Now that Real Madrid have played four games since the return of La Liga behind closed doors, this seems like a good time to take a look at the injury situation at the club. It also gives us the chance to see how Zinedine Zidane et al. are coping with the new (and hopefully only temporary) normal.
With the games coming in thick and fast, the main problem seems to be the quick turnaround between one match and the next as this obviously affects the recovery periods. The games are played on average every three or four days, so there’s very little time to recover from one game before preparations begin for the next.
Often both of these run into each other. The warm-down the day after one game frequently becomes a hybrid session, bridging the gap between rest and recovery and making a start on an early build-up to the next fixture.
Consequently, any players carrying injuries over from one match into the next can run the risk of missing a hefty chunk of game time if they end up aggravating a minor niggle and turning it into a full-blown injury.
As a result, the potential for players to sustain a higher number of injuries was something that needed to be taken into account when the staff drew up the training plan for this particular period.
We’re seeing an unusual injury pattern as well, with players seemingly picking up injuries that would normally be expected to last several weeks being able to return to training in half that time.
Isco, for example, injured a hamstring muscle in training a week ago; missed the games against Valencia and Real Sociedad, but made the squad for the Mallorca match. Early diagnosis of any injury is essential, but this is complicated at the moment by the cross-over between recovery time and preparation for the next match.
A similar situation occurred with Sergio Ramos; who as we know only too well, was forced to leave the field on Sunday night with a knee injury following a collision with Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak.
Real Madrid’s captain didn’t train on the Monday but still played in Mallorca 48 hours later; scoring from a free-kick to emphasise his presence. It appears that by adapting to take a flexible approach to injury assessment, the subsequent return to play protocols paid off.
Although it is still early days yet, this could well be the pattern for the remainder of the season.
Real Madrid are by no means unique in having several squad members injured, but fortunately for Zinedine Zidane, though, none of the injuries are of a long-term nature. Now that Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard are both back playing, it appears that it’s the routine injuries that are keeping the medical people busy.
This is hardly surprising, considering the lack of preparation time that clubs were allowed in the rush to get La Liga up and running again.
Going back a couple of weeks, Nacho Fernández was the first of Real Madrid’s squad to pick up a soft-tissue muscle injury.
This happened in training in the week leading up to the Eibar game, but it’s important to note that there were already players in Zidane’s squad who were injured at that point, namely Mariano Díaz and Luka Jović.
Nacho’s thigh strain came at a time when, predictably, the intensity of training had been increased to reflect the players’ fitness needs at that stage.
Since then Nacho’s been joined in the medical room by Lucas Vázquez and (briefly) Isco. The interesting thing from a medical aspect is that all three injuries, while different, are typical injuries occurring in football.
Nacho and Isco’s injuries were to the front of the thigh (quadriceps) and the back of the thigh (hamstrings) respectively. Specifically, Nacho’s injury is to the rectus femoris muscle of the quadriceps group; which is also known as the “kicking muscle” because of the action it performs.
This muscle originates above the hip and is big and powerful just like the hamstrings, which are often referred to as the “sprinting muscles”.
Both injuries are similar in many ways since they occur in muscles that are designed to produce fast, explosive, movements which can easily result in soft-tissue injury. In most cases when injuries to the thigh and hamstrings are sustained, these are quite obvious at the time.
Injuries to the soleus muscle of the calf are different. Soleus injuries usually present as a slow gradual build-up of discomfort over some time and can easily be mistaken for cramp; with players reluctant to miss training based on what appears to be minor symptoms.
These symptoms gradually worsen and are frequently shrugged off on the basis that “it’s only a niggle”.
As time goes by, that niggle then becomes more and more intense, doesn’t ease as quickly as the player would expect and before you know it this has turned into an injury that is likely to result in a forced absence from training and matches for several weeks.
The very nature of football makes all three muscle groups outlined above highly susceptible to injury, and broadly speaking, this is the situation affecting most clubs in La Liga at present.
Although there are some exceptions, many clubs are in a similar situation to Real Madrid with several being worse off. Some players across the top two divisions have picked up season-ending injuries that aren’t going to respond until this short campaign is over.
As far as the longer-term injuries are concerned, Mariano Díaz and Luka Jović were both unavailable at the time of the restart; but by the time the third game came around - away to Real Sociedad – Mariano was back in the squad and Luka Jović had returned to the training field earlier than expected.
We’ve not been able to fully judge exactly how well Marco Asensio is doing after his spectacular return at Valencia, but putting his goal aside, he didn’t look as though he has been out of action for nearly eleven months following his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear in pre-season.
Eden Hazard, likewise, has slotted back into the team as if his ankle injury didn’t happen; and he’s only likely to get stronger in the next few weeks in terms of general fitness.
So as mentioned at the start, the main worry for Zinedine Zidane and the medical / fitness staff is dealing with the routine injuries that form the greater part of the normal working day.
Although many will say that clubs like Real Madrid often play two games a week anyway, the current scenario differs in that essential match fitness has been lost through the lack of regular competitive training and playing.
Yes, the sharpness will improve as the weeks go by, but as stated earlier, this has an effect on the potential for an increase in injuries at present. Taking a flexible approach to routine injury management is likely to be the pattern in the weeks to come.