After that bruising game in Naples, Real Madrid’s players are going to need a bit of a break before the visit of Real Betis this Sunday. After that it’s another away game, this time against Athletic Bilbao at the new San Mamés before the international week comes around again.
As the season moves on into the vital stages where trophies are won and lost, the games are coming in thick and fast.
It’s not easy to forget either that Real Madrid still have the outstanding postponed game to play against Celta de Vigo although that’s not been scheduled yet. That could make all the difference as the season progresses; but squeezing this fixture into an-already hectic schedule isn’t going to be easy. The chances are that neither side will be happy with the date when this is finally announced.
Thinking ahead, however, the Champions League draw will provide some added spice to the month of March and Real’s semi-final opponents will soon be known. Despite all the focus on winning the domestic league, the club wants to triumph in Europe once again. Cardiff beckons.
The next few weeks will test Zidane and his rotational policy to the full. With no long-term injuries to speak about, those carrying medium-length injuries like Raphaël Varane who is currently side-lined by a hamstring strain, should be able to recover in time for the final push.
As the intensity increases and Real look ahead to the forthcoming fixtures against major rivals Atlético and Barça -not to mention the continued involvement in the Champions League - Zidane and co are building up to another exciting ten weeks.
When you get this close by making it to the quarter finals, it’s difficult to push the thought of winning another European trophy to the back of the mind. Was it really only last summer that Real beat Atlético in that penalty shoot-out? Time flies indeed.
The recent contrast in form between the Eibar and Las Palmas games was highlighted by how Real appeared to struggle against the Canarian side yet and managed to win convincingly in Ipurua – against all the odds if you listen to most people beforehand. It looked as though the game in Naples was going along the same lines as Las Palmas until things changed yet again thanks to the head of Sergio Ramos!
All of this only serves to illustrate how you just cannot predict the outcome of football matches with 100% certainty no matter who the opposition are.
The after-effects of the game in Naples will have been felt by most of the Real squad. Almost everyone took a knock at various stages although Dani Carvajal seemed to take more than his fair share of the tackles on the night; several of which appeared to be very late.
Once again though, the front players bore the brunt of the opposition’s challenges. Both Karim Benzema and Cristiano will likely have sore legs for the next couple of days - and they amongst others – will be glad of the extra day before the Betis match simply from the recovery aspect.
Having been spared the latter part of the game, Gareth Bale will also be glad of the additional recuperation time. At this time of year, coming back from a longer-term injury isn’t easy because the bulk of the fitness work required needs to be done alone; or at least with other players who are in the same situation.
The rest of the squad, or those that haven’t been injured anyway, will already have their fitness levels. It’s simply a question of maintaining these. The problem relating purely to match fitness lies in the fact that if players are being regularly rotated, then they’re losing that continuity that only comes with playing against proper opposition.
One drawback of the rotational system is that it often breaks up a player’s rhythm and disrupts the natural flow if you’re playing ninety minutes one week, sitting on the bench the next, and then getting half an hour the week after.
We can’t have it all ways, though. As we’ve said before, the alternative is to play people until they drop or get injured; and either way there’s no definitive answer. The current policy might not be the best in a lot of people’s eyes but Zidane will do what the thinks is right. He needs to be given that freedom.