The potential is there for some of the injured players to return to the team, international squads are being announced for the next round of friendlies, Karim Benzema is in the headlines for both footballing and non-footballing reasons, and already everyone is talking about ‘el Clasico'. Oh, and by the way, there also happens to be a game at Sevilla on Sunday night.
Okay, a ‘massive weekend' may be going a bit too far I suppose, but when you sit down and look at all the different events going on at the moment involving Real Madrid, it doesn't take too much adding up to indicate that this a weekend of significant importance. First of all, the focus will be on hoping the players who are already fit don't add to the current injury concerns after Sunday. Since both James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale have at least been named in the squad for Sevilla, that's the good news. However, with Keylor Navas joining the injured group with a groin strain, and Marcelo with a hamstring issue, it's a case of two-in / two-out of the Madrid treatment room.
French striker Karim Benzema. Although now back in full training, won't figure in the Sevilla game. Although his return to training is certainly going to be a boost for Rafa Benitez; the Frenchman still needs some more football-related fitness work so Rafa's going to leave him out of the Sevilla fixture to let him focus on that. Karim Benzema's recovery from injury and gradual return to full training has largely been forgotten over the past 48 hours with the media having a field day thanks to other matters. Florentino Perez didn't waste much time in coming out and publically supporting Karim over the allegations; but irrespective of the outcome, the footballing side has still taken second place to recent events.
Certain players tend to be noticed more when they aren't there and Karim Benzema seems to fall into that category. Although his importance to the team is inevitably highlighted in terms of goals scored as opposed to his work off the ball, his physical presence makes a big difference. Opposing defences find his strength difficult to cope with while his team mates reap the benefits. Any front player adept at winning possession of the ball and keeping it until support arrives always gives extra options in attacking situations; and this is a tactic that Madrid use particularly well when Karim is in the team.
Karim Benzema seems to take a battering every week from opposing defenders, but there's been times in the past where he's taken a battering from the Madrid support as well. In the early days of Jose Mourinho there were games when you just wanted him to take Karim off for his own good; since nothing seemed to be going right for him. He's come through that era now to become Madrid's established number nine and contributes to the team simply as a result of his inclusion. No doubt he's going to be missed once again on Sunday night; but the signs are there that Karim won't be long now in returning to the team.
It's also an important fixture for the returning duo of Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez. If Rafa is able to start gradually easing people back into the team then that's going to be another plus if all goes well and hopefully nobody else gets injured. Although Rafa's going to be glad to see James fit and available once again, the downside is that he'll soon be on his way on international duty once more. The Colombian FA weren't happy that James wasn't ready to play sooner and were reported to have been considering getting their own medical people to assess his injury; but it appears that any differences of opinions have been put to one side with James' return indicated. He didn't help matters, though, by telling GQ magazine that he's been fit to play for the last two weeks and that's not something that's going to go down well either in Colombia or with Rafa Benitez. Let's hope that James does come through the Sevilla game unscathed otherwise there are going to be some serious questions asked if he doesn't.
Sevilla is never an easy place to go to but Madrid won't be concerned with the venue nor of the pressure on coach Unai Emery from a home crowd unhappy at their lowly league position and the recent loss to Manchester City. Often there's never more uncertainty than facing a team for whom nothing seems to be going right, so it's a massive weekend for Sevilla as well. Getting a result against Real Madrid would take a lot of pressure off Emery and go a long way towards lifting ailing spirits. In the red half of a city where the results of rivals Betis are just as important to the Sevilla support as the results of their own club, a point or three at the expense of the league leaders is motivation enough for the players.
So taken in context, maybe not quite a "massive weekend" for Real Madrid compared to the Clasico in a fortnight's time; but still a vitally important one. Not only for the returning players and to get the focus back on the football once again; but also for Rafa Benitez himself. He's been taking some flak recently despite Real Madrid topping the table and doing well in the Champions League, so it's a great opportunity to emphasise that Madrid are league leaders simply because they deserve to be.