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How will the International Break affect Real Madrid?

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It's time for club football again!

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The international break is over at last and now it's back to the real thing; what could be better than a Clásico? Does anyone really care whether Gareth Bale turned out for Wales or whether Dunga really did drop Marcelo as long as both are available for the coming weekend?  The main thing from Real Madrid's point of view is that a fully fit squad is available for the big game.

Of more concern on the Marcelo issue is whether Brazil's doctors ruled him out after speaking to the Real Madrid doctors without Zidane's knowledge - and the coach Carlos Dunga still insists they did - but it might well have turned out to be for the best.   Everyone will surely be happier with Marcelo staying back and training with the others; if he's not playing for Brazil then he can't get injured on international duty.

At the moment, the big worry has come from the Spain camp ironically enough.  Sergio Ramos returned to the club early with a back strain and although he was widely reported to have trained with his Real Madrid team mates on Wednesday, he obviously only went through part of the session and then exercised on his own in the gym while the main squad did the heavier work.

It remains to be seen whether he's going to recover in time for Saturday and reports indicate that he will be given a "late fitness test" to check whether he's going to be ready or not.

The only trouble with these fitness tests are that they are never able to be 100% realistic.  In most cases you already know what the outcome is likely to be, and in some respects all you're doing is proving that one way or the other to the players involved and often to the manager or coach as well.  It's virtually impossible to set up game-related situations that demand 100% of effort from a player and at the same time account for the unexpected moments that really do test whether a player has fully recovered or not.

To do it properly you need to be able to deliver things that occur in games that cannot be legislated for such as a slip or a trip while turning or having to pull up sharply during a sprint.  There's also the physical aspect of the game to consider as well and you cannot set up the type of exercise in training where somebody is allowed to launch into a reckless challenge or make a deliberately late tackle.  Yet these are the kind of events that can occur in the opening minutes of a match and force a player coming back from injury to leave the game once again.

The very nature of a fitness test means it is exactly what it says on the label, but in order to test a player's fitness properly, you need to push that player to the limit.  If your player is only 70% fit to start with then pushing him to the limit will only aggravate the injury and he's going to end up missing more games.  This isn't sensible when you already know that he's only 70% fit anyway and is just asking for trouble.

Sergio Ramos though has always pushed himself to the limit and is well known for playing through pain but with a muscular strain the chances are that he's not going to be able to shrug this off by Saturday if he hasn't already done so by now.  Although there's still 48 hours to go I'm quite sure that Zinedine Zidane will already know deep down whether his captain is likely to turn out against Barca or not.

It might well be that Sergio is fine and the decision was made to only train to the minimum from Wednesday onwards and gradually ease in more as Saturday approaches but we'll have to wait and see.  There's so much involved in keeping the opposition guessing nowadays that the true situation isn't likely to be revealed until the last minute.