Sam Allardyce chats with Rasmus Christensen before leaving for training at Leeds United in preparation for a tough trip to Manchester City “. Photo: Leeds United/PA
Sam Allardyce had candid meetings with his players in the first three days of his career as he tried to pull off the great escape from Leeds. The candid exchange took place in the hall of the club's Thorp Arch stadium and was taken into account by the interim manager, who formulated a plan to give his team a chance at the most unlikely result at Manchester City.
How exactly does Allardyce succeed where all but two of the Premier League teams have been defeated by missing Erling Haaland? Or, as Allardyce put it, how will he “stop the big man from getting as many chances as possible”? It's been a crazy three days, but Allardyce changed the atmosphere at the training ground and came up with a plan for the Etihad Stadium.
Has it only been a couple of days? he said at a media briefing over breakfast. Jesse Marsh brought in Krispy Kreme donuts for the press during his time in Leeds, but a tray of bacon and sausages awaited reporters at the first pre-match press conference. The atmosphere on the training ground is different after Allardyce, along with assistants Robbie Keane and Carl Robinson, was called up to replace Javi Gracia.
“I can smile. And ask the players to come in, smile and make the practice a little easier,” Allardyce said. “There is nothing better for this than Robbie Keane, he gets into and around the players. Karl is the same. We have created an atmosphere in which we like to work. I tried to make everyone feel better, a lot of talking about life in general, not about football, just to get to know their personalities.
“The players have expressed their opinion, which is very important for moving forward. We got together and made a plan to get started as quickly as possible in the couple of days we had. We went to the training ground and this room to analyze how best to play on Saturday. In addition, we've already listened to the staff here about what players can and can't do, what is his best position and what system he plays best. We did it all and formulated the idea.”
'He's great, his management style is amazing' 🧠
Sam Allardyce 🤝 Pep Guardiola pic.twitter.com/hVmUDqVOJt
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) May 5, 2023
Such is the whirlwind of activity over the past few days, Allardyce did not watch West Ham's loss to City on Wednesday as he was in a meeting with his staff. When he arrived early Friday morning, his car was hastily parked two spaces as he drove straight to work, blocking the picker's spot until he was moved.
Allardyce was a Premier League pioneer with practices such as cryotherapy chambers and yoga that are now commonplace. But there's an old school element to his beetroot shots. He knows the value of weekends for the players and will penalize for being late, although this is not necessary yet.
“All this nonsense that is being thrown around somewhere else to say that you need to keep them on the training ground for six hours a day is the biggest nonsense that I have heard in my entire life,” he said. Brain space. Turn that off and they'll black out and not be able to perform. You can have players who can't run because they're being mentally shot at.”
The specificity of City, the first of his four games in charge, is to block Haaland's serve and match him physically. “I don't think I could have credited Haaland when I played and was the most physically active player in the league,” he said. “You have to be strong enough to handle him, because he can use his body weight brilliantly, as well as his talent and skill. I'm more interested in the offer.
“Don't play with fear. If you can stop it, you've done your job and don't need to make any other contributions. I dealt with a lot of centre-forwards when I played. Notice they didn't score as many goals as he did. Joe Jordan is here in Leeds with no teeth. Joe Royle. Those were great battles in those days.”
Allardyce admitted there will be nerves on game day. Almost all the work will be done, except for a short and sharp team conversation in a team hotel. He weighed the decision to leave goalkeeper Illan Mellier and says it is his toughest team decision of the game. Joel Robles, a player he knows from Everton, is among those poised to replace the insecure goalkeeper.
“The sad thing for us is that they are in the best shape of the season,” Allardyce said. “They won nine at the trot. We hope we can find a spot or two and if we get a chance we have to score, we can't afford to miss a single chance, we have to be ruthless and cold-blooded. Defensively, the team should be the best this season, obviously they were weak, but we will try to fix that while we are here.”