Coach Arnold to bring on the hurt for Sydney players
TWO points from securing the Premier's Plate and a record points total, with a weekend of no football to come, Sydney FC's squad has been granted the princely sum of 60 hours' rest, but coach Graham Arnold has pledged to "hurt" them after that in preparation for the season's climax.
With round 23 of the A-League split over two weekends, the Sky Blues will cool their heels this coming weekend and then try to seal the Premier's Plate with a win in Perth on Sunday week.
They may even have the minor premiership wrapped up by then if Melbourne Victory fails to win in Brisbane the night before - and a clutch of new records are beckoning Arnold's side.
Yet the Sydney coach has warned his players he is ready to ditch any who he suspects may cruise even fractionally in the final rounds of the regular season - despite new data that shows how fit his squad already is.
In 23 games the Sky Blues have conceded only three times in the second half and scored 31, running over the top of opponents time and again.
Yet Arnold said he viewed the 16-day gap between games as the chance to scale new heights, rather than allow a largely unchanged first XI to recharge its batteries.
"They need to work harder," he said.
"The only way to do that is to drive them and make sure there's no let-up.
"We need the fortnight to really step up the training because we've had three Friday night games in the last three weeks where you can't get the full rhythm of training in.
"So therefore we'll hurt the boys, we'll definitely make sure we work them extremely hard.
"Two and a half to three days off is enough - once you get to four or five the body starts relaxing too much and the brain starts switching off."
Arnold's first target is to set a new points total for a 27-round season, with last Friday's 1-0 win over the Mariners carrying Sydney to 56 - one behind the record set by Central Coast in 2013.
It's even possible the Sky Blues could challenge Brisbane's mark of 65 points - set in a season where each of the sides clashed three times - and the side has already equalled the record for the number of clean sheets for a season.
But aware that the last few weeks of the regular season could prove deflating before the finals begin, Arnold put his players on notice to keep their standards high.
"We're at the business end of the season and I'm pretty sure the players all want to stay in the team," he said.
"You look at the quality of our bench, and the players not even in the squad, and we have the quality to replace anyone if that's the case.
"But I'm pretty sure they won't."