Norwich City get down to business in Walsall practice opener

Norwich City's squad played a behind-closed-doors game against Walsall on Saturday lunchtime. Pictur

Norwich City's squad played a behind-closed-doors game against Walsall on Saturday lunchtime. Picture: Jasonpix - Credit: Jason Dawson

Norwich City's pre-season preparations move up a gear on Saturday in a behind-closed-doors practice match against League One Walsall capping a five-day stay at St George's Park (KO 1pm).

Alex Neil admits he has put his squad through a gruelling fortnight of fitness work, with the City chief revealing they will play three periods of 30 minutes against the Saddlers at the national football centre in Burton.

'We want to get the players as fit as they can be without breaking anyone down, and the lads have attacked it really well,' he said. 'This week has seen long days for the players, they've been up at quarter to seven and on the altitude bikes. After breakfast they've headed back onto the grass for a football session before having lunch.

'They've then been going back to bed before coming back out at five o'clock for running sessions. It's a considerable amount of work but it's been good and puts miles in the tank for us.'

Norwich's first public outing in front of their supporters will come next Tuesday at non league neighbours Lowestoft Town, in a friendly which will also double as a testimonial for long-serving Blues' stalwart Micky Chapman. Neil will use this afternoon's first hit out as another fitness exercise.

'It's designed to give the players a bit more of a break during the game,' he told Norwich City TV. 'We want to control the minutes that the players are putting in. Studies show that the longer they play after a lengthy break increases the risk of injuries, which we want to avoid.

'We'll probably have two XIs for each half of the game. We've given the players a bit of detail on shaping, but that's not as important as getting minutes in their legs at this stage.'

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Timm Klose, Alex Tettey and Jonny Howson have all taken part in the early fitness work, after injuries curtailed their involvement in the latter stages of the club's Premier League relegation battle. Michael Turner, Ricky van Wolfswinkel and the Murphy twins are among another group expected to feature in the upcoming pre-season games following loan spells. None of the club's Euro 2016 contingent will be involved at Burton after being given an extended break following their duty in France.

The Saddlers' squad has undergone a major summer upheaval, with eight players leaving and six arriving, as new permanent manager Jon Whitney aims to go one better than losing to eventual play-off winners Barnsley.

'It's been excellent so far. It is like we have never been away. It is like we have been playing together for six months, which is so rewarding for me and my staff,' he said. 'We are so far ahead of schedule and we are now playing competitive stuff so I'm really looking forward to the game against Norwich.

'Now we know what's coming we are looking forward to the games starting. All pre-seasons are important because players come and go each summer. Obviously this season it's perhaps more so than in previous years, but we will be ready.'