Luka's not had an easy time over the past twelve months and it's great to see him back as a regular once again. For a while it looked as though he was going to slip into that difficult routine of playing a couple of games then sitting the next one out because of injury.
For Luka, it's been a case of one thing after another. First we had the long-running scenario last season with the thigh muscle tear and well-publicised visits to Dr Mikel Sanchez in Pais Vasco for stem cell treatment. After that came the knee ligament sprain towards the end of the season. Although the summer break - such that it was anyway - provided the opportunity to strengthen the legs up in general, the last round of international fixtures saw Luka have to sit out games once more. An adductor strain which thankfully turned out to be a minor one caused him to miss some additional game time and a recent scare over a potential hip problem once again thankfully turned out to be nothing serious.
At the moment, there's almost a sharp intake of breath around the stadium every time Luka touches the ball with an opponent in the vicinity. Opposing players are well aware that he's one of the main threats in Madrid's midfield and as such they're not holding back with their tackles. He's well used to being the target of some robust physical challenges but at the moment everyone's just hoping that Luka doesn't pick any more injuries in the meantime.
With the ‘Clasico' on the horizon, it's certainly a bonus that the Croatian FA have allowed him to miss this weekend's forthcoming round of games. Slipping into the routine of playing with an injury and then having to drop out a week or so later because of another is a very easy situation for players to find themselves in. One of the difficulties when a player suffers with a succession of injuries to different areas is that they're then having to continually strengthen specific regions instead of being able to focus on globally building up strength and stamina for the body as a whole.
When a player falls into that train-play-rest-return routine often the return is a little too soon for the injured area to have recovered the specific strength required to carry through one game after another, especially if the games are coming thick and fast as they do for Real Madrid. Not only are there the league fixtures to contend with, but as we all know, the international commitments bring their own added responsibilities. Instead of being able to focus on developing good all-round body strength and endurance, the priority for players who fall into this category then becomes to work daily at the injured areas to strengthen these to minimise the risk of recurrences.
Of course, the problem then with having to focus so much on doing strengthening work is that the sharpness suffers; and at the very top level any player who is just that fraction of a second behind everyone else on the pitch can concede the advantage to the opposition if pressured. Fatigue can also be a problem since time spent in training working at the recently injured areas leads to less time available to spend on the other areas of fitness. The strength and conditioning coaches are all desperate to make the most of the pre-season period for this reason and often stress the importance of building that solid fitness base.
If players are in and out of the team with repeated injuries, then the demands placed on the body become even greater. That makes it difficult for players like Luka Modric to keep at the very top of their game without picking up further injuries in the time it takes to make a complete recovery from the previous one, and concentrate on their match fitness as well.
Luka Modric's return to the team this season has certainly been one of the major plusses for Real Madrid, particularly in recent weeks when a certain amount of unrest and tension has been present both in the stands and on the field. Luka's managed to distance himself from any controversy and has certainly kept his head down and focussed on the play. Given that there's been a couple of occasions when it looked as though he might have picked up injuries that would interrupt his flow, Luka's managed to keep on top of things and shake off the minor niggles that we were all worried were going to turn into something major.
He'll no doubt utilise this week and next to try to address any areas in need of attention from a fitness aspect. At least without the distraction of going away with Croatia in the week before the ‘Clasico' he'll have that bit more time available to do any fine tuning to his fitness regime that may be necessary. Real Madrid certainly look far more threatening with Luka in the team than without him, and he's certainly going to be a marked man the weekend after next. This is the perfect time for Luka to enjoy the break while he can and quietly continue with his preparations without interruption.