Stoke City return to action this weekend after the international break. Michael O’Neill has delivered the latest team news ahead of a trip to Sheffield United.
Has the international break been a nuisance or welcome break?
Michael O’Neill: Probably a welcome break. The West Brom game came when we had three games in six days and seven or eight games in a condensed period.
So I think when the international break comes you do welcome it and then we come into a similar period with seven games – six league and one cup – before the next international break in November. Again, it’s a very condensed period.
It’s a chance for the players who aren’t on international duty to just step away from things and get a little break.
It takes a bit of the tension out of the training because you aren’t preparing for a game. You can work on things in a little bit more relaxed fashion.
The training is already very good in an international break because players aren’t focusing really on whether they’re going to play or not, they’re just focusing on the actual training and what you’re doing.
I think we’ve had a couple of really good weeks’ training with the players that have been here and we’ve had the international players back in all in good health, which is a bonus.
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How do you see the game going against Sheffield United?
They had a difficult start probably adapting to Championship life again. There’s obviously a bit of a hangover when you get relegated, we know that ourselves as a club, it’s not just straightforward.
But I think in recent weeks their performances have been strong and they look more like the side that probably people saw prior to going to the Premier League.
It’s a different system as well and they’re probably adapting to that because it’s a lot of the same players that they had in the Championship with Chris Wilder, consistent how they played with a back three.
Sheffield United away is up there with the toughest games you’re going to get in this league so we’re going to have to be at our very best to get something from the game.
Will a sell-out away crowd help?
I think it’s great when you have that. It’s brilliant we have that following away from home. I thought we played extremely well in our last away game at Preston. We should have won the game but we just weren’t clinical enough on the night. We have to learn from that.
The big away support is greatly appreciated by myself and the players and hopefully it gives us that extra impetus to get the result.
I think away from home the physical demands are always really, really high and obviously having a big support there will help.
How hard is it to keep things fresh and focused on the next game during an international break?
It’s nice to get a full week’s training with your whole squad. You don’t often get that in the Championship, particularly if you stay in the Carabao Cup which we have done.
The training has always been tailored and we still had five or six players away on international duty. It meant we didn’t have a full two week’s together.
But there’s a lot of consistency in what we do and you also get players coming back from international football who have had a good experience, hopefully, and that gives them added confidence and belief as well.
It’s also obviously important that we are refreshed as a group because we’ve now had two weeks since we last played and hopefully we see that freshness in our play and in the intensity of our play, which has been a big factor in how we have started the season.
Does one defeat in seven add to pressure – that people will try to beat you because you’re doing well?
I guess that’s a question for them. I don’t really look at runs of that nature. The biggest thing for me is the level of performance and matching results to that.
At times this season we haven’t been clinical enough and we’ve drawn games but overall we’ve seen a consistent level of performance and we need to keep pushing the level of performance because I believe that’s obviously how we’ll pick up most results.
How teams decide to play against us or what they decide to do or not do tactically we just have to be ready for that. Our focus has been very much on ourselves since the start of the season and making sure we maintain our level of performance.
What’s the latest injury news?
The lads who were on international duty all trained today. Harry and Jordan, who played on Tuesday, did a lighter session. Joe played on Monday and did a little bit more. We were able to tailor their training.
There are no other knocks. We have a close to a full squad. Morgan Fox and Sima are still on their way back. Alfie Doughty missed training today due to illness so we have to see how he is in the morning.
Otherwise we’ve got a clean bill of health. Mario (Vrancic) is fine. He went to Germany prior going to meet up with the Bosnia squad but he felt his toe and didn’t want to take unnecessary risks with the games.
He received some treatment with Germany and he’s been back training with us this week so he’s fine.
When will Sima and Fox be back?
Sima will possibly be back in the next couple of weeks, Fox is still possibly four weeks away. With a hamstring injury it’s important we don’t rush him back. This is the third occurrence, albeit not in the same area on the same leg.
We’ve got to manage him and make sure he’s as strong as possible because it’s been a little stop start for Morgan with the hamstring injuries he’s had since he came to the club.
When he’s back it’s important that he’s durable and can stay fit and push to stay in the team.”
Is Tyrese Campbell nearer a return?
He played in the 23s at Fulham last Friday for just over 80 minutes and I still think we’ve got to manage him a little bit,” said O’Neill.
I think we probably see more of the Tyrese of old when we see him in training. That might be a bit of the mental side of playing in 23s games, which can be quite difficult for players, particularly coming back from a long injury.
As I’ve said previously, Tyrese is an explosive player and we need to make sure that he is that player when he comes back. A diluted version of Tyrese isn’t going to help him and isn’t going to help us.
We’ll just see how he progresses in the next week, 10 days, but he’s training well.
He’s had a good training period with the squad, particularly this week. This is the first time, for example, that he’s been able to train four full days. He’s not had any affects from that.
We’ll see how he goes tomorrow. We’re at a point now that we’re obviously very keen to reintroduce him but as we’ve said all along, we’ll do that when the time is right.
Do you see reports of Premier League interest in players like Harry Souttar as a compliment to progress at the club?
Harry has had a very strong start to the season. He’s obviously playing senior international football and appears to have established himself in the Australia national team. That will obviously generate interest.
I think that’s a positive for us as a club. We’re in a strong position.
We signed these young players on long-term contracts and the idea is they would become prominent players here and hopefully help us get back to the Premier League.
They are young players and all have ambitions to play right at the top level of the game.
I think that the fact there is that interest (is a positive), albeit during an international window the media sometimes have to create news as opposed to report it and we don’t take too much notice of that.
Harry is very grounded, very focused on the present and that’s the role he has in our team at this minute in time.