Beached Blackpool braced for United visit

LONDON - The impending visit of Manchester United and a frozen training ground might faze most Premier League managers but for Blackpool's Ian Holloway the combination is just another excuse to go the beach and have some fun.

Since confirming their return to the top flight for the first time in 40 years, Saturday's game against the 18-times champions has been the beacon fixture in Blackpool's season.

Yet the timing could hardly have been worse as the freezing weather coincided with United's hottest form of the year.

So, as United's multi-millionaires, most of whom were spared the 4-0 League Cup defeat at West Ham United, set about their work in the luxurious indoor facilities of their recently-built Carrington training complex, Holloway was left scratching his head when the temperature plunged.

"Whereas most teams can train under their beautiful bubble, we haven't really got anywhere," he said this week. "What we might use is the beach. I might have to take them indoors, an aerobics class or something.

"We went to train on the beach last year but it was frozen so we went to the casino instead, got the bacon sandwiches in and organised a poker tournament, which they loved. But that's not exactly what you need to do before you play Manchester United, is it?"

It is a classic Holloway approach, relaxing his players for what will undoubtedly be a daunting situation, but his "why not?" attitude has paid dividends this season as Blackpool are punching way above their weight having been virtually unbackable favourites for immediate relegation at the start.

It has rubbed off on his players too and centre-back Ian Evatt is itching to test himself against Dimitar Berbatov after the Bulgarian's five goals in last week's 7-1 thrashing of Blackburn Rovers.

"I won't be having any sleepless nights about Berbatov. Let's see if he gets five next week -- I don't think he will," said Evatt.

"I want to face the best. We like challenges at this club and games against the likes of United are what it's all about.

"We are playing really well and surprising a lot of teams."

Having hit the top of the league for the first time this season with the Blackburn rout, United will want to at least maintain their two-point lead over Chelsea, who host Everton in a rare occurrence of the top four all kicking off at 3pm on Saturday.

The champions are suffering one their worst domestic runs since the big money arrived, with just four points garnered from their last five games.

The long-term absence of Frank Lampard has been compounded by John Terry also being sidelined and coach Carlo Ancelotti said after last week's 1-1 draw at Newcastle United that his team desperately needed a dose of leadership.

Everton took four points off the Londoners last season but they too are suffering a mini-crisis that has seen them sliding down the table.

Arsenal, level on 29 points with Chelsea, are at home to Fulham while fourth-placed Manchester City on 26, fresh from advancing to the knockout phase of the Europa League via a 3-0 win over Salzburg, host Bolton Wanderers.