Real Madrid returned to training on Sunday with a closed-door session in Valdebebas, and immediately the focus turned to the Copa del Rey match this Wednesday against Alcoyano.
Sunday’s training was behind closed doors, and you can always tell that Zinedine Zidane means business when this happens. There’s training, and then there’s training. But when the sessions are in private, this is usually a sign that the coach has a pressing agenda that he wants to keep within the camp for the time being.
Travel issues over the Osasuna game last weekend and the defeat by Athletic are still fresh in mind. There’s also the injuries that will affect Zidane’s options for the up-and-coming games with Alcoyano in midweek and another trip to the north next Saturday to face Alavés.
Everyone was disappointed at losing to Athletic Club in midweek, and the Copa del Rey game provides a chance to move on from that and get the focus back on the league campaign in the weeks that follow. With the Champions League about to resume again in late February, there will be plenty to concentrate on in the coming weeks.
Not least, Zidane will have spent some time over the weekend liaising with the medical staff for updates and progress reports on Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal, Rodrygo, and Raphaël Varane. Now that Luka Jović has moved on loan to Eintracht Frankfurt we’ll find out shortly how Zidane intends to approach the midweek cup game and which players are likely to figure in his thoughts.
While people are understandably lamenting the quick exit from the Supercopa, at least the team didn’t have to travel outside of Spain this time. Travel is still a sore point for Zidane though, bearing in mind the appalling situation this time last week when Real had to travel to Osasuna in terrible conditions.
There were accusations that Zidane was looking for excuses after Real dropped two points with the draw in Pamplona. But looking at the situation around travelling as opposed to the actual game itself, suggestions that Real should have travelled on the day of the game instead of the night before just weren’t practical from a logistical aspect.
Real Madrid were not the only club affected by the weather either. While Real were sitting on a plane in Madrid Barajas airport waiting for the all-clear for take-off on the Friday, Rayo’s squad had set off by road from Madrid for their game against Mirandés, before having to turn back due to the appalling and dangerous weather conditions.
Some of Rayo’s players were even pictured helping other motorists to dig their stranded vehicles out of the snow. If both games had been scheduled for Friday night instead of Saturday, travelling on the day certainly wouldn’t have been the best of ideas under the circumstances.
In a week when Madrid had its heaviest snowfall in almost fifty years, surely there must be a case for making decisions about these fixtures a lot sooner and taking people’s safety into account when doing so.
Thibault Courtois has also drawn criticism over his comments about being made to travel to Pamplona. Bearing in mind that the goalkeeper has a habit of speaking out it seems highly unlikely that he would have held his tongue even if Real had taken all three points on the night.
We need to try to separate results from logistics in discussions of this nature, and Thibault certainly has a valid argument if we look at this purely from the safety aspect. Although several matches were off at the weekend, others went ahead anyway despite the frozen conditions.
There’s no doubt that in almost all cases the groundstaff work their socks off trying to get pitches playable, often aided by an army of loyal supporters who happily turn up armed with a shovel to help clear the snow away. Yet there are occasions where the conditions underfoot are just too dangerous for play to be allowed.
That’s a different matter though from making a journey (of any distance) in dangerous conditions. As mentioned earlier, I think we need to prioritise the risks instead of focussing on the results.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to say you should have gone this way or that way or on a different day or time. But it’s also easy to overlook the dangers that accompany travelling in adverse conditions by allowing results to influence what should be an objective judgement.