For once, the injury news is a lot more positive for Real Madrid than on previous occasions when the club took part in FIFA’s Club World Cup competition.
Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Lucas Vázquez and Mateo Kovačić were all injured when Real contested this trophy in Japan a year ago, and all four were missing from training when the squad reported back to Madrid afterwards.
Also at that time in 2016, Gareth Bale was recovering from ankle surgery, while Danilo and James Rodriguez had been struggling with niggling injuries for weeks.
On returning from Japan, Real’s (at that time) new fitness coach Antonio Pintus planned what Zinedine Zidane had described as a “mini pre-season” but in actual fact started these sessions minus several players.
When the tournament was held in Morocco in 2014, Sergio Ramos got injured there as well. So too did Marcelo. Another concern at that time for Carlo Ancelotti was over Pepe; who had been doubtful for the final against San Lorenzo, having been injured in the semis against a pre-Paco Jémez Cruz Azul side from Mexico.
So although the previous involvement in this competition has led to players returning injured and consequently being unavailable for the league programme not to mention the Copa del Rey, the situation has been a bit more positive on this occasion.
It’s a change to see people coming back from injury instead of the other way around.
For this up-and-coming CWC final in Abu Dhabi, it’s looking as though Zidane can not only count on Sergio Ramos and Raphaël Varane but also on a resurgent Gareth Bale as well. Gareth played and scored in 2014; so it’s great to see him involved once again.
But the difference this year is that Real return from the competition to play a ‘clasico’; and that will shape the whole mood of the club from Saturday night onwards.
Depending on which way you look at it, the CWC this time around will either be a good or a bad thing based on whether the overall injury situation is taken into account.
The availability of Sergio Ramos pending a full recovery from some calf muscle discomfort is a positive for the Gremio game; even though he doesn’t look like wearing the mask again!
So that means changing the defence once more. But it just won’t seem like Real Madrid if Sergio is left out against Gremio. Unless of course Zidane decides to persist with Raphaël Varane and Nacho with one eye on the ‘Clásico’ in order to allow any niggling injuries to settle.
However, the CWC Final will give Zidane the opportunity to see how long Gareth Bale’s fitness levels will allow him to play for; taking into consideration that after being out for such a lengthy period these are likely to be relatively low based on the standards expected in La Liga.
The negative side is the obvious risk of picking up more injuries or somebody having a recurrence of a previous one. For the players returning, such as Gareth Bale, Raphaël Varane and even Mateo Kovačić and Jesús Vallejo, that will be an obvious concern.
Once the final against the Brazilian side is over and done with, it’s going to be Barça who will be the focus from then until the 23rd December; and based on previous encounters that focus will more than likely remain for a fair while afterwards as well!
As we move into January 2018, it’s the away leg of the Copa del Rey against Numancia on Thursday the 4th and then a league match at Celta de Vigo on the Sunday 7th.
By that time, the old rotation policy of Zinedine Zidane will have been well and truly tested