Hearts international break plans revealed as squad recharge for Rangers and Fiorentina
Robbie Neilson has hailed his club’s “outstanding support” in the opening 12 games of the season as he turns his attentions to an even more demanding block of fixtures ahead.
The Hearts boss isn’t entirely convinced the international break has come at the right time after two impressive victories, but hopes his players can recharge their batteries in preparation for the next stage of the season.
Those not on international duty have been given Monday and Tuesday off before returning for conditioning work at the end of this week. They’ll get this weekend off too before returning next Monday to start preparing for the visit of Rangers to Tynecastle Park in a blockbuster Saturday lunchtime Sky Sport TV clash.
It will be busy. Hearts have eight matches in October, starting with back-to-back home games against Rangers and Fiorentina. The schedule up until the World Cup winter break in mid-November consists of 12 fixtures condensed into 32 days, including trips to Florence and Istanbul.
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By comparison, the first block of 12 games, starting with the opening-day league win over Ross County and ending with Sunday’s 3-0 victory at Fir Park, was spread over 51 days.
Neilson appreciates the benefits the international break will bring, even if it does come at a time when winning momentum is building.
“Sometimes when you’re on a winning run it is good to keep it going, but I think the players need it,” he told the Edinburgh Evening News. “They need a wee bit of time to settle down and then we’ll go again.”
There are no plans for bounce games to help fringe players like Euan Henderson and Connor Smith and recent recruits Robert Snodgrass and Orestis Kiomourtzoglou. But fitness work will be done this week.
“We don’t have the capacity to do that with the squad at the moment,” Neilson explained. “It’s very difficult to get games as well because everyone takes breaks.
“The plans are for the boys to get a couple of days off. We’ll do a block of conditioning work to keep them ticking over. They’ll get the weekend off before coming back and getting back at it. Once it starts again, we’ll have 12 games in seven weeks.”
Hearts did a lot of research and forward planning to understand the best way to travel, train, play, recover, eat and sleep when there are so many games.
Neilson has admitted that he perhaps over-rotated the team at Livingston, which came three days after the Premier Sports Cup exit at home to Kilmarnock.
But as he reflects on the first 12 games, the manager is generally pleased with how things have panned out. Hearts are third in the Scottish Premiership and second in Europa Conference League Group A.
Neilson explained: “We always reflect back on things, but the big build up for us now is going to be the Rangers game at home, which is going to be massive at the start of October. After that it is game, game, game, so it is about trying to keep the players as game-ready as possible.
“I couldn’t ask any more from the club. They’ve been outstanding in supporting us. The performance department, the football department – they’ve given us everything that we need and that we’ve asked for to try and help us get results like in Riga and against Motherwell.
“It’s a case of continuing that and trying to keep winning.”