Neil Critchley: Versatile defenders a huge boost for Blackpool this season
Neil Critchley has been delighted with the adaptability of his Blackpool side in the centre of defence.
Much has been made in the media about the number of centre-back pairings Liverpool have fielded due to injuries, with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez sidelined for lengthy periods.
But it’s also been a major issue for the Seasiders, who are without Marvin Ekpiteta – an ever present before picking up a hamstring injury a fortnight ago – and Daniel Gretarsson, who remains sidelined with the same problem.
Ekpiteta, Gretarsson, Dan Ballard, James Husband, Ollie Turton, Jordan Thorniley and former Seasider Michael Nottingham have all featured in the centre of defence this season for Blackpool, who have become accustomed to chopping and changing in that area of the pitch.
It’s not been a major issue for Critchley’s side, who boast one of the best defensive records in League One.
The latest partnership saw Thorniley join Ballard after coming on as a late replacement for Husband during Saturday’s 3-0 win away to Charlton Athletic.
Husband, who has excelled in the centre in recent weeks despite being recognised as a left-back, was forced to drop out of the line-up at The Valley after picking up a slight calf injury during the warm-up.
Critchley is keen to have a recognised centre-back partnership going forward but says it’s important to be able to adapt at all times.
Speaking ahead of last night’s home game against his former club Crewe Alexandra, Pool’s head coach told The Gazette: “For various different reasons, whether it be injuries or Covid, we’ve been unable to name the same players in that position on a consistent basis.
“It’s something we want to try and work towards in terms of getting more consistency with team selection.
“However, what I would say is that because of the fixture list and because you’re playing all the time, freshness is important as well, so you have to get the balance right.
“If you’re playing the same team consistently, at some point that will come back to bite you either through tiredness – and I don’t just mean physically, I also mean mental tiredness – or injuries.
“But I’d like to think that how we play, regardless of formation or personnel on the pitch, the principles remain the same.
“That’s the message we send out to the players on a daily basis – that regardless of who is in the team or what formation we’re playing, this is what the team wants to look like.
“For large periods of this season or in the vast majority of games, I believe that we’ve done that.”
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