What to know about Real Madrid, Barcelona and La Liga, which starts this week

The 2017-18 La Liga season kicks off on Friday, as one of the best leagues in the world once again occupies the weekends of soccer lovers all over. Here's everything you should know before the season starts.

Real Madrid is the heavy favorite

There's no doubting that Real Madrid is the best team in the world at the moment. After all, Los Blancos have won the last two Champions League crowns and manager Zinedine Zidane has as many trophies in two seasons (seven) as he has loses.

The team didn't do a whole lot in the transfer market, bringing in left-back Theo Hernandez from Atletico Madrid and midfielder Dani Ceballos from Real Betis. But it didn't need to do too much. The team is absolutely loaded and is greatly boosted by the ever-improving Marco Asensio. The expectation is for Real Madrid to win the league again this season.

Neymar's gone and it could be a 'down' year for Barcelona

Let's be clear - a down year for Barca is still a top-four finish. Any team with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez will contend, but the Spanish Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid has left a bad taste in the mouth of Barca fans and whose who watch them. Was Neymar that important to this team that the switch just turned off again Real? No, not likely. This team has to figure out its identity in attack, and to add to the club's frustrations going into the season, Luis Suarez is expected to be out for the first four to five weeks after suffering an injury in the second leg of their Super Cup loss to rival Real Madrid. When he does return, the club will need to find a new formula up front. Where as it was hard to double team one of the three stars in attack, now that there are just two, it's a little more manageable. This team should still win most of its matches and be contending for the league, especially if Ousmane Dembele and/or Philippe Coutinho join the team.  

Atletico Madrid still solid as ever

Another team that didn't do a whole lot in the transfer market (because, technically, it can't) but didn't really need to. It's an Atletico team guided by Diego Simeone, and that means the team will be very good. In is Sevilla star Vitolo, who will spend the first half of the season at Las Palmas on loan due to the club's transfer ban, but the team is so strong throughout the starting XI that it should once again contend for second or third place. Augusto Fernandez recovers from his knee injury and will be crucial in the middle of the pitch for Atleti. Also a threat in Europe, as usual.

Valencia looking to rebound

Poor signings when it comes to players and coaches have left Valencia in a difficult situation and pressure on billionaire owner Peter Lim, as it dreams of returning to the top of Spanish soccer. A slow transfer market is expected to pick up big time before the end of August as new, proven coach Marcelino looks to mold his squad by possibly bringing in some of the players he had a couple years back at Villarreal, while also going after talented midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia of Inter Milan. The team is still probably a year away from contending for a European spot, but the squad will look different in two weeks and could maybe finish in the 5th-7th area if it gels. If there's one player to watch, it's young midfielder Carlos Soler who has become one of the most promising young players in the league.

Can Eibar keep it up?

This small club from Basque country has really done wonders in the league. Five years ago, the team was in the Spanish third flight, moving up to the second division the year after and La Liga the year after that. It's gone from 18th place in 2014-15 to 14th the year after, and then the club finished a respectable 10th place last season after spending much of the season in the top seven spots. Not flashy, the team has adapted the work ethic and passion of coach Jose Mendilibar, and it shows with them finishing with the eighth most wins in La Liga last year. 

A match at Eibar used to be considered a sure victory - not anymore.

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CBS Sports Writer

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 Goal.com... Full Bio

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