Real Madrid play out the league season this Saturday at Villarreal, and at this point it’s certainly a game that Zinedine Zidane will see more as an intrusion on the build-up to the final than anything else.
Sure it’s great to have a game with nothing at stake other than pride on the last day of the league season, but there are always pros and cons in situations like this.
On the one hand, he’ll be able to give his preferred line-up for Kiev a run-out as a unit at some point in the proceedings if he wants, while on the other hand the risk of key players picking up injuries that could potentially exclude them from the final is always a worry.
From the moment the semi-final against Bayern Munich ended, Zidane’s priority has been to minimise the chances of anyone being injured between then and the final.
Barça, of course, weren’t going to respect his wishes in that sense and there were times during the Clásico that it looked as though they were out to inflict as many injuries as possible on Real Madrid’s players in the lead-up to the final.
Cristiano’s injury was just an accident and the resulting ankle sprain was simply a result of going over on the ankle in the act of scoring.
As he landed, the foot could clearly be seen to ‘roll’ and although Gerard Pique was in the vicinity and the last Barça man making the challenge, it was Cristiano’s momentum that led to the actual injury.
By all accounts, Zinedine Zidane was never too worried about Cristiano’s availability for the final - at least not in public anyway - but with injuries there’s always that nagging doubt that damaged tissues might not respond in the way they should do for whatever reason.
So while he’ll have oozed confidence and optimism, inside there will still be a part of Zidane that remains cautious.
Villarreal, like Real Madrid, don’t have anything to play for in terms of European qualification next season. Have already finished in one of La Liga’s Europa League slots along with Betis and their city rivals Sevilla, Villarreal will also be playing out the season.
Without being involved in events at either end of the table, Javier Calleja’s team won’t be under any pressure. Despite this, Villarreal will still be looking to end their own league campaign with a win; and taking some points off Real Madrid would certainly allow them to finish on a high note.
As always, the worry will be whether they adopt a more physical approach to the game; perhaps thinking that Real’s players will be less keen to get involved in one-to-one contact situations with the following week in mind.
For a manager, that’s got to be one of the most difficult aspects of end-of-season games when priorities lie elsewhere.
Although Zidane will want the team to be up for a win at the Estadio de la Cerámica - aka El Madrigal - he’s not going to want this to be at the expense of a player or two ending up on the treatment table in Valdebebas come Sunday morning.
But football can be a physical game, and as we all know, injuries are impossible to predict.
With Real welcoming back several players who have been unavailable in recent weeks, the Villarreal match could be deemed ideal for giving them another run out in a competitive situation. Nacho will be keen to play; as will Rafäel Varane and Luka Modrić.
Whether they will be involved on Saturday or not will obviously depend on how Zidane decides to approach this game; and if Dani Carvajal makes a return to the team - as is widely anticipated - that will give an added edge to the proceedings.
Looking on the positive side, though, Zidane can use this game to his advantage.
If he decides to field his preferred line-up for Kiev at some point on Saturday against Villarreal, although not necessarily at the start, it would be tempting to say that everyone he does use will almost certainly figure in Kiev.
Those he doesn’t include on Saturday night, or who are on the bench at Villarreal but aren’t called upon needn’t worry too much. We’ve all seen how Zidane likes to mix things up when it comes to team selection and how he often likes to spring a surprise or two with his ‘rotations’.
The bottom line though is that he knows what he’s doing; and even if it turns out to be what everyone least expects, Zidane usually gets it right.