United’s first team football department, along with members of staff who will be in the stadium Red Zones on a match day, went through another Covid-19 test on Saturday morning ahead of the first of their Bank Holiday weekend training sessions as preparations for the first game of the season [Tuesday night against Fleetwood Town] continue.
“We’ve all just been tested and it isn’t a pleasant experience,” manager Chris Beech said at his 9.30am press conference. “It’s obviously very necessary and my biggest thing is that we are now at a stage where we can play, and we need to be mindful of protecting that from a social aspect.
“When players go home and do other things they have to be respectful of what they do as a career and try not to bring the Coronavirus into the building. That’s so difficult because it’s a unique situation for most.”
“I’ve really enjoyed pre-season though,” he added. “It’s been pretty plain sailing in terms of us being organised. We’ve had eight weeks, which included a good two weeks of the return to Phase 1 training at Creighton.
“Through that period we had lads coming and going in different groups, as preparation towards the contact training we could start to do after we’d all been tested for the first time.
“I decided that most of our sessions would be based on playing football. The lads had trained on their own at home, but when you’re back in a group you suddenly find that when you make a pass it isn’t on your terms, the ball’s taken off you, you’re offside, or just been fouled – all those discrepancies start coming into it.
“That’s why, with such a long period since anyone had trained or played having passed, we looked at basing our sessions on working with the ball and on coming together as a footballing group.”
But in terms of gelling, with so many new faces in the ranks, he admitted that the Covid restrictions had taken away some of the activities players would otherwise expect to do.
“I suppose it is difficult currently because you can’t really do anything too social or in the group ethos type of mould,” he told us. “That’s just how it is, and you have to switch your focus. The good thing I’ve seen over the past few weeks is that the competitive spirit and edge is excellent.
“They’ve not done it for a long time, but that means they’ve missed it and they’re raring to go. The friendlies and training sessions have been very competitive.
“We’ve cut some training sessions short because they’ve been a bit tasty, which is great. I often talk about other sports with the lads, but boxers don’t train slowly, they train quickly. We need to train how we want to play.”
And with the recruitment tally now up to 13 for the month of August, he admitted that he hasn’t yet stopped considering his options.
“I think we do need to still try and look at a couple of things,” he confirmed. “In terms of what sort of area, that will be more determined by the sort of thing we’ve had this week with Magnus.
“It’ll be from a discrepancy rather than an actual need. We’ve got good attacking options, we’re still in the early part of the latter end of pre-season and the season starting.
“I would imagine lots of clubs will have all sorts of niggles because the players haven’t played for six months. It will happen more to teams when you start what would be classed as competitive football, even though, like I say, I’ve been really pleased with our friendlies. They’ve been highly competitive games.
“Sunderland at the Stadium of Light was like being in the League Cup fourth round, it was really intense for 60 minutes. Of course they could bring on 10 players at that point, and I could bring on about three!”
“The lads will represent us, themselves and their families when they step out onto the pitch,” he told us. “We’ve put a team together to try and approach something and be competitive. We want to grow, and it’s that growth that I’m really interested in because momentum and excitement can build very quickly, but we’ve got to create it ourselves.
“We can’t pay for the answer, so we have to try and grow it in a different way. I’m really excited. The players are feeling good, spirits are high, and we can’t wait for it to get going.
“We’re obviously in different dressing rooms so we can social distance, but you can tell the lads are getting that edge that comes with a competitive game. The friendlies have been strange, we’ve been getting changed in different rooms, and on Thursday at Liverpool we got changed in the car park.
“The kit was all rolled up on the floor then the lads got changed out of the back of their cars. I was thinking about going round with a bucket and asking for their £10 subs, then I thought I might have to tell Callum Guy to get that can of beer out of his hand because we were about to kick off. That was the sort of game it felt like.
“It’s been so strange, so it will take a bit of time to get used to. We’ll have to find new ways to do simple things like team talks, and a lot of effort has gone into us getting ready to host a home game.
“We’ve got to use our common sense, so for the friendlies I’ve done as much as we can outside and I’ve been treating the first team almost like a youth team. We’ve had the tactics board outside and we haven’t been going back into the dressing rooms between the warm-ups and kick off, it’s simple things like that.
“We’ll find our way on Tuesday and try and get into a rhythm for home games.”
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