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Does Zidane's rotation system help the team?

Zidane’s rotation system allows Real’s returning stars more time for fine-tuning

Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

Zinedine Zidane took everyone by surprise earlier this week when he picked Keylor Navas in goal against Dortmund even though the Costa Rican custodian had yet to make a first team appearance since having Achilles Tendon surgery in the close season.

The rotational system apparently favoured by Zidane has been the subject of recent criticism among the support but it's highly unlikely that such opinions would have been voiced so strongly had Real not dropped league points against Villarreal and Las Palmas before going to Germany in midweek.

Zidane's dilemma at the moment is how to integrate the returning stars who have spent some time out injured into the side again whilst at the same time ensuring a degree of continuity in team selection.  In picking Keylor over Kiko Casilla he's obviously gone for experience on the night at the expense of giving the Costa Rican a less demanding fixture for his return to first team action.

Madrid's season so far has been synonymous with players missing through injury.  Karim Benzema, Pepe and Cristiano have all spent time on the side-lines in recent weeks while Gareth Bale gave everyone a scare a couple of weeks ago when he took a blow to the hip against Sporting of Portugal.

Circumstances in recent weeks have conspired to make starting line-ups featuring the ‘BBC' the exception rather than the rule.  As a result of Karim Benzema missing game time with a hip injury later confirmed to be sacro-iliac inflammation, and Cristiano's highly-publicised knee sprain; neither have had the start to the season they would have wanted.

This begs the question of whether full participation in the pre-season period gives players returning from injury a clear advantage over those who subsequently return to the squad in the early part of the actual playing season once the pre-season is over.

Dani Carvajal and Danilo both had the benefit of getting most of the pre-season period under their belts by featuring in the USA and Canada tour; as did Raphaël Varane who missed the Euros with a soleus muscle injury.

Although Danilo   - who had undergone ankle surgery in the summer at the same time as Keylor Navas had an Achilles operation -   momentarily had to miss a few sessions due to an entirely un-related hamstring injury, the Brazilian managed to be fit enough in time to be included in Real's squad for the opening fixture against Real Sociedad.   Karim's sessions, however, have been intermittent.

Dani Carvajal has shown few signs of the groin injury suffered in the UCL final against Atlético and has been ever-present this season with the exception of the Osasuna game where he was on the bench.  Zidane obviously felt that Dani needed a break at that point and used the rotational system to his advantage although not everyone in the squad necessarily feels the same way when it comes to team changes.

Cristiano clearly wasn't impressed at being substituted recently, but the fact that Zidane feels there's still some fine-tuning to do before we can all say that CR7's well and truly back to his old self highlights some of the issues facing Madrid's coach at the moment.

Under the present circumstances, therefore, Zidane will justify his use of the rotational system in the interest of maximising player potential while at the same time integrating the returning stars into the team as he feels the situation demands.

Cristiano missed the whole of pre-season due to the knee injury sustained in Euro 2016; and there's no doubt that his overall fitness has suffered as a result.  Despite working constantly at his fitness during his rehab and recovery period the one thing missing was the sharpness provided by match practice against outside opposition.   With the best will in the world you can't really simulate the exact functional requirements of the game in training sessions alone without the competitive element that playing against other sides brings.

For Keylor Navas this situation will have been even worse.  As a goalkeeper he'll have specific areas of his game to work on that can only be improved through repetitive practice but these are generally game-specific and difficult to simulate fully in training.  Taking crosses under pressure, diving to spread yourself at the feet of an inrushing forward or the reflex action needed when the ball hits someone's backside and takes a deflection can't all be practised on the training ground to the same extent as in real situations.

Keylor was with the squad on the USA and Canada tour but by all accounts hasn't been able to participate at the highest intensity of training until recently.  Although reportedly suffering no adverse reaction to his operative surgery, Keylor has lacked that essential match contact which provides confidence both in the recovery process and in the ability to meet goalkeeper-specific tasks in proper situations.

It certainly looks like he's been thrown in at the deep end so to speak, but has responded well considering there were potentially less explosive games in which to make his comeback!

Co-ordinating the return to the team of Madrid's injured players hasn't been an easy task for Zidane and like substituting Cristiano against Las Palmas, his decision to bring back Keylor Navas against the Germans will have been made based on how he viewed the situation at the time.

Management, though, is all about making decisions and often the difference between successful managers and the rest is having the confidence to make those decisions and stick by them if it all goes wrong.

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