With Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey Zinedine Zidane’s next knock-out engagement is in the Champions League against Napoli. In between now and February 15, the Real boss has the luxury of playing just one game a week, which he has not had since August apart from during the winter break and international fixtures.
The let-up in the fixture list will not only allow Zidane to rest some players who have borne the brunt of the club’s injury problems since January (Sergio Ramos and Casemiro) but also to ease some of those players who have been on the treatment table back into action in time for the visit of the Serie A side in two weeks.
Marcelo, James and Pepe on the mend
With Luka Modric almost ready for a return after his most recent layoff, good news for Zidane comes in the shape of two of his senior defenders, Marcelo and Pepe, and James Rodríguez, all of whom are back on the training pitch.
Zidane has suffered in the absence of his full backs, being forced into emergency measures in Vigo and a reliance on the under-fire Danilo. Having Marcelo back will allow the Frenchman to switch the versatile Nacho to the right until Carvajal is fit.
However, Zidane has exercised prudence when bringing players back from injury and in Mateo Kovacic he has a ready-made replacement for Modric after the younger Croatian’s recent performances. Marcelo is a case apart but Pepe and James are not automatic starters with Raphaël Varane ahead in the pecking order in the centre of defence at the moment.
Carvajal back on February 7
With the canterano available again Zidane will be able to play his full-strength defence against Napoli. Assuming he suffers no setbacks in his recovery, Carvajal will be last out of the infirmary and is expected to return to training on February 7, eight days before the first leg.
No return date for Bale
It is yet to be determined whether the Wales forward will be able to take part in the return leg at the San Paulo on March 7. There is no fixed return scheduled for Bale, who has been out since picking up an ankle injury against Sporting in the Champions League on November 22. After the Sociedad game Zidane told reporters that Bale “is back on the training pitch but we have to take it step by step with him and I can’t give a specific date” for his return. It is expected though that he may be available for the return leg and after a glut of seven games in 22 days Zidane may be able to field his strongest 11 in Naples as he seeks to guide his side into the last eight.