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Real Madrid's pre-season now shifting towards match play

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The club have been in back in training for just over ten days now and although some of that time has been spent travelling to Australia, the bulk of the early stages have been completed.

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The focus on the first few days either side of the Melbourne flight will have been very much on fitness; although now we're approaching the second game of the tour, the emphasis is likely to shift towards actual match-play as opposed to physical conditioning.

As with any club who has gone through managerial changes in the close season, the opening couple of sessions in Valdebebas will have been very much geared towards getting the players to know the new management team; and for the coaching and fitness staff to get to know what's required in turn.  It's always difficult when you go into a new club during the summer break since it takes a bit of time to have a proper look at things and this can usually only be done once the players report back as a group and the actual training sessions begin.

In an ideal world, the first few days would have been spent evaluating the players' physical capabilities.  As Real Madrid footballers we know they can play so that's never going to be the issue, especially since most of them are internationals!  The question is how well they link their skills in with their physical capabilities; and whether they're maximising their individual potential using the natural physical attributes they all have.  Gareth Bale's sprinting ability is a good example of this, but the problem for the coaches is how to utilise their strengths to greater advantage in the coming weeks.

The opening few sessions would have been centred on easing back into the regimen of football training, with ball-work no doubt being given priority in the greater part of the sessions, but care will have been taken not to overdo the physical aspect.  Working at too high a fitness level before the long-haul flight to Melbourne would have been counter-productive.  Muscular stiffness resulting from the flight would have added to the acclimatisation difficulties the squad had during their first couple of sessions in Australia.

Real's fitness team acknowledged that environmental factors would have an influence on the opening sessions; since travelling to a much colder climate than that of a Madrid summer would likely result in increased muscular stiffness.   They pointed out that muscles in general are less supple when cold and thus the potential exists for soft tissue injury when training in a colder environment.  Likewise, sleeping patterns will almost certainly have been affected and any problems in this area will have needed to be addressed by the medical team.

In the training build up to the Roma game the main objective would just be to get the players out on the field with the ball and let the new management see first-hand the subtle traits of each player which might not be immediately obvious to the outsider.  In addition to the usual team focussed training there will have been a lot of individual assessment going on, both technical and observational.

Players now wear heart rate monitors in training to enable an accurate recording of how much effort they expend; and the fitness analysts will have taken each player's resting heart rates before the session and can thus monitor how hard they're working.   Low intensity work would be somewhere between 50 - 65% of maximal heart rate, moderate intensity 65 - 85% and high intensity training at 85 - 95% maximum.   The fitness staff can control the levels of intensity throughout the sessions by advising the players which zone they want their heart-rates to be in, dependent on what particular aspect of fitness they are working on.

The players will often wear GPS tracking vests in training to assess the distances they cover and allow the analysts to follow their positioning on the field, letting them see exactly where and when they run on the actual pitch in game situations.   Performance analysis is now an accepted discipline in sports medicine and the information gained from this can assist identifying a player's individual development needs, together with formulating customised training plans based on the information gained from the statistics.

Having got the Roma game over, the training levels will have been stepped up in the last few days and the emphasis would be more in keeping with a training and matches routine.  The emphasis would be on rest and recovery the day after the game and by now the preparations will be in full swing for the Manchester City fixture on Friday.  The sessions would have increased in tempo and content, tapering off for fine-tuning as the City game draws closer.  At this stage, the management will have a much clearer idea of the squads' individual strengths and areas requiring development will be highlighted based on what they'll have seen in the past fortnight

The evaluation process works both ways, though, and a lot of the focus on pre-season is about the two groups - players and management - getting to know each other as much as possible over the initial period.  Although Rafa and his staff were reported to be none too keen on making the Australia and Far East tour, they'll have turned the situation to their advantage; since living and working as a group for the duration of the time away from Madrid does provide an ideal opportunity for continuous assessment.

Although portrayed as being a bit of a laugh, there will have been a serious undertone to Rafa's challenge which involved the players having to chip the ball on to the crossbar at the end of training the other morning; since this will have brought out the competitive spirit in some players while others won't have taken the whole affair too seriously.  In situations like these you can often learn a lot about group dynamics when it comes down to the last few players who are still trying to complete the challenge and how the others react to their attempts.

You're looking for a light-hearted affair and the ‘laughing-with-them-and-not-at-them' approach which usually indicates a good team spirit; and hopefully one which will carry over once they're back into the serious business of the competitive games in a month's time.