Barcelona flying high without Neymar while Real Madrid trying to shake off the rust

We aren't even a fifth of the way through the season, but Barcelona is already in complete control of La Liga. A fantastic, perfect start to the season -- which wasn't expected after Neymar's departure to PSG -- sees the team with 18 points and six wins in six games, with the latest coming on Saturday in a 3-0 win at Girona. Lionel Messi is the league's top scorer with 11 goals, and the team has been red-hot and boosted by Paulinho, while also getting some help with two own goals in its latest win.

Real Madrid picked up a 2-1 win over Deportivo Alaves on Saturday but has already surprisingly dropped seven points so far this season and is seven points behind Barca. Held at home by Valencia and Levante and then losing at Real Betis were all concerning results, but fans must remember that not having Cristiano Ronaldo for the first four league games due to suspension played a part in those results.

A poor preseason for Barcelona, especially with two defeats to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, made it seem like the Spanish League would be a one-horse race. How could Barca compete? No signing would be able to replace Neymar, and the midfield doesn't have enough to compete. And here we are, with Barca rolling and Messi having 11 goals, with Ronaldo scoreless.

Real didn't need to make any key signings, as it boasts the top squad in the world and talented wunderkinds Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos, with the latter scoring both goals on Saturday.

But with 15 percent of the season already in the books, these teams seem to have swapped expectations. Barca was expected to struggle, and is now the clear-cut early favorite to win the league. The Catalan club is off to its best start since 2013-14 where in won its first eight league clashes. Real Madrid looked like a team that could go the season undefeated, yet it has looked as sharp as a plastic knife. 

It's too early to declare one a winner, but Barcelona sure looks good. The midfield is rejuvenated, the quickness and efficiency in attack is there, and there's no crying over the loss of Neymar. As for Real Madrid, this is the same team that won back-to-back Champions League titles. Zinedine Zidane's squad just has to snap out of its funk. It is like a Porsche still in neutral. Once it gets into fifth gear, we'll have a race. But until it does, Barcelona remains on top and the heavy favorite.

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Roger Gonzalez is an award-winning writer based in Virginia that has covered pro soccer from Europe's top clubs to Argentina's first division. Roger started out his pro soccer writing career with Full Bio

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