Although tactics and teamwork have featured highly in the discussions about who will play in Real Madrid’s Champions League quarter-final game against Liverpool, the talk among the Liverpool support had been about Mohammed Salah coming up against Sergio Ramos once again.
But the calf muscle injury sustained in Spain’s midweek match against Kosovo has all but ruled Sergio out of both legs of the Champions League quarter-finals, El Clásico, and in all probability, a couple of league matches after that.
We all know how injuries can influence a team’s performance, but that’s never been an excuse used by Zidane. On Merseyside, though, they still hold Real Madrid’s captain responsible for the Egyptian striker’s shoulder injury in the Kyiv final three years ago when Real took the trophy for the third successive time.
It’s hardly surprising then that the prospect of the reds gaining revenge by dumping Real out of the Champions League had been the main talking point for many Liverpool fans until last Wednesday.
There has almost been an overwhelming feeling of disappointment among the Liverpool support that Sergio Ramos won’t play in either of the two legs thanks to the injury sustained on duty with Luis Enrique’s side last week.
Well, rest assured that it’s an even bigger disappointment in Madrid. Real’s skipper is known for being a big-game player, and the fact that he’s going to be missing on Tuesday night is just another setback for Zinedine Zidane to deal with in a season where injuries have never been far from his mind.
The absence of Real’s inspirational captain will be felt a lot more by Zidane et al than by Jürgen Klopp. And, of course, it takes away any distraction that could potentially have crept into Liverpool’s game had Sergio Ramos been on the field.
Seriously, we need to question the wisdom of playing two international games in the week leading up to such an important stage in the European calendar.
We’ve known about the Qatari World Cup for years now, so surely it wouldn’t have taken an awful lot of forward-thinking for the planners to tweak the fixture lists to accommodate this.
It all adds to the argument that football was rushed back last June without a lot of thought given to the clubs and particularly to the players.
Zinedine Zidane alluded to this himself recently when asked about Real’s injuries, stating that there was no pre-season and that the games were coming thick and fast.
It’s an undisputed fact that clubs were asked, or rather told, to play on through the pandemic. Now the effects are becoming obvious for all to see.
Ever the optimist, Zidane was still hopeful after the Eibar game on Saturday that there was a chance of Eden Hazard and Fede Valverde being in contention for the forthcoming games against Liverpool and Barça.
Without committing himself to giving a definitive answer about either player, the coach simply said that he would assess Real’s squad in the lead-up to the Champions League game on Tuesday and that he would make a decision on the fitness of both players nearer the time.
Whether this was an answer designed to appease the media or not I don’t know, but at least it deflected the usual questions about Eden Hazard’s fitness.
It’s a no-win situation for Zidane when it comes to talking about the Belgian attacker. If the coach includes him in the squad then he’s bringing him back too early. If he doesn’t, then in the eyes of the media it’s just a case of Eden Hazard being injured yet again.
At that stage, the usual criticisms will inevitably be rolled out about Sanitas, the training methods, and the fitness regime.
At least Zidane was quick to react about the intonations that Sergio Ramos wasn’t fit to go away with the Spanish squad and acknowledge that the injury just happened without looking for someone to blame, but as with all players who return injured from the internationals, it’s the clubs who suffer.
In all honesty, I don’t think I will be the only one for won’t be expecting to see Eden Hazard in Real’s squad for either the Liverpool game or the Classico that follows.
Muscular injuries are simple to address in theory but not so easy in practice, and it’s probably too early to expect Eden (or Fede) to turn out this week. As always, though, we’ll have to wait and see.