Blackpool 2-3 Manchester United: Bonus Match Review

On a rainy day on the western shore of England, Blackpool put a scare into the Red Devils of Manchester in an entertaining match. In the end, United prevailed as the Tangerines were unable to finish off the League leaders, 2-3.

FORMATIONS: Both teams fielded 4-3-3 formations. United, who typically play in a 4-4-2, brought out central midfielders Darron Gibson, Darren Fletcher, and Paul Scholes, in an effort to contain Blackpool’s strong midfielders, David Vaughan and Charlie Adam. Dimitar Berbatov began as the center forward in the United attack, with Wayne Rooney and Nani serving as his wingers.

FIRST HALF: The first half was controlled by the home side. Adam was largely unfettered in distributing the ball to Luke Varney and DJ Campbell on the wings. In general, United looked lethargic, and unable to sustain pressure on the Blackpool defense. Their best first-half chance came as Rafael was able to head a ball on target, and goalkeeper Richard Kingson was able to grab and control the effort.

BLACKPOOL IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT: Blackpool’s attack kept United on their heels, thought it wasn’t particularly fruitful on the fly. Where the Seasiders found their success was on corner set pieces. In the 15th minute, center back Craig Cathcart connected with a perfectly-placed delivery by Adam and beat Edwin Van Der Sar. Later in the half, a corner deflected from Nani’s head crossed the goal mouth and found Campbell for their second goal and a surprising 2-0 lead.

SECOND HALF CHANGES: Sir Alex Ferguson most certainly entered half disappointed in his side’s effort. The side lacked offensive cohesiveness, and his halftime change was to bring a dangerous playmaker to the wing. He brought Ryan Giggs in for Gibson, and pushed Rooney into the right wing. Nani moved back into the central 3, and this allowed United to hold more possession in the midfield.

A QUICK ASIDE: Blackpool manager Ian Holloway is known for his attack philosophy. Earlier in the season, his team tried to play more defensively against Chelsea (using back Alex Baptiste as a defensive midfielder) and got rocked 4-0 at Stamford Bridge. Holloway proclaimed in the press that he would not cower towards the big sides after that drubbing.

UNITED CONTROLS: So Blackpool continued with a pressing philosophy. Almost immediately after halftime, the play switched to United’s fortune, mostly because of Giggs’ flair and determination. In the first half, United took 5 shots at net; in the next thirty minutes, they generated ten. For awhile, Kingson was the difference, stopping several quality chances including a break by 66th-minute sub Javier Hernandez. Hernandez’s coming on for Rooney added a different dimension to the Red Devils, that of speed and the intangibles that Rooney has lacked thus far this season.

THE BROKEN BACK: Unfortunately for the Seasiders, Kingson could only hold out for so long. In the 72nd minute, Fletcher broke free to the right of goal, and crossed to Berbatov directly in front of goal who sank it 2-1. Then only two minutes later, Giggs fed Hernandez on a break in on goal. He stroked the ball into the left corner and leveled the match. After a lengthy injury pause for Rafael after smashing heads with sub Marlon Harewood, the final nail was delivered in the form of a Scholes diagonal cross to Berbatov. He touched it forward against a lax Blackpool back line, and his shot past the dives of Cathcart and Kingson put the Red Devils up for good 2-3. United survived with Fletcher moving back into the right back role after Rafael’s injury (Anderson was subbed into the midfield).

FINAL THOUGHTS: Blackpool could have desperately used this result against United. While they were given little chance at the outset, being up 2-0 at the hour mark should be a signal to shore up the defense regardless of your “live by the sword, die by the sword” philosophy. There’s a time to stick to your guns, and a time to heed common sense. Right before the equalizing goal, Holloway substituted Harewood for Taylor-Fletcher. While Harewood would help a more direct counterattack philosophy, why not bring on another back, or a defensive midfielder? The answer might be, “United would have won anyway,” but I don’t know that. Blackpool played much better defensive football in the first half, but they tired due to United’s relentless second-half attack and could have used another body to fend off more through passes.

I think Blackpool have given opponents a recipe for winning against Manchester United. Regardless that their goals were scored on the set piece, Blackpool carried the play in the first half, and did not play in awe of the Red Devils. With any kind of striking talent, the Seasiders would have been ahead 4-0 at halftime. And there will be justifications of, “Oh they took Blackpool lightly.” Perhaps, but Ferguson and United can feel fortunate that Holloway has no common sense when it comes to playing with a lead, or else this could have been their first league loss.

Finally, Charlie Adam had a good game for the most part, but he seemed non-existent through the crucial 30 minutes where United broke through. Whether his mind wandered to the transfer market, or whether it was just a fluke, in the first 50 minutes he made 37 of his team’s 230 passes (16%). From that point until the final Berbatov goal, he attempted 12 of 120 (10%). This partly shows that he wasn’t as influential in the game, but also demonstrates United’s hold on the play; in that same period  (50′-87′), United attempted 198 passes.

27 thoughts on “Blackpool 2-3 Manchester United: Bonus Match Review”

  1. No discussion of the ref swallowing his whistle when Rafael barreled into Luke Varney in the penalty area? If a penalty is given then perhaps MUFC has a three goal deficit instead of two.

    Reminded me of old NHL hockey where one ref’s the score as opposed to the game. It’s not why Blackpool lost but it has to be discussed

    1. I could have discussed that play. Generally speaking, speaking about a referee’s decision gets misconstrued as “blaming the ref.” The problem I have with that play is that Varney had time to make a play on the ball; instead he leaned into Rafael looking to draw contact. It was borderline. Rafael really charged him in a strong fashion, and I would think if Evatt did that to Nani, it would be a spot penalty. But as you said, it was not the deciding factor.

      As a person who was ecstatic to see them put ManUtd down 2-0, it angered me to see Holloway refuse to play defensive in the last 30 minutes, and it cost them dearly. For everything that one can say about these lower teams trying to attack against big clubs, at 2-0, you’ve gotta protect that lead in this sport. A 2-0 lead should be done. Of course United was excellent in the 2nd half, but I’m not sure they’re nearly as effective if Holloway takes a page out of Rangers’ playbook and pull back to a very defensive 4-5-1.

      1. That was the most obvious penalty I’ve ever seen. Typical Manu to win like that. Then again, they probably would have just won 4-3 instead of 3-2… with a Berbatov hat trick… I totally agree that the ref just didn’t call it because Blackpool were already up 2-0.

  2. Without a doubt, this was my favorite match of the season. It had everything. A true David against Goliath match with Blackpool shocking everyone and going two-nil up before the half before United incredibly came back in the second half and won it 3-2.

    Just a few thoughts from the match:

    1. In the first half, Blackpool played the game like a FA Cup tie. Fighting for every ball. Brilliant defending. Throwing their bodies at the ball. Wonderful atmosphere around the ground.

    2. I thought that, for the majority of the game, the Blackpool side was terrific, each and every one of them. Sure, Charlie Adam was a hero. But so too was David Vaughan who put in a fantastic performance in midfield.

    3. You can blame Holloway for not resorting to defensive tactics for the last 20 minutes of the match. But I believe Blackpool had a better chance of winning this one by pushing forward than defending. You could see near the end of the game how United stretched Blackpool and booted cross-diagonal passes for the wingers to run on to, where they got around the back of the Blackpool defense and caused them havoc. Yes, Blackpool could have played with ten men back but United would still have found a way to score.

    4. Javier Hernandez is miles better than Wayne Rooney right now. Yes, they’re two completely different players, but Hernandez looks like a spring chicken out there and has a much better first touch. When he comes on, you feel as if he’s going to create some magic which he almost always does.

    5. Last but not least, congratulations to Manchester United for an incredible comeback. A horrible first half for them featuring awful defending. And a team reborn in the second half thanks to Ryan Giggs and Chicharito. But the entire team played so much better in the second half, not just those two subs.

    What a match!

    The Gaffer

    1. Do not forget Berbatov who is having an amazing season probably his best in EPL. It is hard to believe now that many United supporters pretty much wrote him off last season. Just image where United would have been without his goals had Ferguson followed the general sentiment and sent Bulgarian packing.

      1. Berbatov is a sniper. If he were forced to do the dirty work and create goals, his totals would not be nearly as attractive. It would not surprise me if Ferguson foresaw this degradation in Rooney’s play (with his poor finish to last season as well as his disappearance in the WC), and tailored the team’s tactics to accentuate Berbatov’s strong finishing prowess going into this season. You could see glimpses of it during their preseason tour of America.

        Because let’s face it, Carlos Tevez scored a goal a couple weeks ago against Wolves, where he bobbed through their defense and simply created a masterpiece. I cannot see Berbatov having that kind of skill. He’s a mop-up kind of guy. His two goals last night were examples…one was a cross right onto his foot at the doorstep, the other a long diagonal on the break that caught the Blackpool defense severely out of position.

        Berbatov is excellent at the thing SAF has asked him to do this season…get in position and test the goalkeeper. If you get him the ball within 18 yards of the goal and with time to shoot, he will put it on net the vast majority of the time.

        1. I cannot see Berbatov having that kind of skill. He’s a mop-up kind of guy.

          Crazy talk – Berbatov is one of the most technically skilled players in the EPL. He might not be able to bundle his way past three guys in the mould of Tevez, but I think that’s more to do with his physique (i.e. he doesn’t have the solidity and low centre of gravity that Tevez has). Likewise I don’t think Tevez has the first touch to control the ball from any angle like Berbatov has, and deftly lay it on to team-mates.

          He’s far from a “mop-up kind of guy” (if by that, you mean some kind of goal poacher who waits around the six-yard box for tap-ins). I think half of his previous problems at Man Utd have been caused by the fact that he’s naturally more of a deep-lying orchestrator than a fox-in-the-box, and both he and Man Utd are only now figuring out how to work best together.

          1. Thank you Dave, Earl’s talkin crazy, and was probably one of the haters. People don’t realize how much he has throttled his game back, and became a patient ‘change of speed’ attacker. He used to take on two or three defenders, and still has the quick feet. He’s a technician now and relies on timing. There really isn’t a way that he can’t score…just try and argue that, then youtube him…backheels, flick-ons chests, bicycles, volleys, below-the-hip headers, 30 yard volleys over off-line keepers…benders, obtuse angled worm-burners..catch my drift?

          2. OK, Dave C and Manamongst…I stand corrected. Between you guys and a trusted friend at work who is a soccer nut, Berbatov is not “just a sniper.” I think his role this year can be characterized more in that type of role, but I stand corrected. As I’ve said many times, I’m still learning a lot, and I will be the first to admit when I’ve made a glaring error. Sorry Berbs!

    2. #1 – Agreed, and probably the reason why they tired so much and could have used some help in the defensive third.
      #3 – The only way I will agree with this is if you would propose that Holloway asks his team to play more possession and not get too caught up trying to hit the perfect pass. It’s one thing to work towards “the next goal,” it’s quite another to be so focused on it that you completely disregard any idea of “the best result” (i.e. victory). There are ways to attack that don’t leave you with Eardsley stuck needlessly in the offensive zone (as on MUFC Goal #3).
      #4 – Absolutely. But if you look at this season’s history, Rooney (and United in general) have not been as productive in the 4-3-3. Their other two matches lined up as such were against Manchester City and Brum, both draws (though the nil-nil away draw to City was a good point to grab). Rooney’s poor form over the last few months must make SAF start consider either benching or moving him into a different role. All I know is, just about every time Hernandez steps on the field, the dynamic of the match changes favorably for United.
      #5 – Absolutely, United survived on a night that many teams would have sulked and moped and looked forward to the trip home. Kudos to SAF and the side for plowing on and getting three points they looks sure to lose.

  3. was a great match, blackpool deserved at least a point out of this.

    the thing that made the difference seemed to me to be fitness, after a good 60 minutes of swarming and charging at Man U, blackpool looked like death. granted it’s not easy to go a full 100 minutes. I just think that if you have a fitter blackpool in that same game they come away with one if not all 3 points. the defensive mistakes being made in the last 20-30 minutes were ones that blackpool weren’t making in the first half; playing Man U onside, players losing their markers, getting more bodies behind the ball in a quicker fashion…it seemed just as much Man U remembering they were Man U as anything, but blackpool just looked SO tired.

    broke my heart to see the red devils pull this one out, but at the end of the season as long as blackpool find a way to stay up I’ll be thrilled.

  4. @Earl,
    I like these match reports, but can I make a couple of suggestions on presentation issues:

    1. Can’t you make the formation diagrams and the stats tables a little larger? Currently they’re a little unreadable unless you click on them to open the larger version. Can’t you just put larger versions on the main page, to avoid all the clicking backwards and forwards. They would only need to be slightly larger than they currently are to make that crucial imrpovement in readability.

    2. Also, any chance of some kind of legend/key to explain the abbreviations used in the table? Obviously SOG=Shots on goal, I manged to work out that FC=Fouls committed (although that wasn’t an easy bit of detective work), but I can’t work out what FS means.

    1. Thanks, Dave. FC = Fouls Committed, FS = Fouls Suffered. I’ll see if I can incorporate both of your suggestions into my next review. I can probably add a legend as a caption.

      I’ve developed these statsheets from Excel from scratch. It’s actually been a rewarding process, because it’s helped me learn just how much Excel can do. For the record, it’s not just a regurgitation of the official stats. I see it this way…if FIFA can claim an alternate reality where the ball never really crossed the goal line, then I can claim an alternate reality where my stats are better than theirs. The last two matches I’ve compared mine versus the official stats, and I’m improving. My wife is not thrilled about the amount of rewinding, pausing, etc I end up doing, but I guess that’s life. :)

  5. Earl, thanks for that. But it leads me to a different question – if FS=fouls suffered, and FC= fouls committed, then shouldn’t the FS for one team equal the FC for the other?

    But if you look at the second table, it suggests that Blackpool committed 13 fouls, but Man Utd only “suffered” 10 fouls.

    1. I believe there were three handballs. I’m not sure how to account for those, I assume they are fouls, but I don’t think it would be counted as suffered by an opposing player.

  6. Great to read different analysis of the match – good stats too.
    In my Review of the game, I concentrated on the 2nd goal which was a work of art when you study it closely. Such great control from Giggs and Hernandez. The Mexican really does give United a new dimension to their attack

  7. A couple things:
    1. It was great to see Scholsey back out there, however, he certainly looked rusty.
    2. Despite having an awful first half, Fletcher really benefited in the second and did enough on the back line after Rafa went out. Hopefully, this will kickstart the Scottish international.
    3. I may be only 26 (and American), but I feel truly blessed to be able to watch Giggsy, even at this stage in his career. Since his awful, awful performance against West Ham in the Carling Cup tie, he has been nothing short of phenomenal. I can’t even find the words to descibe his influence on the match yesterday.
    4. Chicharito is Solskjaer.
    5. I thought Blackpool’s high-pressure defending in the first half was superb, but it was only inevitable that they would lose their legs under the pressure of United’s attack.
    6. Thoughout the contest, there was no panic in United (and what I mean is no desperation 40-yd kicks from Nani).
    7. I won’t even discuss the penalty/non-penalty call, because you can never win. It seems that in every great match, all someone wants to do is bitch about the non-calls or “what should’ve been’s”.
    8. With both matches left with Chelsea, one at Anfield, one at the Emirates, and one at OT with City, United cannot afford to sleepwalk through halves, because other managers will put men behind the ball (*cough* City).

  8. all you haters are just jealous. that was the stuff of champions. give credit where credit is due. no one was complaining about chris ‘mr chelsea’ foy not calling a damn thing on the cheatskis against bolton yet everytime the wind blew that disgrace of a human being drogba over, the whistle blew. but the world gets its panties in a bunch everytime a decision goes united’s way.


  9. Earl, thank you for the Match Review.

    Just one question for the thinking heads of EPLTalk: if Rooney is struggling and Kiko is out on loan in Italia, why isn’t SAF worrying about signing another stiker? We’ve seen Hernandez and Berba start before and in some games the pair more effective than Berba and Rooney (with Roo being a playmaker to Berba). However, MUFC still has 2 games with Chelsea, 1 visit to the Emirates and the derby with Mancity, would SAF consider buying a HIGH profile striker like Luis Saurez? What if Rooney’s problem on the pitch is not fitness but a persistent ankle injury?

    1. Hey, good question. SAF right now has four main options up front: Berbatov, Rooney, Chicharito, and Owen. With the UCL being very much in their grasp, it does surprise me that they haven’t looked for additional depth in the striker corps. Both Nani and Obertan could make for emergency strikers (or play the wing in a three forward or 4-2-3-1 set). Bebe could be another option in an emergency, but he’s still a few years out.

      It is interesting that we heard these rumblings about SAF being promised transfer monies in the Rooney extension talks. Maybe Ferguson is waiting to use these funds in the summer. As far as a Rooney injury, something is causing his lack of confidence right now. If it were the distractions of the call girl controversy, it’s been an awfully long time. When he scored the header against West Brom, everyone thought, “There’s the one that’s going to set him off.” Not quite yet I guess.

  10. Great review Earl.

    For the EPLTalk thinking heads: With Rooney being off his game and certainly not the same player from last year, why isn’t SAF thinking about signing a HIGH profile striker like Luis Saurez? I’m sure Rooney can fill in and still be a playmaker, but I’m beginning to worry that his problems on the pitch is not his fitness but that nagging ankle. With Welbeck and Kiko on loan and only Solksj….err, Hernandez coming off the bench wouldn’t it be necessary to even bother making a bid for Saurez and taking some polish off Liverpool. MUFC still has 2 games against Chelsea, a visit to the Emirates and the derby with Mancity. A new striker would give us another dimension.

  11. Was a boring game for the first 60 minutes, thought rooney had a shocking game compared to the weekends performance…… What is up with him???

    The little peas goal was just world class. Touch, bang! = 3 points!

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