As the players who are on international duty joined their respective national teams after the Levante game - leaving Zinedine Zidane to sweat for a week in the process - those who were unfit to travel stayed behind for treatment.
Once again, Zidane will have reflected on the fact that the injuries were slowly beginning to accumulate once again. As reported earlier on Managing Madrid, Thibaut Courtois has already left the Belgian squad as a precaution following a psoas muscle strain of the hip and returned to Valdebebas.
With a calf strain and a medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain respectively, Álvaro Odriozola and Dani Carvajal became the latest casualties following injuries that occurred in training last week, linking up with Éder Militão and Eden Hazard in the medical room.
Not surprisingly, the media are having a field day. Analysing Real Madrid’s injuries has become a regular occurrence but what they fail to mention is that with the coronavirus lockdown coupled with the almost paranoid rush to get teams playing again, these are no ordinary times.
Although the current crop of injuries are common enough in football, it would be time to panic if Real’s players were suffering from injuries of an unprecedented nature. Although the media love to quote statistics, Real Madrid are by no means the worst-off team in the league when it comes to breaking down the injury stats.
There are several factors which go a long way towards offering a reasonable explanation of why there are so many soft-tissue injuries sustained at present.
Firstly, there was the COVID lockdown that ended competitive football earlier this year. It’s hard to imagine that looking back, Real Madrid played their last competitive game on the 26th February 2020, before the lockdown changed everything as we know it.
Until training was allowed to resume on the 11th May, the players trained at home. Remote access supervision was provided by the coaching staff, albeit delivered using online and innovative approaches led by head of fitness Grégory Dupont.
Opportunities for football-based sessions were non-existent, and this had more of an effect on the players who were already under treatment before the lockdown began.
Eden Hazard’s case certainly wasn’t helped by the lack of physical contact following his ankle surgery a few weeks before. Conducting rehabilitation sessions on a remote basis is difficult enough although Real’s medical and fitness team did what they could within the limitations imposed at that time.
For Eden Hazard in particular, and also Marco Asensio, the after-effects of the restrictions placed on rehabilitation will have carried over on their return to Valdebebas.
With the essential aspect of fine-tuning missing from their progressions, that period will likely have contributed to their subsequent injury setbacks. Even if these seemed minor at the time, there would have been a degree of association involved.
Secondly, the biomechanical imbalances that invariably occur during longer-term rehab will have been harder to address, since both players would likely have developed altered movement patterns that can affect other areas of the body as a result.
Typically, an injury to one side of the body, such as a right knee or calf muscle can alter the balance between the structures on the affected side and those of the other limb.
Biomechanical imbalances usually show up in muscles of the opposite leg where you get minor aches and cramps that eventually turn into proper soft-tissue injuries through repeated loading.
Although the latter will have affected most of the squad members in some way, those who were carrying injuries into the lockdown (Eden Hazard / Marco Asensio) will have been the ones most at risk.
Players who subsequently sustained injuries during the training period before La Liga restarted on the 11th June (Nacho Fernández) could also potentially cite the minimal preparation time as a contributing factor to their situations.
In Nacho’s case, and also true of several other players as well, the short close season that followed the restart didn’t help either. That was due to players returning to training neither relaxed nor refreshed, and hitherto becoming prime targets for sustaining soft-tissue muscle injuries on resuming activity.
And if we are talking stats, then all the research says that the current crop of injuries are common enough in football. With 80% of muscular injuries in football sustained to the lower limbs, the injury pattern fits.
Added to this, is that the highest risk factor for injury is having had a previous injury to the affected area. Since the healing process doesn’t allow for injured structures to heal in a like-for-like manner, the risks of sustaining a recurrence increases, and the same applies to the national teams.
That brings added worries for Zidane as he waits for the medical reports coming in over the next few days.
Finally, 2020 has unfolded chronologically like no other year. We’ve seen clubs rushed back into playing in June with nearly a quarter of a season compressed into less than six weeks.
When you account for the inadequate provision for preparation together with the constant risk amongst the players and staff of either carrying or becoming infected with the coronavirus, the risk factors multiplied considerably.
I would argue that this, followed by the short close-season and the brief format of the Champions League for the clubs involved, set the scene for what we are now seeing with regards to players’ injuries.