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Asensio, Ceballos, Isco: Real Madrid putting sleepy Barca to shame in the transfer market

12:00 BST 13/08/2017
Marco Asensio Real Madrid Bayern Munich UCL 18042017
Madrid have been much more alert in the transfer market in recent times, bringing in footballers who would have been ideal for their Clasico rivals


The cycle appears to be changing in Spain. Just a few years ago, Barcelona's midfield was considered by most to be the best in the world and by many more as the finest in the history of football. However, that is no longer the case, and Real Madrid have taken full advantage.

Back when Jose Mourinho was coach at Real, the Portuguese's plan to stop Barca's brilliant midfield was often quite primitive and sometimes cynical. Up against Xavi, Andres iniesta and Sergio Busquets, Los Blancos kicked off the 2011 Copa del Rey final with a midfield trio of Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Pepe.

Madrid 2/1 to beat Barcelona

It was, essentially, a treble pivot and it coined a new name: trivote. It was not pretty, but it did work that day at Mestalla as Mourinho's men lifted the Copa. Days later, though, the plan failed as Barca got the better of Madrid in the Champions League semi-final, with Pepe getting sent off for a wild and high tackle on Dani Alves.

Real did claim La Liga in 2011-12, but that was largely thanks to their prowess on the counter attack and in the summer, Mourinho brought in Luka Modric to add more creativity to the Madrid midfield. And although that season ultimately proved unsuccessful, it was a step in the right direction.

Modric had been scouted by Barcelona and there was interest from the Catalan club before the Croatian moved to Tottenham in 2008. He looked like a young Johan Cruyff, he had tremendous technique and also admiration for the Blaugrana, happily posing for a photograph with the club's shirt after an interview with El Mundo Deportivo in which he confessed: "It must be something special to play for Barca."

Barca are being destroyed - Laporta

At that time of Modric's signing for Madrid, Barca boasted an impressive midfield, with Xavi still at the club, Cesc Fabregas considered to be his natural heir and Thiago Alcantara waiting in the wings as well. It was an embarrassment of riches.

Frustrated at a lack of first-team opportunities, however, Thiago left the following year, in 2013, to join Bayern Munich (while Fabregas would also depart in 2014) and that summer, Madrid snapped up another exciting midfielder: Isco. The Malaga man was considered a future star after winning the Golden Boy award for the world's best young player and during his early days at Valencia, he had claimed: "I'm a little bit anti-madridista." There were also photos of him in a Barca shirt, while he had named his dog "Messi" after the Argentine attacker.

Isco would have been ideal for Barcelona and he was linked with a move to Camp Nou as recently as last year after a lack of starts under Zinedine Zidane. However, he is now a three-time Champions League winner with Los Blancos and a transfer to the Blaugrana is all but impossible. It is too late.

Barca then saw Madrid strengthen their midfield again with the signing of Toni Kroos in 2014 and missed out to Los Blancos on Mallorca's talented youngster Marco Asensio that same summer - all because the Catalan club did not want to pay the money (only €4.5m) up front for the transfer.

Barcelona agree €40m Paulinho deal

Madrid were happy to pay up in one go and now have another of the world's future stars in their squad. And this summer, they added another by buying the exciting Dani Ceballos from Betis for a cut-price €15m. Barca made a move, too, but left if too late and missed out on a player who would have been ideal to pull the strings in their midfield. Instead, he will be on the bench at Real.

"Barcelona have been sleeping," Xavi said earlier this summer in reference to the lack of players coming through to the first team from La Masia. In the meantime, they have also been asleep in the transfer market - and Madrid have taken advantage.

"There are players with Barca’s style who should be playing at Barca, but are playing for Madrid," former FCB president Joan Laporta told Goal last week. "And that’s because we have lost credibility, there is less excitement, that ability to bring in players with talent has been lost. And on top of that, they are not working with the youth system as they should, so that is what happens. So I am totally in agreement with Xavi."

And the 55-year-old admits Madrid are working more effectively than the Catalan club right now. "They are doing things better than us," he said. "Unfortunately. And that’s why I’m calling for the resignation of this board, because this needs to be turned around as soon as possible."

"Because if not, we will have an era, a period where, if we carry on along this path, Madrid will have many opportunities to keep winning, because they are signing players who I think we should have bought."

With the summer's top target Marco Verratti not joining, Neymar now departed and Andre Gomes largely disappointing last season, Barcelona are still looking to strengthen in the market, but fans are angered by the move for Paulinho, a 29-year-old midfielder who failed to shine at Tottenham and has been playing in China with Guangzhou Evergrande - especially at the elevated price of €40m.

It is difficult to see what the Brazilian can add at Camp Nou and many of the supporters may just take an envious glance over at Asensio, Isco, Ceballos, Kroos and Modric in the upcoming Clasico clashes in the Spanish Supercopa on Sunday and Wednesday. And wonder what might have been.