Checklist incomplete

Coutinho has been heavily linked with Barcelona in recent days.
Coutinho has been heavily linked with Barcelona in recent days. / AFP
  • opinion

  • Ahead of the Super Cup 'Clásico', only Real Madrid can be pleased with their summer's work

Behind closed doors at the Camp Nou and the Bernabéu, they will be going through the pre-season checklist.

New kit launched – tick, global trip completed –tick, schedule in hand – tick, and then we come to the tricky ones… Significant signings completed? Superstar egos in check? And that’s where the differences lie.

Real Madrid pricked the bubble of Cristiano Ronaldo when he made noises about leaving the capital in the early part of the summer amid his tax tribulations. I suspect an official gave him a stadium map with a route to the exit sign if he needed to find it. It went very quiet after that.

Meanwhile, in Catalonia, all of the noise has been about Neymar. At first, we all thought it was posturing but Barcelona may be secretly content to bag a ridiculous amount of money and rid themselves of a distraction in the long term.

In the short term, they have a big issue though; they need to balance a squad which was inadequate before the number eleven shirt became vacant. Their ‘representatives’ seem to be camped in plush hotels in Liverpool and Dortmund with a bag of cash in tow. If Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembélé, and any other starlet was to join Barcelona, there needs to be a significant amount of time to settle into a far more demanding club.

The teams meet over two legs in the Spanish Super Cup this week and it will not give a significant insight into what is to come. When the clubs play their best eleven, there is very little to choose - in fact nothing to choose. The issue comes when injuries, suspensions and fatigue kick in.

Last season, Zinedine Zidane could regularly make nine changes and the equilibrium wouldn’t be affected. If his opposite number made any alterations then Barça’s balance would wobble.

Ernesto Valverde would like to impose his new coaching ideas from the start but it is impossible when he doesn’t know the exact make-up of his squad. Zidane can start working on plans A-B-C etc.

In Barcelona, they need to start re-planting; in Madrid, all in the garden is rosy. They have cleared out some of the deadwood, trimmed everything and the seeds that were sewn a year ago are allowing saplings to flourish.

Real Madrid are ready to go. I’d argue that the only position they could actually strengthen is goalkeeper with the addition of David De Gea. It has gone quiet on that front but don’t discount it.

Barcelona is still very much a work in progress, with their representatives due to return from trips to foreign lands and their wares yet to be tested.