Speaking in his role as USA ambassador to La Liga, the Real Madrid legend says the ‘Clásico’ will be decided on the smaller details.
Raúl’s words are likely to be true. Never has there been more of an emphasis placed on planning and preparation in football than there is today.
Attention to detail is paramount, particularly when the big games come around. That’s something that will seemingly come naturally to Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid at the moment, with every match being a proverbial ‘big game’ anyway.
From the choice of footwear to the length of the warm-up, what to eat on the day of the match and even when to have the strappings done, it’s all about detail. Everything comes down to planning.
The preparations for the ‘Clásico’ will have started the moment the Bayern game finished. Injury assessments, tactical reflections and the physical condition of the players will all have been subjected to post-match analysis by Zidane and his team once the fuss had died down on Tuesday night.
After the victory in the Champions League tie, what worked and what didn’t will have been up for discussion between Zidane and his coaches. From the moment the final whistle sounded against Bayern, thoughts will have immediately turned towards the forthcoming ‘Clásico’.
Zidane probably already knows what his starting eleven against Barça is likely to be. Even at this early stage he’ll have a fair idea of his potential line-up for Sunday.
He’ll also be waiting for word on the current situation with Gareth Bale, since this is likely to change on a daily basis.
If Gareth has only suffered a minor recurrence of a previous soleus muscle injury as earlier reported, then it’s not impossible that he could be included in the squad to face Barça.
Whether he plays or not will depend on Gareth being able to fully participate in training in the next 48 hours; since Zidane is hardly likely to throw the Welshman in without first asking him to prove his fitness.
In all probability Zidane will expect everyone who is going to be fit to be training on Saturday; and is likely to name his team at that point. If there are doubts over anyone at that stage, they’re unlikely to be included in the team for Sunday.
As soon as that session is over, the individual preparations will begin; with each player doing what works for them. Everything then will be catered towards the match.
Each player will have his own personal routine to follow; and this will include their nutritional arrangements. Athletes in general are now paying far more attention to their diet than ever before; food diaries have become the normal and sports nutrition has become a lucrative market.
Football has recognised that correct sports nutrition can affect performance; and for Real’s players this means following a round-the-clock dietary and hydration strategy designed to help them function to the maximum.
Although they’ll all eat together before the game, individual preferences will be taken into account and specific needs catered for; such as those of Nacho for example, who is diabetic.
Gone are the days when the whole team would tuck into a huge steak a few hours before the kick-off!
On the day of the game, anyone who needs taping or to have a strapping applied will have these done at the time they find most appropriate.
Some types of strapping are better applied as near to the warm-up time as possible; while others such as the coloured variations of the ‘kinesiotape’ are better applied earlier in the day to allow them sufficient time to bond better with the skin.
The fitness coaches will have catered the warm-ups to the specific conditions of the pitch and the climate on the day, and of course the players will have ensured that they’ve selected the corrected footwear for the game.
Many will also have set preferences as to the order in which they get ready and changed for the game.
Footballers don’t like to deviate from their regular match day routines; preferring instead to stick with what they know to be tried and trusted.
So from preparation and planning to team selection, Zidane and his support staff will have everything in hand.
Preparing properly off the field can influence events on it. As Raúl says, the winner is likely to be the team who pays the most attention to detail.
Not forgetting, of course, the psychological aspect. Real clearly have the upper hand in this field; having defeated Bayern and extended the current run of victories.
When compared to Barça’s loss against Juventus, this undoubtedly puts the Madrid squad in the driving seat; although it will be interesting to see how motivated the visitors will be on Sunday.
At the risk of trotting out the old familiar clichés, Zidane’s squad are becoming renowned for their ability to ‘dig deep’ when the odds are against them.
That alone has seen Real triumph on several occasions this season when things haven’t been going so well.
It remains to be seen whether Barça, in their current circumstances, are able to do the same.