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Barcelona v Real Madrid: What´s going on in LaLiga?

SoccerNews in La Liga 26 Oct 2018

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Normally the battle between Spain’s heavyweight frontrunners, the first Clasico of 2018-19 arrives with LaLiga in a state of flux.

Barcelona are at the top of the table despite not having everything their own way, while bitter rivals Real Madrid head to Camp Nou in seventh position after a torrid period that has left head coach Julen Lopetegui on the brink.

A broken arm means Barca talisman Lionel Messi is sidelined, while Los Blancos are stumbling through life without departed record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo, who has inexplicably not been replaced.

Powered by the exploits of its two defining superpowers, LaLiga has sat largely unchallenged as Europe’s most dominant league over the past decade.

As such, the current standings make for exciting, if slightly disorientating, reading. But how did we get here?

Not all rosy in Valverde’s garden

Top after nine games, all-but assured of Champions League progression halfway through the group stage and watching Lopetegui’s Madrid reign collapse inwards from afar. Life looks pretty sweet right now for Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde.

But scratch a little below the surface and the Blaugrana are not quite the powerhouse they have been for much of the modern era.

Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Inter in Messi’s absence arrived with welcome authority, given Valverde’s side have come to look increasingly lost without the great man on the field.

Rested among the substitutes for last month’s visit to Athletic Bilbao, Messi hauled himself from the bench with Barca behind and they grabbed a 1-1 draw.

He made Philippe Coutinho’s opener and scored the second as Sevilla faced a thrashing at Camp Nou last time out. Then injury struck and improbable heroics from Marc Andre ter Stegen were required to hold out for a 4-2 win.

The line-up Valverde selected against Inter was curious. High-profile attacking signings Ousmane Dembele and Malcom were unused substitutes, while Rafinha started against the team he was loaned out to last season.

The academy system from which Rafinha emerged has not produced plentifully for some time, which means coach and board appearing completely at cross purposes in the transfer market is an even bigger problem for a first team that has won five of their nine top-flight games this season.

Lopetegui on the brink

All that said, one has to wonder what Lopetegui would not give to swap Valverde’s problems for his own.

Prising Zinedine Zidane’s successor from his World Cup assignment with Spain so clumsily was one thing, but selling Madrid’s all-time leading goalscorer and not bringing in any notable replacement left Valverde on a hiding to nothing.

Zidane’s shrewd management of a talented dressing room bustling with egos brought three successive European titles. The irony is that the Galacticos policy president Florentino Perez launched at the start of the century, with the aim of bringing Champions League dominance, had been parked by the time it arrived.

After breaking the world transfer record to sign Gareth Bale in 2013, Madrid did their usual trick of paying big money for World Cup standouts in James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos 12 months later.

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