World Football: Atletico Madrid and 10 Shocking Starts in European Football
We are heading into the first weekend of November during the 2012-13 campaign and plenty of promise has been brought to fans across the globe.
Excellent performances from the likes of Atletico Madrid's Falcao, Barcelona's Lionel Messi, Shakhtar Donetsk's Henrik Mkhitaryan and Manchester United's Robin Van Persie have shined over the footballing landscape.
These footballers are examples of players who have played outstanding this year. All four players have been parts of squads that are either in first or second place in their respective divisions.
Some squads in the same divisions have not only been impressive, but they have impressed beyond our wildest expectations. Clubs like Eintracht Frankfurt and Everton have gotten off to stronger starts than anticipated.
Other squads have disappointed. AC Milan and Athletic Bilbao are two that come to mind.
Here are some other sides that have surprised.
Spot in table: First (24 points)
A year after finishing second in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League in disappointing fashion, new players like Javi Martinez and Xherdan Shaqiri were brought in to help strengthen the club.
Instead of starting off slow, Bayern Munich flew out of the gate. In their first eight matches, Bayern scored 26 goals and conceded just two. Although they lost 2-1 to Bayer Leverkusen last weekend, Bayern is the clear favorite once again to win the league.
At the beginning of the season, Bayern was expected to win the league thanks to the loss of several key parts of Borussia Dortmund's squad.
However, no one could have foreseen Bayern dominating in the way that they have.
Bayern has six points in the Champions League, but they should overcome the two sides ahead of them to once again advance into the knockout stage.
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Spot in table: 12th (11 points)
Following the two years when they won Serie A and nearly nipped out a lossless Juventus side from winning the scudetto, AC Milan have struggled tremendously.
Milan's struggles should be expected considering players like Antonio Cassano, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva left the squad this past summer. These three players all played a large role for Milan in recent years and they were not adequately replaced.
In the Champions League, Milan has continued to disappoint. The disappointment in Europe could see the Rossoneri fail to advance into the knockout stage, but that probably won't happen due to the weak performance by Zenit St. Petersburg.
Milan's chances of qualifying for European competition are not over. They will probably address many of their problems in the January transfer window and should finish well inside the top half of the table.
West Ham United
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Spot in table: Eighth (14 points)
West Ham has responded well after spending a year in the Championship.
Manager Sam Allardyce has done a fantastic job with this squad, who are currently ahead of Premier League giants like Liverpool and Newcastle.
West Ham has faced very little competition from other giants in the EPL and their strong start could be wiped away unless they play their best football.
Spot in table: 16th (eight points)
Athletic Bilbao had a historic season last year. They reached both the Copa del Rey and Europa League finals, where they lost in both matches.
This season has seen a drastic change. The loss of Javi Martinez has hurt this squad, and the squad has been hurt from the loss of energy.
Marcelo Bielsa has become a scapegoat for this team. Considering that this side is two points above the relegation zone and is in last place in their Europa League group, this is not too surprising.
If Bilbao does not recover within the next several weeks, relegation could become a real possibility for a side that knocked Manchester United out of the Europa League just seven months ago.
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Spot in table: Second (25 points). Tied with Barcelona with 25 points apiece.
During the last several years, Atlético Madrid has been a club on the rise.
After securing the Europa League for the second time in three years, Los Rojiblancos have put themselves into a position to end the dominance that Barcelona and Real Madrid have held on top of the La Liga table.
Led by the exploits of Falcao, Atlético now find themselves in second place in the Spanish top flight, with only a five goal differential separating Atlético from Barcelona and the top of the table.
Atlético have every opportunity to stay near their current position assuming their neighbor Real Madrid has another dip in form like they did at the beginning of the season.
But more luck will be needed for the club to break the stranglehold that Barca and Real Madrid hold on the top two spots.
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Spot in table: Fifth (16 points)
Everton has become known for finishing strong in their Premier League history. Last year, they registered 32 points in their final 19 matches, tied with Newcastle for the fourth most in the Premier League.
This season's squad is one of the strongest ever employed by the Merseyside side in the Premier League era. Players like Tim Howard, Leighton Baines, Marouane Fellaini, Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar have all been impressive to date.
In the current Premier League table, Everton is in fifth place, just one point behind Tottenham for the final Champions League berth. They also have just one loss to date, the same as league-leader Chelsea.
Considering Everton's history in the EPL era, this is one of their most surprising starts.
At the rate the Toffees are going, they will at the very least clinch a spot in the Europa League, or even a Champions League spot, something that has only once happened before.
Spot in table: Third (17 points)
There are very few people that could have foreseen Málaga having such a great start to this season considering the financial problems that happened to the ownership of the club this past summer.
Those problems have disappeared into thin air considering how well Málaga has played so far. No one could have foreseen Málaga ahead of Real Madrid in November.
Málaga has also been impressive in their Champions League group. They have won all three of their matches to date and should be able to advance into the knockout stage for the first time in their history.
Zenit St. Petersburg
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Spot in table: Third (27 points)
Much was expected from Zenit St. Petersburg this season following a late spending splurge that saw the capture of Hulk and Axel Witsel from Portugal.
That spending has not helped the two-time defending Russian champions from keeping their dreams alive. Stars Alexander Kerzhakov and Igor Denisov revolted due to the high wages that the two players received as a part of their transfers.
Zenit's performances have lacked the consistency that is needed to win the league. Their performances in the Champions League have also lacked the reliability required to advance.
Considering the wealth of resources that Sine-Belo-Golubye have, they should be able to make a strong attempt to win the Russian league again, but their weak start could ultimately end their Champions League dreams prematurely.
Photo courtesy of Fredrik Von Erichsen/European Pressphoto Agency
Spot in table: Third (19 points)
The Bundesliga has at least one side that exceeds expectations each season, and Eintracht Frankfurt is that side this year.
After just four matches this year, Frankfurt became the first ever promoted side to win four straight matches to start a season. Since that blazing start, Die Adler were able to secure a 3-3 draw with two-time defending champion Borussia Dortmund along with two additional wins.
Frankfurt's squad went though a transformation this past summer, which resulted in over 20 new players joining the club.
Assuming that this squad's chemistry continues to play itself out in this way, a European spot should be expected. That would not be a bad result for a side that finished in second place in the German second division last year.
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Spot in table: First (39 points)
There is no other club in Europe that has gotten off to such a great start as Shakhtar Donetsk.
After playing in 13 matches this season, the Ukrainian club has won all 13 league matches, scoring 39 goals and conceding just six times. Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan has scored 14 goals, equal to or less than seven of the 16 clubs in the Ukrainian Premier League.
Shakhtar has continued their success in the Champions League. Two years after reaching the quarterfinals of the competition, the Hirnyky are on top of a group that contains both Chelsea and Juventus.
While it is unlikely that Shakhtar will continue this incredible streak in Ukraine, it is even more unlikely that we will see such an incredible start happen again anytime soon in Europe.