Wednesday 23 October 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Winning the balancing act likely to be crucial for Klopp and Pochettino in long final run-in'


Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp (left) and Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino (right). Photo: Peter Byrne/PA
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp (left) and Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino (right). Photo: Peter Byrne/PA
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

A striking aspect of Manchester City celebrations after their Premier League success was the central role given to their substantial backroom staff.

And it's their equivalents at Liverpool and Tottenham who will come to the fore in the long break between the end of the Premier League season and the Champions League finale in Madrid on Saturday week. Yesterday marked the midway point of the 20-day period between competitive games for both teams and it's not a stretch to suggest that the team who get the balance right with their preparation will lift the trophy.

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After the intensity of a hectic season, with a league campaign merged with the European knockout rounds, the build-up will represent a change of pace for the respective squads.

Ex-Manchester City trainee and League of Ireland player Michael Daly was intrigued by comments last week from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp suggesting that he would give his players a couple of days off before effectively putting them through two weeks of 'pre-season' to get back up to speed.

Klopp is also believed to be seeking a friendly this weekend as part of the preparation but may have to be content with match against an academy or U23 selection with so few senior sides still in training across Europe.

Daly, who now runs a personal-training gym - Anatomic Fitness in Castleknock - feels that Liverpool's high-intensity approach to matches presents a challenge when it comes to this downtime.

"I found his comments very interesting," says Daly. "I'd say in his mind, he (Klopp) is thinking that 'we're at a certain level, and we need to keep at this level'.

"I think this break has come at the worst time for them. Nobody can question their conditioning; they've been finishing games so strongly.

"With their high press and their repetitive sprints, they don't sit back to break on anyone. That's hard on the body. I can understand why Klopp is trying to keep it high intensity; he wants to keep the level he has and drag it out

"Maybe the repetitive sprinters, like Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, might not have as intense a build-up.

"Their power output will be tested and the clubs will be able to give different programmes to different lads but this will be a tough test for the strength and conditioning people."

Daly is familiar with how the leading GAA teams handle three-week breaks between fixtures - which is common in a typical championship summer.

"They would have a hard build-up to a first game and then after that it would be rest for one week, a high-intensity week and then a maintenance week before the next game," he says.

"Spurs have a slightly smaller squad and that type of preparation might suit them. They might work it that way and more recovery time could actually benefit them."

For players that are accustomed to a busy schedule of matches, it can be hard to raise the levels again.

This is a problem international managers have to grapple with for major tournaments and the summer international breaks.

Mick McCarthy has spoken about how his Championship players will have to get up to the pitch for European qualifiers at the beginning of June after almost a month without a game for most of them.

A local example that tallies is Dundalk's Europa League run in 2016. They came through a crazy schedule of matches - returning from a game in Russia on a Thursday to play an FAI Cup final on the Sunday - but they then had an 18-day break until their next European match as the Irish season was over.

What followed was arguably their worst display of that memorable run - a flat 1-0 loss to AZ Alkmaar in Tallaght which effectively ended their hopes of further progression. They actually performed better at a higher level when they were sandwiching matches between league fixtures.

"What I found with the large chunk of games together, you kind of start playing on auto-pilot, especially if you're successful," recalled then Dundalk captain Stephen O'Donnell.

"When that stops, it's hard to build it up again. There's no doubt about it that our first game back was our poorest performance.

"You're in a groove and used to playing at a certain tempo and intensity and it's hard to get going again. We went to England to play a friendly (v Brentford), but we were nursing a few injuries.

"Liverpool won't be feeling tired now because they've been playing well and winning games. The only thing for them is that Tottenham are in the same boat too. But if you have a free-flowing style, then no matter what you do (in preparation) it's hard to come straight back into a game at that level and be bang at it immediately."

Daly was part of the Drogheda side that reached the FAI Cup final in 2013. They rested players in the lead-in, and he sometimes wonders if that contributed to tiredness that led to the concession of late goals which cost them.

"At the time, as players, you were happy with the chance to rest because it made sure you were fit and you weren't going to get injured and miss out," he says.

"But I think you risk losing your intensity then.

"I think in an ideal world you'd want games building up to it. You can do all the sprint work you want on a pitch, but the sharpness of games is the best preparation."

The handling of this long countdown to Madrid is the variable that could have a crucial impact on the outcome. Losing the momentum that was sustained through a draining title race could pose problems for Liverpool. The biggest consolation for Klopp, however, is that their opponents are in the same predicament.

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