BY ANDREW McSTEEN
Following the coronavirus shutdown in March, Premier League teams were allowed to return to full contact training this week ahead of the league’s restart on June 17, with Crystal Palace returning to action against Bournemouth three days later.
And for Palace manager Roy Hodgson, speaking to the South London Press, it was a welcome return to some sort of normality – on the pitches at the Eagles’ Beckenham training ground at least.
“This week we’ve had the whole squad coming in together, so we are back now basically – it’s almost returned to a normal situation now,” said Hodgson in a Zoom interview. “We are just working with the squad and training every bit in the same way as we would have done before the lockdown started, with the view to building up to the match in just over two weeks’ time.”
The Eagles’ players initially returned to Beckenham from lockdown to individual fitness training in early May, with non-contact, small group training starting on May 19, and this past week they returned to full group, contact training.
“After returning it has been incredibly positive in every respect, even when we weren’t able to do any football training,” said Hodgson. “The first five or six sessions we had [after returning] were really not what I would call coaching or football sessions, they were what I would call physical training sessions and Scott [Guyett – head of sport science and strength & conditioning] did a fantastic job.
“But there has been an enormous shift since last week when it was mentioned we could actually play football, some five-a-sides, passing games and do some crossing and shooting. That has made an enormous difference.
“We had three sessions where we worked in two groups of 10, and we’ve also been working in groups of seven i.e. six outfield players and a goalkeeper, with four of the outfield players on one main pitch, spread 15-20 metres apart doing their running, two up on the top pitch doing the same thing and the goalkeeper working with Dean Kiely in the middle area between the two pitches.
“That lasted for what seemed like quite a long time but, probably it wasn’t much more than a week or 10 days. Then suddenly we got the call (from the Premier League) that ‘we’re ready to go back to contact training’.”
Even though the Premier League gave the go-ahead for group contact training, Hodgson and his backroom staff were still cautious in their approach, ensuring that the health and safety of the squad – which included development players Tyrick Mitchell, Brandon Pierrick and Nya Kirby alongside youngsters Malachi Boateng and John-Kymani Gordon – was paramount.
“In the beginning that call was a little bit loose and a bit hard to interpret,” explained Hodgson. “What do you mean? Does that mean we all come in now all 20 of us and start doing what we were doing when we last trained back in March, or are we still restricted in some way?
“But we’ve got [head of sports medicine] Dr. Zaf Iqbal, who has done a fantastic job trying to make certain that the training ground is as safe environment as possible to work in – which it is – during this period of time.
“His suggestion was that we work in two groups of 10, over three sessions, which we did, and that was the time we got to, what I would consider, some football training and that was quite easy. We’ve even had a goalkeeper or two, so we were able to introduce the five-a-sides at the end and certainly get back to our passing practises, our shooting and the crossing drills; the type of things we like to do during a normal training week during the season – we’re getting back there.”
While Hodgson praised his backroom team for their effort during these unprecedented times, he was also impressed by the shape his players returned in. Fitness will be key for the entire squad as they aim to complete their remaining nine games in a short time, having not played since March 7.
“I must give the players enormous credit, it’s quite incredible really; the fitness work they’ve put in individually,” said Hodgson to the South London Press.
“Guided by Scott and Dr. Zaf, with the information coming into them, the players have been working on their own, with no help from anybody. Some of them had a field nearby which was suitable, and some didn’t, but it’s quite incredible that they’ve kept themselves in the shape they came back in.
“When we started back it was six sessions running up and down the field, but that has put in a position where, today, if you take their pure physicality, I think we’re at a good level.
“Of course, playing in football matches and all the things they demand, it is not just a question of pure physicality, there’s other elements which come into that. The knocks, getting knocked down and getting up again, dealing with the requirements of the game, making that extra effort – you can never really assimilate through training practices.
“Even though we try hard to, you can never do it 100 per cent, but they’re type of things which I’m pretty certain we’ll get back into very quickly as soon as we’re allowed to play matches.”
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