The Champions League kicked off in earnest again this week and while Bayern Munich remain an imperious figure following the acquisition of Pep Guardiola as manager, most eyes are focused on Spain when predicting the eventual winner.
After a season of semi-finals that saw Barcelona and Real Madrid vanquished by their German counterparts in Bayern and Borussia Dortmund, both clubs have entered into competition with each other once again, flexing their financial muscle to bring two of the best players in the world to join the remainder of their star-studded squads.
While Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo lead the way in terms of the ‘best player in the world stakes’ the Spanish heavyweights dipped into the small pool of players chasing them to strengthen their squads following late stage embarrassment by the Germans, by signing Neymar and Gareth Bale respectively.
It could easily be said that Barca and Real now possess the four best players in the world between them currently, while the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Luka Modric and Isco are all rather handy as supporting cast.
With such an array of talent at their disposals, it would seem churlish to really consider anybody else as having as much chance of either of these sides of landing the Champions League trophy come May.
With Real in particular chasing that elusive Decima following a wait of what will be 12 years upon the conclusion of this campaign, their splashing of the cash was a statement of intent that they are no longer going to show the patience to reclaim top spot among Europe’s big dogs.
While the off-set of Mesut Ozil may eventually prove to be a mistake on Florentino Perez’s part, Real have addressed one of the flaws in their side by recruiting Dani Carvajal back from Bayer Leverkusen, with his new found knowledge of German football potentially useful in overthrowing last season’s dominant nation and swing power back to the Spanish capital.
Asier Illarramendi will also prove a shrewd, if expensive, signing as back-up for Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira, while Isco has started life in Madrid in the kind of imperious form he will need to maintain if supporters’ ire over the sale of Ozil is to soften over the course of the campaign.
Obviously the great white elephant is Bale, whom it would be easy to say was the one player Real didn’t really need to bring in and simply provides a foil as a potential match-winner, should Ronaldo not be on form for whatever reason.
A fee of £86million for a foil seems a tad excessive, but a goal on his debut in the draw with Villarreal will help start the reparations he owes such lavish expenditure.
But Real have such an array of ways in which to hurt you, even with Karim Benzema struggling for form for both club and country, that their firepower is a match for anybody on the planet right now (apart from Villarreal), and with Carlo Ancelotti in charge, they should be considered favourites for the title of Champions of Europe.
Barca also flexed their financial muscle to bring in the talented Neymar, with the world waiting eagerly to see if he adapts to the European game.
Neymar has sparkled at Santos and impressed during the Confederations Cup, but there is always an element of doubt over the acquisition of Brazilian superstars going straight into top clubs, as they can often wilt under the pressure, or be drawn into extra-curricular activities and lose form and desire quickly.
But at £56million, Barca clearly believe in his talent to be one of the top players in the world, hoping he can take the pressure off Lionel Messi in the goal-scoring stakes.
Though no goals in the opening four games hardly appears a good omen on that basis, a man-of-the-match display in the late victory over Sevilla will boost his confidence in adjusting to the Spanish game.
Meanwhile, Barca will regret not spending elsewhere on the squad, with their midfield options weakened by the loss of Thiago Alcantara to Bayern, while the defence is still paper thin, with injury-prone Carles Puyol and the rapidly declining form of Gerard Pique still the first choice currently.
Those defensive weaknesses have been on display already this season, with Valencia and Sevilla unlucky not to come away with any points, having both netted twice against the reigning Liga champions.
But with possession still key to Barca’s game and it still so hard to get the ball away from Xavi and co, they will always be an imperious threat on any stage and will be a menace to anyone come the latter stages.
Whatever the eventual result in this season’s Champions League, it would be difficult to dismiss the chances of either Spanish heavyweight come the conclusion of the campaign.
Expect both sides and their expensive new toys to be in the mix to land European glory.
La Liga Results – Week 4
Athletic Bilbao 3-2 Celta Vigo
Atletico Madrid 4-2 Almeria
Barcelona 3-2 Sevilla
Elche 0-0 Valladolid
Getafe 2-1 Osasuna
Granada 0-1 Espanyol
Levante 0-0 Real Sociedad
Malaga 5-0 Rayo Vallecano
Real Betis 3-1 Valencia
Villarreal 2-2 Real Madrid