5 Key Points Where FC Barcelona Is Already Looking Better Than Real Madrid
It's still very early in the season, but FC Barcelona seem even stronger than Real Madrid. Barça is one point ahead in La Liga just a week after the "Cycle-ending" tie at Anoeta after Madrid lost all three points on their Levante visit this weekend.
There are a few reasons why I feel this way, and they will be addressed in full in this slideshow, but truth is, even though the Galacticos shouldn't be underestimated, they seem to be in the same shape as last season, while Barça has gotten better and deeper.
Plainly put: Barcelona has just augmented their lead this offseason.
1. Barcelona Had a Way Better Transfer Window
This boils down to a man named Cesc Fábregas. What a way to hit it off.
The way he's playing right now, he's worth 60 million euros at the very least. For those that don't know, that's twice what Barça paid Arsenal a month ago.
Magnificent piece of business.
For Madrid, Coentrao was worth basically the same, and I don't think I have to explain just how abysmal the talent and performance difference between him and Cesc is.
Don't get me wrong: Fabio is a very good, solid player. But he's not a game changer by any means. Fábregas is just that.
Jury's still out on Alexis Sanchez and other injured Madrid signings Nuri Sahin and Hamit Altintop, but I find it hard to imagine they will perform up to Cesc's standards.
Varane and Callejón seem like fillers at best, too.
I'm going to be magnanimous, so I won't even mention Thiago in this discussion (I will later, though).
2. Madrid Has Dead Weights on Its Squad, Barça Doesn't
Just looking at the Madrid squad, you realize there's at least four players that aren't needed or wanted.
Kaká, Lass Diarra, Albiol and Granero top the dead weight scales at the Bernabeu, while Varane, Higuaín and Callejón aren't exactly fighting for starting jobs, either.
I don't know if it's a case of not being able to get rid of them, especially in the Kaká and Lass cases, but it's very evident they're not wanted and that they're just not good enough to have a roster spot.
However, they're still there, one way or another.
Barça did a magnificent job getting rid of dead weights this season, giving the boot to Gabi Milito, Bojan and Jeffrén, who were all occupying squad spots they didn't deserve at all.
They still got one in Andreu Fontás, but compared to what Madrid owns in the unwanted market, Barça is in way better shape for sure.
3. Barcelona Has Better Depth on Its Squad Than Madrid
Last season, Barcelona depended on the following players: Valdés, Adriano, Alves, Abidal, Piqué, Puyol, Mascherano, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Keita, Pedro, Messi, Villa.
That's 14 players. Pep Guardiola had lots of luck with injuries, because that means you're four players away from starting a reserve player.
To the 2010/11 group, Barcelona added: Cesc, Alexis and Thiago. That makes it 17 men who are very reliable starters.
In other words, Guardiola almost has two full starting teams at his disposal this season.
Right now there's three starters injured: Piqué, Alexis and Iniesta. Thanks to Barça's depth this year, nobody's worried as they still have 14 top-level players to fill in without dropping performance.
On the Madrid side of things, they have their 11 starters: Casillas, Ramos, Pepe, Carvalho, Marcelo, Xabi, Khedira, Di Maria, Özil, CR7 and Benzema. But after those it just drops off talent-wise, and it's difficult to find replacements that guarantee the same level of performance on the pitch.
Coentrao is one. Arbeloa is another. That makes it 13. What about the rest?
Higuaín seems to be a different player since his back injury (much like Kaká), while the rest are simply reserve players that are there for emergencies.
It's no wonder Mourinho fields the same XI almost all season long. But a couple of injuries or fitness problems could impact Madrid severely this season.
4. Madrid Has Shown They're Pressured: Players Are Making Bad Decisions
Madrid certainly want to win this year.
But they just might want it too bad.
Last week, Marcelo got foolishly red-carded in the Champions League. And this weekend, Pepe, Di Maria, Khedira and Cristiano Ronaldo lost their heads in their match against Levante.
Only one red card was shown, but they could have seen a couple more.
The pressure is starting to pile up for a Los Galacticos squad that has a lot to lose. If they don't find a way to keep it cool and steady, they'll find it very hard to cope this season.
5. Newsflash: Messi's Not Slowing Down (Cesc Fabregas Isn't, Either)
I honestly thought Messi would take a step back this season.
It's not looking that way so far, but a great part of that is because I wasn't counting in "the Cesc factor."
In Fábregas, Messi has found his ideal partner in crime. He's the first player I've seen that has that rapport with the Argentinian superstar.
He had it with Eto'o for a while, but never did he have something as natural and as dangerous as the combination he and Cesc have formed.
Iniesta and Xavi are great passers and compliment Messi, too, but they lack the goal-scoring Fábregas brings into the picture.
Last season, it was Xavi and Iniesta passing and Messi doing the scoring, but with Cesc, it can be either or. One play Fábregas is assisting Messi and the very next play they switch roles seamlessly with Cesc assisting Lionel.
Don't be alarmed if they both break the 50-score count in goals and assists this season.
This partnership is the main reason Barcelona is to be feared this season.
Follow Andrés Ehrli on Twitter! @ehrli