Sam Allardyce believes that taking his squad to Dubai for warm-weather training has “helped bring relationships closer” and ensured that “our total focus now is on how many points we can get at Watford”.
The Everton manager has hailed “the quality of the training sessions” over the five days that the team has worked at the Nad Al Sheba Sports Complex, with the weather and the environment contributing positively to the Blues’ preparations for next weekend’s game at Vicarage Road.
When Allardyce arrived at Everton on the eve of his appointment the team stood two points above the relegation zone before David Unsworth oversaw a superb 4-0 win over West Ham in his final game in caretaker charge.
The Toffees have amassed 17 points out of a possible 24 in their past eight games at Goodison, climbing to within two points of Burnley in seventh place in the Premier League, and the challenge is to take that form on the road, with Allardyce having led Everton to their solitary away win in the past 13 months – a 1-0 win at Newcastle in mid-December.
“It was bedded in before I took over as manager – it’s been going on for a long time,” the Everton boss said of the side’s away record. “We have to talk about the mental side as well as the tactical and technical side of what we try to do away from home and, certainly, we’ve had the opportunity here to talk about things in a relaxed yet serious way and get our minds set on what lies ahead.
“We need to have a bigger will and desire to face the challenges away from home and deliver the results for us. We have certainly done that at home, so we have to try to translate that into our away results.
“That is now the key element and our total focus now is on how many points we can get at Watford.
“The quality of the training sessions in this weather and the level that we’ve reached in terms of the quality of the training, because of the quality of the facility, the weather and the environment, it’s been everything we wanted and more.
“We’ve been able to relax together and work hard together and I think it has helped bring relationships closer. Some are already friends and some will have made bigger friends with others and, of course, the big thing about it for us all is to get to know each other better – not just the players but the players and the staff as well.
“It’s been a great few days because we can speak on a more relaxed basis rather than when we had the tension of training through the Christmas period and game after game after game.
“The first thought was the players who have played a huge amount of games this season, so they could recharge the batteries physically and mentally, with the injured players to join in as well.
“It will help to speed up the recovery – we’ve got one of the best healing processes over my shoulder here and that’s the sea. Getting the lads swimming in the sea not only helps the lads to recover who have been training but also the lads recovering from their injuries. They can have lots more sessions and treatment to get them recovered more quickly.
“Seamus Coleman, we hope, will be fit very quickly and, if we can get Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines back in the squad quickly, then we are stronger in terms of our selection.
“The injuries this week were a blow, with Mangala in particular - that looks like it could be long-term, which is a great shame for him and for us because I think he was a very good addition to the squad.
“But, overall, we are in a good position to try to finish the season strongly.
“It feels like it’s been a long time since I spoke to the players on the day of the West Hame game, just to introduce myself and say, ‘Hopefully we will get off to a good start tonight and we can push on from there’. If you look at our home record – eight games and 17 points – and we are only two points off Burnley in seventh, it shows what we have been able to go and do.
“Yes, there have been some poor results and there was a run of games without wins but that happens to every team, apart from the top six – in fact, probably the top five as Arsenal have won only three games away from home this season, so it has even happened to them.
“We will bounce back. We’ve won two out of our last three games and we’re focussed on continuing to try to pick up points that can lead us to a better position in the table.”
For Allardyce, January arrival Theo Walcott was “nailed on” to hit the ground running in his Goodison career and the Blues boss believes striker Cenk Tosun, who also arrived in January from Besiktas, will benefit greatly from the intensive training in Dubai.
“It’s not just Cenk, it’s all the lads who haven’t been playing on a regular basis because they get the extra training,” Allardyce added.
“The lads who’ve played get some lighter training and the lads who have been injured get lots of sessions in so they can try and recover from injury as quick as they can.
“But, yes, it will give Cenk a better understanding of the players he’s playing with and give his teammates a better understanding of his qualities. There’s many a player who’s come and struggled in the Premier League in the beginning and then been a huge success later on.
“Theo is tried and trusted and nailed on. He has done it all before and knows exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it. When you get a player of his pedigree and quality at his age – in his prime – you want to push through and do it and he has.”