Championship: Cardiff City and Swansea City relish training return

Swansea City’s George Byers (L) and Cardiff City’s Lee Tomlin (R) were injured when the season was halted but should be fit when football returns

The scene on the pitches will be unfamiliar and the dressing rooms will be silent.

But the return of professional football in Wales will move a little closer when Cardiff City and Swansea City return to the training field on Monday.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought disruption and uncertainty to football, with concerns over safety prompting questions over whether the 2019-20 campaign will be completed.

But the aim all along in the Championship, as in the Premier League, has been to play out the season.

And the resumption of training – albeit modified – is welcome at Wales’ two second-tier clubs, who both came back clear in the division’s first round of coronavirus testing.

“The excitement to get back in is overwhelming now,” says Cardiff boss Neil Harris.

“We are really looking forward to it,” adds his counterpart at Swansea, Steve Cooper.

A different routine

Cardiff will head back to their Vale of Glamorgan training facility, while Swansea will reconvene at their Fairwood base.

But though they will be on familiar territory, the routine will be very different.

Players will arrive in their kit and park in designated spaces, then be assessed by a doctor before beginning sessions which must not involve tackling or “opposed activities”.

There will be no showers or ice baths when sessions are complete, with players heading home to wash their own kit.

“We have a wonderful training ground but we can’t go in the building,” Cooper explains.

“There are only designated areas we can use, we have to train in groups of five and there are only so many staff members that can be on site at one particular time.

“But it’s about getting on with it now. I have managed to speak to a few colleagues that have returned in the Premier League, coaches and fitness coaches, and the general feeling has been that once they have got back, the buzz has come back.”

Players and staff will be tested for coronavirus twice a week.

Harris told BBC Wales earlier this month there were “lots of concerns” within his squad about football’s potential return, but says players’ fears have now been allayed.

“They have had the protocols, they have read the risk assessments, they have spoken to the doctors, they have spoken to me and they have spoken to the physio and our players are satisfied they are going to be in a safe environment come Monday,” he says.

What happens next?

Like the 22 other Championship clubs, Cardiff and Swansea have nine regular-season games to play.

The aim is to finish the season – including the play-offs – by the end of July, with 20 June mentioned as a potential date for the restart of matches.

“It’s going to be an intense period,” Harris says. “We are going to have a lot of games in a short space of time and we’re going to have to utilise the squad.

“We have not had confirmation of five subs being used but I think that’s quite likely. That will certainly help in the initial games, when there will be fatigue early on in fixtures.”

Neil Harris (L) and Steve Cooper (R) have faced each other once, in the goalless south Wales derby on 12 January

The good news for Cardiff is that the likes of Lee Tomlin and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, who were out injured when the season was suspended in March, could now have play a part in the run-in.

It is a similar story at Swansea with George Byers, while Bersant Celina has had time to rest after a run of niggles and Mike van der Hoorn may come into contention at some point after knee trouble.

Preparations for the restart will not be ideal – normally clubs would want a succession of warm-up games before playing competitively, as they do in a regular pre-season.

Cooper says Swansea have “really ramped up” players’ individual work in the last three weeks in a bid to ensure they “hit the ground running”.

“This programme has been very different to an off-season programme,” he says.

“I have told them quite clearly, ‘When you return on Monday, there is no couple of days to get going’.”

Promotion chance

Cardiff are two points and three places outside the Championship play-off spots, while Swansea are just a point and two places further back.

In short, both clubs will be serious top-six contenders if they can find some form in what promises to be an unusual climax to the season.

Drawing up training plans is not easy without knowing for sure when competitive football will be back, but the aim is to be ready whenever required.

“We don’t know how long we will be in this small-group training – you are literally taking it one step at a time,” Cooper says.

“But we are going to try to keep it progressive and stimulating and (make) the players feel like they are aiming towards something, because we are. There is still so much to play for.”

Harris says a restart date is needed “as soon as possible” as Cardiff look to push for a return to the Premier League.

“We have got a nine-week period where we hope to be playing football for the whole nine weeks,” he adds.

“We hope to have a play-off campaign to look forward to.”

BBC News

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