Canny 'Ollie' hoping Blues leave chance for knockout
IAN HOLLOWAY evoked Henry Cooper, Sugar Ray Leonard and Herol 'Bomber' Graham as he promised to go toe-to-toe with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tomorrow. It was vintage 'Ollie', colourful, quotable and thoughtful. Thoughtful? Oh yes.
With his vivid speech and strong Bristolian accent -- a rarity in football -- Holloway is regarded as a 'character'. He is, but such casting obscures the fact that he also has a very shrewd football brain honed by 14 years' experience in management.
This knowledge and intelligence has enabled him to steer Blackpool to an improbable fourth in the Premier League. They will not stay there -- he and we know that -- but they have a fighting chance of staying up, which is more than most thought at the start of the campaign.
On the face of it, tomorrow's match should be a ritual slaughter. Blackpool may have won at Wigan and Newcastle, but they shipped six at Arsenal, while Chelsea have scored 21 goals in five matches this season and 31 in their last six at home.
Would Holloway not be better off 'parking the bus' like Rangers did at Old Trafford?
That is not his style -- as a reference to admiring Leonard's 'showboating' underlined -- but, besides, he said: "I don't think my players could do it as effectively as Rangers did. I haven't got the people to do that. So, I'd be pretty stupid trying to."
With those words he challenged his players to prove him wrong.
He then added: "We are respectful of everyone and fearful of no one. We are taking on one of the giants, but we have always been good underdogs. It would have to be one of them unbelievably special days to get anywhere near them, but the object is to pick up three points.
"I believe you have to try to hit a champion; try to knock him out. Even Henry Cooper did that to Muhammad Ali and that shocked the world didn't it? So, why can't Blackpool score a goal against Chelsea?"
With those words he told his players to believe in themselves.
Holloway added: "I know the lads are up for it. It's a wonderful opportunity for us to have a free shot. We might get hurt, but will it hurt us that much? I don't think so. Most people go down there and get beat anyway."
With those words he took any pressure off his players. In terms of using the press to get a message across, Holloway is as smart as Jose Mourinho.
He knows his football too. There are two remarkable elements to Blackpool's breezy opening to the season. They have done it with an adventurous approach and a personnel which was still being assembled when the campaign began.
It is one thing to organise a group of players into a defensive framework, it is another entirely to mould them into a fluid creative force.
So far Blackpool have played a 4-3-3 formation, which involves a lot of interchanging of positions. That usually requires a significant amount of work on the training ground.
Due to the late recruitment, Holloway has not had that time. That he has integrated new players into this system so quickly speaks volumes for the clarity of his coaching. Holloway hinted that he might try a new approach at Chelsea, but only if he was sure his team had absorbed it.
"Players make excuses if you haven't got your tactics right. They don't feel comfortable. But I'm working on an option that, if Chelsea ever leave their chin open, means maybe I can land something on it."
Ducking and weaving to illustrate Holloway concluded: "Herol Graham was great defensively, the best defensive boxer around. But if you don't throw a punch, eventually you'll get knocked out."
Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has seen his team score 21 goals so far this season, after managing 142 in all competitions last season on their way to winning the double.
Ancelotti, who has been making regular visits back to Italy to help care for his seriously ill father, admitted he has never managed another team who were able to score as freely.
Given that he has twice led Milan to the Champions League, and was also in charge of a great Juventus team that contained the likes of Zinedine Zidane, that is quite some compliment.
"There's no fear, now, which is good. The players are all involved in the team and there's a good atmosphere, Ancelotti said. "In the past, Chelsea played a different way. The players enjoy this kind of football because they're all involved. For this reason they can show their ability."
Since they lost 4-2 to Manchester City in February, at the height of the row concerning John Terry's alleged affair with Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend, Chelsea have won all eight Premier League games they have played at the Bridge, scoring 37 goals and conceding just two.
Ancelotti yesterday told the club's supporters to enjoy the fun while it lasts, and not to view a 2-0 victory as a "poor game, a s**t game."
He added: "I don't know if the fans expect us to score six. I'd say it's impossible. I'll say to my fans don't expect that, because it's not real football. Our moment is good for now, but this could change in a second.
"If you lose a game, maybe you can start to lose confidence. For this reason, we have to stay focused in training and in competition. My experience says that, when you're in a good moment, it's easy to lose this confidence." (© Independent News Service)
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