Having now faced both Manchester City and Manchester United in America as part of their pre-season tour / International Champions Cup, Barcelona will provide the next opposition for Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid this weekend.
It will be interesting to see whether Real take the same low-key approach to the Barça game that Zidane has favoured on the tour to date.
The pre-season has gone well up to now from an injury and fitness aspect; with only Toni Kroos so far picking up a minor ankle injury. The German midfielder has assured everyone concerned via his twitter account that the injury is nothing serious and that he expects this to settle within a few days.
Dani Ceballos also picked up a knee injury earlier in the week but hopefully this won’t be anything too serious either.
Coaches expect players to develop minor injuries at this time of year; and even though they will do everything possible to discourage anyone from continuing with a minor strain, the focus is still very much on fitness.
This will be Real’s second full pre-season under the Zidane regime; with the fitness side of the training led by coach Antonio Pintus and once again featuring a marked increase in intensity.
Real’s players are already working to the maximum in training; and that accompanied by the number of matches still to be played on tour and in the forthcoming European and Super cups etc., should give each player a solid fitness base before the season proper gets going.
It’s taken time and a lot of criticism but Zidane’s approach to training appears to be paying off in terms of minimising avoidable injuries through physical conditioning. When he first took charge of the team, Zidane changed the whole approach to training and this included a deliberate increase in intensity.
Initially, there appeared to be an upsurge in muscular injuries; but as time went by these have been shown to reduce. Real ended the season with the Champions League victory in Cardiff; but another positive behind the scenes was that the whole squad travelled to the Welsh capital.
Only Pepe, now following in Guti’s footsteps by moving to Beşiktaş, was considered to be less than 100% fit for the final as a result of the two broken ribs sustained against Atlético a few weeks earlier.
Real returned to work in early July with everyone fit; no summer operations to worry about and unlike with Cristiano this time last year, no injuries from big European tournaments either.
For any club to reach the 14 – day mark in pre-season period without anyone picking up any medium-term injuries in addition to the usual strains and sprains that frequently accompany the return to training is highly unusual.
The rotation policy plays an important factor in this. Real have interchanged personnel a lot on this USA tour, and in the games against the two Manchester clubs, Zidane has appeared to be more focussed on fitness and giving everyone a game as opposed to going all out to win the matches.
Real are clearly building up slowly and surely to the serious games and it will be interesting to see whether Zidane will be happy with the players’ conditioning levels by the time the Barça game comes around in a few days’ time.
If he’s not happy then Real’s coach faces a hard decision. Does he go all out to beat the Catalans this coming weekend or continue methodically with his preparations instead?
Real are now closing the third full week of training. The players should be approaching the stage where the match preparations will almost be finalised; but if not, then the question is whether Zidane closes his mind to the fact that it’s Barça who are the opposition and continues in the same vein.
Pre-season is all about taking the time to ensure that every aspect of the coming season is discussed and planned for. This is the window where everything from tactics and teamwork to injury rehabilitation and correct fitness levels needs to be addressed if the season proper is to get off on the correct footing.
It will be interesting to see how Zidane approaches the Barça game; and whether he views this as a routine pre-season fixture or feels that the time has come for Real Madrid to move up a gear or two based on the opposition.