Will Barcelona Start Slowly, and Could Real Madrid Pounce Early in La Liga?

Stanley Chou

Tito Vilanova's cancer sunk the team emotionally. A new coach comes in unexpectedly to manage in his first year in Europe. Defensive additions will be late if they ever come. The preseason has so far been unkind to the players' fitness. The fixture list is crammed. Will Barca struggle early on?

Barcelona's season starts Sunday with a Liga clash against Levante, and things don't really let up from there. Barca will play five matches over the span of three weeks to start the season, and there is the possibility they will lose ground in that time frame.

Why?

One, the coaching situation. Tito Vilanova's resignation, sadly spurred by his battle with cancer, has understandably and clearly affected the team's spirits.

On the other hand, Gerardo "Tata" Martino, the new coach, has very little time to adjust. He's never coached in Europe, despite a sparkling record in South America. He's never had to deal with the pressure of a team as big as Barca, either.

Coming in late compounds the problem. He's barely had time in the preseason to install his coaching ideas, and he's had basically no time for personnel decisions.

Speaking of which, Barcelona have not made the long-awaited centerback addition. If it does come, it would come very late, giving the player very little time to familiarize himself with his new team.

In the preseason, Barca traveled eastward on its Asian tour and played friendlies against Thailand and the Malaysian League XI. The trip was marred by jetlag, poor playing surfaces, and some would even say bad planes and accommodations.

Of course, developing the Asian market is a priority, and giving Asian Cules a rare glimpse of their heroes is great. On the other hand, from an injury and fitness perspective, the tour has been very hard on the players. Pedro Rodriguez, Cesc Fabregas, Neymar Jr., and even Lionel Messi suffered some form of injury on the tour.

The injuries were not serious (especially in Neymar's case) but it's not an auspicious start.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid has looked as sharp as ever in its preseason, flying through its friendly matches. Los Blancos have faced stiffer European opposition and came out on top, beating Paris Saint-Germain, Everton, Chelsea, and Internazionale.

Of course, Carlo Ancelotti is a new manager, but he arrived earlier and his transition (having already coached big teams in Europe) should be easier. And it's true Gareth Bale, if he comes, would come quite late in the window. But his addition seems more of a luxury than a necessity.

After the Levante game, Barca travel to the Vicente Calderon to battle Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Supercup just three days later.

Four days after that, they travel to Malaga for another La Liga match. Three days later, Barca return home for the second leg of the Supercup against Atletico..

And four days after that, they will receive a perennial power of Spanish football, Valencia, at the Camp Nou. Last season, Barca managed only a draw and a 1-0 win in their fixtures against Valencia.

In the equivalent time frame, Real Madrid play three games - at home to Real Betis and Athletic Bilbao, and an away trip to Granada.

Barcelona will play home and away to the 3rd placed team last year, home to the 11th, away to the 6th, and home to the 5th. Real will play home to the 7th and 12th, and away to the 15th.

Real could potentially take this chance to build an early lead in La Liga. Last year, an early slide from Real gave Barca a big lead from the gate, one which seemed more and more insurmountable with each passing week until the trophy belonged in Catalonia.

Barca will have to be extremely attentive in the early stages in order to repeat as Spanish champions. An early loss of momentum could be very hard to recover from if Real Madrid come out in top form.

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