As Cash-Hungry Barcelona Attempts To Keep Up, Real Madrid Looks Dominant

If La Liga returned tomorrow, few teams would be nearly ready.

It’s the summer transfer window. Players are holidaying, and most teams around Europe are intent on trimming their squads ahead of the preseason, let alone the thinking about the ultimate kick-off in mid-August. Behind the scenes, club departments are scanning the market, liaising with agents and managing outgoings. Some sides have acted quickly, and others still have plenty to do.

In Spain, you can see both sides of the spectrum. If top-flight soccer began sooner than expected, national and European champion Real Madrid would be almost raring to go. Asides from the preseason rigors and getting players back up to speed, it has already assembled a squad to hit the ground running. In an alternate reality, financially compromised Barcelona—La Liga runner-up last time around—would be nowhere near prepared if the matches resumed shortly.

With negotiations persisting, a lot is happening. And a lot will change before August is out. But for the time being, here’s how things are shaping up.

Los Blancos are in control

There is a calmness and precision about the La Liga holder. With every available trophy in hand—bar the Copa del Rey—Real has marched into the transfer market with clarity. After being snubbed by Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé, president Florentino Pérez was soon shaking hands with additions Antonio Rüdiger and Aurélien Tchouaméni, two deals that add strength in depth. In Rüdiger’s case, the parties wrapped up the agreement weeks in advance.

Although 22-year-old Tchouaméni is seven years Rüdiger’s junior, the pair seem to be ready-made players. And though Tchouaméni has ended up costing approximately €80 million ($84 million), a free deal for the German makes for good business overall when you consider both have plenty to give over the coming campaigns.

There are also movements towards the exit door. Reports suggest Mariano Díaz, a bit-part player at the Santiago Bernabéu, could be leaving the Spanish capital after declaring his interest in a transfer away. That coincides with Gareth Bale’s switch to the MLS and Los Angeles FC. Regardless of how much money the team can earn and save from these departures, crafting an already-winning squad by selling uninvolved players is the logical thing to do, even if it should have occurred earlier. All this puts Real in a strong position.

Barcelona needs to act soon

In contrast, rival Barcelona has work to do if it wants to close the gap on Real, which easily won the league by 13 points last season. Unfortunately, what coach Xavi wants is irrelevant if he can’t get it. Under La Liga and president Javier Tebas’ watch, the indebted Blaugrana cannot afford to capture top players for big money if there is little funding coming the other way.

That has left orchestrator Xavi with a group of exciting young players blended with some elder statesmen, such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Adama Traoré, who joined in the previous window. While that is not necessarily an inferior mix, Barcelona’s crowning moments are realistically years away. One way it can mount a quick challenge is by adopting a shorter-term strategy.

Its transfer targets hint at that. Barcelona has stepped up its pursuit of Robert Lewandowski, which could be a slow-burner this summer. Barcelona wants him, but Bayern is driving a hard bargain. Then again, the German club knows about the Polish international’s desire to leave and—having secured Sadio Mané from Liverpool—will probably end up selling once Barcelona’s overtures turn into more respectable offers, even if it’s playing hardball for now.

None of that is straightforward, mind. Barcelona is eyeing different possibilities, such as Brazilian playmaker Raphinha. But that will likely depend on what happens with Lewandowski and soon-to-be free agent Ousmane Dembélé, an unsettled talent adding to the wage bill. Whatever transpires, it should act soon. With a blend of mainstays, new names, and players coming out from the cold, it needs a solid preseason to gel the team together and progress.

Where other teams stand

Given Real’s dominance in La Liga and Europe, it’s hard to see any other Spanish teams posing a threat next season. Sevilla and Real Sociedad can put together great runs of form but have slipped away before.

Meanwhile, Atlético Madrid—readying a squad to improve on its third-placed La Liga finish—doesn’t seem to be pulling up any trees. It does, however, look to have its record signing João Félix staying on after supposed interest from the Premier League. He’s the sort of player it needs to continue nurturing if it wants to worry its competitors.

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