After a long week on the road for Southampton, as they travelled to West Ham United, Hapoel Be’er Sheva and Leicester City in the space of eight days, we caught up with Head of Sports Science Alek Gross.
Just how tough was the week on the road, with three away games?
It was the biggest challenge we’ll probably face this year, of course that depends on how we progress in the competition. It was a challenge for the players, and all of the staff.
The sports science team, the medical staff, the coaches and those who work with the team from a logistical point of view were all involved. It was a big team effort to get the players in the right condition physically and mentally to perform and each member of the support team contributes to that.
It’s credit to the players, the coaching staff and the medical staff that the players were ready. It’s a bigger workload than we’re used to, so it took a big effort from everybody. Ultimately, three away games in a week will always take its toll on everyone.
How meticulous did the planning have to be?
Before we got to this period we were always confident the players would be ready. The matches and travel can take quite a bit out of them, so we had to adjust the training levels and that took some planning.
We had to ensure through our training, right back in pre-season, that the players were ready for a week like we had. We have systematically designed training to ensure the players have experienced and coped with training loads in excess of three games a week. In doing so, the players are accustomed to the stresses of the fixture congestion and are able to recovery more effectively. This increase is not only seen in on-field training, but the injury prevention and strength based work also needs to increase to allow maximum performance.
The travel issues around Israel impacted on sleep, training and nutrition, which are the main factors for recovery. We had to plan everything, so we sent Tom Kenton, the chef, out to Israel in advance, while Ros [Wheeler] and Hugo [Scheckter] were important in terms of the logistics and planning of flight times.
We already know the schedule and the finer details for Milan and Prague.
What factors are key to recovery for players?
Recovery started immediately after the game with rehydration, nutrition and ice baths. We then went back to the hotel for a meal and soft tissue and compression treatment. We had an active recovery session in the pool in the morning after the game prior to breakfast before heading home.
Timings were such to allow sleep that is vital for recovery and the foods were carefully selected to encourage recovery and muscle regeneration.
People will have heard about the delays coming back from Israel. What sort of impact did that have on preparation for Leicester?
We knew it was going to be a long day anyway, that’s why in the morning we put back the start of the recovery session and we allowed players to sleep in. That then accounted for any delays, so we took that precaution.
The delay wasn’t ideal, but we had some recovery equipment with us that can be used on planes, buses – or in waiting rooms! We made the best of the situation that we were in.
Some players didn’t travel to Leicester, how were they looked after?
Obviously some of the boys didn’t travel and because of that we had to make sure they had the right programme while the rest of the team was away.
They trained at a very high level to make sure they came back in at the same level. Pascal [Placque] and Bill [Styles] stayed behind to make sure the group that didn’t travel kept up their training outputs to ensure fitness levels were maintained.
You only had one training session to prepare for Leicester City, so the coaching staff must have been pleased with the level of performance from the players?
We were really pleased. It helped being on a good run of form, and the boys who didn’t travel picked the group up with their application and enthusiasm. They were a bit brighter and bubblier than the boys who did travel and they did a really good job of pushing them on.
Other factors played a part. For example, the analyst team on the plane back had video ready for the coaches and players to debrief the Be’er Sheva game and then start looking ahead to Leicester.
In fact, the Leicester game was one of the highest in terms of physical outputs from the players that we’ve had in a long time. So off the back of not just that week, but the week before that as well, to have the final game as our highest physical output is pretty impressive.