As the head coach / manager Carlo Ancelotti is responsible for planning and preparation and everything else that takes place on the field but there are some things that happen in football which can't be legislated for. The injury to Gareth Bale in the opening minutes against Malaga was one of these and although the Welshman didn't train on the Thursday beforehand nobody foresaw that he would pick up another injury quite so soon. By all accounts Gareth missed training after the Atletico game with a foot injury, so the calf problem was totally unexpected and in coming when it did, completely threw out the manager's planning.
When a player returns to the team after being out with an injury, or even just joins in the training after missing a session or two, there's sometimes that nagging doubt that things might not be as they should. When a different injury is sustained, though, it makes you wonder whether there was an underlying cause or if Gareth was just unlucky on the night.
Injuries frequently occur in the warm-ups. The other week before the Rayo Vallecano game, the home goalkeeper Cristian Alvarez also picked up a calf muscle injury and the change had to be made so close to the kick-off that Rayo skipper Roberto Trashorras ran to grab the match ball so that the replacement keeper could have a touch of it before the game started. Against Malaga, Gareth Bale seemed to be okay during Madrid's warm-up but then only managed a couple of minutes on the field before having to come off with the new injury. There didn't seem to be any doubts either over whether he had to come off or not; the decision was swiftly taken and by now he'll have been well packed in ice for some time. If this turns out to be more than the straining of a few muscle fibres then Gareth looks likely to be out of action for a few weeks rather than a few days. Rayo's goalkeeper Alvarez, who sustained a similar injury, is estimated to be missing from the team for another three to four weeks.
In the second half against Malaga, Luka Modric took a really hard knock to his knee and was also instantly replaced. At the time of the substitution he didn't look too pleased with being brought off either and I think he felt that he could have stayed on a bit longer. As it turned out it looks as though Ancelotti was right to replace him since early indications appear to suggest that Luka sustained a ligamentous injury that will be likely to keep him out for several weeks. Again, a different injury to the previous one but once more another injury quite soon after coming back into the team. This injury, though, was the result of a really robust challenge and again the decision to remove him without delay looks to have been the correct one even though he didn't seem to want to come off at the time. It may even take a few days for Madrid to fully assess the injury since very often an accurate prognosis of recovery time can be difficult to estimate within the first two to three days until the injury has had a chance to properly settle.
Managers get paid to make important decisions but quite often some of those decisions can be out of their hands. With the two injuries against Malaga, Carlo Ancelotti was forced to make unplanned changes to the team. It could be argued that the injury to Luka Modric came at a stage in the match when substitutions are traditionally made and that any thoughts of making a change wouldn't necessarily be unexpected, other than to decide who would be coming off. The injury to Gareth Bale, however, certainly did throw the proverbial spanner into the works. Having already decided to start the game with neither Jese nor Chicharito in place of the injured Karim Benzema, the manager's hand was subsequently forced and Chicharito replaced Gareth Bale in the third minute.
Such a change seemed to leave Madrid looking a little unbalanced without Bale and perhaps highlighted the contribution the Welshman actually does make to the team. Gareth has had to take more than his fair share of the blame for Madrid's earlier run of poor results in the weeks before the ship steadied again, but it's often when a player is missing from the team that this contribution becomes apparent. Ancelotti also took the decision to continue with Marcelo in his usual left back position, preferring to keep Fabio Coentrau ‘wrapped in cotton wool' for the Atletico game. Marcelo, though, seemed to struggle and to some extent looked to be trying too hard as very little went right for him on the night; slipping at the vital moment to allow Malaga the chance to get back into the game.
When Asier Illarramendi replaced Luka Modric, Madrid's playing style subtly changed as the more defensive-minded Basque slotted into the midfield role, although he did make several forward runs and supported the front players well. The final substitution of Danny Carvajal for Alvaro Arbeloa came as the decision was likely made to provide Madrid with an added attacking option. Even though the whole shape of the team had already been altered by the earlier enforced changes, the side who finished the game still ran out winners thanks to the fiftieth goal for Ronaldo this season set up by Chicharito.
More decisions are to be taken by the manager though over the next couple of days and questions which remain unanswered at the moment will be given suitable thought as to the best way forward. Undoubtedly, some of these decisions will be made for him, since Ancelotti will have no control over the recovery rates of Luka Modric and Gareth Bale; while the decision over who to replace them with will likely be debated in the media just as much as it will be discussed behind closed doors in Valdebebas. Additionally, whether Karim Benzema recovers in time for Tuesday or not will be another question to answer in the 48 hours and there will be yet another decision to be made if he doesn't.