Luka Modrić and James Rodriguez are two Real Madrid players who were close to returning to the team in the days leading up to the cancelled game at Celta Vigo.
James reportedly was being considered for a place in the squad with a second-half appearance from the substitute’s bench looking likely; while Luka didn’t quite come through a fitness test strongly enough on Thursday to make his inclusion a reality.
Both players will be disappointed with the game being off yet might well be privately thinking that the postponement is really a blessing in disguise. The extra days afforded to them by nature’s intervention in the weekend’s fixtures allows both players to get a few additional training sessions under their belt and thereby help to iron out a few creases.
No player in that situation will ever, openly, admit to being glad a match has been postponed but underneath there is always that slight relief that those extra few training days will make all the difference in a week’s time.
It’s surprising how often you find that behind the bravado in public about being delighted to be back playing there often lies that inner doubt about whether you really are 100% ready to play.
The fitness tests will have gone some way towards convincing everyone that the injury has healed and you are ready to face the rigours of a top level game; but underneath any nagging self-doubts will only disappear once the game is over and you have come through it without further damage or suffering a recurrence in the process.
The cancellation of the Celta match allows both players time for some fine tuning to be made before going to Osasuna next Saturday; a game which Real will be looking to take maximum points from. It means that for Luka and James at least, the next couple of days can act as a more realistic and intensive fitness test than any simulated scenario.
With Luka’s injury being to the groin region, the emphasis will have been placed on twisting and turning as part of his return to play assessment last week. It wouldn’t have taken too much for any weaknesses to show up since groin injuries often allow you to run in a straight-forward direction without any difficulty; but the moment you veer off that straight and narrow and bring in even a hint of a change of direction then any deficiencies will immediately be evident.
It’s important at that point to call it quits; go back to the rehab work (which Luka did instead of training on Saturday) and continue to work towards gaining that final strength by picking up where the previous session left off then progressing accordingly. If Luka was at the stage where a fitness test was even being considered, then he’s not going to have been too far away from being fully fit anyway; so in that sense the postponement of the Celta game will have helped.
James too will surely reap the benefits of the postponement. A succession of injuries have left the Colombian struggling to maintain any rhythm this season and it’s likely that the additional few days afforded by the fixture cancellation will have helped. It’s important for James to make sure that once he does actually return to the team or squad then he’s there to stay.
Any further injuries, whether new or recurrent aren’t going to help his confidence and from that aspect alone it’s essential that he is fit and ready to return.
So although we’re all groaning over the lack of a game this weekend and about the others closing the gap, there may well be longer-term benefits to this; even if we’re not impressed at the moment.
Admittedly, fitting the rearranged trip to Balaidos into an already tight fixture schedule isn’t going to be easy. However, with Napoli on the horizon, this isn’t the time to bring people back from injury without being 100% convinced about their fitness.