Amid a host of underwhelming results and a strong current of fan discontent, Real Madrid’s efforts to rebuild the squad that has won four of the last five Champions League titles continue unabated.
Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Betis may not have been overly convincing, but it gave a glimpse into what Santiago Solari and the Real hierarchy hope to achieve at the Bernabeu.
Youngsters like Vinicius Junior (18), Federico Valverde (20) and Sergio Reguilon (22) won starts in Andalusia, while Dani Ceballos (22), Cristo Gonzalez (21) and new signing Brahim Diaz (19) were summoned from the bench.
The game offered further evidence of Real’s determination to rejuvenate a squad that has been looking jaded after four Champions League triumphs over the last five years.
The overhaul shows no signs of slowing down either. On the contrary, the revolution could be ramped up with the addition of Eder Militao, the Porto defender winning rave reviews in his first season in Europe.
Militao is just 20 and could have been forgiven for needing time to settle in to the rigours of life across the Atlantic Ocean following the completion of his move from Sao Paulo in the summer of 2018.
However, the centre-back’s adaptation has been almost instantaneous: he has missed just three of his side’s Liga Nos fixtures to date as Porto have built up a commanding lead at the top of the table.
A mobile right-back during his first professional seasons in Brazil, Militao has been shifted into the centre since moving to Portugal due to the presence of the irrepressible Maxi Pereira out wide.
However, in the middle he has struck up a formidable partnership with fellow Brazilian Felipe in front of Iker Casillas, marshalling a defence that has conceded just 10 goals in 17 league games and also sent Porto through to the Champions League knockout stages unbeaten in Group D.
Moreover, the mobility and attacking flair vital for any Brazilian full-back has remained with Militao during his conversion. He has no qualms whatsoever about bringing the ball out from the back, albeit occasionally setting Porto fans on edge with his extravagant dribbling under pressure.
There are signs too that he is beginning to rein in his rather enthusiastic tackling: having received no less than six yellow cards in 13 Serie A outings for Sao Paulo in 2018, he is yet to be shown a booking in Primeira Liga play.
Militao is obviously a raw talent, still learning his trade, but having cost just €4 million (£3.6m/$4.6m), his next transfer is likely to generate ten times that amount.
Madrid are short on depth in defence and, therefore, keen to add Militao to their ranks as early as the current window. They are not his only admirers, though.
Manchester United sent scouts to watch him in action during Porto’s 3-1 win over Nacional last Monday, while Liverpool have also been linked.
The defender’s €42.5m (£38.2m/$48.4m) release clause is certainly accessible to Europe’s elite, and a transfer seems a question of when, rather than if at this point.
The arrival of veteran Pepe at the Dragao could be read as Porto attempting to cover any potential exit, although attempts are being made to persuade Militao to sign a new deal prior to his departure, so as to allow his current employers to increase the size of his buy-out clause.
Nonetheless, a meeting between Porto and Madrid – who enjoy excellent relations thanks to years of close cooperation on transfers over the years – is expected before the January window slams shut and even if Militao stays put this winter, he will almost certainly be the subject of further overtures come June.
Militao remains an unknown quantity and would arguably benefit more from a further season at Porto than jumping head first into the notoriously demanding Santiago Bernabeu bear-pit.
But no matter what happens this January with Madrid, one thing is clear: this young defender has what it takes to make it at the top, and sooner or later will be starring for the Blancos or another of Europe’s top teams.