La Manga Diary: Day Three

by Daniel Alston
@efc_danalston in La Manga, Spain.

Wednesday is referred to by some as ‘hump day’ - once you have got over the middle of a tough week, things, hypothetically are meant to get easier.

Everton’s Under-23s will almost certainly be hoping that proverb rings true after a morning that demanded every ounce of stamina available.

It had all started so well for the Young Blues, as they were granted a lie-in after two previous 7.30am starts in the swimming pool. 

And that relaxed awakening led to rumours among the squad that it would be an easy day. 

The thing with rumours in football, is often they couldn’t be more wrong.

And so as they arrived at the training area, with the coaching staff having placed markers spanning most of the pitch, the realisation set in for a select few. A familiar drill had been prepared.

Others laced up their boots calmly, chatting and smiling - the bond between the squad more evident with each passing day - but those grins would not last long.

A 25-minute warm-up with fitness coaches Jason O’Keefe and Jack Phillips kicked things off; a series of stretches, some involving the players pairing up and harnessing one another with large elasticated bands, got the legs working.

The first drill with the balls was all about counter-attacking - something the Premier League 2 champions are very good at, with their pace and precision passing putting several  teams to the sword last season.

With a goalkeeper distributing to one of three options on halfway, the outfielders would then surge forward at speed, moving the ball upfield as quickly as possible to carve out a scoring opportunity. That same speed then needed to be replicated with sprints back to the halfway once the chance had either been converted or spurned, emulating the recovery needed when a counter breaks down.

Similar exercises followed, with added elements of attack versus defence to up the ante, before a game focused on quick, incisive passing as well as ball retention and regains. 

Another high intensity drill and one that could have been a worthy end to the session, but the threat of a run experienced last pre-season still loomed large.

Imagine a star shape covering most of a pitch and having to run from the centre of the star to the first point and back again, to the second point and back again and so on. Then imagine doing that five times - increased from last summer’s four - each turn coming with a time limit that was as important to be under as the direction of movement. So unforgiving were the rules, when one player accidentally went right instead of left, that run was restarted. Yet while as excruciating as this run was, even more so in the relentless heat, the players passed the test with flying colours - arguably with more left in the tank. The coaching staff applauded as they marched off, visibly impressed with the fitness shown. 

Each session, the players rate the toughness out of 10. This was a bonafide 10 across the board - exactly what David Unsworth had wanted on day three. 

To give the legs a rest, the 5.30pm session was in the gym and limited to upper body work.

Come 7pm, the Blues arrived for tea an hour early so they could watch the first team’s game against FC Twente. With the likes of Jonjoe Kenny, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Callum Connolly all getting game time, their friends and colleagues tuned in in support. And when Kieran Dowell whipped in his second stunning goal of pre-season, the delight from over 1,300 miles away was great to see.

The Under-23s had worked hard again today - and if they needed any fresh motivation for day four, it had just been served up by one of their fellow league title winners.


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