Real Madrid are once again paying the price for being successful in that every time the international weeks come around the majority of the squad becomes unavailable. It's almost impossible to get any kind of continuity at this time of year since not only have we just got the pre-season period over and done with without too many casualties, the international break comes along and it's been down to the bare bones again on the training ground.
It must be hard for Zinedene Zidane and the coaching staff to fill the time constructively when there are so many absentees. Those returning from injury will have their own separate routine in any case although being able to join in group situations is always a plus. In a footballing sense RM Castilla will have taken most of the benefits in the last week by linking up with the first team for a couple of sessions while most of the seniors were away representing their respective countries.
The international break is one thing that is always factored into the training plan for clubs like Real Madrid. Zidane knows the schedule well in advance and when they report back in the summer he's well aware that that this is the first of several in-season interruptions.
You can run through free-kicks, attacking and defensive formations and such like with the fringe players and the Castilla lads and there's no doubt they'll get the benefit of the extra attention. However, the important thing is to have the first team performing to maximal but it's very difficult to be constructive in training in terms of tactics and teamwork when most of the squad aren't there.
There will have been very little time either for Zidane to discuss or debrief after the Celta Vigo game before the international players were on their way to join up with their respective squads. Similarly, the medical people wouldn't have had much time to assess the injuries from that game before the players left. Apart from having a quick look afterwards or if they were lucky the next morning, most of the real assessing would have been done by the national teams' medical staffs. There's always the chance that someone has gone away when they shouldn't really have, but it's difficult if the Federations are calling the shots.
Nowadays you don't often get away with pulling players out of international trips on the word of the club doctor. Decisions over fitness are often made when the squads gather immediately after the club games are over and it doesn't give much time for a thorough assessment. So even if you suspect the chances of a player actually being able to take part in the international matches are slim, you're still more than likely to have to wave them off for a couple of days before welcoming them back later in the week.
It's even worse with the South American players involved since they have to fly halfway around the world. There was some friction last season when Marcelo didn't join up with the Brazilian squad and conflicting reports came from both Real Madrid and the Brazilians as to whether he was fit or not; but at least he was able to remain at the club rather than making a long journey for nothing. By comparison, in the earlier part of last season the Peruvian federation insisted that defender Juan Vargas, who was then a Betis player and recovering from a knee injury, travelled to South America ‘for an assessment' by their medical people and then promptly sent him back. This was despite not having played a club game for two months but still he was called up and had to travel.
Although Zidane's a proud Frenchman, any success his country has on the field is going to be secondary to the needs of Real Madrid. There's always going to only one winner for any club manager / coach in club v country decisions and the need to be objective will override any patriotic feelings he might have. Like so many other coaches across Europe at the moment Zidane will be glad when the whole thing is over and he can get back to preparing for the next series of matches involving Real Madrid.
After Osasuna on Saturday the 10th, Madrid's up and coming schedule includes the opening fixture in the Champions League against Sporting Clube de Portugal and awkward league games at Espanyol and Las Palmas. In addition to hosting Villarreal in between those two away games, a trip to Dortmund follows Las Palmas. The next few days will tell what shape Real's players are in once they return from their respective countries and things can get back to normal.