Sky Sports' David Garrido gives an overview of the season in Europe so far
Sky Sports News presenter David Garrido takes a look at how the main leagues in Europe are shaping up.
Last Updated: 30/08/13 11:00am
It'll be a while until a sharp picture emerges, but already the summer's transfer activity and the first few games are giving us hints of how competitive the title races could be in La Liga, the Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Serie A.
In Spain, Barcelona have started with a couple of victories and a trophy for new coach Gerardo Martino in the form of the Spanish Super Cup, albeit won on away goals. They have lost a bit of their aura following last season's Champions League humbling at the hands of Bayern, and the sudden change from Tito Vilanova will have contributed to that. But Neymar's first goal since his big-money transfer from Santos will help settle his nerves and those of the fans.
The Gareth Bale saga has overshadowed the fact they've brought in two other superb young players, Isco and Asier Illarramendi. No doubt Bale would be a brilliant addition to a squad already bursting with talent, but contrary to reports, Real's pockets aren't bottomless and they could be forced to sell to help balance the books with Fabio Coentrao, Pepe, Angel di Maria, Karim Benzema all linked with moves away from the Bernabeu.
Barca and Real should again be the top two by a sizeable margin come May next year, barring a miracle from the likes of Atletico Madrid. Selling Radamel Falcao and bringing in David Villa will please their bank manager, and the Spaniard's already proved his point to Barcelona by scoring against them. But Atletico just don't have the depth of squad to sustain a challenge over a whole campaign, as last season proved.
Also in the race for Europe should be Sevilla and Valencia, even if they have both lost a few of their big names to Premier League clubs. Malaga and Real Sociedad are also worth keeping an eye on, but the big question mark for Malaga is whether they still have sufficient finances to compete in the long-term.
Germany's star is burning bright after Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund both reached the Champions League in 2012-13, and champions Bayern should again boss things domestically. Pep Guardiola might take some time to enforce and execute his philosophy perfectly, especially with Thiago Alcantara out injured for a while, but the introduction of Mario Gotze now that he's back to fitness should appease the demanding fans of the Allianz Arena.
Dortmund will still thrill, and the early-season form (both unbeaten so far) suggests an entertaining battle with their Bavarian rivals over the course of the season. Keeping Robert Lewandowski was vital after losing Gotze, and recruiting Henrikh Mkhitaryan is no bad replacement. Jurgen Klopp is worth several points too - there is no better man-manager right now in European football, save perhaps Jose Mourinho.
Schalke have endured a tough start, with no wins from their opening three Bundesliga games. Their 4-3 aggregate victory over PAOK Thessaloniki to make the Champions League group stage may have slightly eased the pressure on head coach Jens Keller, but the warnings are there for all to see - Stuttgart's Bruno Labbadia is already out of a job after four straight defeats, despite guiding the club to the German Cup final in June.
If it looks like straight shoot-outs for the title in Spain and Germany, the situation is a little more complex in France, despite Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco grabbing all the summer headlines. PSG stumped up 64m Euros for Edinson Cavani from Napoli, but with Laurent Blanc replacing Carlo Ancelotti at the helm, they haven't got off to the most confident of starts. A couple of draws followed by an edgy win at Nantes mean they're already four points off the pace.
Monaco's superstars (not just 50m Euro signing Radamel Falcao, but also James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho, Ricardo Carvalho, Eric Abidal and there may be more to come) seem to be gelling well with seven points from nine, although the stand-out performer so far is Emmanuel Riviere with four goals. We'll see what they're really made of this weekend, as they head to leaders Marseille - the only side with a 100 percent record after three games and who have their own dangermen in Dimitri Payet and Andre-Pierre Gignac.
Then there's Lyon, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux. Perhaps none of those have it in them to fight for the title, but they may be able to play a pivotal role in where it does end up, as well as providing an intriguing battle for the European places.
Controversy is never too far away in Italy and already this season we've had incidents of racism with chants directed at some of Juventus' players in their Super Cup demolition of Lazio... the two sides meet in Serie A this weekend and it's to be hoped the supporters have learnt their lesson.
On the pitch, the only team who can really stop Juventus appears to be Juve themselves. In Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente they have bought two proven goalscorers, and the rest of the division may find that too much to live with. But their burning ambition to win the Champions League could make things tricky, if they're not comfortably ahead in Serie A when the knockout stages come around.
If AC Milan are serious about regaining the Scudetto, they simply cannot afford a repeat of last season's start, picking up just seven points from their opening eight games. They've already suffered defeat at new-boys Hellas Verona, so no further slip-ups can be tolerated. Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli have to prove once again how potent a strikeforce they are.
It'll be interesting to see how Napoli go this campaign, having lost manager Walter Mazzarri to Inter Milan. Still, Rafael Benitez knows how to win trophies, as Chelsea supporters will acknowledge even if through gritted teeth. Fiorentina could challenge too, with the talented Vincenzo Montella making some excellent signings such as Mario Gomez. Inter will simply be hoping for an improvement on their mid-table showing from last season.
Across Europe, right now it's about jostling for position. As long as you're not too far off the leaders, you can't be discounted. But if you're stuck in the stalls and the opposition is fading away into the distance, all the hard work from pre-season can be undone pretty quickly.