbutt and Gabriel feel like a step forward.
Their overlapping runs and quality of crosses could give Blackpool a different dimension, but whether Jerry Yates is the man to get on the end of them is yet to be seen. Blackpool do however have Gary Madine they can rely on from the bench, who could be the answer.
Things do not get any easier for Blackpool this weekend, with Ipswich Town the visitors, but they are then faced with Crewe, Charlton and Milton Keynes, none of whom have started the season in excellent form and games where they should be looking to pick up points.
The Tangerines do have a squad of players that looks good enough to challenge for the play-offs, but whether Neil Critchley will be able to guide them there is not yet clear.
Their start to the campaign has been poor, but there are enough talented players there to turn things around. Had it not been for the red card against Lincoln on Saturday, and had they held on to their winning position with five minutes to play, then they would now be ninth which would not have been a bad start.
But they didn’t. They shot themselves in the foot and now find themselves in the relegation zone having won one and lost three. Whether they will go on to turn things around is not yet clear, but they are creating chances, while preventing chances against them.
With improved finishing they could beat teams heavily, but with a lot of shots coming from range improving that finishing will be difficult, unless the style changes slightly in future games.