Ian Holloway’s Blackpool reunion ended in a draw after his former side snatched a deserved draw at Championship high-flyers Crystal Palace.
Nouha Dicko’s late strike gave the Seasiders a deserved point, after the visitors had trailed to headers from Palace’s Owen Garvan and Glenn Murray.
Michael Appleton’s side had taken the lead through Nathan Delfouneso’s header, only for the Eagles to deliver an improved second-half display, clawing their way back into the contest courtesy of the second-half double.
Here, The FA’s Peter Glynn assesses the contribution of young English wide players Wilfried Zaha, Tom Ince and Delfouneso.
Traditional wingers are becoming a rarity at the top level of the modern game.
With many teams’ attacking approach based on picking a route through central areas using incisive passing and combination play, the wide path is increasingly a scarcer method for attacking play.
With full-backs encouraged to play higher up the field, contributing to attacking phases with overlapping runs, traditional wide players stationed on the touchline appear redundant.
However, as Manchester United demonstrated in Sunday’s derby victory, when executed with the correct portions of speed and incision, wide play is still a proven to route to goal.
It is these ingredients of efficient flank play which must be studied by the host of young English wide players that were on show in Saturday’s Championship clash at Selhurst Park.
Palace’s Zaha and Blackpool duo Ince and Delfouneso are not lacking in skilful potential, but must become nuanced in the detail of effective wide play if they are to find their way into fixtures of the magnitude of yesterday’s meeting at the Etihad.
If they continue in their current good form, Crystal Palace may well face the Manchester giants next term. The south London club’s elevation to the upper echelons of English football’s second tier has gone hand-in-hand with Zaha’s growing reputation.
The 20-year-old’s graduation to Roy Hodgson’s senior squad for November’s friendly against Sweden did nothing to quell the hype.
Ince, Zaha’s opposite number, is another to court the attention and admiring glances of potential suitors. Here, Zaha was stationed on the right of Palace’s front three, with Ince performing the same role for the visitors.
However, it was the third young English wide man, Delfouneso, on-loan from Aston Villa, who made the firmest opening impression.
Deployed on the left of the Tangerines’ attack, the England Under-21 international, demonstrated a variety to his wide forays that Ince and Zaha lacked on occasions.
Comfortable attacking on both the outside and the inside meant his opponent, Darcy Blake, was uncertain to show the Young Lion inside or outside. Blake was soon left looking beleaguered.
When the Villa youngster did cut inside, he combined effectively with Blackpool’s central striker Wes Thomas. Delfouneso bounced quick passes off Thomas, providing an effective attacking method.
It was this duo that combined for Blackpool’s first effort of the game, Thomas’s acrobatic overhead kick from Delfouneso’s cross flashing wide of Julian Speroni’s post.
Here’s a Future Game practice which helps players develop their attacking play in wide areas:
Attacking flank play
Having the ability to threaten on both the inside and the outside of a full-back is a much sought after skill in wide-area duels. Faced by both probabilities, defenders are hindered by uncertainty. These split-seconds of indecision afford attackers the opportunity to slip past an opponent.
Ince, a left-footer playing on the right of Blackpool’s attack, was more predictable in his approach. Regularly cutting inside, the former Liverpool youngster looked to shift the ball onto his favoured foot, arrowing low balls across goal. The method did, however,lead to the game’s opening goal.
Ince’s low drive from the left was headed past Speroni by Delfouneso, who slipped in undetected at the far post. The visitors had enjoyed the better moments of the first period and it was a deserved lead.
Here’s a Future Game practice which helps players develop their finishing from crosses:
Receiving and finishing from wide areas
Although Zaha was fundamental to a number of Palace’s most promising moments, some of the Eagles’ problems, especially in the first period, stemmed from the visitors’ suffocation of the youngster. Zaha often found himself faced with the unenviable task of beating two, and occasionally three, opponents.
The attention was, at times, self-inflicted. The winger was prone to taking a few too many touches, allowing defenders to recover and eliminate space. There was also a regularity to his attempts to attack his marker on the outside. Ince suffered from similar multiple-touch problems.
An awareness of when to vary attacking phases with swift combination play which eliminates opponents is necessary.
Both Zaha and Ince demonstrate a precocious talent and confidence for ball manipulation and skilful wide play; a dwindling art in the game that must not be discouraged by coaches. However, as the trio mature the deft flicks and stepovers must be underpinned with clever decision-making.
Decision-making is often most pronounced in a player's choice of final ball and before the moment of delivery, wide players must be encouraged to assess the positioning of attacking team-mates rather than flashing crosses into the empty areas.
Here’s a Future Game practice which helps players develop their attacking combination play and crossing techniques:
Counter-attacking from wide areas
Zaha was guilty of wastefulness early in the second half. After demonstrating his physical prowess bursting down Palace’s right, the youngster delivered a low cross to no apparent recipient. Fortunately for Holloway’s side, Yannick Bolasie, on the opposite flank recovered the play crossing for Garvan to level the scores.
Like Zaha, Ince, and Delfouneso, Manchester United’s Ashley Young was once a hot property playing in the Championship. The comparisons are obvious. For any of the hopefuls to follow the same career path as the man who contributed effectively to United’s derby victory, a dedication to wide-play decision-making is needed.
Key points for grassroots coaches:
- Wide players should become comfortable operating on the both sides of the pitch
- Encourage wide players to swap flanks during the game. By swapping flanks a different threat can be posed to the opposition’s full-backs
- Wide players must develop varied approaches: crossing from wide areas and also cutting inside and linking with a central striker through clever combination play
- A varied portfolio of crossing techniques is needed to be effective at the top level of the game. Crosses pulled back to find late midfield runners are particularly difficult for defenders to eliminate as they recover facing their own goal.
Peter Glynn is the Editorial Manager at St. George's Park and editor of The Boot Room, The FA's Coaching Magazine. Peter has been with The Football Association for five years and holds the UEFA B Licence and The FA Youth Awards 1 and 2.
The Future Game Tactics Column takes a weekly look at the evolution of the modern game, linking to practices from The FA's Future Game philosophy and providing advice and tips for grassroots coaches.
For more information about The FA’s Future Game philosophy click here