Real Madrid hit the road for a testing trip at Villarreal on Sunday night, with Zinedine Zidane’s squad decimated by injuries in the early weeks of the season.
It’s a key game for Los Blancos to bounce back into winning ways after the frustration of last weekend’s 1-1 home draw against Real Valladolid, and Zidane’s team more or less picks itself with those injury problems depriving him of several men.
And those physical concerns are the first of our talking points ahead of the action.
MADRID INJURY CRISIS STRIKES AGAIN
The latest Madrid man to go down injured was Isco, who became the ninth player to be sidelined in just six weeks since the start of pre-season when suffered a hamstring injury in training this week.
The Spain midfielder joins a lengthy list in the treatment room, which is also currently occupied by summer signings Ferland Mendy, Rodrgyo Goes and Eden Hazard, along with creative talents James Rodriguez, Marco Asensio and Brahim Diaz.
With Thibaut Courtois and Luka Jovic also picking up injuries from which they have subsequently recovered, it brings into question the training and preparation methods in place at Los Blancos, especially as the club has also suffered from a similar litany of injuries in previous seasons and continues to do so despite a summer reshuffle of the medical staff.
However, Madrid are by no means the only big club to suffer high-profile absentees, and the injuries sustained by the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Kylian Mbappe and Gabriel Jesus opens up a wider debate about the physical demands placed upon top players. Are we asking too much of them?
VAZQUEZ TO CHALLENGE FOR STARTING SPOT?
A piece of good news for Zidane, who is believed to be highly frustrated by his club’s failure to land Paul Pogba during the summer transfer market, is the return of Luka Modric following suspension. The Croatian star is set to return straight into the starting eleven, bolstering the midfield following the injuries sustained by James and Isco.
Unless his plans are disturbed by any more last-minute injuries, Zidane’s big selection decision is whether Isco’s absence should lead to a starting spot for Vinicius Junior or whether Lucas Vazquez should be promoted to the starting line-up for the first time this season.
Zidane hasn’t always appeared to fully trust Vinicius, whose progress has come to a halt following a series of sensational displays midway through last season, while Vazquez has always been one of his more trusted performers.
A starting spot for Vazquez would entail a switch of flanks to the left-hand side for Gareth Bale, who has ironically become a guaranteed starter once again following a turbulent summer which very nearly saw him leave the club. And with his team in desperate need of a morale-boosting victory, this is the ideal stage for Bale to reaffirm his renewed – if rather accidental – status as a key player for Zidane.
WILL VILLARREAL UNLEASH THEIR FRUSTRATION?
Hosts Villarreal will be feeling highly frustrated as they head into the game, knowing they should have gained all six points from their first two games rather than the solitary point which leaves their near the foot of the table.
The season opener saw the Yellow Submarine lead on three separate occasions at home to newly promoted Granada, including a 4-2 advantage with just 15 minutes remaining, but fail to hold onto their advantage and eventually settle for a remarkable 4-4 draw.
Then, last week, the local derby trip to Levante saw Villarreal take an early lead and create enough chances to put the game to bed by half-time, but wayward finishing allowed the hosts to capitalise on a quickfire pair of second-half penalties to claim a hugely undeserved 2-1 victory.
Despite the negative results, Villarreal did enough in those games to show they have enough creative talent to trouble any team in La Liga, with Santi Cazorla pulling the strings, Samu Chukwueze a constant threat down the right and Gerard Moreno looking sharp in attack. And Javi Calleja’s side will be determined that, this time, they will finally accompany a strong performance with a victory. Third time lucky for the men in yellow?
Former Brazil star Rivaldo says that he expects Real Madrid to keep improving under Zinedine Zidane while urging the Los Blancos fans not to press the panic button just yet.
Los Blancos settled for a 1-1 draw with Real Valladolid on matchday two, dropping the club’s first points in their La Liga campaign.
And Rivaldo, who played for rivals Barcelona from 1997-2002, says Zidane’s return will be enough to lead the 2017 Champions League winners back to where they belong after settling for a third-place finish in the league last season.
“Even dropping points at home last weekend in La Liga, I don’t see why the club and fans might start to panic, after all we are just starting the league and Barcelona also lost their first game,” Rivaldo said.
“Those kind of thoughts should only come after 10 matches or so, and if things are not improving.
“Zinedine Zidane is re-setting his tone on the team and soon things should get better. The club will battle for La Liga and Champions LeagueBrazil, but I don’t doubt that they might make a move in the transfer market before the transfer deadline.”
James Rodriguez’s first competitive game for Real Madrid in more than two years ended with injury misery last weekend – but his former national team doctor has little sympathy for his plight.
James had been linked to several clubs over the summer but is seemingly staying put at the Bernabeu, having spent the last two seasons on loan with Bayern Munich.
Signed from Monaco after a series of sensational displays at the 2014 World Cup with Colombia, the 28-year-old never truly established himself at Real, but nonetheless has scored 36 goals in only 112 appearances for the club.
That goal-scoring knack is what must have prompted Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane into starting the Colombian against Real Valladolid on Saturday. It didn’t go to plan.
James limped off with a calf injury that is expected to keep him out for a whole month as Madrid stumbled to a 1-1 draw.
According to Hector Fabio Cruz, a former team doctor of Colombia, this is no hard luck story.
“The boy isn’t focused,” Cruz told Futbolred. “Instead of working for the new season he went to fix his eyebrows and his hair while he should have been working.
“Big teams like Madrid expect professionalism, who will be prepared, but this boy has a bad head.”
Cruz used James’ mindset straight after the 2018 World Cup as an example – having been ruled out of the last-16 clash with England due to injury – compared to renowned workhorse Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Cristiano took a week of vacation,” he said.
“He went on a yacht with his family to Greece and then the following week he had 15 people preparing him for the season.
“He’s the most professional guy I know.
“James left the World Cup injured, hired a private plane, went to the beach and relaxed. That can’t be.”