Carlo Ancelotti says his squad have “100 per cent focus” as they step up preparations for Sunday’s Merseyside derby clash with Liverpool.
This is a game we should have been talking about in March only for the coronavirus crisis to turn the world on its head. A three-month shutdown followed before the controversial ‘Project Restart’ plan was hatched by the Premier League to get football going again behind closed doors.
Government regulations designed to limit the spread of Covid-19 meant strict restrictions were in place when the squad returned to training last month, with players initially only able to train in small groups.
Those regulations have since eased, though an unprecedented amount of safety precautions remain in place at both training grounds and matchday stadiums.
Ancelotti admits it was hard to get his message across to the players in the early weeks of the resumption, with the focus mainly on getting them back up to speed.
That has changed in the past few weeks, with Ancelotti and his staff able to resume detailed tactics work.
Speaking about the return to training, Ancelotti told the club’s website:
“The message [when they first returned to training] was to work hard, to be ready, to start to focus on games and the restart.
“It was not easy at the beginning of training, we were more focused on avoiding problems and staying safe than anything else.
“You had to keep social distance and pay attention to the Government’s rules, so maybe didn’t have the possibility to be 100 per cent focused on the work you were doing.
“Now it is completely different. We are focused only on training and in the past week we concentrated more on the tactical aspect.
“We know that on Sunday we are going to play a very important game, so now we can say we have a 100 per cent focus.
“The players improved their aerobic conditions a lot since we started to have open training on the full pitch and in the past 10 days made a lot of progress.”
Part of the squad’s preparations included an intra-squad game at Goodison Park last weekend. It was designed not only to build up fitness, but get the players used to playing at an empty Goodison.
Speaking about the experience, Ancelotti added:
“It was organised to give the players the feeling of being at Goodison Park without the crowd.
“To check the pitch, with the new grass. It was a good training session. The intensity of the game was good.
“We have to improve but we are using this week to do that and prepare the team as best as possible.”