There's been a fair bit of publicity over the last few days about Madrid players reportedly suffering from fatigue. In particular, Toni Kroos commented that he could hardly wait for the end of the season due to having played through the World Cup with Germany and is now finding himself involved at a higher intensity and with greater frequency than he is used to. Others in the media queried whether Gareth Bale was also suffering, but most generally appeared to dwell on Kroos' comments. Speaking before the Malaga game, though, it was clear that Carlo Ancelotti does not subscribe to these thoughts: "I don't see a team that is tired" he said. "We have recovered properly after the game against Basel".
Clearly, there is a difference between being tired and being fatigued. True fatigue, in the physiological sense, tends to occur in the later stages of the game as the body's glycogen stores begin to deplete; leading to reduced work capacity, decreased running distances and a general overall reduction in high-intensity activity. This can lead to a predisposition to injury in the latter stages of the game, and research has shown that this is when most injuries are likely to occur.
Fatigue directly affects the muscles, ligaments and other structures in the body while at the same time impairing stability of the joints; and this partially explains why most injuries tend to occur in the second half of the game when the body's natural sensors are not responding as quickly as they should be. The thing that separates the top players from the rest is the ability to recognise the difference between true fatigue on the pitch compared to simply being tired.
Against Malaga, Gareth Bale fully exploited the gap left open for him by the great touch from Ronaldo to sprint into the box and make a perfect finish despite having looked jaded only a few minutes beforehand. Seizing the moment, he shrugged off any thoughts he may have had about being tired, and summoned up that extra burst of energy from deep within to unleash the perfect strike which effectively killed the game.
For Toni Kroos, who is still a relative newcomer to this Madrid squad, to be showing signs of tiredness is not necessarily a matter for concern at this stage. The likelihood is that what he is feeling is nothing more than a reaction to a change in game schedule from that he is used to, plus the extra travelling involved in the Champion's League. The busy La Liga programme does not really allow for extensive recovery time when teams play in midweek and are then faced with a highly-competitive weekend fixture. When added to the inevitable time spent travelling and hanging around in airports, it is little wonder that players can temporarily lose their sparkle. Interviewed earlier in the week in the German sports magazine ‘Kicker', Kroos freely admitted that he was tired. "I've never played this much before" he confessed.
"In 2014 I've played the entire second half of the season with Bayern, then in the World Cup with Germany, then in the Super Cup with Madrid and then the rest of the season onwards. I haven't played more in my life and I'm getting tired. To make matters worse" he added, "in Spain there is no break in January like there is in Germany so I'll have to get by."
However, Ancelloti and his staff will have considered all this in planning the training schedules. Periodisation, the science of planning a club training and playing schedule over a whole season, will have been the first thing on the agenda for the coaching staff in the summer.
Taking into account potential progressions in the various cup competitions, Ancelloti et al will certainly have a plan in mind to utilise the squad in such a way as to rest certain players at the appropriate time without disrupting the rhythm of the team. The 16-game winning run has centred around Madrid fielding a fairly settled team with the minimum of changes but in speaking of player rotations, Ancelloti himself recognises that these are necessary from time to time. "I don't see a tired team", he said; adding that "you only need to rotate (the team) when players are tired. I only see Kroos being a little tired. However, I will use the cup match (against Cornella in the Copa del Rey) to rest him.
If anyone had any doubt whether Toni Kroos was suffering from pure fatigue or was just ‘a little tired' - to quote Ancelloti - you only needed to see the German's reaction to Malaga's Duda earning him a yellow card by falling over (yet again) just before the interval. A seething Kroos was still remonstrating with the Portugese as the teams headed for the tunnel at half-time. Tired maybe; but not fatigued.