A LOOK AT LA LIGA
In Barcelona there is a quiet restoration of a masterpiece. In Madrid it is like a jigsaw that has been strewn across the floor and needs someone to piece it back together.
Maybe too much has been written about what is going wrong with Real Madrid in the post-Ronaldo/Zidane era and not enough has been observed about how Barcelona are coping without Andrés Iniesta and temporarily minus Messi.
Ernesto Valverde doesn't have the style of Pep Guardiola nor the brashness of Luis Enrique but he is proving to be just as talented a manager. His revolution has been a shrewd and silent one.
When the team left the field at the San Siro this week it struck me just how much the team has been restored with minimum fuss and with an eye on the long-term future.
The average age has dropped dramatically with the introduction of Arthur Melo (22), Clément Lenglet (23), Ousmane Dembélé (21), Malcolm (21) and Philippe Coutinho the senior signing at the age of 26.
The team has been refreshed by a series of mainly sensible signings who are crafting a career at the Camp Nou. Ok, Ousmane Dembélé cost a sizeable 105 million euros and he's yet to totally reach the expectations, but he is the exception.
Arthur wasn't fazed at taking on the number eight shirt of Andrés Iniesta and he plays the part magnificently. He's slipped into the midfield orchestrator role and looks as though he could solve the seemingly impossible conundrum of how to find the successor to Iniesta and Xavi. He has the same DNA.
Clément Lenglet belies his youth. Twenty-three is young for a central defender, especially when you have to dovetail with an institution like Gerard Piqué. I believe the young France international has forced even Piqué to raise his game. Samuel Umtiti will be a Barcelona centre-back for years to come but Piqué hasn't had any competition for his place in a decade. Once Umtiti is fit again the manager will have centre-back options, a new luxury for him.
Malcolm has required patience since signing from Bordeaux in the summer. At the time of writing he's been on the field just 114 minutes since the 41-million-euro investment. This week he announced himself with a headline-capturing cameo at the San Siro. Within seconds of being thrown on he controlled the ball, swivelled his hips, threw the defenders and curled in the much-needed Barça goal.
The Brazilian is getting a patient introduction that wasn't afforded to Dembélé. When a club spends over 100 million euros on a player they can't drip feed him. Dembélé has been judged very quickly, maybe too quickly. He's not exactly hit the ground running; he famously injured himself trying a trick. The thing is that he has an incredible natural talent. There are shades of Neymar who took a couple of seasons to fully establish himself.
Factor into the equation Coutinho who turned 26 in the summer and Nélson Semedo who is still 24 and you can see the bigger picture painted by Valverde.
While Real Madrid piece everything back together he's carefully replaced established stars with players of promise. Long-term planning is beginning to pay off!