International breaks are insufferable for many Madridistas. This past week, 12 first-team players left the capital for national team duties. Even though the club promotes these players showcasing their talents on that stage, it is a double-edged sword. When a Liga title comes down to the wire, points lost are magnified. This past decade, Real Madrid let not one, or two, but three La Liga titles slip through their fingers because of international breaks. The current injury scare regarding Gareth Bale and Luka Modric hasn’t helped such thoughts feel any better.
Gareth Bale and Wales hosted Luka Modric and Croatia in a Group E clash which saw both sides share the points in Cardiff.
The dying minutes of that match were spoiled for any Madridista watching, both Luka Modric and Gareth Bale went down with injuries. It’s unclear on the severity of each injury but both may be doubts heading into the crucial match-ups against Galatasaray and Barcelona at the tail end of October. The club will be looking to get both players back in Madrid as soon as possible to treat their injuries.
Since 2013, has FIFA instituted four international breaks during the league season. Three breaks occur between September and November and a final one in March. While half the Real Madrid team is away for 10 days, domestic opponents with their full squad spend those two weeks preparing for the Liga fixture against Real Madrid immediately following the break. The table below paints the sad picture:
The only years this decade when Real Madrid had a perfect record after the international break was in 2012 and 2017. Coincidentally, these were the last two Liga titles won by Los Blancos.
While the club prides itself in housing the best international players in the world, the price is paid dearly during these fixtures. One prominent example of a fundamental player who suffers this double duty is Brazilian midfielder Casemiro.
During the break last month, he flew to the United States to play in two exhibitions for the national team in Miami and Los Angeles. He returned to Madrid on a Thursday morning with less than 48 hours to rest and prepare (mentally and physically) to start in the game against Levante on a Saturday afternoon. There are other top starters who share this burden and unfortunately are susceptible to poor play if called upon to start these games.
Despite the recent European and international glory, Real Madrid should explore a different formula to win La Liga. Creating a base of eight to nine players who compete exclusively in La Liga is a step in the right direction. The Champions League should be left exclusively to the top international players as those fixtures are spread out further and opposing teams have similar national team level talent.
The last season when Real Madrid won the Double (Champions League and Liga titles won) was the 2016/2017 season. During that magical season, 20 players registered over 1,000 total game minutes each. Rotations were key to winning those two titles. The possibility to build a Liga dynasty while maintaining a top-flight program to win the Champions League is there.
Even with all personnel fit and ready for the El Clasico, Barcelona have been tipped by many as favourites going into the game. In recent seasons, the El Clasico has gone as far as determining who wins the League and there is no reason why this might be any different. A win for Barcelona, for instance, would put the Catalan side one solitary point above Madrid and it could be difficult getting them to slip up should they get there once again.
To now imagine that influential Real Madrid players like Luka Modric and Gareth Bale could go ahead to miss the game as well means it could be over before it is actually over. The international break hasn’t smiled positively on Madrid in recent years and no doubt when the next international break comes in play, Zidane will be looking at any option he can consider to prevent too many “casualties” in his Madrid side.