I love travelling. Well, I used to love travelling back in the days when it was legal, safe and possible. I loved journeying to new countries when I was a player, even if the opportunities for sight-seeing, checking out the local customs and culture, or just fitting in a little bit of swimming and sunbathing, were fairly limited. Often, particularly on international duty, concentrating on the upcoming match took up most of the time, though I would always sneak out to the art gallery at some point - not exactly the mad football/rock and roll lifestyle of some others, I grant you.
If you tried hard enough you could always get a flavour of the country, even just by going out for a short walk, but currently even that is obviously frowned upon when the players are on international duty. For the players right now, Covid has restricted these foreign ‘trips’ to nothing more than enjoying the views from the window of the coach from the airport, their vista from the hotel room window and if they are lucky a little look at the city through the tinted glass on the coach to the stadium and back from the game.
I am still jealous, as most of us are, that the players are getting even these little snippets of novel views. Don’t we all just want a little change of scenery! It certainly feels as if it is getting closer every day, in the UK anyway, but hopefully it will soon be the same for the rest of the world too.
So, for the international players travelling at the moment is not only tiring, it is probably more tiresome than it has ever been. If you come back jaded or worse still carrying a little injury, you sometimes wish you hadn’t bothered going in the first place. With any luck the niggles that the likes of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante have picked up, will be nothing more than that. There are still a few international games to be played over the next few days before everyone reconvenes at Cobham, so hopefully there will be no more injury scares for our lads.
The squad depth is as impressive as any in the league and we are still on a fine run.
— Pat Nevin
I am not surprised there have been a few problems with injuries, especially the soft tissue variety. It has been an incredibly intense season with little rest. I was covering the Scotland game against Israel the other night and it was blatantly obvious that some players were finding it a bit of a slog. One of my favourite players in the Premier League outside the Blues is John McGinn from Aston Villa, he of the perpetual motion levels akin to Mason Mount’s. Against Israel although the effort was there, the spark had been run out of him, or more likely he had run the spark out of himself.
This sort of reaction can happen to any player, and oddly enough sometimes he is the last person to know. You feel the legs are okay at the start, but instead of feeling as though you are gliding over the ground, suddenly it feels like you are wading through mud. It is why the sports scientists and medics at clubs are so vital now, maybe more so than at any other time in the past few decades. Now you have to know when a player is jaded before he starts the game, not during it, which can’t be easy, and it is far from an exact science. There is judgement of a player’s psyche too that must be considered. There are some big calls to be made and not just by the coaches.
Tired players often become injured players which is why all of us will be waiting anxiously over the next few days for the medical reports, as much as the match reports, as they come in.
I reckon the less travelling the players do over the next few weeks, the better, which is why there is a little bit of good news on the horizon. We are two games into a period of what was scheduled to be eight games in nine for Chelsea played in London, although the Porto 'home' game is now in Seville. It might sound like a small thing, but staying in your own home and in your own bed can be a huge help to sleep, rest and your recovery cycle between matches.
Visits to Crystal Palace, Wembley and the London Stadium are great bonuses right now, and much preferable to traipsing all the way up to the North-West or somewhere like Newcastle and staying in hotels.
It also makes training schedules and preparation just that little bit easier as well. The time saved not travelling can be put to much more effective use. Whether it is a coach, a train or a plane, it still takes up most of a day getting a team together, getting them up there and then getting everyone settled.
Admittedly, it is a very ‘first world’ problem, but it is still one you would rather not have with the tight schedule of matches right now and squads being stretched further than they usually are.
I bet Thomas Tuchel enjoyed the first few days of the international break, because he probably needed time to slow down himself after the constant work of the past few months. However, by now he will be desperate to start prepping for the weekend’s home tie against West Brom. The problem is, apart from studying the opposition, which has doubtless been done to death already, how can you fully prepare if you can’t be 100 per cent sure of who is going to be, not only available, but sharp too?
He will have to wait, but maybe he shouldn’t be too worried. The squad depth is as impressive as any in the league and we are still on a fine run. And anyway, there is some lovely weather in London just now for those players still at the training ground and those in the England squad. They might even be able to sit out in the back garden!