There is a thesis doing the rounds at the very highest echelons of Premiership clubs that offers a solution to one of the most enduring questions in football at the moment: how does anyone beat Chelsea? Its author is a long-standing expert in the game whose own managerial career had been 15 years in the making and this afternoon he will get the chance to put his theories into practice.
Sam Allardyce is one of the few managers in this country who is equally at home among the old school of his profession as he is the new, but it was the modern generation to whom he spoke when he presented his analysis of Everton's 1-0 defeat by Chelsea in February as part of his Uefa B Licence course. Allardyce's study of the ProZone statistics, which log every run and pass, found that Claude Makelele made 98 successful passes during that game - all of which were at the centre of Chelsea's best work.
The DVD study that Allardyce created for his presentation will doubtless find its way into his Bolton Wanderers team's preparation for their match today at Stamford Bridge when they have the chance to slow down the undefeated Premiership leaders. It is an intriguing prospect for a number of reasons, not least because in November Bolton staged one of the most remarkable comebacks of last season when Rahdi Jaidi's 87th-minute equaliser gave them a 2-2 draw from two goals down.
There is also a sense of history about the occasion because it was this weekend last year when, on 16 October, Manchester City inflicted upon Chelsea their only Premiership defeat under Jose Mourinho. On 19 October, 2002, Wayne Rooney ended Arsenal's run of 30 games undefeated with a 90th-minute winner for Everton at Highbury. And then there is the significance the game has for Allardyce himself, fifth in the Premiership, as the jostling among the English managers begins for the likely succession to Sven Goran Eriksson in the summer.
After a management career that began with a stint in charge of Limerick, raising money for the club in the town's pubs with the chairman, who was also the local priest, Allardyce is not a man to be overawed by the cult of Mourinho. He could even joke this week that while the Chelsea manager infamously accused Tottenham of placing a "bus" in front of their goal last season - so negative, he said, were their tactics - Mourinho had claimed Bolton had parked a "double-decker" in front of theirs.
"Then he started using our tactics in the Champions' League," Allardyce added. "They started playing straight off [Didier] Drogba [in a 4-5-1 formation]. Did they copy us? Well, I certainly didn't copy him. I was doing it before he was doing it.
"It is just a big challenge for us. No one expects us to win. Our past history tells us that we go and enjoy it. Enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy the occasion, all the pressure is on them. Over the last three or four years we have beaten Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool so we've got to believe that we can get a result. We do get to them - but that is all part of the job isn't it?"
It was at the Reebok Stadium that Chelsea sealed their Premiership title in April, although it should not be forgotten that at the time Bolton were still challenging Everton for the fourth Champions' League place. His team qualifying for that competition would, Allardyce said, have represented a "much greater achievement" than Chelsea's title and yet the blood and sweat that Mourinho's team left at that windswept stadium in Horwich might just have cost them a place in the European Cup final.
"I thought they paid for it but there again one trophy out of the two big ones in your first season isn't bad is it in your first year?" Allardyce said. "Mourinho really went for it against us, every player in his locker. I think he felt his players must have been invincible at the time. I went to watch the [Champions' League] semi-final at Anfield and there was nothing between the teams other than the fact they hadn't often had to come back from 1-0 down in a game.
"They can't have been as physically great as if he had rested one or two. You win the title and then you've got to cope with the anticlimax. You win anything in life and the next day is an anti-climax. You don't feel as good as you should do. It sinks in later on."
When Bolton got their draw at Stamford Bridge last season, both their goals came from set-pieces and Allardyce said that he would have no reservations about using the same approach again. Jaidi, Tunisian Goliath at centre-back, had more goals from set-pieces, seven last season, than any other defender. The Premiership trend, Allardyce said, was for bigger and bigger players with the admission that, at 6ft 3in, if he was playing today he might not have been sufficiently tall to have earned the "Big Sam" moniker that has followed him into management.
"When we play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge we are not going to throw the ball out at the back and then build-up 23 passes and score," Allardyce said. "What we are going to do is get up the opposite end, get a free-kick and throw-in or a corner and we are going to expose what might be their only weakness.
"When we got criticism last season, the players suddenly tried to start playing too much football and we promptly lost six games on the bounce. The players said, 'Gaffer, we want to play 25 passes because everyone says we're a long ball team.'
"I said 'No, we want to play winning football. If that means playing through midfield or playing off a front man then so be it.' I didn't like to hear people like Fergie saying 'Bolton, they're a good side' after United have just beaten us 4-0. You want to hear him moaning about us saying ''Orrible Bolton, negative tactics, don't get out of their own half' with me in his office asking, 'Alex, how good is the red wine today?'"Reuse content