Sam Allardyce's big Leeds United surprise as he sets out plan to shock Pep Guardiola and Man City
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Not everyone, of course, but speak to enough Whites and you will get a sense that his first two press conference appearances have at least swayed a number of minds once dead-set against his presence at the club.
The big character routine, his unflinching self confidence and the headline-worthy quotes aside, all of which tend to leave people on one side or another of the Allardyce fence, the new boss has touched on areas of concern with an insight that has landed sympathetically among supporters.
His shutting down of further debate over the hotel foyer furore played well, because it enhanced this idea of his standing in front of them as the kind of protective shield they need in their time of crisis. There was a similar dismissal of any notion that players will be locked inside Thorp Arch for hours on end in long, gruelling detention sessions, because Allardyce prioritises head space and keeping minds from shutting down. He's very into his sports psychology and it would be no surprise if a positive impact on the collective psyche of a fanbase had been high up on his to-do list since striding into Thorp Arch.
Whether or not eyebrows have been raised among those who weren't so keen on him previously, because they find themselves nodding along, the biggest surprise of all would be if Allardyce, his fiercest critics and newly-found fans find anything to celebrate together this weekend.
Manchester City away is the easiest one of them all to start with, he joked on Wednesday. Many a true word is said in jest because expectation for this game isn't so much on the floor but hiding in the basement, fearing a very possible shellacking. There is no pressure on Leeds, in the form of expectation, when it comes to the result. Anything besides a fearsome beating, by a team far more well-equipped to dish one out than Liverpool, Crystal Palace or Bournemouth, would feel like a bonus.
And yet Allardyce goes into the game armed with that untouchable self belief and, he says, the element of surprise - in the opening minutes, at least.
"There can be an element of surprise for me because Pep won't know - he can second guess based on what I've done in the past but that’s quite a while ago and it's a different team and I've got different players who have different strengths and weaknesses," said the Leeds boss.
"So there can be an element of surprise on how we’re going to set up, what we're going to do, how we're going to try and do it. Let's hope a bit of an element of surprise may work in our favour. Of course, once you see what's happening then you, as a coach, as a manager, don't get surprised more than five or 10 minutes with what the opposition are doing."
Guardiola echoed those thoughts in his own press conference a little while later.
"We don’t have any information on what system they are going to play - we will need 15 minutes to adapt," said the man hunting another Premier League title with his ominous, inevitable-looking team of world class footballers.
They're so good and so frighteningly in-form that Manchester City could spend 90 minutes trying to figure you out and still beat you by a scoreline that requires a number spelled out in letter form in brackets. Even if you focus intensively on Erling Haaland - as Allardyce says Leeds will - and manage to stop the most prolific Leeds fan on the planet from scoring, you might still watch another blue shirt walk away with the match ball, as Sheffield United discovered in the FA Cup semi-final.
Allardyce and Leeds will need to be perfect to spoil Pep's perfection. They will need to be lucky. Clinical, too.
"The sad thing for us is they’re in the best form they’ve been in all season because they’ve won nine on the trot," said Allardyce.
"So we hope we can find a space or two to cause some problems and if we get a chance we'd have to score I think, I don't think we could afford to miss any chances or opportunities we might get in City's box. We'd have to be ruthless, clinical and defensively the team will have to be the best it's been this season, which obviously has been a bit frail, but we're going to try and put that right obviously, while we're here."
This Leeds team rediscovering their punch resistance against the hardest hitting heavyweight would be a shock itself, never mind a positive result, but shocks, as Luke Ayling and his fellow April 2021 Etihad conquerors will tell the newer additions to the dressing room, can happen.
Allardyce might be all ears for that one too, like Jesse Marsch was, because 'let me tell you about the time we beat Pep away from home with 10 men' is a jaw-dropping tale for the ages. Marsch's eyes widened to the size of the press room itself when he was corrected that it was in fact Leeds who had the man sent off in that victory.
The current occupier of the manager's office at Thorp Arch doesn't have an 'I beat Pep' story to tell yet, for he's lost all three of his previous battles of wit with the Spaniard. But here's the thing - he doesn't have to beat Manchester City to walk away with that reported £3m and the thanks and affections of previously sceptical Leeds fans. He doesn't even need a point tomorrow. If Leeds emerge from the Etihad without further significant damage to their goal difference, without further significant injury and with sufficient pride in their display to carry into the final three games, then there remains a chance of a great escape that might only take one win and a draw to secure. Or one win. Or, whisper it, maybe not even that.
Key to getting anything, even a narrow defeat, will be shoring up a battered, fragile defence and finding a midfield combination that helps, rather than hinders, the back line. The decision over who starts in goal is a big one, because Illan Meslier has been rocked and this game against this opponent could make or break him. Taking him out could sap him of any remaining confidence. Leaving him in could do the same.
But it's not a make or break game for Leeds United as a club. Relegation or survival will not be decided against the title chasers. It's a free hit. It's a chance to make fans like them a bit more than they did last Sunday. It's a chance to shock a few people, maybe even themselves, despite all that has been said and done earlier.