UCL Diary | Hull City
After a rare Monday off, the players return to the training field following Saturday's win over Swansea. Premier League Productions are also in town, filming the first 20 minutes of training. “Make sure you get my hat and gloves on film,” says Valon Behrami. “It’s supposed to be April.”
Craig Cathcart has already been out doing some one-v-one work with a member of the fitness team, while Tom Cleverley emerges a bit later than everybody else to do specific work with a member of the sports science team. He walks past the rest of the lads doing circuits of the main pitch. “Hey star player,” says Janmaat to Cleverley. “How’s that bubble wrap?” jokes Deeney.
Assistant coach Luca Vigiani leads the players through a two and then one-touch short-passing drill. Christian Kabasele manages to brilliantly control an overcooked first-time pass from Sebastian Prodl. “That’s why you’ve played for Belgium,” says Deeney.
The group is then split into two, with the defenders tasked with working in pairs and clearing crosses from Brandon Mason and Brice Dja Djedje, while the midfielders and forwards take part in a shooting drill. Watson sticks the second shot of the session in the top corner while Isaac Success lashes one in and then knocks the spots off another, which cannons off the top of the bar and goes over the netting behind the goal.
Cleverley then returns to join in the two-touch small-sided game which then progresses to a three-touch game with goals. “C’mon boys, c’mon,” roars Capoue. Okaka goes down under a challenge from Pantilimon and he is apoplectic a penalty is not given, displaying the animated praying gesture with his hands. He and Pantilimon are still debating the incident at half-time, with Kabasele theatrically throwing himself to the floor to show what he thought of Okaka’s claim.
Dja Djedje gets his fair share of goals in training for a right-back and he converts a slick one-touch move down the left involving Niang and Deeney. Almost immediately, Doucoure makes it 1-1. A fist-pump from Success tells you all you need to know about how seriously this is being taken.
Giedrius Arlauskis and Gilmartin swap places with Heurelho Gomes and Costel Pantilimon – and Gilmartin is straight in the thick of things, flinging himself to his left to keep out a howitzer from Niang. He gets a hug from Gomes who is standing by the post.
There is a high-five between Okaka and Doucoure after the midfielder makes it 2-1 and Doucoure, the stand-out player in training this morning, tees up young Rhyle Ovenden to make it 3-1. “Yes,” screams Gomes.
Okaka almost brings a spectacular end to the session with a bicycle kick similar to the one he pulled off against Swansea, but it just clips the top of the bar. “Bravo,” chorus the approving Italian coaching staff. Vigiani deems that an appropriate moment to call a halt to a full-on session. “No,” says Behrami, who clearly wants more. “Well done, yellows,” applauds Gomes.
Valon Behrami is out slightly late for training but he is forgiven as it is his birthday. He spends the first day as a 32-year-old much the same way as the previous 15 as a professional footballer: snapping into tackles and scampering around the field looking to shut opponents down. He roughed up whippersnapper of a forward Jubril Adedeji during the type of lesson the young scholar won’t get in Academy football, and then almost yanked the bib off the back of M’Baye Niang. He walked off the field at the end and kicked a cone, so disappointed was he at losing the game. Behrami’s a winner.
Holebas sat out the session as a precaution but he was summoned from the gym via walkie talkie to observe the shape work Mazzarri ran the team through.
Four scholars and Carl Stewart make up the numbers today as the Under-23s are in Crewe. Stewart was not with the Under-23s as he was suspended after being sent off in a previous game. Mariappa jokes with the midfielder and asks if it was a “tactical sending off” so he missed the long trip to Crewe. Jesus Cruz Cabrera, the scholar signed from Brentford, has looked lively on the few occasions he has trained with the first-team and he pulls off a smart Cruyff turn on Britos.
Success was a bundle of energy and full of beans in the session. There are few better sights at the UCL Sports Ground than Success in full cry and running at a defender, and he was allowed to do just that with a quite brilliant kick out of his hands by Pantilimon that means the Nigerian didn’t have to break stride before charging through on goal. That move doesn’t end in a goal but a brilliant raking pass from Miguel Britos, which picks out the Lampard-esque midfield run from Capoue who finishes in style, does. The goal earns applause from all the coaching staff. It was high class.
Assistant coach Claudio Nitti, who is nearly 50, takes up a place on one team to make up the numbers – and he will wonder how he managed to blaze a cross from Amrabat over the bar with the goal at his mercy. The coaching staff on the sidelines can’t believe it. Doucoure, who was again the player of the session, makes no mistake soon after, showing a great turn of speed to burst from midfield and beat Gilmartin.
An exhausted Capoue drags himself off the field at full-time. “I’m too old for this,” jokes the 28-year-old. Doucoure, Kabasele and Okaka have not had enough and stay out for extra practise, Doucoure pinging cross-field passes to Kabasele while Okaka hammers shots at Gilmartin.
This morning’s session heralds the return to first-team training of Alex Jakubiak. The striker, who has been on loan at Wycombe, is quickly back into deep conversation with Deeney, who has been something of a mentor to him. Adrian Mariappa was out early and is summoned over to talk to Mazzarri. It was there he probably broke the news he was going to bring back Miguel Britos for the game against Hull City. Mariappa took whatever Mazzarri said to him well and trained, as always, like a thoroughbred.
Filippo Giraldi and Luke Dowling are regular watchers of training, particularly Giraldi, but chief executive Scott Duxbury walks over with them to the farthest pitch to observe a large chunk of training today. Perhaps they come over to get an inkling into the line-up for Saturday. Mazzarri is particularly vocal as he runs through some shape work with the XI. “Oi Holebas, concentrate,” Mazzarri barks in English. “Move the ball fast,” he adds.
The first game of piggy in the middle takes place this week. Two young trialists (one played left-back during the later game, the other central midfield) are shoved into the middle of one of the circles as part of their initiation. Capoue can’t believe one of them was born in 1999. Okaka manages to nutmeg Arlauskis and the group, as is usual, goes wild. Capoue dances around and breaks into a chant of “Olé, Olé Olé Olé, Olé,” but substitutes Olé with Arla. Success thunders into Gomes during his turn in the middle. “That’s it, Isaac. Take no prisoners,” says Deeney.
Ogo Obi is called over from the Under-23 session to make up numbers for the game as Holebas sits it out as a precaution. “More cotton wool?” jokes Deeney. Holebas is then summoned back as he and Cleverley practise short corners. “Perfecto,” says Mazzarri as Holebas slings over an inch-perfect centre.
Today’s session lasts exactly an hour and while others head to the gym or the cryotherapy chamber, Okaka, Niang, Amrabat, Doucoure and Deeney stay out for some shooting practise against Gilmartin and Arlauskis. Gilmartin stands and applauds one that whistles past him from Okaka. Capoue, on the other hand, fires one miles over. “Hey, Arsene Wenger,” says Niang. “Can we have the ball back, please?” he says with a nod to the fence that divides the two training grounds.
"Hey, Ele," says assistant coach Luca Vigiani to all-action right-back Andrew Eleftheriou before the final game of the week starts. "Go easy." Eleftheriou is an enthusiastic trainer you see, and trains as he plays, but Watford don't want any more injuries on the eve of the trip up to Hull.
The players are training at 11am today before boarding the bus at 2pm for the trip to Luton Airport. Twenty-one players report for the session, including Eleftheriou, Pereira and Stewart who have been pulled out of the Under-23 game this afternoon so they can be part of the travelling squad.
Dja Djedje won't be travelling as he's not registered to play in the Premier League, but his attitude to training is exemplary for someone who does not have the carrot of a game at the end of each week. One of Mazzarri's aides remarks how fit he looks. And he's right, he does look in good nick. He's pitched out of position at left-back in the shadow XI to take on the team picked to face Hull and doesn't grumble. And it's the Ivorian who bursts down the wing on the counter-attack to set up Success to ram in the first goal. Taking the handbrake off, the first XI up their game and score twice in quick succession through Cleverley and Capoue. Niang even barges over Okaka to show how seriously they are taking things.
Mazzarri calls a halt to the session after an hour but he is not done there. He asks the defenders and midfielders to stay out for one final bit of defensive shape work. So keen is he to get his point across that the Head Coach moves Doucoure around like he is a mannequin to show him exactly the position he wants him to take up.
Everyone else then heads in except for Niang, Okaka and Capoue, who love a bit of shooting practise. Frustalupi and Vigiani serve the balls up from either side of the post for the quartet to take turns in smashing it past the sizeable figure of Pantilimon. “Yaya Toure,” booms Okaka when Niang screams one past the Romanian. There is plenty of banter between the four shot-takers and Pantilimon. “Last three shots each - and you have to score two,” says Vigiani. Capoue and Niang score one each so it's left to Okaka. The big Italian has one out of two heading into the final kick. He buries it past Pantilimon from the edge of the box and the three of them wheel away in frenzied celebration like Okaka has just qualified Watford for the Europa League.