Plymouth vs Blackpool | Saturday 12th September 2020, 15:00
Plymouth won promotion from League Two at the first attempt under Ryan Lowe’s watch last term with the Pilgrims receiving plenty of plaudits for playing a refreshing brand of attacking football. Argyle operate in an expressive 3-5-2 system, keeping the ball on the deck, utilising the wing-backs, with the penetrative forward-thinking players given freedom.
During 2019/20, the Greens posted top-four ratio returns for both Expected Goals (xG) and xG from open play, although there was a curious stat that stood out. Despite the Devon club’s eye-catching campaign, Plymouth conceded the third-highest xG from open play per-game figure (0.94) – almost on a par with rock-bottom Stevenage (0.95).
So whilst Lowe’s posse provide opposition outfits with plenty to ponder, it’s true too that Argyle allow arguably too many opportunities in the final-third. Naturally, matches are very watchable for the neutrals, exemplified by last weekend’s 3-2 League Cup success over QPR where the Greens gave up nine on-target attempts during their first round victory.
Punters should therefore be encouraged by the potential for a goal-filled game when Plymouth kick-off against Blackpool on Saturday afternoon and I’d be happy to have a poke on Both Teams To Score at 4/5 (William Hill) quotes, even more so with home skipper and centre-half Gary Sawyer absent.
The Tangerines are in the midst of a major transformation under Neil Critchley; Jurgen Klopp’s former Liverpool colleague is encouraging a similar heavy metal approach for the Seasiders, a far cry from Simon Grayson’s pragmatic and direct system employed by Blackpool throughout the opening six months of last term.
The visitors have been involved in a few thrilling pre-season affairs and look to be taking a top-heavy attitude to progression with a top-six finish well within their range should key new additions settle. Blackpool completed a raft of early business and have focussed their recruitment on speed and skill with a plethora of bright forwards brought on-board.
Critchley hinted that centre-back and right-back are top his priority list with possible deals sorted in-time for Saturday, suggesting the guests might not be completely up-to-speed from a defensive standpoint. However, the Tangerines most definitely possess the pace and panache to make a mark on Home Park, in what’s hopefully an enjoyable affair.
Portsmouth vs Shrewsbury | Saturday 12th September 2020, 15:00
Back-to-back play-off failures and a perceived pragmatic style have piled the pressure on safe-hands Kenny Jackett ahead of the 2020/21 renewal. The Portsmouth supremo is beginning his fourth season in charge of the Fratton club and should be aiming to hit the ground running after last term’s slow start ultimately cost the Blues automatic promotion.
A W1-D3-L3 return in Pompey’s opening seven outings left the club languishing around the bottom-half before Portsmouth put together League One’s best points return from October onwards (W15-D6-L6). The Blues also completed the campaign unbeaten on home soil, taking maximum points when welcoming the league’s lesser lights (W8-D0-L0).
Centre-back Christian Burgess, plus loanees Cameron McGeehan and Steve Seddon have left over the summer, the only significant departures. However, Cameron Pring signs on-loan from Bristol City and is expected to make a positive impact at left-back in place of Seddon. Crucially too, the club have kept hold of attacking arsenal Ronan Curtis, Ellis Harrison and John Marquis.
The hosts featured in the top-three across all the major performance data metrics when third-tier football was abruptly halted, and should Pompey pick up where they left their league campaign in March, another promotion challenge awaits the Hampshire outfit. With that in mind, odds of 20/23 (BetVictor) here could come to look large later in the season.
Only beleaguered Bolton scored fewer goals than Shrewsbury in Sam Ricketts’ first full campaign in charge at The New Meadow. Salop were rarely a soft touch but offered precious little to excite supporters with the Shropshire side amongst the league’s worst creators, a point the former Welsh international is keen to amend in 2020/21.
Ricketts was impressed with how his Town players adjusted to a new mentality while delivering an attacking show of intent in the entertaining 4-3 defeat at Middlesbrough last weekend. Scott High and Rekeil Pyke, two of the five new summer signings to make their full debuts, netted, but it was a different story for another debutant, goalkeeper Harry Burgoyne, whose errors proved costly for two of Boro's goals.
The shape has switched from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3 with the intent to defend higher up the pitch and get more players into the final third, an area desperately in need of improvement. After all, the visitors failed to even score in seven of eight trips to top-half teams last time out, earning just three points in the process (W0-D3-L5).
So whilst the signs were promising in the Cup contest, I still feel Portsmouth are slightly underrated at the odds available on Saturday. The hosts boast a 59% win rate here in 41 fixtures under Jackett’s watch, with a full +1 average goal difference borne out per-game during that sample League One sample.
Port Vale vs Crawley | Saturday 12th September 2020, 15:00
When the EFL was suspended in March, Port Vale were sitting a solitary point and place outside of the League Two. Nevertheless, the Valiants were one of the selfless clubs who voted to prematurely end the campaign. The core of Vale’s squad remains in situ and manager John Askey has given the group overdue stability, continuity and consistency, dying arts in Football League parlance.
But there’s much more in the Burslem boys favour. A trusted cat between the sticks, a rock-solid back four in front and an all-action midfield make Port Vale mighty tough to play against. There’s a sprinkling of star quality from the flanks in David Worrall and David Amoo, whilst local hero Tom Pope has been joined by Theo Robinson as bustling centre-forward options for this level, along with Devante Rodney.
Marginal gains is a phrase favoured by Askey and if the Valiants can continue fine-tuning, their upward trajectory should see the Staffordshire side threaten the promotion places. After all, Vale suffered only two defeats in 2020 and endured a sole home reverse in the curtailed campaign, making the 19/20 (Bet365) here on Saturday an appealing play.
Unfortunately, odds-against quotes have already been snapped up. Clearly punters are keen on Vale but the move is also developing due to the situation incurred at Crawley.
Head coach John Yems has appeared cantankerous and exasperated in dealings with the media following a flurry of key departures from the club this off-season. Bez Lubala, one of the division’s best wingers last season, left for Blackpool last week and Guinea-Bissauan midfielder Panutche Camara moved on, leaving a sizeable hole in the centre.
Last season’s top goalscorer Ollie Palmer has stepped up to Wimbledon – along with Lubala, the pair were responsible for 27 of the team’s 51 league goals – and the Red Devils opened their account for the campaign with a worrisome performance, gifting three preventable goals to Millwall in a 3-1 League Cup loss prompting Yems’ frustrated response.
Last term, Town conceded the division’s worst xG from open play figures and that’s an alarming slice of data when heading to a Port Vale team that are unlikely to need a second invitation. Crawley posted a sole success on their travels and leaked twice or more in 11 encounters at clubs outside of the bottom-two, highlighting their backline blues.
Plymouth vs Blackpool – Both Teams To Score (4/5 William Hill)
Portsmouth vs Shrewsbury – Portsmouth to win (20/23 BetVictor)
Port Vales vs Crawley – Port Vale to win (19/20 Bet365)