Madrid's schedule this week and last allowed for recovery, and this will have helped not only the injured players in the squad but also those who had been feeling the pace over the past few weeks. Toni Kroos referred earlier this year to the lack of a fixture break in the Spanish game over the festive season, and although the squad had from the World Club final until the 27th December to recover from the stresses of the last few weeks, they then flew the day after this to Dubai to face AC Milan in the Dubai Challenge Cup.
After travelling to Dubai on the 28th, the squad put in a couple of light training sessions there in advance of the Milan fixture 48 hours later. The game itself provided the opportunity for the Madrid players to have a bit of competitive action before returning to the reality of La Liga this coming weekend. In truth, Milan appeared to be a lot more competitive than Madrid, particularly in the opening twenty minutes when both Raphael Varane and Fabio Coentrao took knocks in quick succession. The Italians weren't holding back; and even in the second half when most of the Real first-teamers were back on the field, the tackles were going in thick and fast. The Madrid management will have been happy to just get through the 90 minutes without have picked up any serious injuries.
It's back to business now, though, and no sooner had the final whistle blown in Dubai than Carlo Ancelotti et al will have turned their thoughts towards the forthcoming Valencia game. With Marcello and Sergio Ramos staying back in Madrid for treatment on injuries sustained in the World Club final, one of the first things to do on returning to Valdebebas will be get an injury update. As the Christmas break - such that it was - draws to a close, there will be decisions to be made about players' fitness, and updates to be given on the continuing work being done with the longer-term injured such as Luka Modric. Provided that there are no unexpected injuries revealing themselves over the next day or two, hopefully the break will have helped and that proper preparations can now be made for the trip to Valencia.
Valencia themselves were probably in need of a break too. Having played three tough successive fixtures against Rayo Vallecano (a league match was sandwiched between the two Copa del Rey ties) Valencia finished their 2014 fixtures with a gritty 1 - 0 away victory at Eibar. The second leg of the Copa del Rey against Rayo was a particularly physical encounter though which Valencia won overall thanks to a late equaliser to take the tie to 4 - 4 on the night; going through by virtue of a 2 - 1 victory away to Rayo in the first leg in Madrid. These few games will no doubt have taken their toll; but with having at least ten days to prepare for the visit of Madrid, Valencia will likely be feeling quite hopeful about their chances of maintaining their recent winning form.
Although the Milan game wasn't played at the normal pace associated with La Liga or Seria ‘A', the players still needed to approach this as a competitive fixture. For some players, though, this added game will have been viewed as just another way of easing back into the big-match situations. This was obvious at times with Madrid players taking no chances on several occasions when making a full-blooded challenge could have resulted in an unnecessary injury. With both teams generally concentrating on making sure that the fixture was played in a tactically-correct way, and with the emphasis placed on not picking up any serious injuries - at least from Madrid's point of view - the whole exercise will have been worthwhile overall; however inconvenient in terms of travel and timing. Match fitness only comes with playing games and it will have been a useful exercise at least for Jese, Sami Khedira and James to name but a few. It is a fact of footballing life nowadays that clubs like Real Madrid and AC Milan have to undertake these fixtures in order to meet their global financial and commercial commitments and such events have become part and parcel of the game at that level.
However, no matter how many games like the Milan fixture are scheduled into the playing programme, it's impossible to beat the real thing. The New Year beckons and Valencia will provide the first La Liga opposition for Real Madrid in 2015; a match scheduled to be played at the Mestalla on January 4th with a 17.00 CET kick-off. The break is now over and it's back to business!