Madrid aim to make most of rare midweek break

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Javier Soriano/Getty ImagesCarlo Ancelotti has some time to tweak his team on the training pitch.

This week will be a strange one for Real Madrid. No midweek Copa del Rey match, no midweek Champions League match, just some rare rest and recuperation ahead of what will be a crucial few weeks for Carlo Ancelotti and his men.

A week without any midweek games is a welcome one for a side that has been powering through its matches at 100 mph without taking its foot off the gas. This will be Los Blancos' longest break from competitive action since the winter break. Indeed, it will be their first week without a midweek game since the middle of November, midseason break aside, and that was only due to the international matches. In a season that is long and hard, especially for a team such as Madrid that will look to claim success on three fronts this season in La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, a week on the training pitch is a delight.

- Train: Gareth Bale vs. Jese

Managers will often be quoted as saying the next match cannot come soon enough for their players when they're on a winning streak. But the side from the Bernabeu squeezed eight matches into January and has played five in February already. There has been no time for rest, physically or mentally, with some big games coming up.

The fixtures have fallen kindly for Madrid. Elche visit the Spanish capital on Saturday before Ancelotti and his troops fly to Germany for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Bundesliga club Schalke and then contest the small matter of El Derbi against Atleti -- a side joint-top of the league alongside Madrid and Barcelona -- the following weekend. The outcomes of the latter two matches will have a big say on Madrid's season, and some recuperation from what has been a hectic match schedule should help.

Madrid showed no signs of fatigue as they cruised to a 3-0 victory at out-of-form Getafe on Sunday, their fourth consecutive win and 12th from a possible 13 in 2014. Ancelotti has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, leaving little sympathy for Madrid amid a demanding schedule, as Los Blancos are extremely well-equipped to deal with one. When Cristiano Ronaldo misses out through suspension, the on-song Jese Rodriguez plugs the gap. When Diego Lopez is rested, Iker Casillas takes his place. Madrid have enviable options all over the pitch, with arguably the most talented squad of footballers on the planet.

But burnout, in some way, shape or form, is bound to rear its head if Madrid want to win the treble this season. That's why Ancelotti and his coaching staff will be hoping to make this rare week count in preparing and managing the squad for a fresh assault on La Liga and the Champions League.

A requirement to squeeze the majority of the Copa del Rey matches into January has been the root of the packed fixture calendar since the turn of the year. Madrid progressed through their first match, against Olimpic Xativa, before Christmas but had to contend with two-legged affairs against Osasuna and Espanyol last month before a similarly energy-sapping derby doubleheader against Atletico to kick off February. It's a decision that helps those still involved in European competition further down the line, but it ensures a full-throttle return to action after the midseason interval.

While the whole squad should benefit from a six-day gap between matches, a few in particular will welcome the break with open arms. Gareth Bale featured for the full 90 minutes for the third match in a row at the Coliseum on Sunday, the first time he's managed that for a number of months, and a match-free midweek should help him continue his route to 100 percent match fitness. Madrid's older head, in midfielder Xabi Alonso, should also feel the benefit ahead of Saturday's clash with Elche and the trip to Germany next week.

The match-free midweek will not just be limited to the players. Ancelotti and his coaching team will have a rare full week to work with their squad at Valdebebas, a chance to really iron out any tactical flaws the Italian has spotted in recent matches, without the focus turning directly to another match just days after the last one. Madrid have been superb of late and are unbeaten in 25 matches in all competitions, winning 21 of them, but Ancelotti is not one to rest on his laurels.

The time could also be used to prepare Raphael Varane, who hasn't started a match in La Liga since early November in the 5-1 defeat of Real Sociedad, for a return to league action. The Frenchman has been sidelined through injury but came through Madrid's 2-0 derby triumph in the Copa del Rey semifinal second leg at Atleti with flying colours, getting a full 90 minutes under his belt. Sergio Ramos is just one booking away from missing a match, and if he collects a yellow card on Saturday, it would rule him out of the big league trip to the Calderon at the start of March. Playing Varane alongside Pepe at the back would be the sensible move.

Next week will be a return to what has been the norm for Los Blancos in recent weeks and months, but the intensity levels will be ramped up as they continue their search for "La Decima" with a trip to Schalke in the Champions League. Ancelotti and his men better make the most of this week at Valdebebas.

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