The unsolved right-back conundrum, a change of approach and another injury worry: Talking points from Blackpool's friendly defeat to Man City
Blackpool were beaten 4-1 by the reigning Premier League champions Manchester City during the club's final pre-season friendly of the summer last night.
Neil Critchley’s men got off to the worst possible start, conceding just three minutes into their behind-closed-doors encounter at City’s Academy Stadium.
The Seasiders rallied though and levelled through Luke Garbutt’s expertly-taken penalty after the excellent Shayne Lavery had been fouled.
Pep Guardiola’s side took their game to another level in the second-half though, running in three unanswered goals - one for Riyad Mahrez and a double for Ilkay Gundogan.
Here, The Gazette’s Blackpool FC writer Matt Scrafton takes a look at the key talking points from last night’s friendly.
Have Pool discovered a gem?
Imagine if a few months ago I told you Blackpool would unearth another striker that works as hard and closes down as ferociously as Jerry Yates. You wouldn’t believe me, would you? For good reason, too, because I’ve never known a striker as unselfish yet as equally talented as Yates. But in Shayne Lavery the Seasiders have got themselves a forward man in the exact same mould. Yes, it was only a friendly, but the Northern Irishman was superb last night. His harrying of Ruben Dias, Nathan Ake and Fernandinho was incessant and a joy to watch. The 22-year-old made a fool of Dias - last season’s Premier League player of the season, let’s remember - to win Pool their first-half penalty, robbing the defender of the ball thanks to his relentless closing down, nipping the ball past him before being hauled to the ground inside the penalty area. He’s someone that plays with no fear and clearly took no notice of the reputations of the City players he was forcing mistakes out of on a regular basis. If Lavery can perform as well as he did against the reigning Premier League champions against Championship defences this season, Lavery should have some campaign.
Risk or reward
Neil Critchley has clearly identified the Seasiders need a shift in style if they’re to compete in the Championship this season. Whereas last term Pool were able to swap and change between different approaches and systems to great success, sometimes at a whim even within games, this season they’re likely to stick with a possession-based method - at least to begin with, anyway. The Seasiders continued to play out from the back last night against Man City, a brave approach against a side that is fierce with its closing down. As soon as Stuart Moore passed the ball out from his six-yard box, Pep Guardiola’s side would be onto the next man in possession like a pack of wolves. If your first touch wasn’t up to scratch or your intended pass was an inch or two astray, City would pounce immediately. Saying that, even if your touch was fine, they’d still be onto you within the blink of an eye. It has to be said, the first 10 minutes or so was a tough watch. The Seasiders gave the ball away at an alarming rate and were lucky to only find themselves a goal down. But Pool kept faith with their approach and showed commitment to Critchley’s new style. That commitment paid off when the Seasiders got into their stride, improved their touch and passing and, as a result, City dropped off in fear of being played through. On at least three or four occasions, the Seasiders picked out the right pass and embarked on fast, direct counters. Too often their final ball or shot let them down when they got to the all-important moment in the final third, but the fact they even got there in the first place was promising. If the Seasiders can do that against a side as good as Man City, they should be able to enjoy some success with that approach in the Championship this season. If Critchley's side were to face City in a competitive outing this season, chances are they wouldn't repeat this approach. But this was a friendly, so Pool's head coach wanted his side to concentrate on themselves and practice how they would approach their league game against Bristol City, so try not to focus too much on the mistakes and errors, most of which were forced by an extremely talented City side and system.
Not another one
Demetri Mitchell on Saturday, Kevin Stewart on Tuesday. Both of them would surely have been in line to start at Bristol City on Saturday were they fit, but that surely must be in some doubt now. Mitchell watched from the stands last night alongside Chris Maxwell, Kenny Dougall and Joe Nuttall sporting a knee brace. The winger went for a scan earlier in the afternoon and results should be forthcoming soon. As for Stewart, he became the latest Seasider to pick up a knock having rolled his ankle during the first-half of last night’s game. The midfielder was down for some time receiving treatment from Stuart Irwin, who eventually had no choice but to produce that ill-fated hand signal towards the bench to inform Neil Critchley and his right-hand men that Stewart was simply unable to continue. There’s still no concrete news on Stewart’s condition, but Critchley is keeping his fingers crossed. Either way, suffering another blow like that on the eve of the league campaign is far from ideal for Pool, who are already without a number of first-teamers following a highly disruptive pre-season campaign. There is better news on the horizon though. Daniel Gretarsson returned to full training at the start of the week having made good progress in his recovery from shoulder surgery. Dougall and Gary Madine are also expected back fairly soon-ish, so at least that’s something.
The unsolved conundrum
Just three days until the league season gets underway and the Seasiders are still without a specialist right-back. Unless there’s a new signing between now and 3pm on Saturday, chances are Callum Connolly - naturally a centre-back that can also feature as a defensive midfielder - will be given the right-back berth at Ashton Gate. The former Everton man is solid and reliable, but in pre-season hasn’t showed a great deal going forward, it has to be said. This is no criticism of Connolly, who is a talented centre-back, but he doesn’t look like a natural over on the right-hand side of defence. Perhaps he’s one Critchley can work with and mould into a full-back on the training ground, but that’s likely to take a bit of time. After Connolly, there aren’t any options other than youngsters from the academy. Jack Moore, aged only 17, played at Southport in the opening friendly of the summer. Sky Sinclair, only 18 himself, was handed a surprise start against Man City last night. What a proud moment it must have been for both Sky and his father Trevor, who of course played for both Blackpool and Man City during his stellar playing career. Sky, like the team, initially struggled at first to cope with the tricky winger Sam Edozie, who beat him on two or three occasions in the opening 10 minutes. Sinclair stuck to his task well though and improved as the game wore on. The defender, who recently signed pro terms, could easily have gone under playing against the likes of Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan, Riyad Mahrez and so on, but he refused. He defended well one vs one, made some smart interceptions and recoveries and certainly didn’t look out of place, despite his nervy start. Is he likely to feature this weekend? Probably not. Is he the answer to Blackpool’s right-back conundrum? Not right now, no, he’s more likely to be one for the future. A loan could certainly help with his development. Either way, the question over who will be Blackpool’s first-choice right-back this coming season remains unanswered and could do with being remedied fairly soon.
And that’s a wrap
Last night’s friendly at Man City’s Academy Stadium finally brings an end to Blackpool’s pre-season preparations. Saturday’s league opener at Bristol City will be with us as soon as you know it. Let’s be honest, it’s been a far from ideal summer for the Seasiders. They had a shorter break than everyone else in the second tier because of their involvement in the League One play-offs. A handful of first-teamers then went under the knife to have operations shortly after the final. Since then, Covid ravaged the squad and forced the glamour friendly against Rangers to be scrapped. Then, as previously mentioned, worrying injuries have hit. But as we know from last season, the Seasiders are almost accustomed to suffering setbacks and disruption. They turned it into a positive last year, finding a way to not only cope, but thrive. They’re going to have to do that again this coming season if they’re going to hold their own in the Championship, which would have been a difficult task anyway with everyone fit, available and raring to go. But in Critchley the Seasiders have an astounding, tactically-astute coach who will ensure his side are ready - irrespective of what players are available to him. Yes, it’ll be hard work, but that’s a prerequisite, not only in football, but life. The Seasiders showed last season they have character and resilience in abundance and that will be put to the ultimate test once again this coming campaign. Let’s get to it!
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