David Moyes said West Ham United will leave nothing to chance as they prepare for the resumption of the 2019/20 Premier League season following the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Hammers have stepped up to contact training at Rush Green, where extensive health screening and safety measures have been put in place by the Club, above and beyond the Government and Premier League recommendations, after Stage Two of the Return to Training protocol was activated on 28 May.
While restrictions remain in place at the training ground, with the buildings being closed and players and staff arriving and departing in their kit, as well as disinfecting of training equipment and footballs, the manager explained that things are closer to the way they were before the pandemic.
Now, we’re beginning to get more back to normal, everyone has been fitting in with it and we’re doing well
“A lot of things regarding training are very similar to normal at the moment, because we’re back to contact on the pitch,” he confirmed. “But, off the pitch is completely different because obviously we’re not using the facilities, we’re outdoors, we’re social distancing from players and staff and we’re not in close contact, so we’re making it work.
“Most of it we’re finding OK, but what was difficult was the early part when we were training in ones and twos and fours.
“Now, we’re beginning to get more back to normal, everyone has been fitting in with it and we’re doing well.”
West Ham are expected to return to competitive action over the extended weekend of 19-22 June, with Wolverhampton Wanderers set to visit London Stadium for a fixture that will be played behind closed doors but broadcast live across the UK and around the world.
With that and eight other outstanding matches in mind, manager Moyes revealed his squad will play friendly matches against available and suitable local opposition to help build fitness and hone match sharpness.
“Of course, we will be playing some friendlies,” he continued. “We’ll do everything we can to prepare for the return of the Premier League.
“If you consider this a sort of pre-season period, most teams would have had a few friendlies under their belts and one thing all the clubs are not going to get is a lot of game practice, so I think getting the opportunity to do that means we can play a couple of games behind closed doors.
“All these things are subject to the protocols at the moment. We will need to make sure we have everything right before we arrange the games, let alone play the games.
“Of course, we’re not going to ask other teams to travel a long distance and we don’t intend to travel a long distance as we are all following the guidelines while we’re in a position where we don’t want anything to go wrong in the lead up to the restart of the Premier League.”
Three players who will undoubtedly benefit from the organisation of warm-up games are Ryan Fredericks, Andriy Yarmolenko and Jack Wilshere, all of whom have returned to full training after recovering from injuries.
Moyes welcomed their availability and desire to return to competitive action, but warned that players will be at risk of injury after a three month break from the intensity of the Premier League.
“We have had players come back from injury which has boosted us,” the Scot confirmed. “Ryan Fredericks had a bad shoulder injury before the lockdown which has given him a chance to recover.
“Andriy Yarmolenko had an injury and he wasn’t quite ready to play, so this has given him a great chance to get back fit.
“Jack Wilshere is another one who has got himself fit and in good condition recently, so we’re seeing signs of it. Jack will feel much better in himself for having come through the sessions we’ve put on and he’s needed it, but then others have needed that as well.
“All the clubs will be feeling the same, with players in the same situations who pleased to have got some regular training in, but others will be desperate to be getting back and get the games played.
“Behind the scenes, though, clubs will undoubtedly be picking up injuries as we’re at the pre-season stage of the season as well, so it’s great that we get players back but, like all clubs, we’ll be picking up small niggles and injuries as well.”
Match officials will not be used for the friendly matches, with coaching staff taking offer refereeing duties – but Moyes joked that he will definitely not be the one blowing the whistle!
“We will referee the games ourselves, but I’m not sure I know many coaches who want to be referees because we all have to have done our bits in small-sided games at the training ground over the years, and that’s why we respect the job referees do, and how hard their job is!” he laughed
“We’ll have to draw lots to see who gets the short straw to referee the games, because I don’t think there will be anybody necessarily sticking their hand up to referee. The manager will be the one holding the lots for the others to draw. His name certainly won’t be in there, that’s for sure!”
When West Ham do resume Premier League action later this month, they will do so knowing immediate results are needed to climb the table to a more comfortable position.
The manager said the need to hit the ground running is something everyone in Claret and Blue is acutely aware, but did not need to be reminded, of.
“I hope that focuses the minds of the players, but I have to say that I have always felt our focus has been really good,” he observed. “I’ve really felt the players have got themselves in good condition. They’ve been hard working, all been diligent and all been getting through the sessions we’ve been putting on, so I am hoping we have a really good focus.
“We’ve got a big job to do, but I think the players have got their minds in the right place and are mentally in a good place for when the season starts.”