Leeds United boss Sam Allardyce has surprises up his sleeve as he sends blunt pre-West Ham message
and live on Freeview channel 276
Who had climate change fuelling Sam Allardyce's future fear on their press conference bingo card? Or the job losses at BT due to artificial intelligence? The man is just full of surprises.
The only shocks Leeds United were interested in when they sent up the Big Sam signal were results, scorelines that no one but the boss and maybe his players saw coming.
They didn't get that at Manchester City, although they somehow stayed in the game long enough that they did introduce nerves to the side who duly went and thrashed Real Madrid. A single-goal margin of defeat was in essence a shock result for Leeds at the Etihad, given their goal difference troubles against Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth, a trio of teams vastly inferior to Pep Guardiola's lot. Then came top three residents, new money Newcastle United, eyeing a grandstand finish to an Eddie Howe-inspired season of excellence. Relegation zone dwelling Leeds should have beaten them, having put themselves in a position to go on and do so, but even a point from a 2-2 draw was a result few would have predicted prior to Allardyce's arrival when all looked lost.
Even before leading the Whites into the penultimate outing of his four-game managerial cameo, Allardyce has come up with the unexpected, his discussion of social media abuse dished out to Patrick Bamford building to this: "I do fear for our life as an old timer now, I fear for our life with social media and what it's bringing to the world," he began.
"I've just heard about 40,000 jobs going from BT [due to AI]. What are they going to do? Another bit of AI comes in, another 30,000 jobs go. For me it's not a great future, with what we're doing with climate change. That's my worry for my grandchildren."
Right on. Back in the present, with hopefully-tired-and-a-little-bit-hungover West Ham preparing some sort of welcome at the London Stadium, Allardyce is hinting that he could hit the Hammers with something a little different on Sunday. Junior Firpo is out suspended and though Max Wober could shuffle across to play left-back, with Liam Cooper back training and presumably an option to start in the middle, Allardyce has shaped to throw a curveball.
"We've been talking about that in terms of who do we fit into that position or do we perhaps change the system to a different way of playing," he said.
"We've got to look at what West Ham did last night, last week, and look at what players we have available and pick a system to suit our team that's available."
Jack Harrison and Luke Ayling as wing-backs, either side of a Cooper, Wober and Rasmus Kristensen central defence? At the very least, Allardyce is trying to even the odds when it comes to uncertainty because what West Ham might have lost in energy they could gain in their own surprise factor.
"We probably can normally guess the team that's going to be picked on the Sunday but it's very difficult to pick this one because obviously looking at Brentford last week they made nine changes," said the Leeds boss.
"But I think they will basically, even though he might change the team, probably play the same way as he normally does. Our preparation is to try as best we can predict the team and how they play and do a bit of practice against that, defensively and offensively, today and tomorrow before we travel. We won't know until we get the email to find out what team he's actually picked. We might need to have a little chat with the players before they go out."
But if Leeds cannot widen West Ham eyes with something unforeseen then they must do so with how uncomfortable they make it for their hosts. Last week Allardyce spoke of his surprise at how necessary it was to try and lift the energy levels at the club. This was, or it bears resemblance to the team that was, the bunch who were lauded week in and week out as the fittest and most intense in their division. That Championship-forced, Bielsa-masterminded reputation followed Leeds into the Premier League. "A game against Leeds is like a trip to the dentist," Mikel Arteta once said.
So much time has passed since then, so much has muddied the water around this team to lower expectations but could it still be possible to switch that intensity back on at this late stage of a season? Could Leeds once again run a rival ragged?
"Yeah. It’s easy - if you have got your mind set the right way," said Allardyce.
"You will run your fastest if I point a gun at you and I am going to shoot you even though you’ve never run that fast before. Or you might just freeze and get shot. Do you like that one?”
Yes, very good Sam. Blunt, but very good. Now put down the gun. Leeds are in the line of fire, here, and if being held at gunpoint by the relegation zone does not inspire the greatest effort of the season then can anything?
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of this last week of the season for Leeds fans is that it won't take two shock results to keep them up. Beating West Ham should be very possible. They drew with them earlier in the season and had it not been for a goal-line block and then a blinding reflex save, the three points would have remained at Elland Road. The Hammers are only three places and six points above Allardyce's men.
Then consider Tottenham Hotspur, who have generously donated to the points tallies of Nottingham Forest, Leicester, Wolves and Bournemouth this season. Leeds should have taken something from them in London, too. You don't know which Spurs will show up in the final day so you couldn't call a positive result for Leeds a surprise in any way.
Whatever happens, the league table just has to show that survival is still possible when Leeds kick off on the final day. A win on Sunday, of course, does just that.
"We have to deliver a three point scenario at West Ham to try and save our Premier League status and handling the pressure that comes with that is a big question of can you?"
Looking back on this season as a whole, few might be willing to put money on Leeds in the most pressurised situation of them all. The message to the players therefore is simple. Surprise us.