Neil Humphreys: Hail the return of Fireman Sam
Allardyce rescues EPL with his brilliantly bad villainy
In any decent movie, there's a moment when a villain's behaviour is so unspeakably awful that it spills over into comedy.
Whether it's Hannibal Lecter doing that teeth-chattering hissing thing or Darth Vader using the Force to choke underlings, villains are at their absolute best only when they're at their absolute worst.
It was a point that Sam Allardyce made, rather hilariously, during West Bromwich Albion's 1-1 draw with Liverpool yesterday morning (Singapore time).
On the ultimate stage (Anfield), he faced the game's purest heroes (Liverpool) and their saintly leader (Juergen Klopp) and halted their advance with a plan so cynical, so ridiculously devious that it ended up being laugh-out-loud funny.
No one has attempted a 4-6-0 formation with a straight face since, well, the last time Allardyce was in management.
No elite manager considers dragging every professional footballer back into defence - for an entire half - while overseeing just 18 per cent possession.
But Allardyce is no ordinary manager. He is an extraordinarily unsightly manager, in the sporting sense, a football manager with a template guaranteed never to play football.
At West Brom, there's a reported £2 million (S$3.6m) bonus waiting for him if the Baggies beat the drop. He's the world's most expensive football vaccine. One injection of the Allardyce juice keeps the ball away.
In the first half at Anfield, Jordan Henderson completed 85 passes for Liverpool. That's almost twice as many as the entire West Brom team (46). Such stats are so absurd that they end up being amusing.
In three halves of English Premier League football under Allardyce, the Baggies had conjured just two shots. In the second half at Anfield, they lumped the big man up front, earned a late corner and nodded in an equaliser.
The post-match outrage that followed as purists raged against Big Sam's well-drilled machines was almost as entertaining as his indifference. He could hardly care less, obviously.
He had built a bus garage on the hallowed ground of gegenpressing and pinched a point, which was a cultural crime to rival scribbling on the Mona Lisa with a crayon. And he loved every second of it.
One could almost hear the maniacal cackling as Allardyce slipped away into the darkness, presumably to enjoy pie and chips and a pint of gravy.
This is no apology for a football philosophy that, in aesthetic terms, is somewhere between a curry stain and a genital wart. Allardyce does for attractive football what social distancing does for date nights - nothing positive.
But such cartoonish villainy always has a place on an EPL palette that can be a bit dull in its pious righteousness.
Yes, Allardyce lines up sides like he wears face masks - too far away from the vital areas to do anything good for the community - but he's a no-frills alternative to the smugness that has crept in during the Klopp-Pep Guardiola era.
Liverpool's manager suggested that he'd never seen a 4-6-0 formation before. Clearly, he'd never watched an Allardyce line-up before, which is understandable. There are fans of Allardyce's former clubs that have opted not to watch his line-ups before.
But he's called Fireman Sam for a reason. Like the animated kids' character, he puts out fires, only with lines of static defenders rather than water hoses.
REDS' LAST ANFIELD DEFEAT
Liverpool's remarkable home record goes back to April 2017, when Crystal Palace became the last EPL side to win at Anfield. Who was chewing gum in the Palace dugout that day?
He is the same agent of chaos that extended his unbeaten run at Anfield to four games yesterday morning. Allardyce hasn't lost in his last four visits to Liverpool - with four different clubs.
The greatest pantomime bogeymen always come with an ugly plan - the uglier, the better. And plans rarely get uglier than a back four, standing behind another six and treating the ball like it's a coughing, mask-less fiend on the MRT.
Klopp hates it. Football folks hate it. Anyone not attracted to masochism hates it.
But a story is only as good as its villain and Allardyce gives us a chance to boo, hiss and giggle at Liverpool's ineptitude. The EPL can always make room for a gruesome sideshow.
When Big Sam is this bad, he's usually good for a laugh.