September 12th 2020. The day the footballing world has been waiting for. The Premier League and the EFL announced in July that the 2020/21 season will be underway very shortly. Ahead of the new season, I have decided to take a look into the future of the 24 teams making up League One for the new campaign, with an in depth look at what each team has to offer for the coming year. Third on the list, is Neil Critchley’s Blackpool FC.

 

  • The Club

The 2020/21 season will be Blackpool’s 112thseason in their history, and the fourth consecutive in League One.

Their last venture outside of League One was a Play Off winning campaign from 2016/17, when Gary Bowyer led his side into League One by sneaking into 7thplace by one point over Colchester and Wycombe Wanderers.

They bested Luton Town over two legs 6-5 on aggregate, and then beat Exeter City in the final to reach the third tier. The 2017/18 season was a successful one for the Tangerines, as they finished 12thin the first campaign back. The next season was another mid-table consolidation, as they improved on their previous finish by settling in 10thposition.

The 2019/20 season wasn’t as exciting for them as their previous, as the fell down into 13thposition once PPG was instigated. Blackpool have turned themselves into a solid League One side since their promotion in 2017, but haven’t looked like a side that could be pushing for titles in the last few years.

Defensive issues have been their biggest downfall with attacking options being good for them the past few years. However, with the investment made this summer, Blackpool are the dark horses of the league.

 

  • The Gaffer

Neil Critchley is heading into his second season with Blackpool, having taken over from Simon Grayson on March 2nd.

He only had two games to take control of before the season was stopped, but has already won the trust of the Blackpool board.

This is Critchley’s first ever job as a first team manager, having spent the last seven years with Liverpool. He was the manager of the Liverpool U18’s from 2013-2017, before being promoted to the U23’s and spending the past three years there. A man highly thought of by Jurgen Klopp, Critchley was even given the honor of being the stand-in Liverpool boss for two games last season, taking control of the Carabao Cup Fifth Round loss to Aston Villa, and the 1-0 FA Cup victory away to Shrewsbury.

Critchley’s career away from the touchline has been nothing short of non-existent, with only four appearances to his name in professional football, one of those for Crewe Alexandra and three of those for Leigh Genesis Football Club. In an interview with the Guardian, Critchley revealed his excitement for the new season, saying that he wouldn’t have left Liverpool unless it was for something special. It is clear that Blackpool are heading in the right direction, and Critchley could be the man to take them back into the Championship.

 

  • The Squad

Since the start of the 2019/20 season, Blackpool have used 10 separate formations across four competitions this season. The most used one of those is the 3-5-2, which was the set up for 12 of the 44 games. After that, it was a 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2 that were both used on six separate occasions. So, for the squad set up, I will be looking at all three of those, as it allows us to look at all kinds of different positions. All of the formations were found using Transfermarkt.

27-year-old Jak Alnwick was Blackpool’s first choice goalkeeper from August to January, having joined the club on loan from Rangers in the summer. He made 24 appearances in all competitions before being replaced by Mark Howard for January.

Signed from Bolton in the summer of 2018, Howard was the connector between the early season run of Alnwick, and the end of season run by Chris Maxwell after his arrival from Preston in the winter. He played the final nine games of the season, collecting two clean sheets in that time. Stats wise, only Alnwick and Maxwell played enough games to be tracked with the stats, supplied by WhoScored. Starting with Alnwick, he made 44 saves from his 22 league games in the first half of the season, with seven clean sheets in that time. Maxwell made 21 saves in his nine league games this season. Both keepers played similarly for Blackpool this season, putting the club in a comfortable mid-table position.

On the right-hand side, 27-year-old Oliver Turton was Blackpool’s first choice full back this season, when the Tangerines played in a four-back formation. Often deputizing at center-back in a 3-5-2, Turton made 39 appearances for Blackpool this season, scoring one goal in that time. Michael Nottingham was the second choice right back for Blackpool before he joined Crewe on loan in January.

He made six appearances for the Tangerines in the first six months of the season, but struggled to oust Turton so was sent out for a loan spell to get first team football.

When it comes to the stats, you can only really look at Oliver Turton for his contribution this season. 43 tackles and 30 interceptions for the Crewe-academy full back, whilst also making 37 blocks this campaign. A solid season for Turton.

At left back, James Husband was the first choice left back for Blackpool this season when they played a four-back, making 32 appearances in all competitions and getting one assist. More a defensive full back, who like Turton also played at CB on occasion.

Marc Bola rejoined Blackpool on loan from Middlesbrough in January, after signing for the Teeside club in July 2019.

Bola made five appearances in the league for Blackpool, four of those coming from left back.

Jordan Thorniley joined from Sheffield Wednesday in the winter, but only made two appearances for the Tangerines this season. Struggling to oust Husband.

Another position dominated by one player, James Husband was the better full back compared to Bola and Thorniley. He made 60 tackles and 40 interceptions this season, proving that he was more defensively capable compared to Turton on the right. He was also competent with the ball, making 19 key passes in the attacking third this season.

In the center of defence, the make-up of it seemed to include at least one ‘full-back by trade’ deputising as a center back when needed. Ben Heneghan was Blackpool’s most dominant defender this season, picking up three goals in 31 games for the Tangerines.

One player alongside him for the beginning of the season was Ryan Edwards, a summer signing from Plymouth. Edwards played 27 times this season, finding the back of the net once.

The third man of the three before the full backs moved across was 28-year-old Curtis Tilt, who left the club in January to move to recently promoted Rotherham. Tilt played 24 times for Blackpool between August and December, accumulating two assists along the way.

Elsewhere, Rocky Bushiri was a summer loan signing from Norwich City, making seven appearances before having his loan cut short so he could go out to Holland. 23-year-old Taylor Moore was a winter loan signing from Bristol City, and slotted right into the team at CB for eight games.

Stats wise, Ben Heneghan was the stand out performer, making only 20 tackles for Blackpool this season, being dribbled past on only three occasions. Added goals to his game as well. Good defender this year.

Ryan Edwards was the last-man defender for Blackpool, making 17 interceptions and 36 tackles. Formed a good partnership with Heneghan when paired together. Tilt’s 20 league games for Blackpool afforded him 27 tackles and 21 interceptions, whilst also completing 65% of his attempted passes.

In the center of the park, 31-year-old Jay Spearing was the more consistent midfielder in the squad, making 36 appearances in all competitions, picking up two goals in that time.

23-year-old Matty Virtue was a stand-out player for Blackpool, making 31 appearances in his first full season with the club. He was also able to pick up three goals in that time as well.

Jordan Thompson was sold to Stoke City in January, after playing 22 games for the Seasiders and earning a solid move to the Championship. Another midfielder that was let go in the winter was Callum Guy, who made the permanent switch to Carlisle United after 22 games for the club. Hasn’t performed as well in League Two as he did in League One. With those two on the way out, they were replaced first with Wolves’ Connor Ronan on a six-month loan.

Ronan played 10 times for Blackpool in the midfield this year before his loan spell ended. Also arriving was Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall was excellent in his short loan spell from Leicester, scoring four times and getting one assist in 10 games.

When looking at the more detailed stats of the midfield, you can only really look at Jay Spearing and Matty Virtue because they spent the full season together.

Spearing made 61 tackles and 31 interceptions in his 30 league games, spending a lot of the season either in front of a back three or back four. When he was afforded a more attacking spot, he made the most of it with 12 key passes and an 80% pass accuracy. A very good season from the midfielder.

Virtue was a more forward approach midfielder compared to Spearing, having 28 shots and making 20 key passes in the attacking third. However, when called upon he was good with the defending aspect as well making 32 tackles and 12 interceptions.

Width wise, the attacking wingers in the 4-3-3 and the more conceited wide midfielders in the 3-5-2 were the same. Liam Feeney was arguably Blackpool’s most dangerous outlet this season, making 18 assists in 42 games in all competitions.

Feeney was exceptional out on the right-hand side this season, and nobody looked like challenging him for that position. Feeney’s closest rival was Grant Ward, signed in winter after his release by Ipswich Town, but Ward was only able to make seven appearances as Feeney looked unstoppable on the right.

When it came to the left side of the pitch, Sulley Kaikai was the leading light on the other flank. 28 appearances in all competitions, scoring six goals with five assists. Wasn’t as creative as Feeney, but was more of a goal threat. 29-year-old Sean Scannell started the season as the first-choice winger for Blackpool, but struggled to keep the spot down once Kaikai got into his groove, making only 12 appearances across the season.

Comparing Liam Feeney and Sulley Kaikai was always going to be interesting because they both played in different ways. Feeney got 18 assists this season, the most of any League One player.

In his 35 league games Feeney only attempted 19 shots, but did have a 60% success rate with his dribbling. He was an old-fashioned winger, looking for the cross rather than the goal.

He also has a 74% success rate with his passing, showing that he was a very unselfish player this season. Kaikai on the other hand, was a more adventurous winger.

Occasionally playing in the attacking midfield spot of the 4-3-1-2 mentioned above, Kaikai attempted 35 shots in only 22 league games. His dribble success rate was lower than Feeney’s at just over 50%. However, what more surprising is that despite the clear disparity in stats, both Feeney and Kaikai averaged a 6.79 rating from their performances in the league.

Going forward was a strong area for Blackpool this season, with Armand Gnanduillet leading the line with 18 goals from his 36 appearances this season. Gnanduillet’s strong hold up play and brilliant aerial presence made him one of the most dangerous strikers in all of League One last season, behind only the likes of Ivan Toney.

Supporting Gnanduillet on occasion was Nathan Delfouneso, who netted seven times in his 36 games this season. Not as clinical as Gnanduillet, but knew where the back of the net was. Alongside those two was Joe Nuttall, who was used more as a super sub than a starter, scoring four times in 33 appearances this season, with a lot of those late sub inclusions.

Ryan Hardie spent the first half of the season with Blackpool, but struggled to make an impact before joining Plymouth on loan for the rest of the season. Gary Madine was a winter signing by Simon Grayson from Cardiff City, scoring twice in 10 games for the club.

Obviously, Gnanduillet was Blackpool’s leading light for them this season. From his 30 league games, he attempted 79 shots with 15 of those leading to goals. The big striker also won 54% of his aerial battles, which is actually a big surprise because from the three teams I have looked at so far, the defenders are always besting the attacker’s percentage wise, but Gnanduillet has flipped that around.

Delfouneso was second fiddle to Gnanduillet, attempting only 29 shots from his 28 league games. Aerially he struggled, but he did make 17 key passes so was more of a supplier than a battler.

 

  • The Transfers

Blackpool have been one of if not the busiest team in preparation for the new League One season. Neil Critchley has been desperate to put his own stamp on things, and he has done just that.

Blackpool have acted quickly to replace the areas of the squad that have been left very light at the end of the season. Their first signing of the summer was 25-year-old winger Keshi Anderson from recently promoted Swindon Town.

He has signed on a two-year deal with the option of a third, and it was reported that Blackpool beat off a load of competition for the winger’s signature.

Six goals and five assists for Swindon last season. 24-year-old Marvin Ekpiteta has joined from Leyton Orient on a free transfer. The 6ft4 center back has joined on a two-year deal with an option for third, and was instrumental in Leyton Orient’s rise to League Two last season. Critchley’s transfer plans were laid out instantly with his new signings, looking for gems in both League One and League Two.

Twenty three year-old attacker Oliver Sarkic was next through the door for Blackpool, signing a two-year deal after agreeing a release from fellow League One side Burton Albion.

Sarkic scored five goals and got 10 assists for the Brewers last season. The first transfer fee of the window for Blackpool was to bring in the highly rated 23-year-old Jerry Yates on an undisclosed fee from Championship Rotherham.

Yates excelled with Swindon last season, scoring 14 goals in 31 appearances, and Critchley will be hoping he can follow that up this year.

The final signing Blackpool have made whilst writing this piece was the 25-year-old CJ Hamilton from League Two Mansfield Town.

Hamilton spent four years with Mansfield, but has signed a three-year deal with the Seasiders after three goals and three assists last season.

With a load of new signing’s already, it was a necessity for the Tangerines as they did lose a fair few players in the summer.

The biggest departure was the release of 28-year-old attacker Armand Gnanduillet after he turned down the offer of a new deal.

He is destined for bigger and better things, but Blackpool would have loved him to stay for at least another season. Another surprise departure was the release of 31-year-old Jay Spearing.

He currently doesn’t have a club, but Sunderland have been linked with his signature. The club also just announced the transfer of centre back Ryan Edwards who has moved north of the border to join Dundee United.

Blackpool were also part of a money transfer, with their bright prospect Tony Weston moving across the border to Rangers. The 16-year-old striker who left for an undisclosed fee.

Also, part of the ‘unretained’ list was 33-year-old keeper Mark Howard, 29-year-old winger Sean Scannell, 26-year-old keeper Christoffer Mafoumbi, 19-year-old full back Sean Graham and 19-year-old striker Owen Watkinson. Ryan Hardie has rejoined fellow League One side Plymouth for the season on loan.

Blackpool’s squad was looking very depleted before the summer signings, with Jak Alnwick, Connor Ronan, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Rocky Bushiri, Ben Heneghan, Marc Bola and Taylor Moore’s loan deals all expiring.

 

  • The Problem Areas?

With so many new players joining them club, Blackpool have acted quickly to try and fix the areas that were light once the loans and releases where announced.

In goal, Chris Maxwell is still with the club after finishing the year with the Seasiders last year. Should be the number one of the new season.

Supported by 21-year-old Jack Sims, who did make a league appearance last campaign. May be an area looked at, but not straight away.

Defensively, Blackpool have three right backs and three left backs registered for next season. Oliver Turton will still be the leading right back in a four-back, who can also play CB.

Teddy Howe was signed from Reading in the winter but didn’t make an appearance for Blackpool last year. Michael Nottingham is back from his loan spell with Crewe Alexandra. Right back will be untouched. On the left-hand side, James Husband will still be the starting defender, who like Turton can also play at CB.

Jordan Thorniley is still with the club and will be the back-up to Husband, whilst 22-year-old Callum MacDonald is comfortable at both left back and left midfield in a 3-5-2.

Left back will probably be untouched.

A key area that needs looking at for Blackpool is their central defenders. Yes, James Husband and Oliver Turton can play there, but Critchley would probably rather play them in their favored positions. With the loans of Heneghan, Bushiri and Moore ending, Blackpool are left with only Marvin Ekpiteta to carry the load. Expect movement here.

Blackpool’s weakest area on the pitch is their central midfield options. With Jay Spearing released, Dewsbury-Hall and Ronan back with their parent clubs, Blackpool will be in desperate need of at least two central players this year. Big area to look at.

Going forward is perfectly fine. Out wide, Liam Feeney and Grant Ward are still set as the right-winger’s in any formation that is needed, although I have heard talk that Feeney could be on the move.

The left-hand side of the pitch is Blackpool’s best area. Sullay Kaikai, CJ Hamilton and Keshi Anderson all fighting for a start. Don’t be surprised if Critchley implements a 4-2-3-1 set up to fit all three of those behind the striker. Speaking of striker, Blackpool have four and won’t be looking for another unless absolutely necessary.

Replacing Gnanduillet was always going to be hard, but the signings of Jerry Yates and Oliver Sarkic, plus the renewals of Nathan Delfouneso, Gary Madine and Joe Nuttall means Blackpool have a stacked front line. They also have Adi Yussef back from a season with Boreham Wood in the National League.

 

  • The Fixes?

I’m not suggesting by any means that I am a scouting guru who has an extensive knowledge of the world of football, but I do like the process of the transfer windows, and trying to be someone who can identify talent when it becomes available. For each team, after identifying the problem areas, I want to try and see if I can find any players for a specific set of positions who could be suited to each club, based on previous transfer years and the club’s reputation surrounding incomings:

 

  1. Centre Back –

Ben Heneghan – Sheffield United – 26 y/o – Free Agent

Spent the season with Blackpool. Released by Sheff Utd in the summer. Would be an ideal signing for Blackpool once again this season

Charlie Raglan – Cheltenham – 27 y/o – Transfer Fee

Very good season with Cheltenham last season to reach the play offs. Destined for League One return after leaving Oxford last summer. 

Matthew Pennington – Everton – 25 y/o – Loan Deal

Two seasons of struggle in the Championship with Hull and Ipswich, but was runner up for Player of the Year for Ipswich. League One could be his level. On his day, a brilliant defender.

Donervon Daniels – Luton – 26 y/o – Free Agent

Spent first half of season with Doncaster playing 10 games. Could be a very good defender for Blackpool, battling with Ekpiteta and Edwards.

Robbie McKenzie – Hull – 21 y/o – Free Agent

Released by Hull City in the summer, but could definitely do a job in League One. Could be a good challenger for the starting position if picked up by Blackpool. 

Nathan Collins – Stoke – 19 y/o – Loan Deal

Played 14 games for Stoke last season, but with Danny Batth, Martins Indi, Shawcross and Lindsey in the squad, a loan move to League One could be exactly what Collins needs.

 

  1. Centre Midfield –

Jake Taylor – Nottingham Forest – 21 y/o – Loan Deal

Spent the season with Port Vale in League Two. Five goals and 1 assist in 18 games. Could be set for the step up to League One.

Ethan Robson – Sunderland – 23 y/o – Free Agent

Released by Sunderland in the summer. Has been linked with Blackpool the last few weeks, as well as Ipswich, Doncaster and Portsmouth.

Thomas O’Connor – Southampton – 21 y/o – Loan Deal

Spent last season with Gillingham, playing 28 games and scoring once. Southampton may want him to spend another season in League One.

Ben Stevenson – Colchester – 23 y/o – Transfer Fee

Had a very good season with Colchester last season. 2 goals and 3 assists in 28 league appearances. Deserves the jump up to League One.

Tom Bayliss – Preston – 21 y/o – Loan Deal

Signed for £2mill in the summer from Coventry, but only made one league appearance. Could need a season away if Preston can’t find a place for him yet.

Kyle Dempsey – Fleetwood – 24 y/o – Free Agent

Released by Fleetwood after 21 league games with 2 goals and an assist. Could be a very good back up midfielder for Blackpool, and can also play on the wing.

 

  • The Verdict

It’s always difficult to tell how each team is going to fair in the new season, because we haven’t seen many signings nor the influence of pre-season friendlies. Just by going off how each team is expected to deal with the current COVID-19 financial troubles, and what each team is capable of doing under much greater restraint right now, I think that Blackpool could be the dark horses in League One next season. They’ve spent well and brought in players who are very talented and are deserving of a season in League One. The additions Critchley has made have been very good so far, and if they can bring in a really good center back and midfielder, then they could be a very good bet for the new season.

What do you guys think? How do you think Blackpool will fair in the new season? Should they be looking for another season of mid-table obscurity, or will it be a season of joy for the Seasiders with their new signings.? Let me know in the comments below and make sure to follow All Out Football on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.