In our latest Academy column, we speak to U23s boss Neil Critchley about the training camp in Budapest and this weekend's pre-season tournament in Nuneaton.
We had a fantastic week in Hungary with the U23 and the U18 squads - we enjoyed some lovely facilities and were treated so well by our hosts. We managed to fit in two good games against good opposition, so I was pleased with the two performances and the training sessions we had. It was also a great opportunity for the players from the U18s and U23s to bond, which is so important heading into a new season, so it was a really successful week for us. In our first game we played MTK Budapest, which was a memorable occasion in their new stadium. We ended the tour with another victory against Rapid Vienna and that was another really good test for us because they had a few older players in their side. I couldn’t have been more delighted with the boys from their performances in both games.
This weekend we are delighted to be participating in the Nuneaton Tournament at The Coombe Abbey Arena against good teams who will provide us with a real test. We face Coventry City on Saturday and then PSV Eindhoven’s B team on Sunday. It was a tournament we experienced two seasons ago when we went to Corby and the same organisers have moved it to Nuneaton. We have been fortunate to have been invited again and we are thoroughly looking forward to it. I think it will be a step up in terms of the opposition we will face but we will be ready for it. We have had another excellent week of training back at home in Kirkby and the boys are ready for two games in two days.
I would expect Coventry, under their manager Mark Robins, to be strong. They are starting their league season the week after this tournament so they will provide a really good test for us. We have had experience of playing against PSV’s B team in the past and they will be strong opposition. We have two fantastic games in prospect and we will be able to give plenty of minutes to our boys and work on some of the things we have been working on.
We also have a few of the boys away with the U19 squad with Steven Gerrard in Switzerland this weekend. That is a great tournament and again we will come up against some top-quality opposition. These are invaluable experiences for the players and they will take a lot out of it. They will get tested physically and mentally in both tournaments, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the boys are ready for this challenge.
Our new fixtures for the 2017-18 Premier League 2 season came out on Thursday and that is always an exciting time for the boys to see who our opening games are against. We start our campaign with a trip away to Swansea City on Friday August 11. That will be a tough game because Swansea were promoted last season to Premier League 2 Division 1 and they won their league convincingly. We have got a tough league programme but as staff you don’t want it any other way. We will also be competing in the Premier League Cup, the Premier League International Cup and hopefully we will have the UEFA Youth League for our U19 squad. We need tough games because our boys need to get used to playing men’s football game in and game out, twice a week. If our boys want to play in our first team then they need a tough programme of games and the experience of this.
The Nuneaton Tournament takes place at The Coombe Abbey Arena this weekend.
Critchley’s side will take on Coventry on Saturday at 2.30pm BST before meeting PSV on Sunday, with kick-off again at 2.30pm.
With three games taking place on each day, tickets for the whole weekend of top-quality action are priced at £40 for adults and £15 for U16s. There is also a special one-day ticket price of £25.