European Football's 7 Surprise Teams
The season following a World Cup is known to throw up a few upsets here and there. The big teams’ players are either tired or injured and that leads to slow starts to the season for them.
Players leave for the Cup in the best of form but return as players who represent shadows of their former selves.
All in all, it represents a great opportunity for smaller teams to throw a spanner or two in the works and attempt to break the stranglehold albeit for a fleeting moment.
I will give a brief description of each surprise team:
F.S.V Mainz 05
If there is one story that brings a smile to everyone’s face it has to be Mainz. 7 wins out of 7 (a pity it couldn’t become 8) is a record for anyone to be proud of. Thomas Tuchel’s team has been a breath of fresh air. Mainz's game is characterized by plenty of running. The team is filled with young players who have boundless energy and a fear of nothing. The team’s pressing game has paid off well even against the likes of Bayern Munich. Their attacks are characterized by very fast counter-attacks from defense to attack. They win games even when they are being dominated by the opposition in terms of ball possession.
The second team in this list also comes from the Bundesliga. While all the eyes have been on Mainz and their romantic tale, Borussia Dortmund have gone about their work in the most convincing manner possible. With all due respect to Mainz, Dortmund is looking at more long term success, namely the title. Currently they stand pretty at the top holding a mammoth 10 point gap to Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen. Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen are their closest challengers who also stand at least 2 wins adrift from Die Schwarzgelben. Jürgen Klopp’s side have let in just 6 goals while scoring a healthy 20 themselves. As things stand, they are as good a shout as anybody in the Bundesliga right now.
S.S. Lazio has been in the doldrums the last few seasons. To make matters worse, they have had to endure the ignominy of watching their cross-town neighbors do exceedingly well and grab all the limelight. One has to go all the way back to the 2000 season if you are Lazio fan and looking for s stamp of success. Last season, the team had a real threat of relegation. They were always closer to the bottom 3 than the European places. This season has begun well for the Biancocelesti and they sit top of Serie A. Their weak squad means that a serious title challenge is unlikely, although a high finish and the promise of European football is certainly on the cards.
No team has dominated their own league as much as Lyon has in the recent past. 7 consecutive titles from 2001 to 2008 means that a second place finish is often viewed as failure. But Lyon is not in this list because they lie second or third or fourth, but because they currently lie in 17th place tied on points with Nancy in the Relegation zone. No typo here, Lyon is close to the Relegation Zone! They are 10 points adrift of the leaders and manager, Claude Puel has a real battle on his hands if Lyon is to get anything from this season. With the return of their ace defender, Cris though, their very leaky defense is likely to concede less and that is at least a start on the road to recovery.
This entry might surprise a lot of people but I have a few reasons for this. It is unheard of for United to throw away leads. Typically when they go 2-0 up, it is game set and match. But this season, it has happened more than once, perhaps most spectacularly against Everton when they have had to settle for 1 point instead of 3. The most recent 2-2 home draw against West Brom was just another example of defensive fragility. Rio Ferdinand has been out injured and perhaps some of the replacement players have not been up to the mark. Another surprise has been the lack of imagination up front. In seasons past, this team could always conjure up a goal through some slick play or a free kick. The 0-0 draw against Rangers or when Fulham came back from being a goal down were two examples of how the Red Devils have shown a lack of imagination up front. If Wayne Rooney returns to his form of last season, it should help massively.
A.S. Roma has made a habit of starting seasons in the worst possible form. It seems as though they like to make things hard for themselves and then make a push for the league title. This is a team that had the title in its hands last season but for the Sampdoria defeat at home. But here we stand, 7 games into the new season and 3 defeats this early is a shock to say the least. If anything, the squad has been strengthened with the additions of Borriello on loan and the signing of the enigmatic Adriano. The permanent move of Burdisso is also a welcome addition. Claudio Ranieri’s men have no logical reason for being this poor so far in 2010. A win against Inter was an ideal way to kick start their campaign and i Lupi will expect a much better return on their remaining games in this calendar year.
A team in great financial strife, a team forced to sell its star assets, a team in decline. Unfortunately, everyone forgot to tell Valencia that. Manager Unai Emery has got a great spirit going through his team and the departures of David Villa and David Silva has only inspired the rest of the players to stand up and be counted. Los Che suffered only their first defeat of the season at the Nou Camp and they still lie in third position, 1 point of the top. Loaquin and Vicente are to players who have been forgotten with the emergence of Iniesta and other young talents. But the two aforementioned players were the envy of the footballing world only two or three seasons ago. If they can keep themselves fit for the whole season and Roberto Soldado can chip in with a few important goals, who knows how high Valencia can finish. They are certainly on a shoe string budget compared to the Big Two, but are making a good fist of things thus far at least. The rest of La Liga must be wishing Valencia the best of fortune so that someone can break the monopoly of Real and Barca.
There are a number of other teams that have surprised. I am sure you all have an opinion on which teams have amazed and which have disappointed you so far this season. I look forward to your comments.