Sir Alex Ferguson’s side faces an unpredictable trip north to Blackpool on Tuesday night, with Ian Holloway’s side notoriously durable opponents. Facing a backlog of fixtures, Holloway’s newly promoted side takes on one of England’s heavyweights at Bloomfield Road, with Manchester United seeking a five point lead in the Premier League.
Conforming to the cliché that there are no easy fixtures in the Premier League – despite Roberto Martinez’ best efforts over at the DW – the Tangerines are a resolute bunch, playing an attacking 4-3-3 system where the erratic finishing of Dudley Campbell is nevertheless imperative. The 29-year-old former Birmingham City striker’s tally of seven goals this season has largely repaid the club record £1.25 million fee.
Indeed, Holloway has done a fine job of turning what many thought of as Championship level players into Premier League survivors. In demand Scot Charlie Adam has starred but teammate David Vaughan is also has a player with a terrific range of passing. Across the board under-rated players have excelled under Holloway’s management, with Luke Varney integral to the side alongside Vaughan, Adam and Campbell.
Ferguson has taken stock of Blackpool’s remarkable rise, in which he hailed Holloway’s influence on the seasiders.
“No doubt the manager of the year so far is Ian Holloway,” said Ferguson.
“They’ve been a breath of fresh air – they’ve been positive and lit up the game… they are throwing four or five players forward into the box to get on the end of crosses all the time. They are really having a go and saying if we’re going to fail, let’s fail gloriously.”
The form book says Blackpool has won just one of its last six just as United hits top gear, but as Avram Grant can testify, in football anything is possible. It’s a fact of which Ferguson and his multi-millionaire players will no doubt be wary, especially given United’s nerve-racking performances away from home this season.
Ferguson will be tempted to rest his leading stars for the short trip to Blackpool but whoever the opponent the home side guarantees huge endeavor. It’s a fact illustrated by Manchester City’s recent fixtures against Holloway’s side. At Bloomfield Road it required David Silva’s ‘world class’ goal to beat the home side, while the return fixture was a tough 1-0 win for City.
Still, Ferguson may be tempted to rest Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra, with each suffering injuries recently. Rafael da Silva returns after suspension but brother Fabio could come into the side or John O’Shea retain his place in any case. Meanwhile, Gabriel Obertan, Darron Gibson and Chris Smalling could all feature at some stage.
However, with an FA Cup tie against League One Southampton to come next weekend Ferguson is under no pressure to make wholesale changes, with the Reds chasing a 27th unbeaten league game. It could be a high scoring fixture too – Blackpool has hit the net in every home fixture since Derby County visited in August 2009.
Meanwhile, Holloway’s preparations for the game have been hit by Adam’s transfer request after Liverpool submitted a £4 million bid over the weekend. The angry Blackpool manager hit out at Liverpool Director of Football Damien Comolli’s approach for the Blackpool captain.
“[Liverpool] have to come up with the right amount of money,” said Holloway, who confirmed that Adam will play against United tomorrow night.
“I don’t want to stand in his way, but they have to put up or shut up. [Comolli] ummed and aahed and apparently did not make much sense.
“Charlie loves this club and just because he puts a transfer request in doesn’t change that.”
Holloway must also face the leaders without Chris Basham, David Carney, Stephen Crainey, Billy Clarke, Matt Gilks and Malaury Martin. Even without the absentees it’s a daunting prospect for Holloway’s men, who have not hosted United for 36 years or beaten the Reds since 1963.
It’s a record few expect the Tangerines to improve on tomorrow night.
Blackpool – 433 – Kingson; Baptiste, Evatt, Cathcart, Eardley; Vaughan, Grandin, Adam; Taylor-Fletcher, Varney, Campbell. Subs from: Rachubka, Southern, Sylvestre, Harewood, Ormerod, Euell, Phillips.
United – 442 – van der Sar; Rafael da Silva, Vidic, Smalling, O’Shea; Nani, Fletcher, Anderson, Obertan; Rooney, Berbatov. Subs from: Kuzszazk, Amos, Evans, Fabio da Silva, Brown, Carrick, Gibson, Owen, Bébé, Obertan, Hernández, , Evra, Ferdinand, Giggs.
Referee: Peter Walton
Assistant referees: Andy Newbold & Adam Watts
Fourth official: Mark Clattenburg
Blackpool – LLLWLL
United – WDWWWW