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Zinedine Zidane is a lot happier now than he was a few weeks ago

but Real Madrid’s injuries are still uppermost in the coach’s thoughts

Real Madrid v Athletic Club - La Liga Santander Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

In the days leading up to the Eibar game on Sunday night, Real Madrid went from having a fully fit squad on Friday morning to being three players down in the space of 36 hours.

But before everyone gets too carried away, the situation wasn’t as dramatic as it sounds. Isco took a knock on his ankle in Real’s last training session on the Saturday and Vinicius also missed the session due to symptoms of gastroenteritis on Friday night / Saturday morning.

Finally, although Eden Hazard has now returned to training, Zinedine Zidane decided not to risk the Belgian striker, sensibly leaving him out of the squad that travelled to Ipurúa.

It just shows how quickly things can change in football. After a period where the injuries seemed to pile up one on top of another, it was a different story after Real’s win over Athletic Club Bilbao last Tuesday night. In a game that turned out to be quite physical, neither side finished the match with any significant injury concerns.

And Zidane was even more delighted to come through another tough game against Eibar on Sunday without Real Madrid appearing to pick up any further injuries. Based on the season so far, he’ll have been relieved that everyone came through the game against the Basque side relatively unscathed.

That too was another physical game. Karim Benzema took a knock right at the end of the first half but it didn’t seem to affect him, and Luka Modrić was seen with an ice pack immediately after making way for Fede Valverde late in the second half. Both players will be assessed for any reaction and monitored over the next 48 hours.

Those few days that followed the Athletic Bilbao game when Real Madrid had a blank injury list are highly unusual in football. Coaches rarely have a full squad available at any stage of the season, but to come through such an intensive series of games that Real Madrid have had to play in the last fortnight is a triumph in itself.

It’s not only injuries that clubs have to contend with either. At this time of year, players often succumb to chest infections and other common ailments, but this time around we are seeing players going into self-isolation if they return a positive COVID test.

This is something that can’t be allowed for in terms of prevention, but it’s fair to say that the impact of COVID has been felt right across La Liga.

Although all the training sessions are conducted under the strict regulations introduced as a result of the pandemic, it goes without saying that it’s as impossible to legislate for illness just as it is impossible to legislate for injury.

Since La Liga restarted in June, the frequency of matches has made recovery and preparation for the next game a challenge in itself.

Real now have another league fixture to play on Wednesday night against Granada at the Alfredo Di Stéfano and that’s followed a week later by a game at Elche on the 30th December.

So once again there’s not much time between matches. We’ll almost certainly see Zidane working the rotation system once again, and the players who didn’t start at Eibar will likely be in for a couple of intense physical days.

With two potentially difficult games ahead on either side of Christmas, Zidane is going to want to make sure that everyone is in the best condition possible in terms of fitness.

Eden Hazard will join the returning trio of Martin Ødegaard, Luka Jović, and Mariano Díaz (all of whom were on the bench in Ipurúa) and the training will be stepped up accordingly to meet the demands of the next ten days.

With such an intensive schedule ahead, this is not the time to take chances with players’ fitness. That’s likely to be the underlying theme in Valdebebas at the moment, and although Eden Hazard returned to full training last week, there is still work to be done in term of returning to match fitness.

It can be easy for a return to training to be taken as a sign that a place in the team will quickly follow, but often that’s not the case. Medical discharge is rarely an endorsement of a full return to play and is usually likely to end in tears unless players have fully recovered and are ready to do so.

That’s going to be uppermost in Zidane’s mind during the next few weeks, particularly where Eden Hazard is concerned, and bearing in mind Eden’s injury history this year he’s likely to take extra care as a result.

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