Craig Levein believes Hearts’ trip to Spain this month will help them become a more complete team in the second half of the season.
The Jambos signed off for their three-week winter break last weekend with a nine-game unbeaten run and a club record six consecutive clean sheets. Despite the resilience and solidity that has helped them stay on the coat-tails of the Premiership’s top four, Levein is adamant that there is still plenty to more to come from Hearts, who are the joint-second-lowest scorers in the Premiership.
The Tynecastle squad fly to Valencia next Thursday for a winter training camp, where they will play friendlies against Nuremberg and Vitesse Arnhem. The manager is hopeful that the work they are able to carry out in Spain, allied to the return of several players from injury and the addition of some new recruits, will allow his team to flourish when they return to action.
“Going to Spain will be good for us,” said Levein. “We’ll get a chance to do some work and we’ve got two games so everybody can get 90 minutes. We’re kind of caught in between a lot of things at the moment.
“In terms of way we want to play, we’re not even close yet. The break will help us with that. People getting fit will help. Getting some time on the training ground in Spain will help. Plus we’ll be looking to add some new players who can help – that’s the plan, but we’ll need to wait and see what happens.”
The Hearts players have been given a week off to unwind before they return to work next week. Although he expects the winter break to benefit his own team in their current circumstances, Levein does not feel a three-week shutdown is particularly worthwhile at this stage in the season in a general sense, especially if it means cramming in fixtures elsewhere on the calendar.
“I’m a fan of the winter break but not in this format,” he said. “I always felt as I player that I needed a month in the summer to unwind, but there’s not enough time for that. We only really get a week off in January – and, okay, it is welcome, but then you get a situation like we’ve had in December where we’re banging in all these fixtures, and we’re getting injuries because of it.
“Then we get a break, but for me it’s probably not long enough to have its desired purpose. I always feel a break is to get your mind clear, to the point where you feel you want to go back training. That’s the whole idea of having a break for me, but I’m not sure that what we’ve got really has the desired effect. In this situation, it might actually help us because we’ve got so many injuries, but I’d rather it was longer.”
Hearts finished 2017 with Prince Buaben, Rafal Grzelak, Ashley Smith-Brown, Krystian Nowak, Connor Randall, Arnaud Djoum, Jamie Walker, Lewis Moore, Rory Currie and Ross Callachan all missing the trip to Aberdeen through fitness issues, while Michael Smith and Anthony McDonald were both forced off by injury in the Pittodrie stalemate. In addition, Aaron Hughes and Malaury Martin, who were in the squad on Saturday, have been plagued by injury for much of the first half of the campaign.