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What international break?

It’s just another day at the office for Real Madrid.

Spain v Israel - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Things could be looking up for Zinedine Zidane and the Real Madrid players provided there are no casualties from this week’s internationals.

Those involved in the Israel match in Gijón on Friday night didn’t appear to suffer any injuries that were immediately obvious; however, sometimes it can be the next day or even the day afterwards before that post-match stiffness is revealed to be an actual injury.

Dani Carvajal is one Real Madrid player who always seems to be in the wars no matter whether it’s Real Madrid he’s playing for or the national team. On the brighter side, though, he seems to take a lot of physical contact without having too much of a problem in shaking the knocks off.

That in itself is a valuable quality; some players struggle with even the most innocent-looking of knocks while others like Dani just get up and get on with it.

With Julen Lopetegui’s squad using Saturday as warm-down day for rest and recovery, hopefully there’s only going to be some aching legs for the Spanish physio team to deal with before facing France on Tuesday in the Stade de France.

It’s always a worry when these international games come around from an injury aspect; and even though Zidane was happily working away with the few players remaining in Valdebebas, he’ll have had one eye on the game in Asturias; and the other focussed on events everywhere else!

While everyone watched the international developments as the week went by, including the reported love-in between Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué, Zidane and the rest continued to train in Madrid.

The positive news was that Raphaël Varane is reported to be virtually back in full-training and if all goes well he could potentially available for the Alavés game in a week’s time. Although there was only a small group of Real players actually there to work out in the past week, sometimes these sessions with limited numbers can be really positive from a coach’s point of view.

Often this type of situation can be used to advantage; especially when you have players on the way back from injury or if somebody needs to place a particular emphasis on the physical aspect of training and focus on fitness.

Football employs strength and conditioning coaches who do the bulk of the work when people are coming back from injury and Zidane brought in his own people to work with whom he knows and trusts. Antonio Pintus joined Real Madrid in the summer and immediately started to re-organise the training plan.

On that note, the Real Madrid players currently involved with the national team will be glad of a lighter day after the Israel game; something that doesn’t happen too often in Valdebebas at the moment with the current focus on Real’s high-intensity approach to training and playing!

However, the difficulty for Antonio Pintus often lies in dealing with individual players and catering for their needs in addition to making sure that the rest of the squad work to their highest levels.

Getting back that game-specific fitness after someone has been out for a while with injury can be a real challenge for the fitness teams and it isn’t always possible to have the time to work on this when the matches are coming in thick and fast.

Karim Benzema has suffered in this respect over the past few weeks. Since Karim’s now injury-free and a regular in the team once again, he’ll be training normally with the first team squad and potentially not getting the opportunity to work on his own match fitness; which will have suffered of late due to his recent injuries and twice-weekly games.

That might sound like a bit of a contradiction, but with two games a week the recovery aspect in between matches takes on a whole different importance.

Depending on how many minutes of game time you’ve put in, say as a second-half substitute or vice versa; it’s not always possible to turn up at the training ground the next day and do some intense fitness work.

While the others who have played the full ninety minutes will essentially have a stretch and an extended warm-down, you need to consider what’s going to happen tomorrow. The next day will likely be a normal training session; and after that you’re into the pre-match preparations for the next game which will be coming up in either 24 or 48 hours depending on what day the match falls.

So from this aspect, although Zidane’s numbers will have been light, the current situation with the majority of the squad being away will at least enable Karim Benzema, Raphaël Varane, and anyone else recovering from a recent injury such as Danilo for example, to gain some much-needed “quality time”. This applies not only from a fitness angle but also from being able to work on some game-specific football exercises in the sessions.

With such a limited number of players to work with, Zidane will have been able to focus on the small-sided games approach; which when utilised correctly, allows people to work at a more intense level in terms of football-related fitness provided everyone buys into the idea.

There’s always been heated debate among coaches as to which is the most effective: the small-sided game approach or traditional training. There are arguments both for and against each strategy; but if you’ve only got a limited amount of players available to train, then used effectively, the small-sided game approach can have real benefits.

This approach can be tailored specifically to suit the likes of Karim Benzema and Raphaël Varane; who can then test each other out in game-related scenarios. Provided each works to his own maximal intensity, this kind of training can be effective.

Where the system falls down, though, is when players don’t put as much into the session as they could; but no doubt Zidane et al will be on top of this!

To finish off with a few references, though, research within the game has shown that all the components of fitness required for football need to be underpinned by a strong capacity for aerobic endurance (Coutts & Grant, 2005; Bordon, 2006); since it is the aerobic metabolism that supplies most of the energy used in football.

In developing or improving that aerobic capacity therefore, various authors have concluded that both small-sided games and traditional running are equally effective (Coutts & Sirotic, 2004; Impellizeri et al, 2006; Hill-Haas et al, 2009). The key, as always, lies in the amount of work the players are prepared to put in! They need to be prepared to work to their own personal limits.

If everyone applies themselves in the right way, any players coming back from injury or who just need a few days of good old-fashioned hard work can really benefit.

So although Real Madrid only have a skeleton squad training in Valdebebas at the moment, it’s not all bad. By making use of the time available Zidane and the fitness people can use this period to continue with their high-intensity fitness policy.

Although this might be hard work at the time, it will hopefully yield the benefits in the longer-term with reduced injuries and improved specific football-related fitness.


Bordon (2006). Training Methods. In Football Traumatology, Current Concepts from Prevention to Treatment. Volpi V (2006), Milan, Springer. Pp 23 – 31.

Coutts AJ, Sirotic AC (2004). A comparison of small games training versus interval training for improving aerobic fitness and prolonged high-intensity intermittent running performance. Paper presented at the Australian Association of Exercise and Sports Science Inaugural Conference, Brisbane, Australia.

Coutts A, Grant A (2005). Training aerobic capacity for improved performance in team sports. Sports Coach Australia. Vol. 27 (4).

Hill-Haas SV, Coutts AJ, Rowsell GJ, Dawson BT (2009). Generic versus Small-Sided Game Training in Soccer. International Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol. 30 (9); 636 – 642.

Impellizzerii F, Marcora SM, Castagna C, Reilly T, Sassi A, Iaia FM, Rampini E (2006). Physiological and performance effects of generic versus specific aerobic training in soccer players. International Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol. 27 (6); 483 – 492.

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