Away From Home: Blackpool win the best under Beppe
A performance evoking the fluid attacking play of last season, yet not losing focus on the defensive solidity that has characterised Beppe Sannino`s revitalisation of the Watford team, the performance was arguably the closest to perfection experienced this season.
A compact midfield - resulting in a change in player positioning - intended to press the Blackpool players, and the inclusion of Mathias Rangégie and Troy Deeney - both rewarded with two goals - claimed the rewards of a widening gap in a less-than-organised defensive line.
Much of the praise for the victory should be awarded to the offensive mind-set of the team, with the midfield and forwards compacting the space in the already congested Blackpool midfield. Ikechi Anya positioned himself as an ersatz central midfielder - forming a lopsided 4-4-2 - yet allowing himself to drift out wide, thus drawing central-defender Gary Mackenize further to the right wing.
Daniel Pudil - whilst classed as a left-back in terms of defensive positioning - was free to roam the entire left-wing due to the congestion in the centre. Faced by Kevin Foley - in his first start for Blackpool - who was covered by Kirk Broadfoot, Pudil acted as no more than a diversion to draw the right-sided central defender out of position; although he did show his attacking intelligence in the run-up to Troy Deeney`s first goal.
The ability to field two out-and-out strikers in an age when the lone front man is an ideal is a remarkable feat.
It has been claimed that the return of the successful strike duo - Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, Diego Costa and David Villa, Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez - has been due to defences forgetting how to defend against one, especially in the omnipresent existence of 4-2-3-1; Jonathan Wilson suggests that: 'When there are two centre-backs against one centre-forward, one marks and the other is cover: the mechanics of defending are easy. When it`s two v two, there is no cover, or that cover has to come from a full-back, and modern full-backs are used to fighting individual battles with their wingers, looking to get forward at every opportunity.`
In terms of the Watford - Blackpool game, the use of a distinct striking partnership - rather than the injured Fernando Forestieri who is always inclined to drop deeper - resulted in a combination of outcomes: Anya`s central role was to create space for Blackpool left-back Andrew Halliday to run into, as his focus was to attack, although coming up against Lloyd Doyley in a one-on-one turned out to be fruitless - winning three tackles and two interceptions. Consequently, Anya moved into the space vacated by Halliday, thus drawing Mackenzie out to cover the space.
On the right-wing, Pudil - acting as a classic winger - took care of Foley`s interests. Thus, both full-backs are occupied in individual battles, whilst one centre-back is covering for his fellow defender. This leaves a two-on-one in favour of the attacking side, with a spare man always available - as evidenced by the onrushing support in the process of the goals being scored.
The final benefit to come from the two-on-one battle is the opening of space in the midfield area; as the defence is widened, the central two in Blackpool`s midfield dropped deeper to act as makeshift centre-backs. This allowed Cristian Battocchio and Daniel Tözsér to work the space in the midfield and control the tempo of the game, whilst always having a man available to act in a free-role as dedicated playmaker; Tözsér`s pass for Deeney`s first goal was completed under no pressure, whilst Rangégie`s second came as the midfield dropped into defence rather than press the onrushing Battocchio, who laid the ball through for an easy finish.
The fourth goal, a culmination of the entire game-plan, was the highlight of the game. Tözsér controlled possession in the centre of Blackpool`s half, and laid the ball off to Battocchio; Pudil entered the 18-yard box, then retreated to the wing to draw Foley out; Battocchio`s feint-pass to Pudil created space in the centre allowing him to charge forward and pull Broadfoot out of position, creating a striking two-on-one with Mackenzie, who was covering the defensive line rather than pressing his man; before Mackenzie could turn to face his man, Deeney rolled the ball under his foot and curled the ball perfectly into the top corner. Although my description does it no credit - and the video is worth rewatching multiple times - these ten seconds of football appears to be the epitome of Beppe Sannino`s philosophy, and it is arguably the greatest moment that has occurred this season.
Although it may appear as if I have nothing but praise for Sannino, there is no doubt that Watford are still a work in progress, and that there will still be dour games and mind-numbing defeats to come.
What many people fail to see - especially after a defeat - is that Watford have thoroughly improved since the arrival of Arrigo Sacchi`s greatest admirer. The formation is starting to blur into Sannino - and Sacchi`s - favoured 4-4-2, with the players moving together as one unit, and it will not be long until every performance mirrors the Blackpool victory.
You don`t need the best squad of specialists to win competitions, you need the unit with the best connections, and it appears as if Sannino has fixed the connections which appeared to be frayed. Zola`s ideal of the individual has been thrown out the window, and every player is contributing with every task.
And, as Sacchi said on seeing 14 year old youth players already specialising their role: 'If someone does just one thing over and over, they will get better at that thing. But is football just one thing? This is suffering, this is not joy, this is not football.'