Football Teams Upsetting the Elites in European Leagues

Girona coach Michel delighted with record-breaking win at Granada
Girona coach Michel delighted with record-breaking win at Granada

These are the football teams that are upsetting the elites in European leagues so far this season.

We’ve already covered big clubs struggling at the bottom of their top flights, but today, we’re looking at the clubs that are surprising us for the right reasons so far in 2023-24. These are teams that normally aren’t in title fights but have exceeded everybody’s expectations to insert themselves into the championship battle.

So, which are these teams? And can they maintain their high levels of performance to win silverware come the end of the season?

Football Teams Upsetting the Elites in European Leagues

So, to clarify, all of these clubs are at or around the top of their leagues. At the time of writing, all are in first place, with the other club currently sitting in second. As impressive as Aston Villa have been in the Premier League, we have already covered them in depth in a separate article.

We’re also only counting top flights, so you won’t see Ipswich Town of the EFL Championship, nor the 2. Bundesliga’s Holstein Kiel and St. Pauli in this list, despite how impressive they’ve been.

Spain – Girona

Probably the biggest surprise in European football right now is Girona. La Liga is no stranger to having a leader from Catalonia, but the fact that it isn’t Barcelona currently has come as a huge shock.

Girona were only promoted to Spain’s top flight two seasons ago, and finished a solid 10th in their first season back in La Liga. This is only their fourth season in La Liga and Girona were playing fifth tier football as recently as 1999.

They’re not a big club by anybody’s standards but have been helped by being part of the City Ownership Group since 2017. This isn’t a case of Girona being Manchester City B, though, as they’ve only got one player on loan from the Treble Winners.

In fact, Girona has more players on loan from Barcelona, a side that Girona beat 4-2 in Barca’s temporary home of the Olympic Stadium. Girona’s only loss this season has been against Real Madrid, but the Blanquivermells currently sit top of La Liga by two points.

There’s a long way to go and to expect Girona to hold on is a huge ask, with their next challenge coming in the new year with a home fixture against Atletico Madrid. Girona have a real shot at qualifying for European football for the first time in their history, though, and that’s remarkable.

Germany – Bayer Leverkusen

Bayern Munich’s dominance of the Bundesliga has to end eventually, and in truth, it should’ve ended at the hands of Borussia Dortmund last season. However, it now looks possible that Bayer Leverkusen could be the first team not named Bayern Munich to win the Bundesliga since 2012-13.

Xabi Alonso has masterminded the best start to a German top flight season for any side ever, as Die Schwarzroten have won 13 of their opening 16 matches and are undefeated in that time. Despite how good Harry Kane has been for Bayern, nobody has been able to keep pace with Bayer.

Injuries, and avoiding them, will be one of the key factors to how Leverkusen continue this season. While Leverkusen are one of the sides you expect to be up near the top of the Bundesliga, they’ve never won one.

Their five runners-up spots is a record for a club that has never finished first. This, coupled with losing in the Champions League and DFB Pokal finals and finishing second on the final day in 2001-02 has earned them the nickname “Neverkusen” in Germany.

Bayer Leverkusen could be about to break their Bundesliga duck this season, though, as they’ve been playing some scintillating stuff in 2023-24.

Ukraine – FC Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih

I know what you’re thinking; “who?” – Honestly, that was my reaction as well. FC Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih are far from European football royalty, but are currently top of the Ukrainian Premier League.

The fact that football is continuing to be played in Ukraine is remarkable, and these tragic yet unique circumstances have created an unusual season in 2023-24. Kryvbas were only re-formed in 2020 and even including their history back to 1952, they have never won any silverware in Ukrainian nor Soviet football.

Like many clubs in Ukraine, they’re currently playing away from their usual home, but that hasn’t stopped them from claiming 10 wins and 4 draws in their opening 17 league matches. They’re level on points with Dnipro at the top.

This is very abnormal, as the UPL is traditionally a duopoly between Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev. Dynamo are putting up a poor title defence, sitting fifth right now and while Shakhtar are in fourth, they will go top if they win their two games in hand.

Still though, FC Kryvbas Kryvyi Rih have shocked Ukrainian football and could become the first team from outside the big two to win the title since SC Tavriya Simferopol managed it all the way back in 1992.

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