The return game with Atlético at the Wanda last weekend seems to have been the turning point for Real Madrid as far as injuries are concerned.
It’s a brighter picture all around for Zinedine Zidane. The stats don’t lie, and the number of players returning to fitness has increased since then. The coach included both Eden Hazard and Sergio Ramos in the squad against Elche yesterday, leaving Mariano Díaz and Dani Carvajal as the only two players currently unavailable through injury.
It’s a far cry from the situation a month ago when Real Madrid had Nacho, Rodrygo, Fede Valverde, Álvaro Odriozola, Marcelo, Eder Militão and Dani Carvajal all out with various injuries in addition to Sergio Ramos and Eden Hazard.
Apart from Sergio Ramos making a welcome return to the team against Elche, another bonus for Real Madrid was Eden Hazard making an appearance from the bench in the 75th minute.
To say he’s not had the best of seasons would be the understatement of the year, but even though he’s taken a battering in the media, support from Zinedine Zidane and particularly the Belgian national team coach Roberto Martínez has been unwavering.
That says a lot in itself. Coaches can be quick to criticise players’ injury records, yet that’s never been the case where Zidane is concerned. The coach has always been a model of patience whenever discussions centred on Eden Hazard.
Occasions when Zidane’s frustrations have surfaced in the past have been notably few and far between.
Likewise, Roberto Martínez has never been one to hesitate in saying his piece about Eden Hazard’s injury problems. As a physiotherapist himself, Roberto knows more than most about the challenges that players face.
Accordingly, he is also well aware that there is a constant demand for players to return to the team at the earliest opportunity.
It would have been easy for Zidane to take the approach favoured by several other high-profile coaches when asked about injuries.
Some coaches don’t appear to think twice about targeting their frustrations towards the medical teams or even the players themselves in an attempt to justify poor performances or results on the field.
There’s no doubt that injuries have been a significant issue at the club this season, and a classic example of this is the number of injuries that affect certain players more than others.
Dani Carvajal has suffered in this respect because players are often most at risk of injury when they have been out for a while, and like Eden Hazard, it is becoming a season for Dani to forget.
His recent injury, sustained in the Valencia game, has kept Dani on the side-lines since February. As discussed on previous occasions, the more this happens, the more difficult it becomes for players to return with the confidence that the same thing won’t happen again.
People often say that a team is at its most vulnerable defensively immediately after they’ve scored, and the same can apply to players returning from injury.
Making that transition from full-scale practice matches on the training ground can be a difficult gap to bridge when you take into account the differences in intensity between training games and proper league or cup fixtures.
The two may not seem to differ much with the empty stadiums and lack of atmosphere, but playing against outside opposition results in a higher intensity of competition than taking part in games against your teammates ever will.
However hard players may appear to be competing, there’s always the likelihood that they won’t go in for challenges in training in the same way they would do in a competitive fixture, either for fear of inflicting an injury on a colleague or even themselves.
The latter happens when people are in their final stages of training before making a return to competitive play and may be hesitant about making full-blooded challenges, either subconsciously or otherwise. Either way, the real test of fitness comes when the game starts.
Moving forward, Zinedine Zidane will likely spend his Sunday by assessing the progress of those who returned against Elche with Tuesday’s game against Atalanta in mind.
Neither Marcelo or Álvaro Odriozola were in the squad for Elche, so on that basis, it will be interesting to see who Zidane includes to face the Italian club on Tuesday.
His main worry at the moment will be whether anyone has picked up minor injuries on Saturday. If so, the question will be if these are likely to respond to treatment in the next 48 hours.