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Injuries will be in the background as Real Madrid plan for tough games at Valencia and Barça

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Zidane’s focus returns to the race for La Liga

Training Real Madrid Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

After the win in Belgium, it’s now time to focus on the up and coming fixtures against Valencia and Barça.

These are two tough games that won’t necessarily define Real Madrid’s season at this stage; but depending on the results both will contribute to the atmosphere at the club over the next couple of weeks

As usual, injuries will feature in the background as Sunday’s visit to the Mestalla draws nearer with neither Eden Hazard or Marcelo in contention due to ankle and soleus muscle injuries respectively. Additionally, Lucas Vázquez remains unavailable due to a broken toe.

At least there’s been a positive conclusion to the first of Real’s three games on the road with the win in Bruges adding no new injuries to the mix.

That’s some good news at last; plus with Nacho having been back in full training for over a week and part of the squad for the Champions League match, another name comes off Real Madrid’s injury list.

Zinedine Zidane has been given a welcome boost with the news that James is now more active in terms of his recovery from the medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain sustained a few weeks ago in training with the Colombian national team.

He’s now reported to be back running but depending on close he is to making an actual return to full training will obviously determine at what stage Zidane is able to consider him again

Injuries to the MCL can be difficult to resolve and frequently result in some degree of instability being present which can in itself lead to the potential for recurrence.

It’s been noted that James has a tendency to try to come back from injuries before he’s ready; and whilst that approach may work with certain managers, Zidane doesn’t seem keen to take any chances with returning players if he thinks there is a good chance that they are not quite up to it in terms of recovery.

An example of this is Nacho, who has been out for a while with an injury similar to James’ but who hasn’t been rushed back to fitness by Zidane.

Even with Real having ample cover in defence at the moment it’s still to everyone’s benefit for Nacho to be available if required rather than being rushed back just to sit on the bench.

A common problem with players returning to the running stage of rehab such as James is reported to be at the moment is that people then think they are only a week or so away from getting back into full training.

The reality of course is a lot different. General running will be only a small part of James’ fitness regime but he needs to make sure that he’s able to progress on to the harder elements of rehabilitation training when the time comes.

He’ll also need to be able to link his specific rehab into his general fitness plan if he’s going to be able to make a successful recovery and all of this takes time.

Provided the team keeps winning there are never any real problems when players are out with injuries. As long as the points keep coming in from the league games and progressions are made at the right stages of the Champions League and the Copa del Rey then everyone’s happy.

It’s usually only when things go wrong on the field that patience starts to run out and suddenly James et al find that they’re needed for the next game.

That’s when some managers and coaches start to make unrealistic demands on the medical staff and on the players themselves with a view to getting them back asap.

It’s a very short-sighted approach which usually ends badly; often with the player either aggravating the injury and missing another few weeks or having to come off in the first game back which doesn’t go down well with anyone.

Players themselves have very little patience sometimes and try to convince the coaches that they’re fitter than they actually are - often with a genuine belief that this is the case - and then take umbrage when they’re left out.

James wasn’t happy at being omitted from the Madrid side before he went away with the Colombian national team last month and also had a run-in with Rafa Benitez a couple of seasons ago over a muscular injury with each taking the opposite stance when it came to defining his fitness.

There’s an old school of thought that says players know their own bodies better than anyone else and that they’re the best people to decide whether they’re fit or not. The problem is that if we left it to the players we could well end up with more than we bargained for!

Return to play needs to be a collective decision with input from all parties. Zidane is likely to stay true to form and not take any chances; therefore there shoudn’t be any surprises in his squad selection for Sunday.

Any injuries picked up in Valencia will be obviously need to be assessed before Real face Barça on Wednesday so a busy few days lie ahead for the Madrid medical team.