- Real Madrid dropped more points in La Liga, while Barcelona continues to romp over its competition. It's clearly still early, but it's worth asking: Will there be a genuine title race in Spain?
It's not yet November, and already the question has to be asked: Is Real Madrid done in La Liga's title race?
The mathematical, literal answer, clearly, is no. The season is 10 games old. There are still 28 games to go, two head-to-head meetings against Barcelona still to come and the unpredictability of dips in form, injuries for which no one can account at the time. That said, after Sunday's 2-1 loss to Girona, Real Madrid sits eight points behind its unbeaten rival, and all of the preseason predictions that included Real Madrid romping to another league crown while Barcelona wallowed in its post-Neymar apocalypse surely seem misguided now.
Barcelona is a tidy 9-0-1, and Lionel Messi continues to score at will, adding his league-leading 12th goal of the season in a straightforward 2-0 win at manager Ernesto Valverde's former club Athletic Bilbao. Easing to three points at San Mames is a microcosm of Barcelona's season thus far–what could have been a difficult circumstance was brushed aside with relative ease.
On the flip side, there is the issue of Cristiano Ronaldo (because for every Messi storyline there must be an equal and opposite Ronaldo one, right?). The Portuguese superstar is fresh off claiming another FIFA player of the year award, will likely have a Ballon d'Or to follow and is still capable of scoring at will on the biggest stage. Last season's Champions League knockout stage is all the proof one needs of that. But his league form has sputtered, with his Spanish Super Cup suspension keeping him out of the start to the league season, followed by a single goal in the six games which he has played. There's speculation he could be facing another ban after a hands-to-the-face incident with Girona's Pere Pons on Sunday, and with Gareth Bale still out as he recovers from an injury, the BBC line's production has gone from prolific to paltry. The depth, while still enviable for most clubs around the world, isn't what it was in the recent past. Gone are James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata, while the supremely talented Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez and Dani Ceballos aren't quite as capable.
All of this amounts to cause for an overreaction, of course. As stated, it's October, and there's plenty of season to be played, but while you consider that Barcelona will need to drop a bunch of points the rest of the way and that the club hasn't lost five or more league games in a league season since 2008-2009, just take a gander at the upcoming schedule.
The stretch leading into the first Clasico of the season–Dec. 23 at the Bernabeu–will be telling for Real Madrid's long-term hopes. In that time, Barcelona hosts fifth-place Sevilla and has three away matches at teams currently second, sixth and seventh in the table–Valencia, Villarreal and Leganes. Potential for dropped points is certainly there. Real Madrid, however, doesn't have it much easier. It must play at Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid and Leganes while hosting Sevilla. Should Barcelona maintain or add to its lead over the next six weeks, it could render this season's Clasicos largely unimportant when it comes to the grand scheme of the league table. And while it's easy to reduce La Liga to a two-horse race, one can't overlook what's been happening at Valencia, where a rejuvenated side has all the makings of a legitimate challenger.
"We have to remember that La Liga is a long competition, there is a long way to go and I'm not worried. We can handle this," manager Zinedine Zidane said following Sunday's loss. "We've just dropped three points and eight points behind the league leaders, but that changes nothing. We know we can turn this around. We will have better days and our rivals will surely drop points over the course of the season.”
Real Madrid is 6-2-2 through 10 games, typically a fine mark by all accounts. But counting on Barcelona to drop points in droves doesn't appear to be a very steady solution. Ronaldo, Zidane and Real Madrid have earned the benefit of the doubt, but now it's time for the reigning player and manager of the year to show that this is nothing but an early-season blip. After all, following Real Madrid's Super Cup thrashing of Barcelona in the summer, this was supposed to be an uncontested romp to another title. The early warning signs are there, though, and by the time the calendar hits January, Real Madrid could find itself in a far more drastic league standing than this.