Two more of the world’s biggest soccer leagues kick off their seasons this weekend. Bayern Munich (2-11) will look to extend their period of unparalleled dominance of the German Bundesliga, as they take on Hertha Berlin (20-1) on Friday. That same day, FC Barcelona (14-19) begin their quest for a three-peat in La Liga, away to Athletic Bilbao (4-1). Both Bayern (1-3) and Barca (4-6) are heavily favored to win their respective leagues. Both will seemingly have their sights set on the Champions League.
The story of last season was the surprisingly competitive title race between Bayern Munich and arch-rival Borussia Dortmund. A slow start by Bayern allowed Die Schwarzgelben to open up a considerable early lead. However, trailing by six points at winter break, a furious run of form allowed Die Roten to close the gap, and eventually win their seventh consecutive Champions Shield by just two points. Club legends Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are gone, but the rich have already gotten richer. On defense, Bayern added a pair of World Cup champions, Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard. Croatian national Ivan Perisic is also here, on loan from Inter Milan.
Even with the loss of American Christian Pulisic to Chelsea, Dortmund (4-1) are a near lock for second place. The $120 million they spent in the transfer market this offseason could add up to another strong challenge to their Klassiker rivals. RB Leipzig (33-1) also stand an outside chance of making a title run, and spent handsomely to do it as well. However, as in the case of the Premier League, the real race this year appears to be for the fourth and final spot in the Champions League. Bayer Leverkusen rounded out the top four last year, and remain favorites (5-4) to do it again. Die Werkself’s run paralleled that of the Bundesliga champions— bottom of the league after three matches, but headed to Europe nonetheless, after spending one day all season in the top four. Borussia Monchengladbach (9-4) and Hoffenheim (2-1) are also contenders for fourth.
Meanwhile, in Spain, FC Barcelona are enjoying their own unprecedented run of titles: four in five years, eight in eleven, and ten of the last fifteen. Barca won La Liga last year by eleven points, over Atletico Madrid, nearly matching their own record fifteen-point margin, set in 2013. Offseason moves imply Blaugrana have their sights set on bigger and better things than their domestic league. They snatched Antoine Griezmann, from rival Atletico Madrid, for $135 million. They still employ, arguably, the greatest player in the world— a guy named Messi— and they could still win back Brazilian Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain. With few discernible weaknesses, it would take a perfect storm for Madrid— either Madrid— to catch Blaugrana.
Real Madrid (12-5) bulked up to win now, taking Belgian Eden Hazard off Chelsea’s hands, for $114 million. They still have superstars Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, and Karim Benzema, but it might not be enough. Atleti (18-1), by contrast, appear to be rebuilding this season. Cap space isn’t a thing in Europe, but fiscal responsibility is. Atletico recovered some $211 million in transfer fees, from Griezmann and dealing Rodri to Manchester City. A young core (and Diego Costa) should be more than enough to get back to Europe. Speaking of which, that all-important fourth slot could come down to the wire too. Valencia (11-8), who also clinched fourth on the final day, are favored to again. Otherwise, Sevilla (5-2), who also spent big this offseason, could make the Champions League.