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Real Madrid's January schedule preview: A month that could be decisive

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Los Blancos resume training after the Christmas break.

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After beating San Lorenzo and becoming Club World Champions, Los Blancos left Marrakech for a more than deserved Christmas holidays. Santa Claus has done his job, turkey is over and it is time to get back to work. Ancelotti's men resume training this morning to prepare for the friendly match against AC Milan that will take place in Dubai next Tuesday.

Before that, there is still room for some Christmas atmosphere in Madrid. After this morning's closed doors training session, Los Blancos will hit the Alfredo di Stéfano stadium once again at 17:00 to delight the fans with the traditional Christmas open doors training session. Many madridistas will enjoy the tricks by Cristiano, Bale and company, and a big number of them will for sure be able to go home with some signed souvenir.

But right after the Milan game, Real Madrid will need to get serious in order to face one of the hardest challenges they will have this season. January 2015 will be a decisive month to define the club's fate in the Copa del Rey and the difficulty of the upcoming months in La Liga, with up to nine games in twenty-eight days.

The first stopover in this trip, on January 4th, will be a hard one, as Real Madrid will visit Mestalla to play against Valencia, one of the best teams in the first third of the season. The next one, on January 7th, will be even harder, as we will visit the Vicente Calderón in the first leg of the Copa del Rey Round of 16, where Simeone's men will be waiting for us. After a presumably easier league game against Espanyol, three days later in the Santiago Bernabéu, Los Blancos will need to close the tie against their neighbours in order to face Barcelona or Elche in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals, that will be held on January 21st and 28th. The league games at Getafe (January 18th), Córdoba (January 24th) and Bernabéu against Real Sociedad (January 31st-February 1st) complete Real Madrid's hellish path to start the year 2015.

While it is true that Real Madrid could afford to slip in some of these league games and still keep the first place, since they still have to play the game against Sevilla that is postponed for February, it would be really important to extend their current winning streak as much as possible in order to be calm when the decisive Champions League games arrive. And although the Copa del Rey is not such an important trophy as the league or the Champions League, losing a tie against Atlético or Barça would likely undermine Real Madrid's morale and boost that of their rivals, so qualifying to the semifinals seems an obligation for this team.

Carlo Ancelotti will need to rotate his men if he wants to keep Real Madrid's options in all competitions. With the absence of Luka Modrić, whose full recovery is expected for mid-February, we all know which Carlo's favourite lineup is, but men like Arbeloa, Coentrao, Varane, Illarramendi, Khedira and Jesé will, for sure, be very important in this stage of the season, and the team's output will strongly depend on their overall performance.