Liverpool’s players have been enjoying a different kind of training regime at Anfield this summer in comparison to past seasons under Rafa Benítez. Rafa and his coaching staff concentrated heavily on fitness and conditioning last summer, and this had the benefit of giving the club a squad fit to last the whole season. Despite this the staff are wary of how many points were dropped in the first half of the season, and feel that the pre-season training from last summer might have played a part in that slow start.
This season the club are determined not to find themselves written out of the league before Christmas, and according to first team coach Alex Miller they’ll be all set to hit the ground running this time: “In the last two seasons we haven’t made good starts but hopefully it will be different this year,” said Miller in a rare interview. “We have made one or two changes to our training programme which we believe will help us start really well. The competition is so tough in England that it’s so important you get off to a good start and that will be our aim from the moment we kick off at Aston Villa.”
Peter Crouch and other players have already commented favourably on the differences in the training routines this year, which are also designed to ensure the new players know how their team-mates work. Miller said it’s important the new players become aware of their colleagues’ strengths and weaknesses: “We have added some players who we believe will help us be a better squad and we are hoping they gel really quickly with the rest of the squad. I’m not stupid enough to say this is going to be our year or that we’re going to win it, but we will certainly be challenging. We have a good set of players and we will take some beating.”
Liverpool are wary of saying they can win the league this season, because despite all of the club’s summer squad improvements, they aren’t the only club to have added to their squads. But there’s a strong feeling that building up momentum from the beginning is the only way to get near to a title challenge, and it’s a title challenge that Liverpool fans want more than anything.
The first game of the season is at Villa Park in eight days, but with that game followed by a trip to French side Toulouse for the important Champions League qualifier a few days later Rafa is still unsure of which personnel will start the league campaign. The manager said: “I’ve not yet decided who’ll start the first Premiership game; it’s still too early to say. The players know if they show a good level in these games and in training next week, then it will decide what we do.”
Liverpool play two games in Rotterdam this weekend, with Rafa using those games plus training and practice matches to evaluate his players: “We’re now looking for the players to show their sharpness and form,” he said, “and we’re seeing improvements every day in training. They know how strong the competition for places now is in every position, and that’s making a difference. On Wednesday we organised a full practice match, and the quality and tempo of our play was of a high quality.”
Rafa says that the new players are – as Alex Miller put it – gelling with their new team-mates: “All the new players, Babel, Torres, Leto and Leiva, are adapting to the side and we’re really happy with how they’re doing in training. Now the idea is to show the same in the games, but we must remember everything now is about preparing for the Premiership game next week.”