David Unsworth has provided an insight into how Everton Under-23s’ pre-season plans have been shaped by the unique circumstances in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic – and revealed the positive early impression made by new signing Niels Nkounkou.
Unsworth’s squad returned to USM Finch Farm on Monday, almost five months after their previous competitive match.
The young Blues have so far trained in small groups – led by Unsworth, assistant manager John Ebbrell, coach Francis Jeffers and goalkeeping coach Kevin O’Brien – but will come together as a complete squad for the first time on Thursday.
The Under-23s boss says his players have shown impressive application to date, having returned to training “in great condition”.
He outlined how their reduced time on the training pitch due to current restrictions in place demands each session must be undertaken with a high intensity level.
“It’s such a unique pre-season this year,” Unsworth told evertonfc.com.
“We’ve no afternoon sessions and there will be fewer pre-season friendlies.
“We can only train in the morning for a limited amount of time.
“We’ve focused a lot during the first couple of days on technique and implementing some base fitness in the players while working with the ball – everything is done with the ball.
“We’re trying to squeeze a little bit more out of them than we would normally, because we would usually be supplementing that morning session with one in the afternoon and sometimes a third session.
“The hour and a half when we work with them in the morning is going to be really tough.
“We’re doing a bit of everything, really. We’re doing technique, running with the ball, all incorporated together.
“We’ve had three great days, though we’ve only been allowed in small groups of four players.
“I’ve had four, John [Ebbrell] had four, Franny [Jeffers] had four and Kev [O’Brien] was taking the goalkeepers
“Across two pitches, we had half a pitch each, so we do all our drills in that space. And then we rotate around.
“We move on to stage two on Thursday, when all the squad can train together.
“It will get easier as we move along through this process, when we can do more 11v11 work.”
Unsworth explained how analysing First-Team training following their return to USM Finch Farm in May and the subsequent resumption of Premier League football provided a valuable learning experience.
“I love spending time with the First Team and looking at the detail they went through and type of training they did,” he added.
“The First Team were quick getting back to 11v11 work and on full-size pitches, probably more so than usual [in a normal pre-season schedule].
“I got to look at Carlo Ancelotti and all his staff, who are a great set of guys, and I really enjoyed it.”
Unsworth has had an opportunity to work with a new Everton arrival this week, with France Under-19 international Nkounkou joining training with the Under-23s at USM Finch Farm.
The left-back signed for the Blues last month from Ligue 1 side Olympique de Marseille, penning a three-year contract.
Unsworth – who played a significant proportion of his 350 senior Everton matches in Nkounkou’s position – says the 19-year-old has already displayed his considerable promise.
“He looks a really good prospect,” he said.
“He has worked very, very hard in these first few days.
“There are obviously a lot of things to work on but he looks a great athlete.
“I’m looking forward to honing in on his position - it’s a position I know very well - and trying to help him with the tactical understanding and requirements of what’s needed at the highest level.
“I think that’s something we do very well here – showing our young players what they need to be an Everton player.”
Unsworth says being reunited with the Under-23s’ squad and staff at Everton’s training complex has been “brilliant” – even if his players’ physical development during lockdown has taken some getting used to.
“The boys have come back in great shape,” he added.
“I didn’t expect anything less because they’ve been away with all their individual programmes.
“What does surprise you every time young, developing players come back in the summer is how they grow and how they’ve shot up.
“I haven’t seen most of them for about four months but they’re all taller than me now!
“I’ve been really impressed with the players’ attitudes and application in what we’ve done in the past three days. It’s been excellent.”