Barcelona were reportedly prevented from bringing Villarreal midfielder Denis Suarez back to the Camp Nou on deadline day after Real Madrid president Florentino Perez made moves to block his transfer.
Catalan-based newspaper Sport claimed Suarez would have been permitted to rejoin his old club if Villarreal found a replacement. However, Perez stopped Real winger Denis Cheryshev from joining the Yellow Submarine in order to obstruct Suarez's exit.
Villarreal's offer for Cheryshev was said to be the best bid Los Blancos received, but they accepted a loan offer from Valencia instead, meaning Suarez will remain at El Madrigal until at least the end of this season.
It's added that Barca still expect to buy their former protege back from Villarreal this summer, but Perez's manoeuvres ensured Real's fierce foes were at least prevented from strengthening their squad this winter.
Manchester City academy graduate Suarez was on the books at Barcelona for two years between 2013 and 2015, but he failed to make a senior appearance for the Blaugrana and departed for Villarreal last summer seeking first-team opportunities.
Since then, the 22-year-old has excelled as a starter in La Liga, scoring three goals and making eight assists in 26 appearances this season. Fan account La Masia recently confirmed his second successive Player of the Month award at El Madrigal, having won in November also:
Denis Suárez has gotten the prize for best Villarreal player for the 2nd month in a row! pic.twitter.com/P3bCiIQyka— La Masia (@Youngcules) January 14, 2016
Those kind of accolades illustrate his importance to manager Marcelino's plans, and Barca manager Luis Enrique appeared eager to re-sign a player he's undoubtedly familiar with from his time in the club's reserve ranks.
Yahoo's Andrew Gaffney also reported late in January that Villarreal president Fernando Roig assured the club's fans that holding onto Suarez was a priority, again testifying to his evolution since leaving Barcelona:
Villarreal president Fernando Roig has ruled out Denis Suarez leaving this month while admitting the club tried & failed to sign Cheryshev.— Andrew Gaffney (@GaffneyVLC) January 28, 2016
Enrique was pleased to finally welcome Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal into his squad at the beginning of 2016, with the club's 2015 transfer embargo having prevented them from registering until January 1 of this year.
However, the pair of summer signings were Barca's only recruits of the winter transfer window, despite the reigning champions of Europe having struggled with several first-team injuries this season.
Midfielder Rafinha is expected to miss the remainder of the season after requiring surgery on his knee in September, while the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic have also been sidelined for various periods.
The El Clasico derby is regarded as one of the most bitter rivalries in football, but it seems Real Madrid conductor Perez won't limit his battles purely to what transpires on the pitch.